Pesticide use results in dwindling exports

Despite restrictions on harmful pesticides, their use by farmers continues. This is forcing foreign countries to reduce imports substantially of farm products from India.

By Nitya Jacob
Published: Sunday 15 November 1992

IN JUST two years, India's sesame seed exports have fallen dramatically -- by more than 75 per cent. While the government says this is due to higher prices in the domestic market, oilseed exporters contend it is because residues of banned pesticides have been detected in sesame seeds by importing countries, notably Japan and USA.

Total export of sesame seeds from India fell from 138,530 tonnes in 1989-90 to 33,044 tonnes in 1991-92. Purchasing by Japan, the world's largest buyer of sesame seeds, dropped from 34,606 tonnes to 3,816 tonnes and by USA from 12,285 tonnes to just 24 tonnes, in the same period. Health regulations in USA and Japan specify imported agricultural products should not contain any trace of DDT or BHC -- two restricted pesticides in India whose use, however, continues unchecked.

Government officials are reluctant to link the fall in sesame seed exports solely to the detection of pesticides. "Domestic prices have been stronger than international prices for the commodity over the last three years due to a high demand from the vanaspati and confectionery industries," says K R Rao of the National Technology Mission on Oilseeds. Sesame seed prices in the international market vary between $700 (about Rs 21,000) and $750 (about Rs 22,500) per tonne, compared with about Rs 25,000 per tonne in the Indian market.

But Deepak Thanna, president of the Association of Oilseeds Exporters, places the blame for the decline entirely on the residue of pesticides such as DDT and BHC in the sesame seeds. "India is bound to comply with the health regulations of importing countries," he said. "There is a green lobby all over Europe, and if India desires to remain in the agricultural commodities export market, there is an urgent need for policing misuse of pesticides."

Despite the ban on the use of DDT for agricultural practices and the restricted use of BHC in the country, both pesticides still find their way into farmers' hands. Hindustan Insecticides Corp (HIC), the only manufacturer in the country allowed to make DDT, produces 10,000 tonnes of the pesticide per annum for use in the anti-malaria programme. For plant protection, the use of DDT is permitted only in special circumstances and in such instances, the government purchases the pesticide directly from HIC and supervises its use. In spite of this, some of the DDT -- some estimates say 70 per cent -- illegally reaches the farmers, who prefer it because it is the cheapest pesticide.

To get around this problem, the oilseeds exporters' association and the government are planning to educate farmers on techniques that will eliminate pesticide residue from agricultural products. One way is by dehusking and crushing the seeds because pesticides are concentrated in the husk. A lot of the sesame bought in the domestic market is not dehusked, which means whole seeds are exported as they are. Given the current practice, pesticide residues in agricultural products are unavoidable for both the export and the domestic markets, and farmers will have to be instructed not to use DDT and BHC at all.

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