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Thursday 31 July 2008

Pesticides thrusted on unsuspecting farmers

the recent agriculture input subsidy scam in Rajasthan may not seem big in terms of the money involved. But it has huge repercussions. Farmers were indiscriminately distributed specific chemicals to be used in crops for which these chemicals have not been recommended by the Union agriculture ministry. It is clear that farmers are being forced to use toxic pesticides against their very wishes. What is also evident is that agricultural subsidies are highly misplaced and the wrong people benefit (see p9).

Farmers in various districts in Rajasthan were lured to buy sub-standard seeds, saplings and pesticides. Most farmers say that they never needed these chemicals but were forced to buy it as a package deal. Pesticides like endosulfan, monocrotophos, malathion and triadimefon were sold and used in fields when such application was not required at all. Strangely, despite being given all these "modern" inputs, farmers discovered that the productivity from their fields had fallen drastically.

The big question is: who recommended subsidizing these specific pesticides as a part of this particular scheme? Normally it is the agriculture department which recommends the use of specific chemicals to farmers. This, too, is done only in cases of specific pest outbreaks in an area. Then chemicals, which can control these pests and have been approved by the Central Insecticides Board to be used on those specific crops, are recommended. The board specifies at the time of registration the crops for which that pesticide can be used. Use in crops other than the recommended ones is illegal and dangerous. In this case farmers were given a package of 5-6 chemicals without any advice on which crops they were to be used for. This is deadly, not just for the farmer and his family who spray it, but also for the consumer who buys that produce. Also, in this case, it is clear that the agriculture department had no role to play.

What has been unearthed in Rajasthan is just the tip of the ice-berg. Perhaps there are hundreds of such scams all over the country. And almost everyone loses. The farmer and tax payers lose their money. Soil gets depleted because of unwanted and unscientific use of chemicals. Consumers get pesticide-laced products. Only one winner reaps the deadly spoils: the pesticide industry.

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