The locust swarm that hits many countries including India and Pakistan is an enemy of the crops in the fields. It has increased the difficulties many fold in certain areas during the pandemic and lockdown. The farmers are used to spray pesticides to save the crops from such enemies. In February, the government of Pakistan announced spraying 300,000 litres of insecticides in order to get rid of the locust plague. In fact when a farming worker sprinkles powerful pesticides on the crop in a field a tiny amount of it hits the target. Only one per cent of the sprayed chemicals are effective, rest ninety-nine per cent of it are released to non-target soils, water bodies and the atmosphere to be absorbed by the mother nature. The lethal impacts of insecticides on human and environment are burning issues in the public domain today. World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) are worried due to its ill impacts. At least twenty-five million human pesticide poisonings including 225,000 deaths per year worldwide are reported since the inception of 21st century. The public health experts and environmentalists in India have been raising voices for almost a decade against the 66 types of insecticides available in domestic market that used to be banned in many other countries for a long time. The union agriculture ministry has issued a notification to ban 27 out of these 66 pesticides in India on Monday, 18th May after the third phase of the lockdown. Undoubtedly this is a good news during the pandemic and lockdown.
Agriculture suffers due to insects, mites, plant pathogens and weeds, however, they are parts of biological diversity. The insects and mites cause an estimated fourteen per cent of crop loss, plant pathogens cause a thirteen per cent loss and weeds another thirteen per cent loss. Approximately, there are nine thousand species of insects and mites, eight thousand species of weeds and fifty thousand species of plant pathogens worldwide. In this scenario pesticide seems to be indispensable in the agricultural production. Today one third of global production depends on the pesticides. These synthetic chemicals or pesticides are classified as insecticides, fungicides, bactericides and herbicides. In India, insecticides dominate the industry with 65 per cent of total consumption, followed by herbicides with 16 per cent, fungicides with 15 per cent and the rest 4 per cent by others. This is different from the global pattern where herbicides form the major share with 44 per cent, followed by fungicides with 27 per cent, insecticides with 22 per cent and the rest 7 per cent by others. The consumption of herbicides has been increasing globally due to its herbal composition that is less harmful among most pesticides.
Almost seven years back, after considering all these, the government of India constituted the expert committee to examine the neo-nicotinoid insecticides and to review the 66 insecticides banned in other countries but continued for the domestic use. The committee has conducted the detailed examination and submitted its report in December, 2015. Since then onwards the file moves among the agriculture ministry, the chemical and fertiliser ministry, and various departments of the state. Actually their recommendations were seeking endorsement from the Registration Committee that permitted these pesticides for consumption in domestic market. During the initial eight weeks of the lockdown the bureaucrats and political bosses finally agreed to stop the import, production, distribution and consumption of 27 out of these 66 pesticides in India. Although a late decision, still a commendable one, as this slow move going to hit hard on the business of hazardous chemicals. If this spirit is going to be maintained constantly, changes in the farming sector will definitely appear in future.
Today, the locust plague poses a serious threat. The swarm occupying a square kilometre of area in the sky has fifty million locusts and its average diet is not less than a hundred tons a day. In modern history the largest locust outbreak is recorded in the plains of the United States in the decade of 1870. The strange coincidence is that the local cultures of agriculture started to witness the radical change during the same period. The use of pesticides is not new in the traditional farming. Long ago, the farmers in Greece used sulfur for this purpose traditionally. The production and consumption of inorganic pesticides started during this period that prolonged since the beginning of organic synthetic pesticides after the Second World War. Drawbacks of this new civilisation did not remain hidden for a long time. As a consequence Japan banned the use of chemicals such as DDT and HCH in 1971. The following year the USA has also banned the use of organochlorinated pesticides, including DDT. Pesticide consumption in the United States declined by 35 per cent without reducing crop production by the end of twentieth century. In last four decades, a similar change is noticed in consumption of hazardous pesticides in Europe. As such the consumption of synthetic insecticides has reduced by fifty per cent. The organochlorinated pesticides including DDT and HCH have been banned in China since 1983. Even though half a million human pesticide poisonings with a hundred thousand deaths per year is reported there. Similarly 67000 people are subjected to pesticide poisoning in the United States every year.
I am astonished to look at the production and consumption of pesticides in India. After the United States, Japan and China, India is the fourth largest supplier of the pesticides. The Indian pesticide industry, with the production capacity of 140,000 tons per annum, ranks 12th in the world. In fact, here this market seems to focus on exports, and the top countries in this list are USA, UK, France, Netherlands, South Africa, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Singapore. The herbicide Dicamba, followed by the formulation Cypermethrin are the largest exported Indian pesticides today. The consumption of pesticides per hectare in India is the lowest throughout the world, however, it’s growing rapidly that includes the use of herbal products. The indiscriminate consumption of hazardous pesticides is better to be replaced with the herbal products. The analysis of this trade reveals the equation between modern civilization and the indigenous cultures.
The relationship between consumption of the hazardous pesticides and the climate change is clear today. The serious of cyclones and heavy rains in the Arabian deserts has been in the focus for last two years. As a result the locust plague started in the Middle East and began to spread into certain other countries of Africa and Asia. Last year, the people of Yemen turned the outbreak of locusts into an opportunity. In fact they have started to use it as the high protein diet. Pakistan draws inspiration from this initiative from Yemen. The bureaucrat of the National Food Security Department, Mohammad Khurshid and an expert from the Agriculture Research Council, Johar Ali have launched a campaign to use locusts as chicken feed. The saga of its success did not remain confined within the borders. Latter the government of Pakistan launched the scheme to buy locusts at the rate of fifteen rupees per kg. The well-known economist and leader of RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Ashwini Mahajan reacts to it with the open heart. He advocates to replicate this initiative in India. In this case the requirement of hazardous pesticides to get rid of the locust swarm could be prevented during the pandemic and thereafter.
The culture of agriculture is not as dazzling as the modern civilization of it. So far as sustainability is concerned, there is nothing that stands equal to it. The production and consumption of genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilisers increased drastically with the advent of Green Revolution and White Revolution. The rise of hazardous pesticides is also closely associated with same civilisation. The clash between indigenous cultures and the modern civilisation has exposed the relationship between ruling class and political class. At the same time it has further revealed the intellectual harshness hidden behind claims of the public welfare state. It is not easy to move forward while keeping all these things in mind, but still this is not impossible. After this move against the civilisation that has introduced the hazardous pesticides in the fields, it is necessary to focus on culture of the agriculture. Above all, in India, whoever has a mastery on the public nerves as a pianist, is referred to as the Mahatma (saint) even though he or she is a politician.