ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Curious Case of Cocktails, Weedicides, and Tonics

Pest Management Practices of Cotton Farmers in Vidarbha

This study uses primary survey data collected from Vidarbha, Maharashtra, to analyse pest attacks and pest management practices among cotton farmers who are at the risk of long-term exposure to toxic pesticides. We find that despite a reduction in bollworm infestations, secondary pest pressure is high. Farmers use pesticides indiscriminately and there is widespread practice of using “pesticide cocktails.” Farmers also mix pesticides with fertilisers. The use of weedicides and “tonics” is also widely prevalent. Farmers who perceive pesticides as yield-enhancing input spent more per acre on them. These findings raise concerns about the role of agricultural input dealers in filling up the agricultural information void for pest management.

The authors are grateful to the Indian Council of Social Science Research for financial support. The second author would like to acknowledge the financial assistance from IIT Bombay for fieldwork and setting up of weather stations in study villages. The authors have benefited from discussions with T V Venkateswaran, Atul Sharma, Srijit Mishra, Vijay Jawandhia, and Pravin Mankar. Anil Golhar, Gajanand Ahirwal, and the team of investigators in Wardha and Yavatmal provided excellent research assistance. The authors also acknowledge the comments given by the anonymous reviewer.

Pest infestations cause significant yield losses to farmers across the world, and cotton farmers are particularly at risk of frequent losses due to pest attacks (Oerke 2006). Typically, chemical pesticides are used to deal with pest attacks. Pest management practices such as integrated pest management (IPM) and non-pesticide management (NPM) have not gained wide acceptance despite limited success in some regions (Ramanjaneyulu et al 2004).1 The indiscriminate spray of toxic chemical pesticides has been a concern due to the environmental and health hazards associated with them. In the context of cotton farming in India, while the diffusion of Bt cotton has been near universal, issues of insecticide resistance and secondary pests have emerged (Shetty 2004; Shetty et al 2008; Gaurav and Mishra 2015; Taneja 2017).

Long-term exposure to even low levels of organophosphate insecticides such as monocrotophos has been associated with suicidal tendency, depression, and neurobehavioural problems (London et al 2005; Ross et al 2013). This is disconcerting in light of the long-term exposure of farmers and agricultural labourers spraying pesticides. Moreover, consuming insecticides is the most common method used by farmers to commit suicide, and there is also considerable risk of accidental poisoning due to insecticides (Mishra 2006; Kale et al 2014). In 2017 alone, over 20 cotton farmers died due to pesticides-related poisoning in the district of Yavatmal (Public Eye 2018), one of our study districts, whilst over 40 farmers died in the Vidarbha region (Ghadyalpatil 2017). The economic costs are also significant as per hectare expenditure on pesticides by cotton farmers has increased starting from 200203 when Bt cotton was introduced in the study region, even though per hectare use of pesticides is lower than other countries (Ranganathan et al 2018). Furthermore, there is lack of evidence on pest management practices among farmers in India in recent times. This study attempts to address this gap.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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