In a significant move to prevent the indiscriminate use of herbicides, the Andhra Pradesh Government has restricted the use of herbicides, especially glyphosate, in agriculture.
The order was passed after the Special Commissioner of Agriculture of the state, in a letter to the government, pointed out that “the injudicious use of herbicides particularly non-selective herbicides like glyphosate in agricultural and horticultural ecosystems leads to serious implications in many cultivated crops in Andhra Pradesh.”
According to the order, the herbicides cannot be used in any of the crops in the Kharif season, i.e. June to November. The approval of the Central Insecticides Board & Registration Committee is mandatory to recommend/procure/store/use any agro chemical, as per the Insecticide Act, 1968.
The herbicides specified in the order can be used in non-cropped areas, or during the months of December to May, but only with specific recommendations by authorised personnel.
Additionally, all retailers in Andhra Pradesh have been directed to sell only the recommended quantity of herbicide to be used during non-crop growth season in non-cropped areas.
Farmers have also been discouraged from cultivation of illegal Herbicide Tolerant (HT) crop varieties to prevent the use of non-selective herbicides.
Speaking to TNM, G Vinaichand, Additional Director of Agriculture, and Director, Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA, Andhra Pradesh), said that “the decision was taken after examining random samples from some seed processing units.”
Check on illegal use of BT cotton
Environment and agriculture activists have lauded the move saying it will not only help control the excessive use of herbicides but also check illegal cultivation of BT cotton.
“It is a welcome move. It addresses the ill-effects of glyphosate as well the fact that it is being illegally used on illegally cultivated HT cotton,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, national co-convenor of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA).
“Glyphosate and other weedicides are very problematic in two ways,” explained Kiran Kumar Vissa of the Rythu Swarajya Vedika, an organisation of non-profits focused on agriculture.
“Firstly, the poison that we are putting into our soil will also enter our food chain and glyphosate has also been identified by WHO as a possible carcinogenic. Secondly, increasing use of weedicide is also damaging to farmers in the longer run. The weedicide is meant to kill vegetation and this makes it harmful to agriculture. Because, you keep the soil alive and the microbes alive. Different vegetative matters actually enrich the soil fertility.”
Why HT crops are harmful
HT cotton, a genetically modified strain developed by US life sciences giant Monsanto, does not have the Centre’s approval for commercial use. Despite this, HT cotton is being illegally produced in several states in the country, including Telangana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. The AP government had also recently issued show-cause notices to two companies for using the illegal gene.
Genetically modified cotton seeds with herbicide tolerant (HT) traits can withstand the effects of specific herbicides, in this case glyphosate. So when the chemical is sprayed around the crop, it only kills the weed and not the plant.
Farmers as well as activists point out that this is not only harmful for the environment but also for farmers.
“While glyphosate is a potential threat to the soil and the crop, it is also a carcinogenic,” said Nallamada Rythu Sangam (farmers’ association) president and retired doctor K Raja Mohan Rao.
Another concern is that multinational corporations, which are developing both the herbicides and the HT seeds, will only make farmers dependent on them for both the products. The emphasis should instead be on following traditional agricultural practices.
“HT seeds are not apt for all ecological environments. MNCs are creating this monocrop-monotype seeds to take over the world markets,” Dr Raja added.
Traditional methods of deweeding
“Herbicides have come just in the last few years. Farmers have been doing agriculture for thousands of years, both successfully and productively. It is not like farmers will get much more productivity because of these herbicides,” Kiran Kumar stated.
Manual weeding is one such method, which also gives employment to thousands of agricultural workers. When weeding is done manually, workers can selectively pull out harmful weeds rather than indiscriminately destroy everything except the main crop. There are also instruments that can be used to remove weeds.
“Also, when you do integrated farming, what you normally consider as weed may not actually be a weed. When you do complete mono-cropping, the focus is only one crop. So any plant other than the main crop is considered a weed. But when you do integrated farming, you are growing five or six crops in the same area. And here, due to a multiple cropping system, whatever you consider weed is also very little,” he said.
Monitoring sale of illegal HT seeds
Narasimha Rao, a cotton farmer from Guntur’s Sattenapalle, said that some farmers use HT seeds that requires glyphosate thinking it will give good yield but “in the long run it will only kill the soil”. And they often end up buying the seeds from illegal dealers of glyphosate.
Farmers say the government now also needs to curb the illegal sale of HT seeds.
“The government should increase monitoring the sale of illegal HT seeds that are not just harmful to the soil but also can impact our health and environment,” AIKS (Alli India Kisan Mahasabha) member Radha Krishna said.