Debunking myths on pesticide use

Published: June 7, 2018 4:19:36 AM

Of the 3.52 million tonnes of pesticides (active ingredient) used in the world, the highest consuming regions are China, the US, EU, Brazil and Argentina.

pesticide, pesticide use, agriculture, indiaIt is ironical. The richer we become, the more resources we command; the longer we live, the more pessimistic we become about the present and future and start panicking.

It is ironical. The richer we become, the more resources we command; the longer we live, the more pessimistic we become about the present and future and start panicking. From a food importing nation in the 1960s to a food exporting one now, India has made significant strides in the field of agriculture. Science and technology has successfully tackled food shortage, a problem till the 1980s. It, therefore, exited our minds. Its space has since been occupied by imaginary fears like poison in our plate, impending cancer epidemic, etc.

India has made rapid progress in the field of agriculture in recent years. Unfortunately, this largely remains unknown and uncelebrated. Between 1975 and 2014, India’s population increased 100%, from 54 crore to 121 crore. But our agricultural production increased 1,400% (i.e. 14 times), from $25 billion to $367 billion, and increased both in variety and in volume. India now ranks second in the world in agricultural production.

It is the less-educated but highly-skilled farmers who have taken the country to this glory, and not the much-awed services or manufacturing sectors. Educated elites may find this fact difficult to swallow. Indian farmers’ distress comes not from their inability to produce enough, but from their inability to earn enough profit. Unless production brings profit, food security is meaningless to farmers. Therefore, focus should shift from production to marketing.

Nowhere else in the world $1 can buy you 10 eggs or bananas, 3 kg of potato or 2 kg of tomato! Our agricultural commodities are “price competitive,” but not “trade competitive.” Success leads to scepticism and scaremongering. The latest is that “Indian farmers use excessive pesticides.” This scaremongering is mainly generated by foreign-funded activists/NGOs operating in India. Do our farmers use excessive pesticides as alleged by these vested interests and non-state actors?

Here I cite empirical facts about pesticide use by farmers for agricultural production in various countries (see table).

Observations

Of the 3.52 million tonnes of pesticides (active ingredient) used in the world, the highest consuming regions are China, the US, EU, Brazil and Argentina. Together, they account for 90% of the pesticides used, globally. Even though India has the largest area (141 million hectares) under agricultural crops and is the second-largest agricultural producer ($367 billion) in the world, it accounts for just 1.7% of the global pesticides use. Compare that to the EU, which accounts for more than 11% of the global pesticides use, and uses 600% more pesticides than India does. In fact, many countries in the EU, like Spain, France and Italy, which have a much smaller area under agriculture and produce much less when compared to India, use far more pesticides.

The fact is that the EU and India do not share identical climate, crops and pests. As per data, Europe is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pesticides, and its share in international trade of pesticides in 2016 was as high as 52%. Let’s take Japan, which has more than 5 million hectares under agriculture (compared to India’s 141 million) and uses over 53,000 tonnes of pesticides—close to India’s consumption of 60,280 tonnes. The intensity and frequency of the use of pesticides in Japan is very high when compared to India. It is similar in many other countries as well.

That there is excessive use of pesticides in India is a false allegation and lacks empirical support. Countries in the EU are the main source of funds for environmental activists based in India. The agenda of these foreign-funded NGOs is clear—to tarnish the image of Indian agriculture, globally, as desired by their donors.

The purpose of this article is not to present a case against pesticide use. Pesticides are essential tools in farming for protecting crops against pests and diseases, and their role is at par with medicines in human society. My sole objective is to bring out solid facts regarding pesticide consumption in India versus the rest of the world, and to expose the false propaganda unleashed by foreign-funded NGOs active in India.

Due to the scaremongering techniques and smear campaign perpetrated by a handful of cynical environmental activists, our agricultural exports suffer considerable prejudice and discrimination in the international trade. The Latin phrase ‘repetitio est mater studiorum’ means repetition is the mother of learning. In public discourse, however, repetition retards the ability of people to learn new and unfamiliar facts. Repetition only sustains past beliefs. It does not help unlearning. It does not help rewiring our brains. The continuous negative portrayal of Indian farmers using excessive pesticide survives and sustains itself because of our thoughtless repetition.

By: Rajju Shroff

Chairman & MD, UPL

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