Times of India Interview

Monday, June 02, 2008

New tech improves quality of grapes

New tech improves quality of grapes
Mobile Alerts Help Nashik Farmers Reduce Pesticide Overdose
Viju BI in TTimes of India June 2, 2008

Mumbai: As the summer sun turned pale for a few minutes over the vineyards in Nashik, a group of grape farmers hurriedly checked their mobiles for an SMS alert. Average humidity: 30 %, Downey Mildew: none.
They heaved a sigh of relief—the dreaded Downey fungus will not attack their ripe grapes for the next 24 hours—and called up their farmhands, asking them not to use pesticide sprays for the day.

For these 300 grape farmers in Nashik, checking their mobiles every morning has now become a way of life. The text message alerts are sent from the Digital Informatics Lab at IIT-Powai, where scientists have been accurately predicting the diseases that may strike the grapes during the course of the day. The results have been remarkable: in the last one year, the grape growers here saved around Rs 2 crore by cutting down on their regular dose of pesticides and insecticides in their vineyards.
This “miracle of sorts’’ became possible after alerts were sent by various disease forecasting stations situated at these vineyards on a daily basis. Farmers like Pandeet Chaure, a resident of Pimpligaon village, one of the beneficiaries, said this technology has saved him at least 100 chemical sprays worth more than Rs 10,000 last season. “Earlier, we used to do a blanket spray almost every other day, more as a preventive measure rather than targeting a particular disease. That used to leave a lot of chemical residue on the grapes,’’ he said.
The farmers admitted that many vineyards in India are still not very bothered about the quality of the grapes. “They do not check if the grapes have chemical residue and then reject them. It does have an adverse health impact, as today, wine is being promoted as a health drink,’’ said Narayan Sharma, who owns a 10-acre vineyard.
Agrocom, the company promoting this disease-detection technology, has established 25 monitoring stations in vineyards at Nasik. “These stations measure temperature and humidity at a very local level and send the reports to the lab at IIT,’’ said Anil Bahuman, MD and CEO, Agrocom told TOI.
The company began as a spin-off of a project started by DIL, which had been studying weather patterns in this region and looking at the major diseases affecting the crops here. “We zeroed in on grapes as we found out these fruits were affected by the slightest change in weather. They are especially vulnerable to diseases like Downey Mildew, Powdery Mildew and pests likes thrips insect,’’ he said.
The DIL’s head and Dean R&D Prof Krithi Ramamritham, and his team then studied the disease pattern of grapes across the globe. “We found that some diseases strike on a regular pattern in tropical climate. We then conducted a detailed study based on inputs provided by various agricultural scientists working in this region,’’ Bahuman said.
According to the scientists in IIT, pesticide companies might not be too happy initially. “But we plan to include them in this campaign as adhering to organic farmimg will be good for the grape growers in the long run. If the farmers want to make good profit they will need to export their grapes, where the chemical residue should be at the minimal level,’’ Bahuman said.


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