Awareness key for safe pesticide use

Recently the death of 20 farmers after spraying cotton crop with pesticides made the headlines. This is not an isolated case and similar incidents about the adverse impact of misuse of pesticides on farmers and agricultural labourers keep cropping up from different parts of India on a regular basis. Whether this is a case of poisonous pesticide released in the market without proper tests or pure negligence on the farmers’ part, is anybody’s guess.

The pesticides are designed to kill different crop pests and are poisonous by design; because if they are not, they will not be effective in controlling various diseases and pests. However, if not used with proper protective equipment, pesticides impact the farmers’ health adversely.Though the guidelines for safe use of pesticides are in place as “Do’s and Don’ts”for every stage of pesticide usage like purchase, transport, preparation of the solution, selection of equipment, spray and after spray, they are flouted with impunity and only a miniscule percentage of farmers follow them. The guidelines have been issued by Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine & Storage and awareness campaigns are also conducted by governments, private companies etc. In India, generally, most of the guidelines in country are voluntary and since no punitive actions are taken for flouting them, people normally don’t follow them, not considering the adverse impacts.

The key question then is why the farmers in India don’t use the pesticide protective equipment (PPE) which are designed to protect against the adverse impact of pesticides. The answer to this may be more to do with traditional practices,their lack of knowledge about proper use of pesticides and most importantly, the accessibility of PPEs.In a country like India, where small, marginal and medium farmers account for approximately 90% of the farming community, their knowledge about safe pesticides usage is minimal or non-existent. Though farmers are informed about the safe practices for use of pesticides by persons from government, private companies etc., they rarely follow them. Lau (2011), suggested that the health locus of control i.e. the degree to which individuals believe that their healthis controlled by internal or external factors, can be one ofthe explanations of farmers unsafe behaviors related to pesticide usage.

The private players, NGOs and government have a critical role to play in spreading awareness. The stakeholders need to keep reminding the farmers about the benefits of PPE time and again until the usage of PPE becomes part and parcel of their regular agricultural practices. The schools and colleges can become the starting point of awareness campaign by introducing the pesticide safe usage in the curriculum. This will be a key factor in change management process required for behavioral changes in the farming community and safeguarding them. Besides creating awareness, accessibility of protective equipment at pesticide retailer shops will go a long way in helping enforce the behavioral changes in farmers. The mechanism of the sale of pesticides need to be linked to purchase of protective equipment. The trainings for use and maintenance of the PPE at regular intervals will help maintain the effectiveness of equipment over a long period. Initially, the PPE sales can be subsidized by government with strict enforcement mechanisms in place at local level so that no pesticide sale occurs without protective equipment.

The pesticides are integral to the commercial crop production today and will have to be used to meet the food requirements of ever increasing global population. Creating awareness about safe usage and accessibility to protective equipment are the two key factors for bringing about behavioral changes in the farming community and ensure long term safety of the farmers.

1 Lau RR (1982). Origins of health locus of control beliefs. J PersSocPsychol, 42(2):322-334


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