This article demolishes certain myths, false beliefs on ideas intentionally created by vested interests to malign the Indian agrochemical Industry. These are deliberate and deceptive narratives pushed to negatively influence the bureaucracy, trade, households, the farming community and the scientific fraternity. The buck stops here!
Myth- Indian farmers use excessive Pesticides
Reality- India ranks 2nd in the world in agriculture production after China, but it ranks 12th in pesticide use. Most other countries including USA and those in the EU such as France, Spain, Italy, Germany etc. use more pesticides then India on per unit area and per unit of output basis (Table 1). (source- FAOSTAT)
Table 1: Pesticide usage per hectare in some countries
″Indian farmers use excessive pesticides″ is a false propaganda by some vested interest aimed at reducing market success to our agriculture products globally.
Let it be known that India’s crop protection chemicals consumption is one of the lowest in the world. It far less amount of crop protection chemicals compared to developed and even emerging economies.
India’s spend on crop protection chemicals is USD 2.5bn only, 0.8% of total agri production. However for every 2.5 USD we spend on crop protection chemicals, we produce 126 USD of food/crop; far higher than countries like the US, Japan & Brazil. During Farmers Training Program (FTP) they are educated on the need to follow the government recommendations as per ″package of practice″ on dosage, crop segment time of spray etc.
Myth- Agriculture commodities in India carry high level pesticides residues.
Reality- Annual studies under All India Network Project on Pesticide Residue show that on average only about 2.2% of the agri commodities show pesticide residues above Maximum Residual Limit (MRL) (Table 2). In other words, 98% of our agri commodities do not carry unacceptable levels of pesticide residue. This compares well with the data from other countries.
India’s spend on crop protection chemicals is less than 1% of total Agricultural production in value terms; which is a fraction of global counterparts.
Table 2: Pesticide residues above Maximum Residual Limit
Samples include food grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, (other food items like egg/ meat, fish/ marine, water, oil seed, red chilli powder, spices, tea). India’s compliant levels are in line with global compliance standards. MRLs are legally imposed commercial standards and not safety standards.
Table 3: Pesticides use per 1bn US$ agri. output
Myth- Pesticides use has led to high cancer Cases in India
Reality- Globally India ranks 172nd in cancer rates. Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, USA and Denmark are the top 5 that lead in cancer rates.
The largest incidence of cancer in India are in the states like Mizoram, Meghalaya, Sikkim etc that hardly use pesticides in agriculture. Punjab ranks 24th among various states in each standardized cancer rates in India. (Source ICMR)
Group I list of the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) contains 120 substances considered to be carcinogenic to humans. Not a single agrochemical figures in this list.
IARC of the WHO maintains different groups of carcinogens based on current scientific evidence for carcinogenicity. The list includes:
Singapore with nil area under agriculture has more cancer rates than India (Table 4).
Table 4: Cancer Incidence (per100,000 people)
This clearly proves that increased incidences of cancer cases are not linked to pesticides but are more a likely result of modern life style.
Myth- Accidental exposure to pesticides spray drift affects farmers
Reality- Pesticides are sprayed in ground operations, diluted with water. The water content would be as high as 99% in the pesticides spray when applied to the crops. Accidental short exposures to such pesticides spray drift would not deliver lethal dose to the body of the spraying person.
Of course, it is always recommended that such exposures are avoided by using PPE safety kits. The safety kits comprising of headgear (cap), face mask & shield, hand gloves, apron & gumboots ensure total protection. Lately the effect of drift through drones is being studied.
Myth- Indian market is full of spurious pesticides
Reality- A misconception (fake/ spurious/ illegal/duplicate/ counterfeit etc) are coined words NOT figuring in the insecticides Act 1968, damaging the image of the Indian agrochemical industry. In fact on analyzing 3,38,182 samples drawn during last 5 years by Govt only 1.174% were found to be not meeting specification or substandard. There were hardly any spurious samples as propagated by importing lobby.
Source- Hon’ble Minister of Agriculture & Farmers welfare Shri. N S Tomar while answering unstarred question 309 (on Sep, 2020) and question 4534 (on March, 2021) in Lok Sabha.
In fact IARI has been misquoted that they had stated 8-90% crop losses happen due to non usage of pesticides and there was no reference of poor quality or spurious pesticides.
Ministry of consumer affairs has been misrepresented on facts regarding their study on Awareness and problems of fake products (counterfeits in rural market).
It was never a finding of their study that 58% of agri inputs available in rural market were found to be spurious, fake, illegal and counterfeits. In fact there is no such word as spurious in the Insecticides Act 1968.
The awareness survey brought to light the level of awareness in the rural market and there was no reference of pesticides per say it only proves that these are being falsely played up to defame the Indian Agrochemical Industry.
Myth- India’s water system, remain highly polluted with pesticides
Reality- Fish species are highly sensitive to water quality and toxic pollutants. India is the second largest fish producing country in the world. This shows that our water systems remains conducive to production of fish.
Andhra Pradesh and Punjab despite being high users of Pesticides, are leaders in fish production.
Andhra Pradesh & Punjab have the highest inland fish productivity at 6560 kg per acre of inland water area which is higher than in other states in India. 2/3rd of India’s fish production comes from inland sources only proving the point that if our inland water is polluted, large- scale aquaculture is not possible.
Myth- Pesticides are the primary means to commit suicide
Reality- Suicides, whether by farmers or non- farmers deserve attention and understanding.
More than 8lakh people die from suicide in a year in the world (WHO).
Suicide rate in Japan is among the highest- 60% higher than the global average.
