Pests and pesticides contribute to the major economic and ecological problems affecting the farmers, crops and their living environment. Two decades of experience in Andhra Pradesh on Non Pesticidal Management shows that pest is a symptom of ecological disturbance rather than a cause and can be affectively managed by using local resources and timely action. The emerging new paradigm of sustainable agriculture based on agro-ecological principles shows that the new knowledge synthesized from traditional practices supplemented with modern science can bring in ecological and economic benefits to the farmers. The costs of cultivations could be brought down significantly without reduction in yield.
Indian Agriculture is as old as human civilisation and constantly evolving with contemporary innovations by the practitioners. Under the garb of modernising agriculture, the ‘traditional cyclic approaches’ were replaced by the ‘linear industrial approaches’ which ecological and economic crisis in farming. The institutional innovations which largely involved usage of external industrial inputs replaced the contemporary innovations by practitioners which involved multiple approaches to solve a problem and pluralistic ways of understanding an issue or a phenomenon. The frame work of their understanding always saw the indigenous knowledge as ‘traditional’-‘subsistence’ and backward. The mainstream agriculture institutions not only failed to understand the Indian socio-economic-political-ecological context but also the science behind the production practices or the cropping systems. The experiments with Non Pesticidal Management in Andhra Pradesh clearly shows that the Contemporary innovations based on Indigenous knowledge could have spread effectively if proper support is provided.
Pest management is seen as killing insects with toxins externally sprayed (Pesticides) over crops or genetically modified (GM) to produce internally in the plants. The ecological problems both with pesticides and GM crops are ignored.
The learnings from Integrated Pest Management (IPM) projects and Farmer Field Schools (FFS) experiences worldwide should have led to research on the complex interaction between crop ecology, agronomic practices, insect biology, and climate change to develop effective methods to manage disease and insect control strategies. Similarly the farmers’ knowledge on using the local resources could have been captured and the principles could have been standardized. But Farmer Field Schools (FFS) mostly remained as a paradigm shift in agricultural extension: the training program that utilizes participatory methods “to help farmers develop their analytical skills, critical thinking, and creativity, and help them learn to make better decisions”. The agriculture research and extension system worldwide still continue to believe in chemical pesticide based pest management in agriculture.
While the inevitability of pesticides in agriculture is promoted by the industry as well as the public research and extension bodies, there are successful experiences emerging from farmers’ innovations call for a complete paradigm shift in pest management.
Shifting Paradigms: Non Pesticidal Management
The ecological and economical problems of pests and pesticides in agriculture gave rise to several eco-friendly innovative approaches which do not rely on the use of chemical pesticides. These initiatives involved rediscovering traditional practices and contemporary grass root innovations supplemented by strong scientific analysis mainly supported by non-formal institutions like NGOs. Such innovations have begun to play an important role in development sector. This also shows how collaborative work of diverse players like public institutions, civil society organizations and Farmers can generate new knowledge and practice and can evolve more sustainable models of development.
Pest is not a problem but a symptom. Disturbance in the ecological balance among different components of crop ecosystem makes certain insects reach pest status. In fact experience shows that most of the pest problems are pesticide induced ecological disturbance in the crop ecosystem (Ramanjaneyulu, 2009). Non Pesticidal Management evolved from this perspective which is an ‘ecological approach to pest management using knowledge and skill based practices to prevent insects from reaching damaging stages and damaging proportions by making best use of local resources, natural processes and community action’.
Non Pesticidal Management is mainly based on
- Understanding crop ecosystem and adopting suitable cropping systems and crop production practices. The type of pests and their behavior differs with crop ecosystem. Similarly the natural enemies’ composition also varies with the cropping systems.
- Understanding insect biology and behavior and adopting suitable preventive measures to reduce the pest numbers. Curative measures if needed, are based on using various products like made out of locally available resources. The measures coupled with natural processes effectively manage the pests.
- Building Farmers knowledge and skills in preventive and curative measures. This is done through a Farmer Field School approach.
Most of the curative practices are based on making and using products from the locally available material like plant and animal material. Various processes like making solutions, concoctions, decoctions and fermented products. These products are locally made used. Hence only the processes are standardised but not the products.
On the hand farmers found them very useful and easy to make. As they do not use any external inputs they are cheaper. Even if some of them have highly toxic material (like Holarrhena antidysenterica (Pala Kodise) people never faced a problem as they know how to handle them safely. The recipes of these products are more or less based on the regular food preparations. Hence women find it easy to make.