The long-pending ban on 27 widely-used pesticides, which includes 12 insecticides, 8 fungicides and 7 herbicides, is poised to take final shape soon, with the Centre having already issued a draft order banning the manufacturing and sale of these on grounds of the grave risk they pose to humans and animals. The Indian Express explains what alternatives are available for farmers if such a ban is imposed, and how effective they will be:
How much pesticide is used in Punjab as compared to the rest of the country?
Punjab has just 1.53 per cent of the country’s area while pesticide usage stood at 9.2 per cent of the country in 2018-19 and over 8 per cent in 2019-20. According to the Directorate of Plant Protection, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, consumption of chemical pesticides in the country was 59,670 metric tonnes (MT) in 2018-19 and 60,599 in 2019-20, while in Punjab it was 5,543 MT last year and around 4,930 MT in 2019-20. In Punjab, pesticide consumption is said to be decreasing, it is still continuous and excessive. The state used up 5,689 MT in 2014-15, and stands at no. 3 in usage after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, but both states have a 6-times larger area as compared to Punjab.
Also, Punjab has now started using bio pesticides and its usage has increased from 136 MT in 2014-15 to 246 MT in 2018-19 and 286 MT in 2019-20, which is around 3 per cent of the country’s usage currently.
There is still wide a variety of pesticides available to farmers for various uses. Punjab also tops the country in terms of per hectare usage of fertilisers.
On which crops are these 27 pesticides mainly used?
According to Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), these pesticides are used on almost all crops — rice, wheat, maize, sugarcane, cotton, oilseeds, various vegetables, fruit etc. They said that Punjab can do away with these pesticides, even though there are no other alternatives available at present for around nine of the 27 pesticides. Experts said a large number of countries have already banned these pesticides and India should too.
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What are the alternatives available to farmers?
There are three types of alternatives, the first one is Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques, which are using cost-effective mechanical methods, second is bio-pesticides, and third is newer molecular target-specific low toxicity pesticides, usage of which is extremely low, and which are a little more expensive, said experts.
Neem-based biopesticides, which are environment-friendly, is very effective cost-wise and yield-wise. It’s bitter taste keeps pests away from plants. Moreover, the right kind of seeds and precise irrigation can also help farmers keep the pests away.
Both PAU and Punjab agriculture department have been encouraging IPM extensively.
Which methods are used to control pests under IPM?
Under IPM, simple hand-picking, light traps, pheromone traps, sticky traps, glue boards etc. Are used to control pests. “With the light trap, we switch on an electric bulb during night time for an hour close to the fields and keep an open mouthed utensil filled with water (in which 20 to 30 ml of diesel or petrol is mixed) under it. The pests get attracted to the light in the night and then we switch it off and all the attracted pests fall into the diesel/petrol mixed water and get killed. IPM aims to protect soil and the environment from poisonous elements,” said farmer Amarjit Singh, who has been implementing IPM for long in Char-Ke village at Bhogpur area of Jalandhar.
Pheromone traps, which are quite economical, are meant for mating disruption, for suppression of pest population, and mass trapping. Such traps slowly release synthetic attractants which help in the detection of a single species of insect in the fields.
Apart from this, farmers also attract birds by installing ‘dana ghar’ (seed shelters) in the fields and such birds consume the harmful insects in fields.
Under IPM, heavy reliance needs to be placed upon ‘monitoring and surveillance’ of the crops and fields, said experts.
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How does regular monitoring & surveillance help against pest attacks?
“It can make farmers aware of the presence of pests and insects in the field at an early stage, which helps them arrest the problem before it crosses the Economic Threshold Level (ETL) of the presence of these pests,” said Professor Pardeep K Chhuneja, head, department of entomology, PAU, Ludhiana.
“For instance, Punjab had seen the lowest cotton productivity in 2015 when whitefly had attacked the cotton crop on a large area and its productivity went down to 197 kg lint (without cottonseed) per hectare. But we have not only decreased 30 per cent usage of pesticides in the cotton crop from 2016 to date but also increased its productivity to 756 kg lint per hectare in 2016, a year after the devastating loss of the cotton crop, 750 kg in 2017, 778 kg in 2018, and 800 kg in 2019,” said Dr Chhuneja, adding that continuous monitoring and surveillance of crops was the major reason behind this success story.
How else is less usage of pesticides beneficial?
Experts said that instead of spraying herbicides to clear weeds, farmers can hire manual labour to remove it. This will not only save their fields from chemical sprays, the money spent on buying harmful pesticides can be diverted towards paying the labour engaged in handpicking such weeds.
Farmers use herbicides to clean weeds like Bhang, Datura, Kanda, Peeli buti, Kanghi buti etc. from their fields and the area around the fields to keep pests away.