Tête-à-tête with RES Early Career Entomologist Awardee Dr. Babasaheb Fand
By Priyankar Mondal
Last few months are really life-changing for the entire world and as we are preparing for unlockdown with many unanswered questions at personal and professional front. With so much of panic around us, we have some amazing and inspiring news for Indian Entomology. Dr Babasaheb Fand, Scientist, ICAR-Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur awarded with the honour of 'The RES Award for Early Career Entomologist by the Royal Entomological Society, United Kingdom. He is the first-ever Indian entomologist to be awarded RES Early Career Entomologist award. He has been serving the nation as an ICAR- Agricultural Research Scientist for the last 10 years. In the beginning, he worked in National Institute of Abiotic Stress Management, Baramati; later moved to NRC for Grapes, Pune and currently posted at ICAR-Central Institute of Cotton Research, Nagpur. He is a renowned scientist in the field of climate change impact analysis of agricultural pests and bio-intensive pest management strategies. Besides being an excellent researcher he is an outstanding extension worker with a deep affinity towards the farming community.
It's worth to know more about such a dynamic personality so I started to track this busy bee and got my slot for this interview. Here is an exclusive conversation with Dr. Fand
Priyankar: From the Gur Prasad Pradhan gold medal of Division of Entomology in IARI to winning the Early Career Entomologist Award from RES, UK… how are you feeling? Was it a goal or an unexpected achievement?
Dr. Fand: First of all thank you for interviewing me for this award.
Definitely, it is both ways I can say… first of all, let me say frankly, nobody can work only to win awards but as and when you go through your career and such opportunity comes definitely one would like to apply for it. Similarly, it was a thought in my mind why not to apply for this award if it is for early career researcher! Let's give a try.. While searching through the internet for different young scientist awards, I came across the RES notification for ECE and I applied. Now the outcome is with us. I got it.
Absolutely, it was a big surprise for me. Indeed its been a matter of great pleasure and pride to receive such a globally prestigious award in insect science. Every year RES offers only one award across the globe but this year they awarded two persons and I am one of them.
Priyankar: Tell us something about your childhood. Where and how you were brought up?
Dr. Fand: It’s a very remote village with less than 100 households in Ahmadnagar district of Maharashtra and the families are mostly from a rural agricultural background. The village is still devoid of many basic facilities. We have only one primary school here and even basic transportation is three kilometres away from the village. Though people have their bikes and bicycles now, earlier during our childhood we used to walk for at least three kilometres.
Our family owns seven-eight acres of dryland farm and we have been growing almost all crops like onion, groundnut, brinjal, some cereals like Sorghum, Bajra complemented with animal husbandries like cows and buffaloes. We were born and brought up in this setup and many of the times I used to say that I did agriculture practical first and then learned the theory as a part of a formal degree.
Priyankar: Sir, you have worked on diverse areas of Entomology like chemical ecology, mathematical modelling, population dynamics, toxicology, biological control and even investigated the impact of climate change on the insect fauna. So which one may be the breakthrough research that caught the attention of the Royal Society and why?
Dr. Fand: My major chunk of research is focused on insect ecology: modelling, climate change impact analysis, mathematical models, and others. Though biological control was a major portion of my MSc and PhD academics, my professional life revolves around mainly ecological modelling. It was one part, additionally, I have spent a lot of time in extension work. I have personally visited and guided many farmers, conducted training programmes, several capacity building programmes for farmers and other stakeholders and helped in solving different field problems. I also served as an academician by (co)supervising 1 MSc and 3 PhD students and periodically involved in guiding undergraduate and postgraduate student foe career opportunities in agricultural research. Despite these, I was a Consulting Editor for the Journal of Environmental Biology over 2 years and currently serving as a sectional editor (biological control) for Indian Journal of Entomology. I was also awarded the ICAR-Jawaharlal Neheru Best Doctoral Thesis and a gold medal from Division of Entomology, IARI. So, I think the overall balance of research, extension and teaching reflected through my CV has provided an edge over others.
Priyankar: You have worked on pests of different crops, especially, grapes and cotton. Which according to you is most difficult to handle as an Entomologist?
Dr. Fand: Both the crops have their own importance or economic significance! Cotton is a globally important fibre crop whereas grapes is an important fruit crop with high export value. In grapes, you cannot apply insecticides indiscriminately because of residue issues and stringent criteria for export. So, you need to manage the pests and diseases while keeping the residue below the limits, grapes may be troublesome to handle. One should also feel the pride to work on cotton as well. Bollworms in cotton are tricky as they reduce the fibre quality and final yield. So, managing cotton pests is also challenging. For an entomologist, there may be a crop of choice but nothing should be considered as “difficult”.
Priyankar: Dr. Fand, you have worked a lot with Indian farming communities. In India, we probably have the world’s largest infrastructure for agricultural education and research. Still, why do you think the farmer’s condition is just miserable in our country?
