Debt-ridden farmers in Maharashtra, particularly in the Vidarbha region, which has reported the highest number of suicides among peasants, are turning towards eco-friendly, neem-based pest-control agents. They are doing this in an attempt to cut down the huge expenditure on chemical pesticides.
“More than 600 farmers from Nagpur, Vardha and Yawatmal districts in Vidarbha are being covered under phase two of the neem project supported by the chemical and fertilizers ministry,” Y.P. Ramdev from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (Unido) said.
Under the project, which is called Production and Promotion of Neem-based Pesticides as Environment Friendly, Biodegradable Alternatives to Chemical Pesticides, farmers are made aware of the benefits of neem-based pesticides. The project also distributes neem kernel free of cost.
This phase of the project—started in 2006—will also cover tea, coffee and spice plantations in the Northeast, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the next three years.
The first phase was launched in 2002 in West Bengal and Vidarbha and, during it, a low-cost technology for neem pesticides-production was developed.
An analysis of the plants treated with neem kernel aqua extract (NKAE) pesticides and chemical pesticides has revealed that the former had shown either better results or equivalent to that of the latter. NKAE can be sprayed on crops such as rice, wheat, cotton, vegetables, fruits, pulses and spices, the Unido official said.
Issues such as toxic pesticide residues in food as well as environmental degradation can also be resolved by this cheap, alternative pesticide.
Since neem, also known as the wonder tree, can be grown in even the most arid and nutrient-deficient soils, availability of neem seeds would not be a problem for farmers opting for the neem-pesticide technology.
Efforts are on to seek the environment ministry’s help in planting more neem trees across the country to ensure easy availability.
However, the poor level of awareness about neem among farmers was a major challenge. “Also, unlike chemical pesticides, results from neem-based ones are very slow, though they are longer lasting. That is why the farmers are reluctant to adopt the neem pesticides,” said Ramdev.