Environmentalists and consumers worried about the uncontrolled use of pesticides can now hope for a safer produce and less vulnerable environment.The India Growth-Oriented Microenterprise Development (GMED) Programme is kicking off a project with farmers in Punjab and Maharashtra that will help control the damage caused by use of pesticides and give them access to wider markets. Farmers working with the project, which focuses on linking small-scale vegetable and fruit farmers to higher value markets, will have the benefit of assured buyers and get better prices for their produce.It is helping farmers tie up with buyers of fruits such as mangoes. The farmers have already joined hands this year with Cola-Cola India Inc., the Indian arm of the world’s largest soft drinks company, for more than 10,000 tonnes of mangoes for the Maaza drink. Sponsored by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), GMED plans to introduce the farmers to “bio beds,” using a combination of locally available wheat, grass or straw to fashion a bed that biodegrades pesticide spillage collected in it, thereby preventing contamination of groundwater and soil. Over the past couple of months, a few hundred farmers at Malerkotla, Punjab, and Pune, Maharashtra, have been undergoing training with GMED field workers, who are demonstrating the bio bed technique of safer farming and pesticide use. Five pilot bio beds already are in place and plans are on to take the project to other parts of India.Over the next two-three months, GMED plans to work with more than 6,000 farmers in other parts of the two states and in Andhra Pradesh after another 20 bio beds are in place. “GMED will transfer the bio bed technology to farmers in other areas where the project is working... to gain widespread adoption of this simple, low-cost solution to pesticide spills, as a means of protecting the rural habitat,” says Deo Dutt Singh, deputy chief of party, USAID-GMED. The effective life of a bio bed is about eight years and it would cost about Rs480.GMED is talking to companies that sell moss sticks and other raw material used for the bio beds to bring down costs.With the mango season starting in March, GMED has already tied up with Kay Bee Exports, an international buyer supplying to British retailers Tesco Plc. and J Sainsbury Plc. for supplying 25 tonnes. Next month, GMED starts work with close to 2,000 mango growing farmers from Chittoor in Tamil Nadu and Jwar in northern Gujarat to train them in the use of bio beds. The programme includes plans for working with about 5,400 grape growers in Maharashtra’s Sangli belt—a major grape growing region and home to dozens of boutique wineries.