Laxma Jarpula, farmer, hasn’t met agriculture scientists who say India’s food security and agricultural production rely heavily on pesticides. Three years ago, he decided to risk his cotton crop with pests, rather than pesticides. “I’d put the insects in the pesticides, and they wouldn’t die. The more pesticide I used, the greater the pest attack. I decided to save the cost of pesticides. And there was no difference in yield,” says the resident of Sitarampur village of Kothagudem mandal, Khammam district. He is only following a trend.
Down To Earth interviewed people in three mandals of Khammam: Palavancha, Kothagudem and Tekulapalli. It seems farmers in more than 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares, ha), perhaps 10,000 acres (4,000 ha), have stopped using pesticides on cotton, without anybody asking them to do it. “You won’t find a single farmer in this area using pesticides on cotton, though we still use pesticides on paddy, redgram and chilli,” says Islavat Sakru of Regulathanda in neighbouring Tekulapalli mandal. “Pesticides on cotton mean a guaranteed loss. It’s suicidal. There is no difference in yield whether you use pesticides or not. If you do, the cost of cultivation becomes unaffordable,” says Islavat Chandi, his wife. Farmers here have figured out the pesticide treadmill, though they have their own way to explain the resistance that pests acquire.
To understand the real drama here, consider some statistics. Cotton is the main crop in these mandals, occupying more than half the cropped area. (It occupies about 25 per cent of the total cropped area in the entire district.) Pesticide consumption in Andhra Pradesh has been among the highest in all states of India. In Khammam district, pesticide use is very high as compared to other districts, and it has reported a large number of suicides by indebted cotton farmers in the past 10 years. In India