At least 50 farmers have died because of suspected pesticide poisoning since August this year. A majority of deaths were reported from Yavatmal, a major cotton-growing district in Maharashtra, which has often been in the news for farmer suicides.
More than 1,000 farmers have been affected by pesticide inhalation, showing symptoms such as respiratory problems, blurred vision, and nausea, and are still recovering at the government-run medical college and hospital.
Some farmers have lost their sight, while others are still in the intensive care unit.
Image for representation purpose – Source
The tragedy primarily occurred because the Bt cotton crop had failed to resist the dreaded Cotton bollworm, a pest that attacks approximately 183 host plant including beans, maize, and sorghum. It causes a lot of damage in the field and has developed resistance to several insecticides. To curb the menace, many farmers resorted to sprays of deadly cocktails.
Following the spate of deaths, the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) conducted a detailed study and submitted a report to the state government. According to the report, herbicide-tolerant genes, which are not permissible under the provisions of Environment Protection Act 1986, were found in the Bt Cotton seeds of five branded companies.
Cases against Krishi Seva Kendras or agro-input centres were filed under the Insecticide Control Act 1968 for selling non-certified pesticides and selling pesticides without the mandatory license.
However it is not possible to overcome this problem by only taking action against pharmaceutical companies or vendors, and the Department of Agriculture is trying to find out the opinions of the experts in this section to get a solution.
One of the recommended solutions is to render sale of pesticides illegal unless supported by prescriptions from agriculture officers.
Just like few medicines are sold only with doctors’ prescription, farmers will now have to get a prescription from an agri-officer to buy poisonous pesticides.
Image – Wikipedia
The concerned officer’s name and signature will be mandatory on the prescription.
The prescription will be given only after considering the number of farmers, geographical conditions, time of the year and the specific concern. These guidelines are set to be implemented shortly by the Maharashtra government.
The department will also spread awareness among the farmers, and the official ‘prescription’ will be given by the department for proper usage of pesticides for healthy crops. This will also make sure that only the required quantity of pesticide is owned and sprayed by the farmers.
In addition to this, an app called ‘Plantix’ that allows farmers to identify pests and diseases using their mobile phones and provide remedial measures, has also been developed. Farmers can upload a photo of their infected crop, and the app will diagnose the issue. Besides providing a diagnosis and steps to mitigate the disease, the app also offers information on preventing the disease in the next cropping season. Biological treatment options for pest and disease control is also provided by this app. The app will also help disseminate best practice methods to reduce pesticides and features a library of diseases which farmers can refer to in case there is no connectivity.
Currently, the database of the app has over 60,000 photographs and covers 30 crops in India, 60 crops worldwide and has prescriptions for over 200 crop diseases.
Every time a farmer uploads a picture for diagnosis, it will be time marked and geo-referenced. Hence, the database also facilitates pest and disease outbreak monitoring and can send early warning messages for specific locations.
The app can be downloaded on any Android-based mobile device. For farmers without a smartphone, an extension worker or farm facilitator or progressive farmer equipped with a tablet or smartphone can be the mediator. If there is no internet connectivity, photographs can be taken and later uploaded when it is available.
Farmers are the backbone of our country, and we hope that these efforts will bring an end to the agrarian crisis.