MAR 2020  
In Conversation
Responsible Farming and Reliable Food Security Choosing Agrochemicals

With India’s growing population, one of the biggest worries is the supply of food for the future generations. What are the related challenges?

India is home to 297,319,000 hectares (ha) of land, with 179,721,000 ha of agricultural area. This provides livelihood to 60% of Indians and is one of the most dependable sources of food for future generations. One of the typical concerns for farmers across the globe is the steady decline in the amount of available arable land-in the past few decades, arable land per person has reduced from 0.52 ha to 0.2 ha, straining the existing balance and creating problems. To address this issue, developed and developing countries started using agrochemical products which not only had pesticides, but also had plant growth regulators (PGRs) and biofertilizers that promoted the growth of plants. As the indiscriminate use of agrochemical fuels speculation of terminal diseases in consumers, it also threatens to derail the attempts to attain food security, making it imperative to identify means to not only regulate the use of agrochemicals but also to dispel the myths around them.

Should the Indian consumers fear that the food they eat is laden with lethal agrochemical products?

India is one of the largest exporters of agricultural products. According to India Country Commercial Guide (2019) by International Trade Administration (ITA), the section-’India: Agricultural Sector’ suggests that the country accrued a $14.6 billion trade surplus of agricultural, fishery, and forestry goods in 2018 that consisted of Basmati rice, carabeef/meat of bovine animals, frozen shrimp and prawns, cotton, and refined sugar. This is despite unpredictable weather, erratic monsoons (over 50% of cultivated land is rain-fed), decline in soil fertility, shrinking groundwater resources, lack of storage, transportation, inefficiency in the food distribution system, lack of awareness in the use of modern agricultural practices and technologies among the farming community, small average farm sizes of 1.08 ha, and agricultural subsidies that distort market signals and hamper productivity-enhancing investment. Surprisingly, India’s agrochemical consumption is one of the lowest in the world-paddy accounts for the maximum share of pesticide consumption at about 28%, followed by cotton at 20%. However, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, the per hectare consumption in India is merely 0.29 kg/ha as compared to 1.30 kg/ha in Pakistan, 13.06 kg/ha in China, and 11.85 kg/ha in Japan. More precisely, India accounts for a mere 1% of the global pesticide use while countries such as China, the US, and Brazil together consume about 62% These data should allay the fears among consumers that the food they eat is laden with lethal agrochemical products.

Is there a link between the use of pesticides and cancer?

Pesticide residues above the maximum residue limit (MRL) were found in merely 2% of the food items examined by the government, which include organically grown food, seemingly without any use of agrochemicals. Most of the cancer cases in men affect their liver, lungs, and prostate, caused primarily by the consumption of alcohol and tobacco while women are more affected by cancer of breast, cervix, and uterus. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated there is no conclusive evidence to show an association between pesticides and cancer incidence, and it has not included any pesticide in its list of potentially cancer-causing elements. To sustain the increasing consumer demands and remain a leading exporter, India needs agrochemicals-37% of India’s crops are lost to weeds as only 20% of agrochemical use involves herbicide. This is a gross contrast to the international scenario where a whopping 43% of agrochemical use relates to herbicide. Food crops must compete with 30,000 species of weeds, 3000 species of nematodes, and 10,000 species of plant-eating insects. Agrochemicals form one of the key inputs in agriculture for crop protection and better yield. However, unnecessary use of agrochemicals may have health effects, a fact that necessitates farmers’ education in adopting effective agricultural practices. The farmer is entitled to know the right amount of agrochemicals needed for a particular kind of product, the right means to broadcast, and the right stage to use them. This will not only reduce the incidents of pesticide residue in food items, but also help maintain a balance of nutrients in the soil and ensure that chemicals do not affect soil health. 

What are your views on the Amazon rainforest fire and other such recent incidents?

The recent time has been eventful. After all, who could have thought that our protective guards would be destroyed and the Amazon rainforest would be set ablaze! Burning forests to create land for agriculture is an age-old practice. Some popular agricultural methods to grow food are slashing and burning of forested lands. The ash that such practices produce after burning of fields is believed to provide the freshly cleared land a nutrient-rich layer to help in the fertilization of crops. As an outcome of stubble burning, every year, people in north and west India grapple with severe smog and poor air quality. The need of the hour is to opt for more scientific and cost-effective ways to curb crop residue burning. Such unscientific methods are doing more harm to soil quality and to our overall agricultural landscape.

What is the right crop according to the available soil type?

