Perhaps the most important deterrent to the commercial use of mycorrhizal fungi globally is the lack of large-scale multi-location field trials in a variety of agricultural soils and an absence of general lack of awareness among the users. Without such an activity it will be difficult to establish a market for mycorrhizal inoculum. Without a market there is little incentive for a commercial setup to initiate the production of inoculum on a commercial scale, and only large-scale production will make large-scale field trials possible. Other important issues responsible for the general lack of trust amongst the users in its potential are: (a) The lack of cost-benefit analysis to determine the economics of mycorrhizal applications, and (b) The general trend towards excessive fertilization to substitute for the lack of mycorrhizal fungi.
Once large-scale applications of the potential of mycorrhizal inocula are proven to common masses on multi-location fields, lightweight commercial mycorrhizal formulations will need to be developed and new application methods will be devised. Most importantly, from large-scale field tests, cost-benefit analysis will be done accurately to determine the economic benefit derived from the use of mycorrhizal fungi. In the end, this will be the determining factor in the commercial application of mycorrhizal fungi. Biological scientists are rarely able to critically assess the economic factors involved in the application of a new technology. It is important to design the total economic and infrastructure requirement for the setting up a production facility and strict regulatory norms for the quality assessment of the finished product before the release of the product in the market. The involvement of the scientific community is important to define such norms.
The field of applied AM research has suffered for many years from the "chicken-and-egg" syndrome. The inoculum was not widely used because it was not readily available, and it was not available because it was not used. The recent boom in commercial AM inoculants will help break out of the cycle. There have been numerous inquiries about the quality of available inoculum. Unfortunately, only little data on which to base recommendations are available. To remedy this situation, the initiation of a quality control assay (QCA) for commercial AM products is essential which will involve conducting a standard mycorrhizal colonization percentage (MCP) assay on commercial AM inoculum received under before making them available in the market. This will need regular supervision and knowledge of the correct mode of production, formulation, and delivery.
Biofertilizers represent an affordable industry for many developing countries. In many African countries, the use of inorganic fertilizer has increased soil acidity, reducing the yield per ton of fertilizer. Biofertilizers are cheap to manufacture, suitable for small-scale farmers if produced locally (eliminating distribution costs), and the investment in technology is far lower than that of inorganic fertilizers. Biofertilizers have been produced, packaged, and sold commercially in India, while in a number of African and Latin American countries, biofertilizers have been produced at national research centers. Most importantly, the demand for biofertilizers has outstripped production in almost all these countries. It is estimated that about $40,000-550,000 is required to build a 100-150 MT biofertilizer plant. Alternatively, $500,000 for 10 plants in different locations could produce up to 1000-1500MT to meet the demand by rural farmers. With increased production capacity, bioferti-lizers have a market locally and possibly internationally. Biofertilizers present developing countries with a unique opportunity to enhance their crop yields. Countries like Bangladesh, Brazil, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Zambia have had successful pilot plants for the production of biofertilizers, and demand has often exceeded production. If any of these countries built a production plant with local and regional markets in mind, they could be exporting their products. India has developed many biofertilizers that are currently on the market for gardeners and farmers. If these products are coupled with crop rotation and irrigation, it is possible to increase crop yields of legumes and cereals. Biopesticides, too, could help increase crop yield, reduce import bills, and increase export earnings. Taken together, they could provide an affordable source of agricultural inputs that would challenge chemical use in rural areas. Chemical fertilizer and pesticide imports and exports from developing countries are low, and production yields are very poor, especially in Africa. Biotechnology will depend on renewable raw materials, and agriculture should play a big role in developing countries' exports.
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