Among the many bills listed for consideration and passing in the Budget Session of Seventeenth Lok Sabha (India) between January 31 and April 3, two of them hold much significance for the Indian agriculture sector — The Pesticides Bill, 2020 and the Seeds Bill, 2020. While the Seeds Bill, which has been pending since 2004, aims to regulate the production, distribution, and sale of seeds in the market, the Pesticide Bill will regulate the production of pesticides and check the sale of spurious products.
The Pesticides Management Bill, 2020 was approved by the Union Cabinet on 12 February 2020. It replaces the existing Insecticide Act, 1968, which Prakash Javadekar, the Minister for Information and Broadcasting, mentioned as “age-old and needs immediate rewriting”. The new bill proposes to promote the production and distribution of safe and effective pesticides and to reduce crop losses due to the use of spurious and substandard products. The bill also aims to assess the potential effects of these products on the health of people and the environment.
Once the bill has been passed, any individual or body that wishes to import, manufacture, or export pesticides will have to be registered under the new bill. The individual/body must also provide all details on any claims by the manufacturer, expected performance, efficacy, usage instructions, safety, the infrastructure required to stock the pesticide, and the potential effects of the product on the environment. Besides, advertisements for pesticides will also be regulated to prevent misleading claims on the part of the manufacturers and to avoid confusion among farmers. Manufacturers who violate the law will be subject to a heavy penalty in addition to an imprisonment of up to five years. The penalties collected will form a central fund that will provide compensation for farmers facing losses due to illegal, low-quality or spurious chemicals.
As mentioned previously, the bill will play a decisive role in restricting the production and sale of substandard and counterfeit products. Poor quality pesticides not only cause significant crop losses, sometimes as heavy as ₹30,000 crores, but also have adverse effects on human health and the environment. In 2015, counterfeits, with names that resembled their original counterparts and were produced secretly, accounted for nearly 30% of the $4 billion pesticide market according to a study endorsed by the government. Farmers without adequate access to credible sources of information are often tricked into buying cheaper, poor-quality pesticides that don’t provide enough protection against pests. The toxicity of some unauthorised pesticides has killed dozens of farmers in India, and affected hundreds more, in recent years.
Unauthorised products also cripple the measures taken towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. A report published by the Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (TRACIT) describes their negative impact on achieving nine SDGs, i.e., SDG 1 (no poverty); SDG 2 (zero hunger); SDG 3 (good health and well-being); SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation); SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth); SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production); SDG 14 (life below water); SDG 15 (life on land); and SDG 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions).
The Pesticides Management Bill will ensure that farmers have access to relevant and vital information regarding all pesticides available in the market, including their strengths and weaknesses, risks, and other alternative products, in all languages and in a digital format also. The bill also proposes to promote organic pesticides. The in-depth information provided for each product will also enable farmers to regulate the use of pesticides to conform to the maximum residue levels (MRL) permitted in key export markets. This is significant for crops such as paddy, considering Basmati rice exports to the European Union have declined following the recent amendments to the MRLs in the region.
Manufacturers can ensure that farmers have access to high-quality products that perform as expected, by leveraging digital platforms such as CropIn’s and establishing a direct relationship with the buyers. On the one hand, this helps the agrochemical companies to market the right product to the right buyers and, on the other hand, the personal engagement improves farmer’s trust and loyalty for the brand. Based on insights derived from satellite-based intelligence, agrochemical companies can also keep an eye on the health and performance of farmlands in the region and make certain that the relevant crop protection products are available at distribution points or retail stores. Another approach to improve farmer loyalty is to showcase the product’s effectiveness through demo farms. Agrochemical companies can utilise digital platforms to build a database of farmers who attend demonstrations at the farm and provide them with regular updates on the products. This steady one-on-one engagement generates the much-needed opportunity to convert farmers who show interest into buyers who are assured of the product’s efficacy.
Farm management solutions such as CropIn’s SmartFarm also empower farming companies to configure a recommended package of practices that best suit the crop variety for that region. By doing so, the farming company can also specify what products the farmers need to apply for the variety of crops they cultivate to ensure that growers use only approved agrochemicals. This benefits farmers who are not lettered or lack access to credible information about the products they use. Implementing SmartFarm to monitor farm activities also ensures end-to-end traceability, particularly for organic produce, to demonstrate that farming practices comply with quality standards and export regulations. This also helps authenticate that the agrochemicals used are within permitted levels and do not pose any harm to humans or the environment.
Considering India is the leading producer of pesticides in Asia, the move to regulate the pesticide production is a monumental one. It is now the responsibility of pesticide manufacturers to produce and distribute only those products that are of value to the farmers. Effective measures also need to be taken to educate farmers on the importance of using high-quality pesticides and to provide them with the tools to help them differentiate between authorised and counterfeit ones.
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