The pesticide - Dichlorvos, that is used to tackle the menace caused by locusts effectively, will be banned from December 31.

This is despite the reports of the locusts destroying crops, that were growing on nearly 1.68 lakh hectares of agricultural land, over the last one year in the country.

Dichlorvos, which is also known as DDVP is a potent insecticide. It can kill locusts with a single spray.

But, the pesticide is a part of the organophosphate group of chemicals. It was, thus, opposed by food safety activists.

The Government of India, in its August 2018 order, had completely banned the new registration to manufacture the agrochemical. Import and local manufacturing ban came in January 2019 and a complete ban would be in place by December 31, 2020. The existing stocks of the pesticide will have to be safely disposed of.

Food security in question?

Pesticide companies are not happy with this ban as they feel that the ban will have a negatic impact on India’s food security. They also believe that the farmers would face more difficulties, if the country faces large scale locust attacks - similar to what to the situation in Pakistan today.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan has already declared an emergency to protect crops and help farmers. The neighbouring country is facing the worst locust infestation in more than two decades. Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab, which share a border with Pakistan have suffered crop damage.

On February 7, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had said in the Rajya Sabha that 33 per cent standing crops on 1,34,959 hectares in Rajasthan and 13,881 hectares had been damaged. Though locusts attacks were reported from Punjab and Haryana too, the damage was minimal.

Pesticide companies express their disapproval

The Sugar Commissioner of Uttar Pradesh, Sanjay Bhoosreddy on February 11 had also issued an advisory to the senior officers and field staff about being extra vigilant about locust swarms in the state.

The Chief Operating Officer (COO) of pesticide major UPL Ltd, Sagar Kasushik said that invasive and migratory pests can create havoc as seen in the case of locusts and Fall Army Worms. “Climate Change is another factor that can revive those species of insects and fungus that may be lying dormant for a long time. Therefore DDVP should not be banned,” he said.

Kasushik pointed out that Government’s programmes have recommended alternatives such as Chlorpyriphos. However, locust infestation may not happen every year, hence it is difficult to carry out a planned trial for an alternative chemical,

“DDVP has a quick knock-down action on locusts swarms. DDVP is a product which gives a shot in the arm in bringing down adult locust population. Each day’s delay in controlling the pests can significantly damage standing crops such as wheat, mustard and cumin. Such delays adversely affect farmers’ incomes besides food security issues,” he said.

Farmer Ramdayal Chapola from Anupgarh Tehsil in Sri Ganganagar district of Rajasthan said that he would have lost his whole crop of mustard and horse gram standing over 60 acres in December if the DDVP was not sprayed on the crop with the help of government machinery.

Despite the pesticide sprays, Chapola lost about 30 per cent of the crop, which is scheduled to be harvested by April.

A senior official at a medium-size agrochemical company said that the Union Agriculture Ministry often takes an emotional decision about banning of certain chemicals.

“Just because the European Union has phased out or banned certain chemicals that does not mean the Indian Government needs to follow it. The Government's decisions must be based on field observations and rigorous safety tests,” the official said.

Wheat farmer, Karsanbhai Nai from Koda village in Gujarat’s Banaskantha district has a similar experience to share. His 24 acres of standing crop would have been destroyed if the locusts attacks would have lasted more than two days. His field suffered minimal damage due to the pesticide sprays.