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Indian farmers find pesticide-free way to grow

Letting nature take its course has brought bigger crops

<p>Indian farmers in Jind district in Haryana inspect crops for insects. (Picture: Ritu Sharma)</p>

Indian farmers in Jind district in Haryana inspect crops for insects. (Picture: Ritu Sharma)

  • Ritu Sharma, Haryana
  • India
  • June 16, 2014
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Angrejo Devi had a bumper yield of cotton and wheat for the sixth consecutive harvest last season.

It wasn't always that way in Haryana's Jind district, in northern India, as at the turn of the century insects had devastated the region's cotton industry while other predators wiped out 80-90 percent of other crops.

Devi recalled that even pesticides didn't stop crop destruction. The use of chemicals helped famers fall deeper in debt, but did little to help them produce better crops.

Nowadays, she and the region's other farmers no longer view insects as the enemy. In fact, they no longer try to kill the insects that invade their crops. They prefer to let nature take its course.

"We do not kill insects as they are necessary for the plants," Devi, of Needhana village, told ucanews.com.

Insects are separated into two categories: herbivores, which eat the crops, and carnivores, which eat the herbivores, Devi explained. The pesticides that farmers used killed the carnivores only, allowing the plant-eating insects to wreak havoc over the farmers' crops.

"When the number of herbivore insects increases, the carnivores automatically come to the plant and eat the former. So the balance is maintained automatically," she said.

Farmers still need to inspect their crops, to make sure the balance remains. But for the past six years, the region has remained pesticide free. They continue to discourage the use of pesticides as the chemicals are harmful to the soil and people's health.

This form of cultivation was introduced in 2007 by farming activist Surendra Dalal, who at the time was posted to Needhana by the Agriculture Department.

From 2001 to 2004, the American bollworm destroyed the entire cotton crop in the region, leaving farmers heavily in debt, recalled Kamal Saini, the district's agriculture development officer.

"Farmers used to spray pesticides 25 to 30 times to get rid of the worm where the actual usage of the pesticides on the crop [should be] four to five sprays. Even that did not help," Saini told ucanews.com.

He said that Dalal, who died last year, was very much concerned about the condition of the villagers and introduced this relatively new method after much research and study.

At the time when the American bollworm had attacked, the cotton yield per acre was reduced to  20 kgs per acre (0.4 hectares) when the normal yield should be 800-1200kgs, Saini said.

Farmers' incomes also have increased through the use of the new farming technique as they produce larger crops and no longer spend some US$500 a year on pesticides.

Devi noted that she has been able to build a house and marry off her daughter with the money she earned by adopting this form of cultivation.

"I have 10 acres of land and now I am able to save around [US$ 416] per year as I do not have to buy any pesticide. Also, our crops are free from the harmful affects of pesticides,” said Sheila Devi, a resident of Lalitkhera village.

She told ucanews.com she uses a fertilizer spray mixture that increases the fertility of the soil but "from this year on, I am not even going to spray this."

"The balance between the insects works fine for me," she said.

"It takes a lot of effort but at the end it is very rewarding as the yield is more and so is the profit and above all the product is healthy without any chemicals," she said. 

The use of pesticides has become an issue of grave concern in India, with foreign countries banning the import of Indian products. Last month, Saudi Arabia banned Indian red chillies after traces of pesticides were found. Other countries have banned India-produced fruit, like mangoes.

Meanwhile, the Haryana government has taken a strong interest in this farming technique, sponsoring an education awareness initiative to help spread the method to other villages. Fourteen villages in Jind district have adopted this technique so far.

Farmers also have visited Punjab and Uttarakhand states to educate farmers there.

"This year, we are planning to cover over 200 villages in Jind district. It is a slow process but this technique is very beneficial for the farmers," Saini told ucanews.com.

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