Unaware farmers becoming victims of pesticide business

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 12 Oct 2017 09:44:44


By Kartik Lokhande,

Mahatma Gandhi had warned about ills of ‘commerce without conscience’. In deaths and ailments of farmers and farm labourers due to pesticide poisoning, one can see an example of those ills.

Yavatmal, which has earned the distinction of being the agrarian distress capital of Maharashtra in the past over a decade, has become the place of intense commercialisation of the business of agriculture inputs, especially that of pesticides. Several companies have focussed their attention on this district, where, despite it being the main reason behind suicides of their brethren, farmers have been pinning their hopes on cotton crop. In the process, a wide spectrum of pesticides are available, and are sold, but without making the farmers properly aware of the precautions or contents or their ill-effects.

However, since the Government action on agriculture input dealers and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ warning to register cases against pesticide companies making wrong formulations and selling those without necessary approval, a big lobby has set out to blame farmers for ‘improper handling’ of pesticides. Sadly, not much is being talked about how farmers are ‘advised’ by dealers to buy different brands of same family of pesticides, how Agriculture Department has failed in advising farmers against using irrational combinations of pesticides, how companies are coming up with ‘specialised’ products for plant growth to flowering etc.

Dr N H Rathod, who is appointed at Sub-District Hospital in Pandharkawda but holds additional charge as Medical Officer of Rural Hospital at Maregaon, says that the pesticide poisoning cases could be a result of use of chemicals with high concentration, lack of precautions at the end of farmers, spurious pesticides, use of pesticides meant for sugarcane or grapes for cotton etc.

According to Kashinath Milmile, an agriculture input dealer from Pandharkawda, ‘cheap products’ have problems with formulations and in many rural areas farmers are using those. This year, he adds, ‘maximum problem’ has been caused due to use of Profenofos plus Cypermethrin combination. He also blames the use of Organophosphates for the spate of deaths and ailments. “Besides, there could be a variety of other reasons including height of crops, direction of wind, humidity, carelessness of farmers,” he says. Commenting on the latest happenings, Milmile feels that Government should notify what must be sold and what not. “The Government has with it the list of banned products, but it is not publicising it in all areas of the State, why?” he asks.

Interaction with some more dealers reveals that there is a group of big dealers who sell ‘unnecessary combinations’ of pesticides to farmers. For instance, a dealer says, Profenofos+Cypermethrin along with Monocrotophos and Acephate are sold to farmers despite the fact that all are Organophosphates. Besides, there are dealers who suggest cheap variants of ‘Stickers’, Plant Growth Regulators (PGRs) to farmers.

‘Stickers’ are chemicals that prevent sprayed pesticide from getting washed away by rains and keep pesticides ‘stuck’ to leaves of cotton plant. PGRs lead to tall growth of cotton plants. PGR business has a very high margin -- the product of Rs 800/- is sold for Rs 3,000/-. “As much as 80 per cent of the business of dealers is now in sale of PGRs because of high margin and 20 per cent in sale of pesticides,” a dealer says on the condition of anonymity.

Dr Pramod Yadgirwar, Senior Entomologist, Vasantrao Naik Agri-Biotech College, Yavatmal, feels that there are a variety of factors responsible for pesticide poisoning. Farmers are using more number of pesticide sprays without assessing the need if they really need those. Instead of using combinations advised by dealers or others, farmers should use recommended single-ingredient pesticides and they should go for integrated pest management, he stresses.

As far as the agriculture input business is concerned, Dr Yadgirwar points out that farmers are advised by dealers to use higher concentrated pesticides, which are poisonous. Farmers are not told about compatibility of pesticides, PGRs etc. Enhancers, PGRs, growth retardants, NAA (Napthalene Acetic Acid), micro-nutrients, Microbenzoate and other products are advised to farmers. After purchasing these products with blind faith in dealers, farmers use those in combinations but in less-than-recommended quantities to ‘make good’ the entire proportion. As the combinations are done unscientifically -- because of lack of proper scientific advise at the point of sale -- pesticides and other chemicals react with plants, pests, and humans too.

Temperature, high humidity also have their impact on the farmers engaged in pesticide spraying. Due to high heat, farmers do not wear protective clothes, and this increases chances of contamination. The use of ‘Chinese spray guns’, which are easy to handle but require pesticides in thrice the required quantity, also affects the farmers. If one starts spraying pesticides or other chemicals or combinations with ‘Chinese spray guns’, one cannot stop until the can on the back is exhausted of the liquid in it, Dr Yadgirwar observes.
Stating that pesticides like Neonicotinoids, which do not have anti-dotes available here, also are being sold in cotton belt, Dr Yadgirwar laments that most of the sellers of such poisonous substances are not knowledgeable. “Sellers need to have knowledge about pesticides or other products. Because, farmers are buying these products out of sheer faith in sellers. It must be made mandatory for sellers to attend awareness seminars every year at agricultural universities for updating their knowledge. They must know the positives and negatives of a new pesticide or chemical product,” he stresses.

Kishor Tiwari, Chairman of Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swawalamban Mission, strongly demands that the Government should impose a ban on sale of ‘unnecessary products’ like PGRs. “Dealers are more into selling and increasing their profit margin even at the cost of farmers’ lives. Else, they would not have sold what is not required by farmers. Dealers advise and strongly recommend sale of combination pesticides, PGRs, stickers, enhancers, some chemical for flowering, some for good leaves, some for good cotton bolls and what not. Besides, non-technical persons are getting dealership licenses.

They just do business, earn money, sell products and then say their responsibility ends once the product is out of their custody,” he elaborates. According to him, the Government needs to consider all these points while framing action plan. The picture that is made from the observations of these people is very scary. It reveals that the unaware farmers are becoming victims of pesticide business. But, there is more to the story...