For a rational pesticide policy

Vital parts of helping farmers in ways other than through government handouts, whether as procurement of superfluous output, assorted subsidies or income-support payments, comprise increasing their productivity, enhancing their market linkages and helping them capture a larger share of the value that gets added to farm produce along its journey from the farm gate to the retail consumer. By increasing productivity, people understand better seeds, improved use of irrigation and fertiliser, better transplanting and minimising post-harvest waste. The neglected bit is pest control. That must change.

There is a tendency to see man-made fertilisers and chemical pesticides as public enemies. People want organic products and politicians pay lip service to organic farming. Sri Lanka‘s recent food crisis testifies to the impracticality of organic farming except as a niche segment. The point is to use fertilisers and pesticides intelligently. Fertiliser subsidies encourage overuse. Irrational use of pesticides and pesticide bans on the ground that they are banned in Europe or elsewhere lead to loss, compounded by pesticide resistance. A case in point is chilli farmers in Andhra Pradesh currently being deprived of their traditional organophosphorous pesticides to fight off an infestation of thrips. Now, regulation of insecticides cannot be done to please the pesticide industry. If that had been done, none of the new class of insecticides that disintegrate fairly fast with minimal residue on the plants sprayed would have been developed. At the same time, the harm to consumers must be assessed based on experience and studies in India‘s climatic conditions, not Europe’s or North America’s. Farmers must have a say in phasing out pesticides, so that substitutes are identified, and not just assumed to exist.

Pesticide efficacy and harm depend on use that factors in the pesticides’ modes of action and their deployment in the right sequence, duration and combination. Educating farmers on this is tough, but bans are a cop-out, albeit crowd-pleasing ones.


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