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Responsible Farming and Reliable Food Security

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  • Date:- 08 Nov, 2019

'Responsible Farming and Reliable Food Security'

As we grow in population, one of our biggest worries is the supply of food for the generations to come. India is home to 329 million hectares of land – the 7th largest in the world, and with 156 million hectares, it has the 2nd largest total arable land in the world[ http://www.indiachem.in/brochure/Presentation%20by%20Mr.%20Harsh%20Dhanuka-%20Dhanuka%20Agritech.pdf (Can we mention FAO stats here rather than this presentation) ]. This provides livelihood to 60 per cent of Indians and is one of the most dependable sources of food for future generations. One of the typical concerns for farmers across the globe is the steady decline in the amount of available arable land – in past few decades, arable land per person has reduced from 0.52 ha to 0.2 ha, straining the balance and creating problems. To address this issue, developed and developing countries have adopted using agrochemical products which not only had pesticides, it also had plant growth regulators (PGRs) and bio-fertilisers that promoted the growth of plants. As the indiscriminate use of agrochemicals fuelled the speculation of terminal diseases in consumers, it threatens to derail the attempts to attain food security, making it imperative to identify means to not only regulate use of agrochemicals but also to dispel the myths around it.

Low use of agrochemical by an exporter

India is one of the largest exporters of agricultural products – government report suggests that the country accrued an US$14.6 billion trade surplus of agricultural, fishery, and forestry goods in 2018 that consisted of Basmati rice, carabeef/meat of bovine animals, frozen shrimp and prawns, cotton, and refined sugar[ https://www.export.gov/article?id=India-Agricultural-Sector]. This is despite productivity prompted by unpredictable weather, erratic monsoons (over 50 per cent of cultivated land is rain-fed), decline in soil fertility, shrinking groundwater resources, lack of storage, transportation, inefficiency in the food distribution system, lack of awareness in the use of modern agricultural practices and technologies among the farming community, small average farm sizes of 1.08 hectares, and agricultural subsidies that distort market signals and hamper productivity-enhancing investment. Surprisingly, India’s agrochemicals consumption is one of the lowest in the world – paddy accounts for the maximum share of pesticide consumption at about 28 per cent, followed by cotton at 20 per cent. On the other hand, the per hectare consumption in India is merely 0.58 kg as compared to the US, and Japan with 4.5 Kg/ha and 11 Kg/ha, respectively[ http://ficci.in/events/20563/add_docs/sectorbrief.pdf]. More precisely, India accounts for a mere 1 per cent of the global pesticide use while countries such as China, the US and Brazil together consume about 62 per cent. These data should allay the fears in consumers that the food they eat is laden with lethal agrochemical products.

Is there a link between use of pesticide and cancer?

In the past, pesticide residues were found above MRL in merely 2 per cent of the food items examined by the government which includes organically grown food, seemingly without any use of agrochemical. Most of the cancer cases in men affect their liver, lungs and prostate caused primarily by the consumption of alcohol and tobacco while women are more affected by cancer of breast, cervix, and uterus. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently said that there is no conclusive evidence to show an association between pesticide and cancer incidence and has not included any pesticide in its list of potentially cancer-causing elements. To sustain the

increasing consumer demands and remain a leading exporter, India needs agrochemicals – 37 per cent of India’s crops are lost to weeds as only 20 per cent of agrochemical use involves herbicide. This is a gross contrast to international scenario where a whopping 43 per cent of agrochemical use relates to herbicide. Food crops must compete with 30,000 species of weeds, 3,000 species of nematodes and 10,000 species of plant-eating insects. Agrochemicals are the last and one of the key inputs in agriculture for crop protection and better yield[ http://www.careratings.com/upload/NewsFiles/Studies/Agrochemicals.pdf]. However, unnecessary use of agrichemicals may have health effects, a fact that necessitates farmer’s education to knowledge and best practices in agriculture. The farmer is entitled to know the right amount of agrochemical needed for a particular kind of product, the right means to broadcast it as well as the right stage to use agrochemical. This will not only reduce the incidents of pesticide residue in food items, but also help maintain a balance of nutrients in the soil and ensure that chemicals do not affect the soil health.