After witnessing a slump in 2018-19, pesticide consumption registered a marginal growth in 2019-20. However, more States are reporting a decline in usage of agrochemicals on rising awareness of the harmful effects among both producers and consumers.

States such as Punjab, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh and Kerala reported a decline in usage of technical grade chemical pesticides during 2019-20, according to the provisional data released by the Agriculture Ministry.

However, major consuming States such as Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh saw a growth in usage as farmers continued to apply more chemicals to protect their crops from pests, diseases and control weeds amidst shortage of labour and rising costs.

Alternative farming

Over a five-year period, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have reported a major decline in pesticide usage, a trend that could be largely attributed to promotion of initiatives such as natural farming and organic farming among others. While Kerala has reported a 59 per cent decline, Andhra has witnessed a 42 per cent fall. Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu have witnessed a 15 and 10 per cent decline each during the period.

“It is a good sign that the pesticide use is coming down,” said Devinder Sharma, farm policy expert, attributing the trend to the growing awareness among farmers and also consumers. Also, the demand for safe food is driving the trend.

Cash crops & pesticides

However, the rise in consumption in Maharashtra and UP could be attributed to the main crops such as cotton, sugarcane grown in these States. Citing a recent study, Sharma said pesticide use was the highest among crops such as apple followed by cotton and rice. In Punjab, where consumption fell last year, Sharma said the consumption of herbicides and rodenticides could rise this cropping season as labour shortage due to migrant crisis has forced more farmers to adopt the direct seeding method in rice cultivation.

“The more use of direct seeding machines means more use of pesticides. Generally, people are getting away from pesticides, but now there is a compulsion. This season we may see an increase in pesticides usage,” Sharma added.

The industry is optimistic about the growth prospects for the agrochemical sector, which fuels the food security of the nation, said Asitava Sen, CEO of Crop Life India, a body of agrochemical makers.

“Agrochemical sector is poised to grow between 8 and 10 per cent this year. Early Government decisions to exempt the sector from lockdown, good progress of the South-West monsoon, recent agriculture reforms, etc are the key factors behind this resilient growth,” he said. Further, it is important to keep in mind that India still remains one of the lowest users of pesticides at 400 gm/ha as compared to 5 kg/ha in the UK, 7 kg/ha in the US, 12 kg/ha in Japan and 13 kg/ha in China, Sen said.

“The Government has identified Agrochemicals as one of the 11 champion sectors, where India can be a global manufacturing hub in the post-Covid world. This is the perfect time to expect a progressive, stable and science-based policy and regulatory regime; that supports this grand vision,” Sen added. The use of bioformulations has increased during the period from around 6,184 tonnes in 2015-16 to 7,804 tonnes in 2019-20.

T Vijay Kumar, who is leading the implementation of climate-resilient Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) in Andhra Pradesh, said the awareness levels among farmers has increased over the past one and half decade.

“There is a history of non-chemical pest management, which started from 2004 onwards both in AP and Telangana, wherein large number of village women and self help groups had led a campaign,” Vijay Kumar said.

In addition to this, the natural farming concept and the role of regional media in highlighting the farmers’ success stories and the role of the State in promoting the integrated pest management have aided the trend.

ZBNF, started in 2015-16 in Andhra Pradesh, covers about four per cent of total area. Natural farming is being adopted by about a tenth of the farmers in various stages across some 25 per cent of the villages. “We had enrolled 5.80 lakh farmers last year and are targeting 7 lakh farmers this year,” he said.



Weedicide usage up

In Kerala, the consumption has more than halved in the past five years.

“We need a disaggregated analysis or item-wise data to find whether the usage of more harmful chemicals are declining or not. The decline in consumption data may be for technical grade materials of pesticides like neo-nicotine oil which is used in very small quantities. This might have reflected in the total quantity of usage. But it is not enough to look at the total pesticide consumption behaviour in the State,” said Indira Devi, former Director of Research, Kerala Agriculture University.

The last 20 years data revealed that the insecticide and fungicide consumption has declined, but weedicide usage has gone up a CAGR of 5-6 per cent.

A major part of weedicide is glyphosate, which is proved to be a very harmful chemical. Last year, it was banned in Kerala for almost six months. Now, the Central Government has come up with a proposal to restrict its usage throughout the country, she said.

Usage in plantations

Ajith BK of Association of Planters of Kerala pointed out that the plantation sector has strict norms with regard to pesticides. Majority of the plantations are certified by agencies such as RainForest Alliance, Good Agricultural Practices, TrustTea, etc.

Hence only judicious application of pesticides is allowed. This may be a reason for drop in consumption level, he said.

While cardamom importers have tightened the regulations on pesticide residues, the growers are aware of its proper usage and resort to minimal application, a source in the sector said.

According to Dil Koshy, Secretary, Agricultural Products & Processed Food Exporters Association (APPEXA), there were instances of receiving notices on the increased residue of pesticides from overseas clients especially in the US and Europe.

In the last 10 years, APPEXA has created a strict awareness campaign among its members on the controlled use of pesticides as per government protocol. This has been communicated to farmers’ organiszations as well.