Injudicious use telling on soil,crops and public health,Punjab pushes alternatives. There have been few takers.
Amarjit Singh sets a trap with an electrical bulb on his 12-acre in Punjabs Char Ke village. Under it we keep an open-mouth utensil filled with water,with 20 to 30 ml diesel or petrol mixed. We switch on the bulb for an hour at night and pests get attracted to the light. When we switch it off,all the pests fall into the mixture and die, says Amarjit,one of a handful of farmers using and encouraging pest control measures with minimal use of pesticide.
Another tool he uses is the pheromone trap,ideal for basmati fields. Pheromones are natural substances produced by members of a species and attract gender-opposites of the same species.
Such traps slowly release synthetic attractants that help in detection of a single species of insect, says Dr Naresh Gulati,deputy director at Agricultural Technology Management Agency. Pheromone traps are very effective monitoring devices,and cheap. Once one buys a kit that comes with plastic tops and assembly materials,one needs only to buy fresh baits and trap bottoms from year to year,a negligible cost compared to that of expensive insecticides.
The concern is that few are going for such techniques.
Punjab,a state that accounts for 18 per cent of the pesticide used nationwide on farmland that accounts for only 2.5 per cent,making it the countrys highest user,has been suffering the impacts of contaminated soil and a poisoned food chain. A study by the Centre for Science and Environment two years ago found exceptionally high pesticide residues in blood samples collected from Punjabs farmers. And much of their produce is consumed outside the state Punjab contributes 43 per cent wheat and 30 per cent rice to the central pool.
The light trap and pheromone trap are among various alternatives (Integrated Pest Control) that the government and farmers such as Amarjit have been pushing,apart from judicious use of pesticides (Integrated Pest Management).
Under IPC,the options for detection and removal include small traps,natural products such as neem,aak,dhatura or butter milk,or spices such as heeng,turmeric,garlic or ash. If pesticide must be used,the push is for globally recommended,non-harmful varieties.
Under IPM,the focus is on restricting the pest population within what is called the economic injury level,or EIL,rather than eradicating them completely as most strive to do. Punjab farmers approach has been pro-pesticide, says Dr K P Yadav,former assistant director and entomologist of Central Institute of Pest Management and Control.
Farmers frequently over-water their crops,which then turn yellowish,and that could be mistaken for a fungal infection and farmers then go for costly sprays, he adds. The harmful pesticides kill friendly insects,which would have eaten the harmful pests. Under IPM,we are explaining to farmers that there is a standardised number of pests that a crop can tolerate.
Farmers who have gone for integrated control and management have been promoting these among those who have not.
Using the right techniques,a farmer gets to know how many pests are not harmful to the crop. Just the sight of pests does not mean the crops require a pesticide spray, says Sukhpal Singh of Ghumman Kalan village,Bathinda,who won a national award in 2002 for his horticulture skills with IPM techniques. His 68-acre kinnow farm yields 130 quintals per acre against a statewide average of 90 to 100.
Farmers can cut down on 50 per cent of the harmful sprays they use on their crops in the very first year, he says. Those not adopting such techniques end up spending Rs 5,000 to 7,000 annually per acre on harmful costly pesticides,damaging human and soil health,and the environment.
Amarjit of Char Ke,whose efforts have been lauded several times by the agriculture department,says,When crops do cross the safe limit,we use a solution prepared from neem,aak,dhatura,bhang,and castor in our fields. To eradicate termite we mix heeng,a spice,in the water with which we irrigate our fields.
He adds,For clearing weeds we engage labour from our village,which keeps our money in our village rather than sending it into the pockets of big pesticide companies that are polluting the environment of Punjab.
Pesticide sellers have been known to push products that experts say are not necessary. Joint director (plant protection) Dr H S Bhatti conceded there is a dire need for every farmer to go for IPM and IPC techniques,but only with cotton has IPM been used to a large extent.
At Ghulal village in Ludhiana,brothers Jasbir and Amritpal Singh Ghulal have earned such a reputation that they have got visits from 150 agriculture scientists and entomologists,and from Britains Prince Charles a few years ago.
Jasbir,who won an award from Punjab Agricultural University in 2010,and his brother own Preet Golden Agro Farm where they cultivate vegetables,fruits,basmati,paddy,sugarcane,and herbs through organic farming with IPM techniques. They use neem,turmeric,butter milk,garlic and ash to control pests.
We attract birds by installing dana ghars (seed shelters) in our fields and such birds eat harmful insects too, says Jasbir Ghulal.
Punjabs share in pesticides used nationally; its farmland accounts for only 2.5%
Chemical pesticides used every year in Punjab
Punjabs contribution to central wheat pool,after producing 5,097 kg/hectare
Punjabs contribution to central rice pool,after producing 3,741 kg/hectare