In India, farmers suicide account for less than 7% of the total suicide in rural villages.
Self hanging is the most common method for suicide in India. Sikkim that does not allow use of pesticide has suicide rates four times then in Punjab. (Source: NCRB) 93% of the suicides in the India are by non- farmers i.e, by people not engaged in agriculture.
The share of farmers ‘suicides has decreased over the last few years from 16% in 2004 to 7% in 2020.
Public debate remains disproportionately focused on farmers’ suicide. Suicides, whether by farmers or non- farmers deserved our equal empathy. Main reasons are drug abuse, illness, financial issues, bankruptcy but not pesticides as wrongly propagated.
Myth- India uses pesticides that are banned in other countries
Reality- Use of pesticides in every country depends on local crops, climate, environment and occurrence of pests and diseases.
Pesticides registration/ use therefore varies from one country to another and are granted after stringent field and laboratory trials, with strong element of sovereignty (Table 5).
Table 5: The number of registered pesticide
Table 6: Pesticide banned in India which other countries still use
The global market is 70% generic pesticides which are efficacious tried and tested with large scale satisfied consumer base.
Myth- Organic and bio- pesticides are safer than chemical pesticides
Reality- All substance used as pesticides whether organic, bio or synthetic undergo the same toxicity, safety and efficacy assessments before allowed for commercial introduction. Crop protection industry in fact offers a variety of pesticides products- organic, bio and synthetic- to farmers enabling a diverse and inclusive approach to pest control.
Globally, only 1.5% of agricultural land is under organic agriculture, where as in India it is estimated at 0.8%.
Stanford University, USA conducted study and found no evidence for differences in nutritional content for over 15 nutrients between conventional and organic produce.
As per AINP vegetable sample (405 samples) were collected from organic outlets across the country. As high as 12.3% among them had measurable crop protection chemical residues. (Source- All India Co- Ordinated Programme on Crop protection chemical, Residues, DAC, Delhi)
Myth- Indian manufacturers are not able to manufacture Quality meeting global standards
Reality- Indian manufacturers produce quality which is in fact superior than imported products in terms of purity profile and efficacy. Our members account for 80% of exports to 130 countries with acceptable quality. The price is also not only competitive but lower by 50-75 % once produced indigenously.
However, unethical practices are used in India to see that even after an expiry of the patent, MNCs keep their monopoly and Indian manufacturers are denied registration on some dubious grounds. There are now heavy investment in R&D by Indian companies with world class Research centers for innovation.
The Indian agrochemicals sector has created a trade surplus of Rs. 23,000 crore for FY 2021-22. As export were to the tune of Rs. 36,521 crore as against imports of 13,363 crore creating a trade surplus of over Rs. 23,000 crore a rare feat for any industry.
Today it has been proved that Indian scientists and engineers are equal to the best in the world and we are able to produce superior quality pesticides at competitive price. Though last year we exported US$4.9 billion worth of pesticides, the world market of generic off patent pesticides is US$55billion. If unnecessary rules and regulations are streamlined and ease of doing business is done, we can boost our export of pesticides to US$40billion in the next 5 years.
The agrochemical industry is confident that they would be able to increase export of inputs like pesticides and fertilizers, besides increasing our export of food. The industry has recommended higher custom duty at the rate of 30% on import of readymade formulations besides maintaining a present slab of 18% as GST.
50% of the import come from China. It was <10% 15 years ago. (Table 7)
India’s pesticides import has surged 37% in the current fiscal due mainly to import friendly regulations.
Import surge lowers domestic industry’s capacity utilization and increases costs. As the scale and cost suffer, export competitiveness would erode. A double whammy.
Table 7: India’s pesticides import from other countries (Unit: Rs. Crore)
Unless regulated with tariff and fiscal measures, increasing imports would undermine government’s efforts towards Atmanirbhat Bharat.
Atmanirbhar road map towards $5 trillion economy requires a strong domestic manufacturing sector. India’s manufacturing sector’s contribution to GDP has slipped from 15.2% in 2016 to 13% in 2020. (Source: World bank)
Myths- Introduction of neonicotinoid insecticides adversely affected honey production
Reality- The truth about the effect of pesticides on the honey production in India is to the contrary.
Environmental experts across the world are up in arms against Neonicotinoids, which are a group of insecticides used widely in the farms for crop protection. They want to ban the use of Neonicotinoids, which in their opinion are absorbed by plants and can be present in pollen and nector, thus making them toxic to bees.
If we go by the opinion of environmental experts, honey production in India should have hit rock bottom.
But rather the opposite is true. India’s honey production has been steadily on the rise. Therefore, what the Indian environmental experts have said repeatedly is utter bunkum. The sweet trend continues unabated in India.
Contrary to the popular perception, the honey production in India steadily increased after the introduction of neonicotinoids
Honey production over the last three decades has grown steadfast in India from the first part of the 1990s (45,000MT) until last recorded in 2018-19(1,13,000).
We believe that the allegation spread by the environmentalists that use of pesticides in farming is endangering the India’s bee colony is totally false and unwarranted.
Myths- Pesticides applied for non agriculture/ house hold is safe
Reality- Pesticides are applied at much higher concentration for non- agricultural pest control, when compared to the ones used against crop pests.
Household pesticides are toxic pesticides similar to the once sprayed on the field crop. Pesticides in the field used on various crop are in open environment whereas sprays and vaporizer used at home are in closed contained spaces.
The advertisements demonizing pesticides used in agriculture by environmental activist and the companies promoting house hold pesticides used are totally threatening to misguide the public at large.
This article was initially published in AgroPages' '2022 India Focus' magazine.