Lokesh Makam is a pharmacist with more than 15 years of experience in the pharmaceutical sector. Over the years, he has held leadership roles in marketing, regulatory compliance, R&D and contract manufacturing. Makam initially manufactured and sold anti-cancer products, but upon realising that chemical pesticides in crops and food were a cause for cancer, he set to researching alternatives to control pests.
This effort led to identifying, developing and converting the alternatives, called pheromones into products to control these pests. Thus Barrix came into existence in February 2011. Barrix has raised investment from Omnivore Partners and has gone through the CIIE Incubator. Here, we get in a Q&A with Lokesh to understand more about Barrix:
YS: Tell us about the research that went into Barrix. What are the products in the market?
LM: In India alone there are over 6,369 known insect species that destroy crops, resulting in a near 23.3-percent loss, at an estimated loss of $17.28 billion. Eradication of chemical pesticides requires education at the grassroot level with farmers on the harmful effects on farmers who administer the chemical pesticides, the residue of which finds its way to our plates.
The use of pesticides has widespread side effect on the environment and surroundings, most critically on the farmers using them. With no efficient, sustainable and economical solution, the farmers have been treating chemical pesticides as the go-to solution for decades, ever since the industry was started.
Barrix adopts and develops eco-friendly crop protection methods using the latest technologies. With in-depth study and research on products to support organic farming, Barrix provides innovative and effective products to help farmers. Barrix today has 10 patents and is in the process of introducing four more products in 2017. Barrix has come up with Integrated Pest Management System (IMPS), which has products like 'Fly Traps' and 'Magic Stickers'.
YS: How do the Fly Traps work? How is it organic?
LM: The mechanism of action is very simple: the lure in the trap is impregnated with the volatile pheromone mixture, which evaporates in air and attracts that pest species alone. For using it, the trap needs to be hung in the field and it’ll start attracting the flies.
As these products aren’t meant to be sprayed and don’t meet the crop, they can be used very safely. Also, since it doesn’t come in contact with plants, the produce is purely organic and the fly traps are safe inputs for organic cultivation. All our products are organic certified by Aditi Organic Certifications under Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA).
YS: Tell us about the traction. How many farmers are using Barrix products?
LM: In the seven years since inception of Barrix Agro Sciences, over 2.2 lakh farmers have used our products. Barrix products have traction in 13 States of India, apart from farmers in over 70 countries that purchase directly from us – we courier the products to these farmers.
Barrix's alternative solutions are used by farmers across all crops: paddy farmers in East and West Godavari districts, gram, paddy, chilly farmers in Guntur district, potato farmers in Uttar Pradesh, tea gardeners in Assam, and mango and citrus fruit farmers in Maharashtra. And when seasons change, farmers use these on tomato, brinjal and watermelon crops too.
YS: Can you share some of the farmer success stories.
LM: There are numerous stories! Rajesh from Shadavary village in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh owns nine acres. His yield of guavas has improved after using Barrix products. Also, earlier, he needed 20 labourers just to collect the damaged guava fruits. After using Barrix traps, he noticed that the damage was less and labour costs have also dropped.
Then there is Veeranna from Tumkur in Karnataka who has been growing tomatoes for over 10 years. He is a regular user of the sticky sheets and pheromone traps to protect his crop from flies. These ensure the fruits remain safe and he gets a good yield. He found sticky sheets and traps a better alternative to chemicals for protecting his crop from melon flies.
YS: What are your views on organic farming versus chemical fertilizer farming? What is the road ahead?
LM: Barrix doesn’t see any harm in the usage of chemical fertilizers. It is chemical pesticides that are harmful and to be avoided. Chemical fertilizers that are required by the crop will be absorbed by the crop and help in plant growth as they are food for the crop. As we see it, it's organic farming versus chemical pesticides, not chemical fertilizers.
YS: How big is the team? How is structured? Where is it based?
LM: Barrix has a 180-member team. Nearly two-thirds of the team force is in marketing and education of the farmer communities at the district and village-level. Barrix is headquartered in Bengaluru.
Education of end consumers of the ill effects of chemical pesticide administered food is also required to ensure their boycott and to curb their use.
YS: What is the vision for Barrix?
LM: Barrix aims to minimise the use of chemical pesticides in the short run, and eradicate use of chemical pesticides in the long run. Our products ensure economic prosperity of farmers.
Agritech is not a very glamorous space to start up in but it has massive potential and the industry needs a lot of work. There are startups like V Drone Agro, Barrix, Safe Harvest, Crofarm, Plantix, Kisan Network and more that are trying to make 2017 the year when we hear more about agritech startups. And for a country like India, with the kind of diversity it has, tech alone is not the solution. More and more people venturing in the agriculture space will help us come out with more sustainable solutions.