The use of agro-chemicals like pesticides and weedicides has been an integral part of farm practices in Haryana. However, the pest management methods being adopted by farmers are controlled largely by market forces as they are mainly dependent on the advice from vendors and the marketing strategies of pesticide companies.
Agriculture experts say pesticides are being misused by farmers in Haryana. They opine that farmers rely heavily on chemical pesticides which happen to be a major cause of ecological imbalance resulting in problems of insecticide resistance, pest resurgence and pesticide residue.
Dr Ramkumar, a retired scientist from Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University (HAU), Hisar, and a progressive farmer, says the situation is so bad that almost 90 per cent of the pesticides are being sprayed unnecessarily by farmers, adversely affecting soil and groundwater and increasing their input cost.
“Its residual effect on vegetables and foodgrains is a health hazard. The vegetables are being consumed within weeks of the spray of pesticide; it’s like consuming a poisonous substance. Paddy and wheat are also getting affected due to the residual effect of the excessive use of pesticide. Besides, the pesticides are entering the system of milch cattle as they feed on pesticide-laced fodder,” he says.
Dr Ramkumar says the Agriculture Department has failed to provide adequate extension services to the farmers with around 800 posts (65 per cent) of agriculture development officers lying vacant in the state. “Who will guide and inform the farmers when there is no staff of the department in the field? Agriculture seems to be a matter of low priority for the government, evident from the fact that the director of the department is transferred frequently,” he adds. He says 5-6 chemicals are used by the farmers at one time. “Even in 2-3 combinations of the pesticides that have been approved, the formulation is extremely dangerous. In order to tackle the prevailing farm crisis, the farmers are banking on the advice of shopkeepers and pesticide dealers so as to get a profitable produce. But they are making it worse for themselves.”
He says farmers refer to the dealers of the private pesticide firms as ‘doctors’ and take their advice seriously. “Almost 90 per cent of the pesticides are used on the recommendation of these so-called doctors. Nobody goes by the recommendation of the packages and practices stipulated by the agricultural university,” he rues, adding that Rs 2,000-3,000 are being spent on pesticides by farmers per acre of crop (mainly paddy and cotton). “Farmers even go to pesticide shops for crop-related problems which require no pesticide. And the sellers are happy to sell their products to them,” he adds.
Dr Ramkumar says in the area where the subsoil water level is high, the pesticide enters the groundwater. “Its unnecessary use pollutes the soil and subsoil water. Soil fertility is attributed to microbes; excessive use of pesticides kills these microbes. Its hazardous effect is also transferred to the produce.”
Surender Arya, a progressive farmer from Hisar, says farmers use pesticides by imitating their peers without any recommendation from experts. “My cousin resorts to five sprays of pesticide on cotton. I have not used any spray and still got 12-quintal produce on one acre; he spent Rs 4,000 and got a yield of around 10 quintals. But he is still not ready to stop spraying the fields due to apprehension of a pest attack,” he says, adding that even pesticide firm dealers advise farmers to spray NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) by mixing with the pesticide. “I tell my cousin that this method serves no purpose as the pesticide neutralises the positive effect of NPK on soil, but he is not ready to listen.”
Bhoop Singh, a farmer of Daulatpur village, says they have no option but to depend on the recommendation of pesticide dealers. “I spent around Rs 4,000 on my cotton field. I want to recover the input cost at least. The scare of the whitefly and other pests forces me to use the spray,” he says, adding that there is nobody from the Agriculture Department to explain pest control to them.
There have been frequent instances wherein farmers died after inhaling the poisonous pesticide during spraying as they were unaware of the proper technique and used an overdose. “A farmer from Dhanana village in Bhiwani, Jai Kumar, died while spraying pesticide in his cotton field last year. His is not a solitary case as such reports continues to trickle in from villages, especially during the kharif season,” says Dr Ramkumar.
However, there is a section of farmers that has been campaigning for making crops pesticide-free in the region. Started in Jind’s Nidana and Lalitkhera villages, this campaign has spread to several parts of Haryana and Punjab. These farmers say there are innumerable crop-friendly insects which get killed due to pesticide and weedicide spray in the fields. “We are destroying the insects which are helpful for the crops in the process of saving the crops from a pest attack. This is a bad bargain for the farmers,” says Ranbir Singh, a trainer at the Mitra Keet training campaign in Jind. He has identified many farm-friendly species, including praying mantis, lady beetle, ground beetle, heteroptera, jassid, wasp, hoverfly, robber fly, dragon fly, tiger beetle etc. He said the uncontrolled use of pesticides was killing these insects. “They protect our crops from the harmful insects. We have vowed to protect these creatures by shunning pesticides which kill friendly insects along with the harmful ones,” says Geeta, a farmer from Nidana village. Dr Surender Dalal, an agriculture scientist, says they hold weekly pathshala for farmers to educate them about the insects.
“Pesticides can be used only when the pest attack crosses the economical threshold (a term referring to the stage of the attack). But before that, the attack is controlled naturally by parasites. The use of pesticides must be judicious or else the farm-friendly insects would also bear the brunt,” says an HAU expert.
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