Dr. Fand: “Indian farmers” will be an extremely wide perspective! I have mainly worked with the farmers of Maharashtra, especially the cotton and grape farmers.
Indian farming is largely dependent on monsoon rainfall which is very uncertain in our country. The climatic uncertainty in recent years has worsened the conditions for agriculture. Even after struggling through climate, pests and diseases if you somehow manage to bumper your yield, you have to face the market! The farmers in India never get paid enough for their marketed produce. As agriculturists, we are working hard for climate-resilient agriculture with climate-smart pest management being one of its key components. Probably our effort will be able to improve their conditions to a great extent.
Priyankar: What is so cool about ‘Entomology’ that you did not choose any other agricultural science for post-graduation? Which is your favourite branch of Entomology to work?
Dr. Fand: As I told you earlier, I was born and brought up in a farmer’s family so from the very beginning I was well aware that pests and diseases are the nemeses of farmers. So, I was really motivated to study plant protection so that I can help the farmers solving their field problems. Besides that, during my UG in MPKV, I found the Basic Entomology course extremely attractive, the professors were also very enthusiastic having their very own distinct way of teaching. During my search for ICAR fellowships for higher studies, I found that the syllabus of ‘Agricultural Entomology’ is the shortest among JRF syllabi of all the subjects (both laughed). I did my masters in PDKV, Akola with JRF and by that time I was thorough with basics of Entomology and at last when I entered in IARI for PhD, that was the final platform to become truly an entomologist.
Definitely, Insect Ecology is my favourite branch to work. From childhood only I was very interested to understand the effect of different natural components on pest’s biological attributes. Analyzing the impact of climate change on crop plants, pests and their natural enemies is a key emerging area of Entomology and there’s a huge scope to work in this branch.
Priyankar: Sir, our readers will like to know who is the most influential person in your academic and personal life?
Dr. Fand: In personal life, my parents are the real inspirations. Being farmers they have sacrificed a lot, they struggled through all the difficult situations yet never stopped dreaming for their children.
In academic life, I must recall my Science and English language teachers at plus two levels who were cool, dynamic and very enthusiastic to awaken the students about different concepts, skills and career opportunities. The foundation of merit was laid there itself. In college level, I couldn’t find personalities like them but of course, my MSc and PhD supervisors were extremely helpful. Later seniors and colleagues also inspired a lot in this journey of academics and research.
Priyankar: You were one of the brightest minds in IARI. As a research scholar, I would like to know how to hold nerves during PhD? Repeated failure in experiments with complete uncertainty of jobs often leads students to quit PhD and find something else!
Dr. Fand: Actually, it’s a tough question to answer as I also passed through the same dilemma. Everybody has the same question in mind: What after PhD?. If you are willing to build your career in research then go for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). It is the easiest way because whatever you are studying for your PhD, the same is in the syllabus for ARS examination. I wonder how Civil aspirants prepare. I mean it must be difficult for them managing two completely different syllabi. So, I’m sorry, I don’t have experience in that because I never tried for those!
Yes, I also had anxieties and a lot of stress to secure a position in ARS because there’s also a huge competition but managing the studies or preparing for the examination was not a big issue for me.
Priyankar: After ‘Early Career Entomologist’ what’s next? How are you planning your research in future?
Dr. Fand: I will continue to work on the context of climate change and adaptation strategies of insect pests. Already I have worked on a few pests like Spodoptera litura, mealybugs, pink bollworm etc. Whatever research I do in future, I would like to formulate some sort of technology out of that. The ecological modelling, mathematical analysis etc these surely enhance the scientific knowledge, its useful for students and researchers but if such scientific information does not enter the farmer’s field in the form of technology then ultimately there will be no use of it. So, my future approach will be improving the farm-level pest management.
Priyankar: Any message for Indian entomologists and the ‘Indian Entomologist’?
Dr. Fand: I’m not a very big person to give a message to Indian entomologists (laughs)! There are many good entomologists across the country. It's difficult to name anyone in particular; but they are the real source of inspiration, guiding us, helping us in research.
For my colleagues, I would like to give a small message that collaboration is very important to be open to all and share the ideas. The expertise you have, necessarily, the others may not have and vice-versa. So, if we join hands better outcomes can be generated. Please, bring collaboration in research, share ideas and these will help you to grow each other.
And for the magazine… I am also a small part of that. I am very delighted that one of my colleague Dr. Shashank and his team has personally taken an interest to bring such an exciting magazine on insects. Definitely, the team is working very hard. We have a lot of good journals to publish our long term research and findings but this magazine will surely provoke interest in young minds. Through this platform, we can share new research ideas, opinions of different persons, recent happenings. I am feeling proud that I got the space in this magazine to share my views at a very early stage. I wish you all the very best for the success of this magazine, hope this will become a popular choice soon.
Thank you! Thank you all for having me!!
Priyankar Mondal is one of the Student Associate Editor of IE and working as a Researcher Scholar at Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya, Mohanpur, West Bengal, India. You can contact him @ Email: firstname.lastname@example.org