Indian agriculture is facing a Catch-22 situation — it has to produce more food at a time when it is vulnerable to pest attacks induced by global warming.

One of the keys to resolving it is the responsible use of pesticides.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare approved the ongoing use of 24 key pesticides recently, following a review by an expert committee on their impact on crops, environment, user safety and food security.

This is a welcome step that will help boost yields, incomes and export potential.

The pesticides that were approved are instrumental in protecting and, in some instances, even boosting yields.

For instance, lack of crop protection alternatives left Andhra Pradesh’s chilli farmers crop vulnerable to chilli black thrips in 2021, resulting in ₹3,000 crore loss.

India has set itself a goal to double farmer’s income. Higher incomes are a function of two factors; higher yields and lower costs. The use of these 24 pesticides ticks both boxes. These pesticides also belong to specific modes of action which are essential for resistance management of insect pests and diseases. Alternatives to these pesticides could cost an additional burden of nearly ₹4,500 crore as they have to be imported.

Export potential

According to Commerce Ministry data, India’s agricultural exports was $52 billion for 2022-23. The Ministry has set a $100-billion commodities export target in the coming years.

But the government has already placed export curbs on wheat while putting curbs on sugar and onion exports. At the same time, it is also placing curbs on the export of rice, when its production is set to drop for the first time in eight years.

Maintaining yields in the context of climate change is a challenge.

Farmers will need all the help they can get and the use of these 24 pesticides will play a pivotal role in safeguarding yields and exports.

These 24 pesticides are significant export earners. According to Commerce Ministry estimates, these pesticides will ensure ₹10,000 crore of exports.

The Ministry of Agriculture also analyses the commodity samples to ensure food safety for the consumer, and the data reveals that the sample testing results in India are better than many other countries globally.

As the dosage of pesticides used today is 30-40 per cent lower, concerns raised over them are unfounded.

Today, products are applied on average in doses of 2.5 grams. In the past, dosage was measured in kilograms.

As technology evolves and agriculture steps into the digital era, the use of drones, satellites, artificial intelligence and sensor-based IoT will help farmers deliver even more precise doses of pesticides, further reducing the amount that is used. These same technologies, which will make it possible for farmers to spray their fields remotely, will also cut down exposure risks.

The US, Brazil, Japan, Belgium, Argentina, and Australia — our key pesticide export markets — can consider our pesticide products safe to use.

There is a misconception in the minds of the public that Indian food commodities have the highest pesticide residues, however as per the information provided by The Network Coordinator, All India Network Project on Pesticide Residues, IARI, New Delhi under Right to Information Act, the three-year average (Year 2017-19) pesticide residues found in the agriculture commodities was 2.6 per cent in comparison of developed nations like US 2.8 per cent, EU 4.2 per cent, and UK 5.8 per cent.

Thus, the benefits of the continued use of these pesticides are undeniable — they are safe and the key to keeping India and the world fed.

Therefore, government’s decision for their continued use is a step in the right direction.

The writer is former Chairman Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board; and former Agricultural Commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture