About Pesticides

About Pesticides

  • The term pesticide covers compounds including insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, rodenticides, molluscicides, nematicides, plant growth regulators and others.


Benefits of pesticides

  • Improving productivity: Food grain production has increased almost fourfold from an estimated 169 million hectares of permanently cropped land.
  • Protection of crop losses/yield reduction: Weeds reduce yield of dry land crops by 37–79%. Herbicides provided both an economic and labour benefit.
  • Vector disease control: Insecticides are often the only practical way to control the insects that spread deadly diseases such as malaria.
  • Quality of food: A diet containing fresh fruit and vegetables far outweigh potential risks from eating very low residues of pesticides in crops. Eating fruit and vegetables regularly reduces the risk of many cancers, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other chronic diseases.
  • Other areas: The transport sector makes extensive use of pesticides, particularly herbicides. Herbicides and insecticides are used to maintain the turf on sports pitches, cricket grounds and golf courses. Insecticides protect buildings and other wooden structures from damage by termites and wood-boring insects.


Hazards of Pesticides

  • There is now overwhelming evidence that some of these chemicals do pose a potential risk to humans and other life forms and unwanted side effects to the environment
  • Direct impact on human
    • The high risk groups exposed to pesticides include production workers, formulators, sprayers, mixers, loaders and agricultural farm workers.
    • During manufacture and formulation, the possibility of hazards may be higher because the processes involved are not risk free.
    • OC compounds could pollute the tissues of virtually every life form on the earth, the air, the lakes and the oceans, the fishes that live in them and the birds that feed on the fishes.
    • Low-dose exposure to certain environmental chemicals, including pesticides termed as endocrine disruptors are linked to human health effects such as immune suppression, hormone disruption, diminished intelligence, reproductive abnormalities and cancer.
  • Impact through food commodities
    • In India the first report of poisoning due to pesticides was from Kerala in 1958, where over 100 people died after consuming wheat flour contaminated with parathion (Karunakaran, 1958).
  • Impact on environment
    • Pesticides can contaminate soil, water, turf, and other vegetation.
    • In addition to killing insects or weeds, pesticides can be toxic to a host of other organisms including birds, fish, beneficial insects, and non-target plants.
    • Insecticides are generally the most acutely toxic class of pesticides, but herbicides can also pose risks to non-target organisms.
    • Pesticide sprays can directly hit non-target vegetation, or can drift or volatilize from the treated area and contaminate air, soil, and non-target plants.
  • Effect on soil fertility
    • Heavy treatment of soil with pesticides can cause populations of beneficial soil microorganisms to decline.
    • If we lose both bacteria and fungi, then the soil degrades.
    • Overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides have effects on the soil organisms that are similar to human overuse of antibiotics.


Challenges in banning the pesticides

  • Food security can be adversely impacted with reduction in productivity.
  • There is pressure from the fertilizer industry that the government is unable to take a decision to ban the entire 66 pesticides.


Government initiatives

  • The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare is implementing a program for “Monitoring of Pesticide Residues at National Level” (MPRNL) under which samples of agriculture commodities are collected and analyzed for the presence of pesticide residues.
  • Central Integrated Pest Management Centres (CIPMCs) under the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare conduct Farmers Field Schools to sensitize farmers regarding safe and judicious use of pesticides, use of bio-pesticides etc.
  • A ‘Grow Safe Food’ campaign has also been initiated carrying the message of safe and judicious use of pesticides to farmers and other stakeholders.
  • Under Soil Health Management Scheme, financial assistance is provided to States for imparting training and demonstration to farmers on balanced use of fertilizers.
  • The Government is encouraging establishment of Bio-fertilizer units by providing financial assistance to State Governments.


Way forward

  • Our efforts should include investigations of outbreaks and accidental exposure to pesticides, correlation studies, cohort analyses, prospective studies and randomised trials of intervention procedures.
  • Valuable information can be collected by monitoring the end product of human exposure in the form of residue levels in body fluids and tissues of the general population.
  • Education and training of workers is a major vehicle to ensure a safe use of pesticides.