As a state, Punjab is often blamed for excessive and indiscriminate use of pesticides and fertilisers in its agriculture. In turn, this has led to such toxic residues leaching into the soil and underground water as well as the crops themselves. But the state’s Agriculture Secretary, Kahan Singh Pannu, states that Punjab has been able to cut down its pesticide use quite significantly. Kanchan Vasdev caught up with him to understand how Punjab is changing.
How far has Punjab cut down on pesticide use?
In the 2018 Kharif season, farmers had used approximately 3,838 metric tonnes (mt) of pesticide. Out of this, 1,885 mt was insecticide. From the data collected by the chief agriculture officers in Punjab and the seller for various pesticide companies, we have been able to reduce the pesticide use by 675 mt.
How did you get started?
Over the years, primarily because of the high level of pesticides in our farm produce, the international markets started frowning upon our crops. It was this that led to a rethink and a decision was taken to cut the use of chemicals.
We started by reducing the use of fertilisers, including urea and DAP (Di-ammonium Phosphate). The consumption of urea, which was 15.43 lakh tonnes in Kharif 2017 was reduced by around 86,000 tonnes in 2018. It has been further reduced by another 82,000 tonnes in Kharif 2019.
We realised that farmers were overusing urea because its use produced more vegetative growth and produced more succulent leaves in the crop. But such lush growth attracted greater pest attacks. By reducing the use of urea, we not only saved money but also reduced pesticide use considerably because the pest attacks also came down.
How did you spread the message to reduce fertiliser and pesticide use among the farmers of Punjab?
A strategy of awareness, motivation and compliance was chalked out. We worked on it aggressively. We sensitised the farmers how the overuse of pesticides was not only polluting the environment but also affecting the health of their children. It was also a drain on their monetary resources. Besides, the soil and the underground water was also getting poisoned.
We inserted advertisements in newspapers and also got our agriculture department staff to sensitise the farmers. We informed them about the recommendations of Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) that discouraged the overuse of fertilisers. We got in touch with cooperative societies to disseminate the information. It has worked wonders.
What was the extent of overuse?
It turned out to be more than double the amount that was required. PAU recommends farmers to spray only two bags of urea on every acre. That too within 45 days of sowing the crop. Most of the farmers were using four bags — some were even using five. We always faced a shortage of urea as the availability was only for the total acreage. Now, we no longer face shortages. Farmers are also happy as their input costs have come down. Pesticide issue is also being taken care of.
What is the next mission?
Next mission is resource conservation and changes in agronomic practices like conserving water. We are looking at direct sowing of paddy and non-puddled paddy. This will help us save water. We are also working on intelligent systems of irrigation to save the precious resource of water. We expect good results.