After noticing the pesticide level in rice exceeding stipulated limit, which has led to problems in export, major rice producing States in the South have been asked to take necessary steps to reduce the pesticide residue.
Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana have been asked by the Union Ministry of Agriculture to keep a watch on the use of pesticides by farmers that could finally enter the food chain.
“Export of rice has faced problems in the last few years in different markets such as the U.S., E.U. and Iran owing to detection of pesticides exceeding the prescribed maximum residue limits (MRLs),” said a cautionary note that has been sent in late September to the Agriculture Departments of all five States through the Hyderabad-based Directorate of Oilseeds Development, which is the nodal agency for agri-related activities for South India. In Karnataka, the note was forwarded to the officials concerned in late November.
The note, which was issued following an advisory from the Commerce Ministry, pointed out that recently, the European Union has brought the MRL of Tricyclazole to 0.01 gm/kg. “Similarly, the U.S. does not permit the presence of residue of Isoprothiolane beyond 0.01 gm/kg. Therefore, paddy farmers are required to be selective in use of pesticides keeping in view the target market,” the note said. It has also urged the local department of agriculture and agricultural universities to review the use of pesticides in paddy and also create awareness among farmers of the correct dose.
Tricyclazole and Isoprothiolane, scientists say, are the two pesticides commonly used in paddy cultivation to prevent blast disease, a major threat to the Basmati and non-Basmati crops. However, an officer in one of the agriculture universities in Karnataka said these two chemicals are used in higher doses ‘by overzealous farmers to prevent crop loss’. He added that irrespective of export or domestic consumption, pesticide residue should be low. “If it gets rejected in exports, the rice will find its way to the domestic market,” he warned.
However, according to Agriculture Commissioner G. Sathish, the advisory has a background of export rejection of Basmati rice and that Karnataka is not a Basmati growing region. “The advisory is about the time between application of pesticide and harvest.”
But following the Union government’s advisory, the State has decided to check the MRLs from the coming season, and has asked the joint directors to collect samples for tests. They have also been asked to start awareness clinics to impress upon the farmers to use pesticides in suggested quantities.
How rampant is fertilizer use?
Is pesticide being indiscriminately used in paddy cultivation in Karnataka?
There are differing views on this. While farmers, and an officer of an agriculture university whom The Hindu spoke to, acknowledged that it is the case, Agriculture Department officials claim that pesticide use is under control.
Farmers say that local fertilizer dealers have emerged as an advisor to farmers, who follow their instructions instead of sticking to the protocols issued by the Agriculture Department or agriculture universities. Rice growers like A.N. Anjaneya from Harihar taluk in Davangere, Revanna Siddappa Chinchiraki and Bheem Rao of Sindhanur taluk in Raichur district said that farmers have been using pesticide doses higher than the prescribed limit.
Mr. Anjaneya said: “The department recommends spraying insecticide once or twice depending on the need. However, farmers end up spraying anywhere from 4 to 8 times. While the department recommends one-and-a-half quintal of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium) per acre, farmers apply at least four-and-a-half quintals.” In fact, he said that though the department does not always advice use of systemic pesticides (which remain in the plant for a long time), farmers use them at their discretion.
Revanna Siddappa, who earlier was a fertilizer trader in Sindhanur but now practises organic farming on his five-acre lemon orchard, said that farmers spend a huge amount of money on fertilizers and pesticides, which results in very little profit from agriculture. He added that scientists had a tough task on the same issue during a recent interaction at Kisan Vijnana Kendra at Lingasugur.
Another rice farmer Bheem Rao said while some have taken the advice of the agriculture university or the Agriculture Department, a large section of farmers in Raichur do not adhere to the protocol. “Due to abuse of fertilizers and pesticides over the years, the soil has lost its fertility and farmers have been increasing the quantity of fertilizer/pesticide,” he explained.
However, Agriculture Commissioner G. Sathish disputed the claim. He said that spending more money on fertilizers or pesticide does not make agriculture activity viable nor any business sense for farmers. “They may waste water but do not abuse fertilizers or pesticides. Normally, we recommend less than the sub optimal dose, which is based on weather and crop, and they stick to that.” He acknowledged that the department had not tested samples though it has the facilities to do so. “We offer testing facilities to anyone wanting to test samples. Similar facilities exist in the private sector and agriculture universities too,” he said.