The pesticides in question continue to be used in India, but are already banned, restricted or withdrawn in other countries
Several experts underscored the ill effects of using chemicals excessively in agriculture and stressed on ecologically sound alternatives while backing a recent government draft order to prohibit a bunch of pesticides.
Civil society members, citing risks, threats and damage from 27 pesticides, came out in support of a May 14, 2020 government draft order that called for the ban on 27 pesticides, during a webinar co-hosted by non-profits Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture and the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
The Union government — after considering recommended data and safety concerns and consulting with the registration committee — was satisfied that the pesticides involved risks to humans and animals, the draft order said.
The pesticides in question are already banned, restricted or withdrawn in other countries, but continue to be used in India. The order described in detail the reasons on why the pesticides bore significant risks to human and animal safety.
The agro-chemical industry, however, heavily lobbied against the draft order. The Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers shot a letter to the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare June 2, opposing the ban, citing representations from agro-chemical industry.
Facing strong opposition from industry, the agriculture ministry exempted export from the ban and increased the timeline for receiving objections to 90 days from the earlier 45 days. A ban on domestic use, however, remains in the draft.
Food and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma, speaking at the webinar, supported the ban and quoted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to reduce chemicals in farming during last year’s Independence Day.
He cited several studies including ones by the Indian Council of Agriculture Research and International Rice Research Institute that highlighted the need to reduce pesticide usage.
Thousands of cases were filed in several countries against the agro-chemical industry because of the damage caused by pesticides, according to Sharma.
Pesticide contamination, diminishing ecology and biodiversity, farmer suicides, insect resurgence, the monopoly of a few corporations and food export rejection due to pesticide residue were cited by D Narsimha Reddy of non-profit Pesticide Action Network, India.
The poor regulation of pesticide, conflict of interest in registering pesticides and increasing losses to farmers from food export rejection were given by Reddy, who also cited several unsubstantiated claims by the agro-chemical industry.
Amit Khurana, Director, food safety and toxins, CSE, shared findings of pesticide residue studies conducted by CSE. He also highlighted issues like the acute and chronic toxicity of pesticide, nutrition trade-off and multiple chemical trespasses in humans.
The need for stringent residue standards, improved pesticide regulation and long-term national level programmes on bio-monitoring were highlighted by Khurana.
Human bio-monitoring for the European Union and the United States’ bio-monitoring programmes were cited by him as those that point out the presence and exposure levels of chemicals / toxins present in the human body.
The success of safe farming alternatives and pests and diseases being the symptoms of underlying ecological distortions like reducing biodiversity and soil health were discussed by GV Ramanjaneyulu, Executive Director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad.
The availability of successful ecological approaches and alternatives for pest management were pointed out by him.
The upscaling of these safe alternatives needed the government’s full support along with a shift in research and extension priorities, according to Ramanjaneyulu.
A knowledge-intensive approach and tools like farmer-field schools are needed as well, he said, pointing to Andhra Pradesh, where pesticide consumption reduced over time due to the promotion of safe alternatives.
India is at a crossroads where the need is increasingly being felt for a ‘science to live’ and not a ‘science to kill’, said Kapil Shah, Director of the Jatan trust based out of Gujarat.
The Centre recently recognised several organic and natural farmers, something that should be the way forward for the country, he said.
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