Quality Control and Benchmarking

Mycorrhizal inocula, as well as other microbial bio-inoculants and organic fertilizers available on the market, share a common problem: quality control and its regulation. It is very difficult to ensure that the products are of standard quality. In India and comparable countries, most commercial organic fertilizers are not covered by the type of national or international standards which govern the quality of chemical fertilizers.

Thus, specific protocols for quality control of AM fungal inocula need to be developed and standardized for application. This is essential not only as a guarantee for producers and users but also for the protection of ecosystems. Moreover, this would also help in quality management and assessment of inoculum potential with every batch of inocula produced. Quality control of commercial AM fungal inoculum is extremely important for developing faith among the user community, along with its effectively demonstrated potentials. Unless this is achieved, the potentials will remain unexplored among the other biofertilizers. It is important to evaluate the produced inoculum from commercial units with certain reference values to ensure the strict adherence to the protocols and methodologies recommended by recognized and independent laboratories. This is most vital, as several handling errors occur at the industrial level during technology adoption and implementation, causing subsequent problems in product quality, which may lead to the dissatisfaction of both the end users and producers.

For the mass production of AM fungi, critical benchmarks at all stages of inoculum development, covering all possible parameters desirable for ensured production, are identified. These include viability checks at processing stages until the formulation stage, ranging from the colonization of host roots, weight of dried inoculum at harvest, propagule estimations, in-fectivity potential of crude and formulated diluted inoculum, formulation conditions like temperature and suitable storage conditions. Such benchmarks also help institutionalized process efficiency at the production level.

Once the commercial launch of the formulation is achieved, both the developer of the technology and the distributing industries share equal responsibilities for the authenticity and performance of commercialized products, and must continue to work together to evaluate responses ob tained in the field by the end users. This would ensure confidence building and continuous use of these products over the years. It is important to regularly validate product performance, customer satisfaction and willingness for future use, to monitor the effectiveness of the inoculum.

The ethical responsibility of the laboratory developing AM fungal inoculum should consider the following features desired by the end user:

• Compatibility with local indigenous AM fungi for prompt and effective plant growth

• Ability to survive, and stability in the carrier system

• Ability to survive while seed-coated, even under adverse climatic conditions

• Wide-range of host applications

• Ability to maintain genetic stability

• Absence of harmful contaminants

• Prolonged shelf life.

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