By R G Agarwal
The use of pesticides since the last 60 years has helped Indian farmers immensely to ensure sustainability in agriculture and provide nutrition security to the nation at large. However, today the issue of sustainable environmental practice and food safety issues have forced us to take a hard look at the current deployment of safer and green new pesticides, which are used just in few grams per hectare. Currently, India is the 4th largest producer of pesticides in the world and according to research reports the Indian Pesticides market in 2019 stood at INR214 billion. The Indian pesticide sector has a propensity to grow to INR316 billion by the year 2024. However, the recently proposed ban on 27 pesticides will result in a loss of almost 25 per cent to the pesticide industry in India, and the phenomenal loss to our agriculture production and export market will send a negative vibe internationally.
While our country is not reliable for the supply of pesticides, we are planning to make India a hub for pesticides not only for Indian but for the international market also. Govt of India has identified the Champion sector for the growth of pesticides however there is controversy in the government’s own decision. The annual production losses due to pests and diseases in India are estimated at Rs 90,000 crores, as per the 37th Standing Committee in the year 2002 by the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers. At present market prices, these losses may be around Rs 5 lakh crore, despite the fact that we use around 60,000 tons of pesticides. In fact, the use of pesticides in India is one of the lowest (< 0.5 kg/ha) in the world as compared to other agriculturally important countries like China.
The flipside is that there is hardly any risk to the environment and health if pesticides are used as per label recommendations. What is needed right now is a balance and this can only be done with investments in R&D that result in pesticides within existing environmental regulations. This is where the main problem lies – there is relatively fewer efforts on research and development (R&D) in this field. This is due to a variety of reasons, mainly the lack of incentives for innovation such as IPR and data protection, inadequate product diversification, lack of awareness about the safe use of pesticides, the proliferation of registrations, a relatively fragmented industry, long gestation period for registration of new products and the product quality assurance both at manufacturing and at field level because of the not following the Insecticides act and rule 168 and 1971 by implementing authorities. Whatever reason maybe, but it seems it is happening in connivance with unscrupulous traders and Govt officials.
An additional challenge arises from the use of registered pesticides mainly on 74 high volume crops, and vulnerability on other crops because of lack of label claims. In order to protect the farmers from substandard products, greater attention is needed for post-registration monitoring mechanisms to weed out ‘fly-by night’ operators, thus ensuring production and use of high-quality pesticides only. Over here, it should also be noted that the Gazette Notification, dated 18 May 2020, issued by the Government of India, proposing a blanket ban on the use of 27 generic pesticides, has come as a surprise and caused real concerns among the farmers, scientists and the industry, not only in India but internationally also as a number of countries importing, were dependent on our Country and in future may
lose confidence in our Country and may shift their orders to other countries.
Though only 27 pesticides (8 fungicides,12 insecticides, 7 herbicides) are proposed to be banned, it will also lead to the loss of 134 formulations. A sudden ban on commonly used generic pesticides without any suitable alternative is bound to have an adverse impact on crop productivity. Also, only 3 of these pesticides actually fall in the “hazardous” category. The farming community is not wrong in wanting the entire process to be based on scientific evidence, logic, and handled in a phased manner. Moreover, the farmers are currently passing through a difficult phase due to the COVID-19 pandemic, facing real problems related to agricultural operations (including weeding, pest and disease control), transportation, and marketing. Thus, the farmers need quality inputs, including pesticides for seed treatment.
The new Pesticides Management Bill (PMB20) recently announced offers the policymaker and the industry an opportunity to redesign the existing regime in line with global developments and safeguard the farmers’ interests and the country’s agriculture sector. Currently, there are around 1,175 pesticide molecules of both chemical and biological origins used in the world, out of which around 292 molecules are registered for use in India. PMB 2020 embraces the provision of regulating the import, manufacture, sale, transport, distribution, and use of pesticides in order to prevent risk to human beings and animals. The new PMB 2020 is expected to set right a number of shortcomings in the regulatory regime around pesticides in India. Though the proposed draft PMB 2020 includes specific refinements, there are also some genuine concerns such as the need for a time-bound, predictable, stable, and transparent process for registration of products, which need to be addressed immediately by the government before the bill is passed.
The National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) has suggested important corrections in PMB20 including, in definitions of different terminologies, discrepancies in the scope, lack of provision for encouraging indigenous R&D for newer technologies and molecules, addressing bottlenecks in the registration process, worker’s safety, biopesticide quality, etc. Obviously, all these need to be considered passionately. Besides, there is a need to review the existing policy for pesticides used in India and suggest a way forward for the rational use of pesticides. Lately, there is considerable emphasis on promoting organic farming for which the IPM approach is considered a better option. This, however, would require considerable support from the Govt institutions and agriculture universities as these products are not accepted by the farmers and today in the name of biopesticides, more than 90% of pesticides sold are laced with chemical pesticides.
After all, to “Make in India to make for the world”, which is the new mantra in Atmanirbhar Bharat rhetoric; the agricultural sector needs to see the benefits of ease of doing business it has so long been denied at the behest of some activist group and their misguidance and representation to Govt. The Nobel Laurent, Dr. Norman Borlaug has said, “ you cannot feed today’s population of 4.5 billion and population of 9 billion by 2050, and Dr. Borlaug warned, “then the world will be doomed not by chemical poisoning but from starvation.” In light of the above fact, Govt and intellectual have to decide for the future sustainability of the people.
R G Agarwal is Group Chairman at Dhanuka Agritech Limited. Views expressed are the author’s personal.