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Redefining pest management in agriculture

This is the story of how Punukula, a village in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh put in efforts over a five year period (1999 to 2003) to rid themselves completely of pesticides. Today, the villagers do not use chemical pesticides at all - they are inspiring other farmers in their district and elsewhere to go the same way and improve their livelihoods. The Panchayat has passed a resolution that they would remain pesticide-free.

The Punukula

For quite some time cotton has been the major crop in Punukula. It was cultivated as a monoculture and large amounts of pesticides were used to protect the crops. This caused a number of problems: there were cases of acute poisoning, which left people disabled for the rest of their life and caused enormous health service bills. Another problem was the credit taken by people for purchasing pesticides. These loans caused the economics of farming to go out of control.

The beginnings of the transformation

In 1999, the local Non-Governmental Organisation, SECURE (Socio-Economic and Cultural Upliftment in Rural Environment), analysed with the villagers about their livelihoods. The analysis revealed several problems related to their agriculture including lack of support for investment, higher expenditure each year, lack of marketing support, indebtedness etc. Realising that pesticides in cotton caused many of these problems, the organisation decided to work on the Non-Pesticidal Management (NPM). The NPM project was implemented with the technical and financial support of the Hyderabad-based Centre for World Solidarity’s Sustainable Agriculture wing (now called the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture).

The initial hesitancy

When SECURE personnel approached the farmers with their non-pesticidal technology, the farmers were sceptic. ‘How can I believe that the insect which cannot be killed by highly poisonous pesticides be controlled by using neem which I use every day to brush my teeth’ remarked Mr. Hemla Nayak recollecting the initial hesitations. But, gradually people started realizing the difference.

The sweet taste of success

At the end of the first year, the positive results were already apparent with the NPM approach. In 2001-02, Non-Pesticidal Management was taken up on 6.4 hectares, with eight farmers in Punukula on cotton. In the case of pigeon pea, it was done on 7 ha. with 3 farmers. By the second year, more farmers joined the effort as they had witnessed the good results first hand in the fields of the first year’s participants. Farmers were also taken on exposure visits to other districts. There were more training-workshops held in the village. Slowly, word spread, and along with it, a serious conviction that getting rid of chemical pesticides was the only way out.

By 2002-03, the NPM was tried out in crops like paddy, pigeon pea, cotton and chilli. The number of participating farmers went up to 59, with an area of 58 hectares. The increased net incomes were to the satisfaction of the farmers. In 2003-04, the acreage under NPM cotton went up to 480 ha. in Punukula and Pullaigudem villages, covering all the cotton area of Punukula. In Chilli, the discontinuation of pesticides also meant a great improvement in the quality of chilli and therefore, the produce fetched higher prices in the market.

Impacts

In 2004-05, for a second year in a row, nobody in the village has gone anywhere near a pesticide dealer. The Village Panchayat passed a resolution to announce that it is pesticides free and would continue to be so. Farmers of the village were able to get rid of past debts in a couple of years’ time. With the debt burden off, the farmers are willing to try out more and more ecological approaches, as well as try it on more crops. The ecological balance in the fields got restored. The health of the farmers has improved. The women’s groups bought a neem seed crushing unit in Punukula in 2004. This was done through the Panchayat with the help of Centre for World Solidarity, which gave a grant for the investment. Two women find full-time employment running this machine.

The rapid spread of the approach

In Punukula, 174 farmers along with 120 farmers from Pullaigudem soon became capable of explaining to others the principles behind the new pest management approach and about how they were benefiting.

Village Acreage Average Yield Average Cost of Cultivation/ha Average Net
Income per ha
Punukula and Pullaigudem 480 ha 30 q/ha Rs. 21408/ha Rs. 52593/ha

Authors: Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu and Zakir Hussain, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, 12-13-445, Street no.1 Tarnaka, Secunderabad-500 017, Telangana, India.

Source : LEISA India, Vol 8-2



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