How the nod to critical pesticides will bolster India's agricultural progress

On 4 October, the agriculture and farmers welfare ministry decided to continue with the use of 24 critical pesticides. (Image: Pixabay)
On 4 October, the agriculture and farmers welfare ministry decided to continue with the use of 24 critical pesticides. (Image: Pixabay)

Summary

The use of these 24 pesticides could boost yield, enhance farmer incomes, guarantee food security, and vastly expand the scope of its farm sector’s export potential

India's agricultural sector is faced with the twin challenge of feeding its growing population and addressing the surge in food demand globally. India’s fields today must produce more food than ever.

This comes at a time when climate change, spurred by global warming, disrupts weather patterns and escalates pest infestations, making crop production increasingly challenging. At the heart of navigating this complex scenario is the responsible use of pesticides. 

On 4 October, the agriculture and farmers welfare ministry decided to continue with the use of 24 critical pesticides. This decision followed a scientific review from an expert committee that evaluated the impact of these pesticides on crops, environment, and food security. 

The move could play a pivotal role in boosting yield, enhancing farmer incomes, guaranteeing food security, and vastly expanding the scope of the agriculture sector’s export potential.

Higher yields, lower costs

The pesticides that were approved are instrumental in protecting and, in some instances, even boosting yields. Without these, crops would be left vulnerable to all kinds of pest attacks which, in today’s warming climate, are only on the rise.

For instance, lack of crop protection alternatives left Andhra Pradesh’s chilli crop vulnerable to chilli black thrips in 2021. As a result, farmers incurred massive losses amounting to over 3,000 crore. In such a situation, pesticides play a vital role in managing pest resistance and diseases.

India has set 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 alternatives are largely imported at exorbitant prices.

Export potential 

According to data from the commerce ministry, the value of India’s agricultural exports was $52 billion in the year 2022-23. The ministry has set a target for commodities exports to cross $100 billion in the coming years. Agriculture accounts for 14% of merchandise exports. In that sense, it is a trade surplus sector.

But maintaining that surplus will be challenging. The government has already placed curbs on exports of wheat and rice and tightened restrictions on sugar and onion exports. 

Falling yields are primarily on account of disrupted climate patterns resulting from global warming. With climate change only expected to accelerate, maintaining and, more importantly, growing yields will become increasingly difficult.

The use of these 24 pesticides is crucial not only to safeguard yields but also enhance India’s agricultural export potential. 

Moreover, the generic formulations of these pesticides represent a significant export opportunity, promising substantial economic benefits as projected by the commerce ministry.

According to the commerce ministry’s own estimates, the continuity of the pesticides will ensure Rs.10,000 crores of exports.

Safety and technological advancements

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

Concerns regarding the safety of pesticide use are addressed through rigorous scientific evaluation, showing a significant reduction in the dosage of pesticides used today compared to the past.

The dosage of pesticides used today is 30-40% lower than in the past. Today, the average dose for application is 2.5 grams against the measurement in kilograms earlier.

In the digital era, the use of drones, satellites, artificial intelligence and sensor-based IoT will help farmers deliver more precise doses of pesticides. These technologies will also make it possible for farmers to spray their fields remotely and cut down exposure risks.

Internationally, Indian pesticide products are deemed safe by key export markets like the US, Brazil, Japan, Belgium, Argentina, and Australia, debunking the misconception of high pesticide residues in Indian agricultural commodities. 

As per 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 (2017-19) pesticide residues found in agriculture commodities was 2.6% compared to developed nations like the US at 2.8%, EU at 4.2%, and the UK at 5.8%.

The government's decision to continue with the use of these 24 pesticides represents a strategic and informed approach to addressing the multifaceted challenges of modern agriculture. It underscores a commitment to enhancing agricultural productivity, ensuring food security, and leveraging technological advancements for sustainable farming practices.

(The author is the former chairman, Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board, and former agricultural commissioner in the ministry of agriculture)

 

 

 

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