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Why farmers remain uninformed about pesticides and their use

Manufacturers and state governments have done little to inform farmers about approved uses of pesticides and hazards of using illegal ones

By Joe Hill, Sharat Singh
Published: Tuesday 24 October 2017

The Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC), under the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, provides information on approved uses of pesticides, dosages and waiting period of pesticides on its website. But a quick search shows that this list is not being followed. Even the National Institute of Plant Health Management (NIPHM), under the same ministry, does not adhere to CIBRC’s list of approved uses.

Consequences of unregulated use of pesticide have come to light recently, with 18 farmers reportedly dying due to pesticide poisoning in Maharashtra.

The NIPHM, on its website, gives examples of Kisan Call Centre’s responses to questions regarding the pesticides to be used on particular crops to control particular pests. For instance, there is a recommendation to use Acephate for fruit borer on chilli, even though this is not a CIBRC-approved use; another one to use Acephate 75 SP and DDVP 76 EC for midge fly in chilli, whereas, according to CIBRC, Acephate 75 SP is approved only for cotton, safflower and rice; and Dichlorvos 76% EC is approved only for use on paddy, wheat, soybean, castor, groundnut, mustard, sunflower, cucurbit and cashew. There seems to be no scientific or governmental consensus at the national and state level on approved uses of pesticides.

Misuse on the ground

A study of pesticide use by 25 farmers and labourers in Ranchi’s Bero block, Jharkhand’s major vegetable growing belt, was undertaken in August-September 2017 by the Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD), as part of a larger study being conducted in several Indian states by Pesticide Action Network (PAN) India. Bero has the longest experience of chemical-input farming in the state.

The study’s findings indicate that farmers know little to nothing about the pesticides they use. They are solely reliant on information from input dealers. While preparing and applying pesticides on their crops, none of the farmers or labourers use protective clothing such as face masks or gloves. Several farmers and labourers said that they mix pesticides and water with their bare hands. Some also sustained injuries in the process. The 25 sampled farmers were found to have used 42 insecticides, eight herbicides and seven fungicides. Of these, 38 insecticides, 5 herbicides and 6 fungicides are being wrongly applied on crops, which means, their use was not approved by the CIBRC.

Though cotton is not grown in Bero, insecticides approved for use only on cotton are sold to farmers by input dealers. Of the 38 insecticides illegally used, six are approved for use on cotton only:

  1. Acephate 50% + Imidacloprid 1.8% SP, sold under the trade name Lancer Gold by United Phosphorus Limited (UPL), has been applied to chilli in Bero block by one of the farmers.
  2. Alphacypermethrin 10% EC, sold as Alpha Plus by Anu Products Ltd, has been used by two of the farmers on bodi (long beans), bottle gourd, chilli and mango trees.
  3. Chlorpyrifos 16% + Alphacypermethrin 1% EC manufactured by Ichiban Crop Science Ltd (trade name Dangal), and by Krishi Rasayan Exports Pvt. Ltd (Anth Super), was used by four of the farmers on cucumber, tomato, peas, capsicum, potato, cauliflower, paddy, brinjal and beans.
  4. Emamectin Benzoate 1.9% EC, manufactured under the trade name Billo by Crystal Crop Protection Ltd, was applied to brinjal by one farmer.
  5. Ethion 40% + Cypermethrin 5% EC, sold under the trade names Spider and Ananda, has been applied to lady’s finger, brinjal, tomato and cauliflower by two of the surveyed farmers.
  6. Profenofos 40% + Cypermethrin 4% EC was found at the homes of three of the 25 farmers. Sold under brand names License 99, Minister, Panther, Terror Super and Maxcron Super, it has been used by farmers on cabbage, cauliflower, beans and paddy.

The remaining 32 wrongly (illegally) applied insecticides include:

  1. Monocrotophos 36% SL, banned for use on vegetables , but used by two farmers on chilli, capsicum and cucumber (classified as highly hazardous, class 1b, banned in 60 countries)
  2. Betacyfluthrin 8.5% + Imidacloprid 21%, applied by one farmer to a non-approved crop (Betacyfluthrin is a highly hazardous pesticide, class 1b)
  3. Methyl Parathion 2% DP, applied to a non-approved crop by one farmer (an extremely hazardous pesticide, class 1a, to be banned in 2018)
  4. Triazophos 40% EC, approved for use only on cotton, paddy and soybean, is being used on brinjal and other vegetables by four of the sampled farmers. Triazophos, classified a highly hazardous pesticide, class 1b, is set to be banned in India in 2021, though it is already banned in 40 countries.

According to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Monocrotophos, Acephate and Profenofos are believed to be responsible for the deaths and hospitalisation of farmers in Maharashtra. All three are being misused by farmers in Jharkhand.

Farmers uninformed

The five input dealers interviewed during the study were all unaware (or feigned ignorance) of the approved uses and waiting periods of the various pesticides. One of the dealers has a diploma in Agricultural Extension Services for Input Dealers (DAESI), yet he continued giving the wrong advice to farmers.  

The block’s agriculture extension officer was unaware of the sale of certain popular pesticides. None of the interviewed farmers were trained or advised on pesticide use by the government. This year, block offices have distributed pesticides without giving any information on their approved uses to farmers. For instance, Bandra block office in Lohardaga distributed Azadirachtin 1% EC (with neem) approved for use on tea, and Mahuatanr block office in Latehar distributed Azadirachtin 0.15% W/W (with neem) approved for use on cotton and rice.

Pesticide manufacturers are not acting responsibly

Approved uses, correct doses and waiting periods are not mentioned on the labels of pesticides bottles or packets. The labels state that the leaflet given along with the pesticide must be consulted before use, however, the product is sold without it. Most of the manufacturers do not provide this vital information on their websites either.

How to prevent misuse?

  1. The distribution and sale of insecticides approved for use on cotton only should be banned in states like Jharkhand where cotton is not grown.
  2. Licenses should only be issued to pesticide manufacturers by state governments if complete information (like approved use of pesticide, dose to be applied, waiting period) is given on the labels of bottles or packets in Hindi, English (and the regional language as appropriate).
  3. Proper coordination is required between the concerned agencies of state governments, including agricultural scientists, to ensure regulation of pesticide sale and use.
  4. All concerned officials at the state, district, block and village level should be informed about the dangerous and illegal misuse of pesticides.
  5. State governments should provide written information to all input dealers regarding approved uses, doses to be applied and waiting periods for all pesticides.
  6. State governments should supply good quality masks and gloves to input dealers, who should issue these to farmers for free on the sale of any pesticide.
  7. The DAESI course should cover pesticides extensively, and sensitise dealers about the illegality of non-approved pesticides sales.
  8. Information regarding the dangers and negative health effects of pesticides need to be provided to farmers. This can be disseminated by panchayat offices as well as input dealers.