Natural farming programme halves use of pesticides by farmers
State-led training of farmers in organic farming practices can substantially reduce pesticide use in India, study suggests.
Moves to transition farms in an Indian state to organic practices have reduced pesticide use among farmers, an evaluation of the programme has shown.
Reducing pesticide use is a key aim of the Andhra Pradesh Community-managed Natural Farming (APCNF) programme in south India, to limit environmental and human harm.
Improved training of both farmers and retailers, increased support from government agricultural representatives, and moves to limit the availability of pesticides could help the state of Andhra Pradesh become all-organic by 2030, according to a study.
Researchers from the UK, India and US, led by the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security, sought to assess the impact of the APCNF programme, which aims to transition 8 million hectares of farmland, belonging to 6 million farmers, to organic by the end of the decade.
Interviews with more than 850 farmers and almost 40 retailers showed that despite the major government drive towards organic agriculture, about half of organic farmers still used pesticides and there had been no impact on pesticide sales at local retailers.
The study included almost 150 farmers who had been practising organic farming for an average of two years. These farmers were less likely to use pesticides than conventional farmers, although pesticides continue to be used.
Farmers who met government agricultural extension workers more frequently were less likely to use pesticides, underscoring the importance of training, researchers found.
In the absence of training, when there is a pest outbreak, farmers who are new to organic practices may quickly default to the familiar use of pesticides, which are readily available from retailers.
The study, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, is the first to evaluate the impact of a large-scale government organic agriculture programme on pesticide use and availability.
It was carried out in collaboration with the Public Health Foundation of India, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, and Centre for Chronic Disease Control, India, and supported by the Scottish Funding Council and UK Research and Innovation.
Our findings are promising. APCNF farmers are less likely to use pesticides after about two years. We did not expect pesticides to drop to zero within just a couple years of the programme – a transition from input-heavy convention farming to organic does not happen overnight. The primary reason reported by APCNF farmers for decreasing their pesticide use over the past four years was personal health, and so our BLOOM study is exploring the health benefits of transitioning to organic among farmers in the state.
While promising, our findings suggest that a multifaceted approach is needed to truly eliminate the use of these harmful chemicals.