India is rich in various types of soil, ranging from the fertile alluvial of the Indo-Gangetic plains to the black and red soils of the Deccan Plateau. While the fields in the districts of Salem and Periyarin Tamil Nadu are a luscious red, those in Coimbatore and Ramanathapuram are black in colour. It is important to understand that each soil type has potential to benefit different kinds of crops due to its unique physical, chemical, and biological properties. For instance, alluvial soil is a fertile soil rich in potassium and is suitable for agriculture, especially for crops such as paddy, sugarcane, and plantains. Red soil has a high iron content and is suitable for crops such as red gram, Bengal gram, green gram, groundnut, and castor seed. Black soil consists of calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Cotton, tobacco, chilli, oil seeds, jowar, ragi, and maize are some of the crops that grow well in black soil. Sandy soil is useful for growing trees such as coconut, cashew, and casuarinas in areas that record high rainfall. Unfortunately, with better irrigation and treated seeds, such considerations have become irrelevant to farmers. For instance, an indiscriminate use of fertilizers to force a land-otherwise fit for jowar, ragi-to produce paddy is not only a waste of resources, but such a practice can adversely impact soil health and affect the growth of crops.

Why do farmers repeat single-crop cultivation over the years?

Traditionally, farmers would cultivate a number of crops on a piece of land and even leave it uncultivated so as to allow it to regain its fertility. This rotational method of farming helped soil in regaining its nutrition content that it would have probably lost in the previous cycle. Changes in land-use patterns and intensification of agricultural production on existing croplands have negative effects on soils, but these impacts depend critically on farming techniques. Inappropriate cultivation practices can reduce soil organic matter and increase soil erosion by removing permanent soil cover. The removal of plant residues can reduce soil nutrient content and increase greenhouse gas emissions through losses of soil carbon. However, today, fallow land is more of a compulsion than a choice-uncultivated land translates to financial loss, something farmers can ill-afford at a juncture when they are struggling with poor prices. Though the government has been working in this direction, the responses have not been satisfactory.

Why is it necessary for farmers to be aware of the right kind of agrochemicals?

In pursuit of more income opportunities, these days, farmers cultivate only those crops that tend to fetch them a good price. As a result, a piece of land is used to cultivate the same crop cycle over and over for years. Farmers also choose cash crops over food crops in order to obtain a better price for their produce. However, this practice of sustained cultivation affects soil health as it naturally drains the soil of its fertility. To cope with this, farmers tend to use more fertilizers than required, thereby further jeopardizing soil health. Therefore, it is important that farmers are made aware of the right kind of agrochemicals needed for their crops and how they could be used judiciously. Agrochemicals have ushered in the ‘Green Revolution’ that aided in our country’s transition from being a food-deficient to a food grain-surplus one. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, the use of technical-grade pesticides in India has gone up from 47.02 thousand tonnes in 2001–02 to 52.75 thousand tonnes in 2016–17. Schemes such as availability of soil health cards and implementation of various irrigation projects have only added to India’s capacity of remaining self-sufficient in terms of its food requirement. However, the flip sides are equally real that can be countered only with education and not knee-jerk reactions. Insecticides (India) Ltd and other industry members have been educating farmers on the right usage of agrochemicals for years now with tangible results and would be happy to extend help to others as well.

© TERI 2020

Nominations open for CSP Today India awards 2013

The inaugural CSP Today India awards ceremony takes place on March 12, and CSP developers, EPCs, suppliers and technology providers can now be nominated.

CSP has made tremendous progress since the announcement of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission in 2010. With Phase I projects now drawing closer to completion, the first milestone in India’s CSP learning curve is drawing closer. CSP Today has chosen the next CSP Today India conference (12-13 March, New Delhi) as the time for the industry to reflect upon its progress and celebrate its first achievements.

At the awards ceremony, industry leaders will be recognized for their achievements in one of 4 categories: CSP India Developer Award, CSP India Engineering Performance Award, CSP India Technology and Supplier Award, and the prestigious CSP India Personality of the Year.

Matt Carr, Global Events Director at CSP Today, said at the opening of nominations that “CSP Today are excited to launch these esteemed awards, which will enhance the reputation of their recipients. I am particularly excited to launch the CSP India Personality of the Year award, a distinguished honor for the industry figure deemed worthy by their peers.”

All eyes will be on the CSP Today India 2013 Awards when nomination entry closes on February 4 and the finalists are announced on February 11. The awards are open to all industry stakeholders to nominate until February 4 at or by e-mail to [email protected]

Matt Carr
+44 (0) 20 7375 7248
[email protected]