COVID-19 impact: Farmers fret as 'unfair' pesticide ban looms

Updated: May 27, 2020, 07:44 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

A ban on 27 pesticides by the Centre will take effect on June 1, forcing cultivators to choose from what they say are costly options

Rohit Chavan, farmer from Indapur in Pune
Rohit Chavan, farmer from Indapur in Pune

After the COVID-19 lockdown and the virus that attacked tomato crops, farmers are in for more hardships as from June 1, 27 pesticides will vanish from the shelves as a government ban takes effect.

Farmers claim that the Centre did not take them into confidence as the alternatives provided are very expensive and not easily available. Farmers fear that the ban will encourage black marketing, which would make the prices go up and adversely impact the produce in the coming seasons.

Ban unfair
Rohit Rajendra Chavan, 26, runs a 150-acre farm with his father in Indapur Pune. They grow grapes, sugarcane, watermelon, vegetables, etc. "The decision has been taken without any thought. Cheap and effective pesticide alternatives will almost certainly come to an end. Farmers will have to buy expensive fungicides from foreign companies. This decision will cause farmers huge losses," Chavan said. "Many of the banned pesticides have been used for many years. Fungicides like Captan, Mancozeb and pesticides like Dimethoate, Deltamethrin etc are used for many crops. They are versatile in controlling various pests and are relatively affordable."

Ankush Chormule, farmer from Ashta in Sangli
Ankush Chormule, farmer from Ashta in Sangli

"Even today, farmers are reaping the benefits of some of these pesticides used on their produce. There need to be effective alternatives otherwise farmers will have a hard time preserving their crops," said Chavan, who has studied MSc (Horticulture).

Ankush Chormule, a sugarcane farmer with a PhD in Agriculture Entomology (study of insects, pests and their management affecting crops) from Ashta village, Sangli, said "Out of the 27 banned products, 12 are insecticides, eight are fungicides and seven are weedicides, which are commonly used for agricultural crops. These are affordable low-cost molecules."

"For example, sugarcane crop usually get infected by an insect called white grub. A pesticide called Chlorpyriphos costing R600 per litre is used. However, with it being banned, the alternative provided by the government costs R1,500 for 140 grams. Farmers not only will have to pay extra, but also have to buy more as the one litre bottle of Chlorpyriphos could be used more than once."

Similarly, the banned weedicide would cost farmers R400 per acre. It used to be sprayed during the planting of the crop in June. The government's alternative will cost R1,200-R1,500 per acre.

He further added, "The government says that the pesticides have been banned as the PHI (Pre Harvest Interval) level is not mentioned. The moot question is when all pesticides have to be approved by a registration committee of the Central Insecticide Board in Delhi, how did these pesticide companies get approvals when they were not maintaining permitted PHI levels."

"It is unfair to abruptly ban pesticides without giving low-cost or same-price alternatives and expecting farmers to continue facing all eventualities, including natural and unnatural events, which only increase the cost of cultivation and compels farmers to take loans," Chormule added.

The ban will affect oranges from Nagpur as five of the seven recommended pesticides for oranges have been banned. With only two options left, the pesticide suppliers will end up escalating the prices.

What officials say
A senior bureaucrat from the Union Ministry of Agriculture said that most of the banned chemicals have been found to cause serious soil, water and air pollution and were found to be hazardous to animals and humans.

"This is not the first time that pesticides/chemicals have been banned. It has happened before too. But the fact remains that India does not manufacture pesticides. They are imported and repacked before marketing here. They have already been banned in some countries," said the officer.

The Department of Agriculture and Cooperation had constituted an Expert Committee on July 8, 2013 to examine the continued use of certain insecticides and the mandate of the Committee, on August 19, 2013, was further expanded to review 66 insecticides which are banned or restricted or withdrawn in other countries but continue to be registered for domestic use in India.

Why the ban
The government's directive gives the following reasons for banning some of the pesticides:

Dimethoate is an organophosphorus compound and is highly toxic. It is registered for many fruits and vegetables which are eaten raw. The Dr. Anupam Varma Committee recommended not usin them. Dimethoate breaks down to omniomethoate which is more toxic than dimethoate. It is banned in 31 countries.

Deltamethrin is toxic to honey bees and can be permitted for use only against desert locusts.

Captan was banned as relevant data related to cherry, cabbage, cauliflower, brinjal, beans, paddy and tobacco crop was not submitted. It is banned in Cambodia, Fiji, Guinea, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam. The product is toxic to aquatic organisms.

Mancozeb was banned due to incomplete data on thyroid profile on industrial worker and lack of relevant data in relation to wheat, maize, paddy, jowar, tapioca, ground nut, cauliflower, grapes, guava, banana, cumin crops, chilies, and onion. It also harms aquatic life.

No. of insecticides banned

No. of fungicides banned

No. of weedicides that have been banned

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