Despite the ever-increasing public demand for more environmentally friendly practices in agriculture and no chemical residue on the food we eat, little attention and investment is going into the registration and regulation of bio fertiliser.
Dr. Suparat Kositcharoenkul, Head of the Fertiliser Regulation Group of the Department of Agriculture, recently shared his experiences and views on the challenges facing bio-fertiliser registration and regulation in Thailand and the wider ASEAN region.
In Thailand, the Fertiliser Regulation Group oversees the quality control of fertilisers from the registration level to the market level. Its work ranges from taking care of registration procedures, production licensing, import and export of all types of fertilisers (chemical, bio and organic), to drafting secondary-level law and regulations relating to quality control of fertilisers.
But carrying out their duties is not always smooth sailing as too few officers are assigned to undertake the large volume of tasks.
“We have to approve more than 16,000 licenses per year and with such a small number of officers at our disposal, the work can only be done very slowly,”Dr. Suparat explained.
The workload challenge also extends to product inspection.“With only a few officers to inspect bio fertilisers on the market, quality control at the market level is not as thorough as it should be,”he said, adding that with over 30,000 fertiliser shops in the country, the Group is having to deal with“an increase in numbers of fake and non-qualified products”.
To further complicate the matter, when non-qualified or unregistered bio fertilisers are found on the market during inspection, “companies always find a compromise with the court,” this despite the fact that the violation is punishable by a one million baht fine and up to seven-years jail time, and in some cases, can even result in the revoking of the company’s production license.
When it comes to fertiliser registration and regulation in the ASEAN, Dr. Suparat gave his thoughts concerning the ASEAN’s plan to harmonise the regulation of bio fertiliser in a positive tone saying that, “It will be best to create one consensual regulation together at the ASEAN level before each ASEAN Member States (AMS) make their own regulations so that there exists ‘the ASEAN baseline’ for all AMS to refer to.”
The harmonisation of regulation could further encourage trading of bio fertiliser between the AMS countries. Dr. Suparat explained that “[since] each AMS has different criteria of registration,” this means that certain registered fertiliser from one country may not meet the criteria set by another country, thus hindering the movement of products within the region.
ASEAN Guidelines on the Regulation, Use and Trade of Biological Control Agents
The ASEAN Guidelines on the Regulation, Use and Trade of Biological Control Agents was developed with the support of ASEAN-German Sustainable Agrifood Systems project and endorsed by the ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry in 2014 as a reference. It is designed to provide a framework to improve the implementation of BCA and to harmonise BCA regulations in ASEAN that could encourage regional trade. The Guidelines contains information on BCA and case studies as well as recommendations for harmonising BCA regulations such as providing a set of minimum data requirements for BCA registration.
The AMS countries have incorporated the Guidelines into their national policies and strategies in promoting sustainable agriculture practices over the years. For instance, the Ministry of Agriculture of Indonesia implemented the Guidelines through Decree No. 39 in 2015. In Vietnam, the BCA Guidelines has been included with the National Pesticide Regulation.
Bio fertilisers VS Organic fertilisers
Bio fertilisers contain living microorganisms capable of creating nutrients that are beneficial to plants and are used to improve soil fertility. Organic fertilisers are derived from organic matter that contains essential nutrients for plants and are subject to biodegradation.