group of villages in rural Andhra Pradesh show how natural integrated
pest management can transform cultivation in a painless way.
We had barely sat back to listen to the experience, when the next two
groups of inquisitive travellers arrived. One van-load was from a neighbouring
mandal of Khammam district; another bus full of people came all the
way from Warangal. Shri Hemla Nayak, Secretary of the Watershed Committee
of the village, smiled ruefully at us. He would now have to start telling
his story all over again.
But then, he has grown used to it. In the past months, the once sleepy
and unexceptional village of Pulukula, in Palvancha mandal of Khammam
district in Andhra Pradesh, has become a pilgrimage site of sorts, for
all those interested in seeing first-hand how natural methods of integrated
pest management work in practice. Shri Nayak now has to repeat his story
at least four times a day to new visitors; he says he has hardly any
time left for farming.
This is a small price to pay for what appears to be one of the most
successful attempts at using traditional farming methods effectively
and cheaply, and for the immense good work of spreading this message
to other cultivators. The Agriculture Minister of Andhra Pradesh has
already expressed interest in extending this experience to other areas,
which is another positive sign.
In Andhra Pradesh, costs of cultivation for most crops are among the
highest in India, and one important reason for this is the high dependence
in the region upon pesticides to control the various pests that routinely
attack cash crops such as cotton, chillies, tobacco and groundnut. The
high cost of inputs, as well as the proliferation of spurious seeds
and pesticides, have directly and indirectly contributed to growing
distress among cultivators, which has in turn led to the increasing
incidence of farmers’ suicides.
Cotton cultivation was learned in this area in the early 1980s from
the farmers who had migrated from Guntur district, where heavy pesticide
use is even more widespread. The same pesticide companies who served
the Guntur region also made their way here, in the same way that they
have spread across the state. The dealers in pesticides also supply
seeds and fertilisers to the farmers, often on credit at interest rates
ranging from 2 to 4 per cent per month.
Chemical pesticide prices are very high - in Pulukula, for example,
the farmers tell us they used to spend around Rs. 6,000 for pesticides
per acre of cotton cultivation every crop season. Further, the pesticides
became less effective over time as pests quickly developed resistance
to them, and newer more expensive varieties had constantly to be introduced.
Avant and Tracer are the brands that are currently popular across rural
Andhra Pradesh, but pests are already developing resistance to them
in several areas.
In addition to the costs and lack of effectiveness, there are serious
health risks associated with the use of these pesticides, which are
after all essentially concentrated poisons. Those spraying the pesticides
frequently fell sick, from the knock-on effects and from the spillages
that came from carrying the containers on their shoulders. Women who
mixed the solution suffered from nausea, vomiting and headaches. Poor
eyesight and itching were frequently reported, and in extreme cases
- which occurred at least once a season - people died from excessive
exposure. There was a thriving business for autorickshaws, transporting
sick people to the hospital in nearby Kothagudem.
The heavy use of pesticides on the cotton crop even affected the market
for the output - farmers found that they were getting lower prices because
the traders claimed that the garments made from their cotton caused
itching and discomfort on the hands and body.
Despite all these problems, the farmers persisted with the use of pesticides
because of the insecurity about pest infestations affecting crop output,
and there was even competitive pressure to use more and more on their
own fields if their neighbours were doing so.
Shri Nayak describes how K. Venumadhav, who was associated with the
NGO SECURE that ran the watershed project in the area, noticed these
adverse health effects and suggested that the villagers try more natural
alternatives. At first, he was greeted with cynicism from the villagers,
who felt that they had heard all this before many times from the usual
do-gooders who come to rural areas mainly to benefit themselves. But
he persisted and engaged some local youth and women to collect neem
seeds, so as to demonstrate on one field how pests could be controlled
When they saw the beneficial effects on both costs and output, the local
farmers were convinced, and started adopting the same practices. Other
NGOs such as Centre for Sustainable Agriculture moved in with an integrated
programme using locally available materials, and the programme increased
from being used by about 20 farmers, to covering the entire village
the following year. Now a group of five neighbouring villages are all
using the same methods, and the over 200 peasant households in these
areas have completely avoided buying any pesticides for the last three
The cost reductions and other benefits have been dramatic. From about
Rs. 6,000 per care, the costs of the natural pesticides (not counting
the costs of household labour used in preparation) amount to no more
than Rs. 300-400 per acre of cotton cultivation. The human and animal
health problems associated with pesticide use have disappeared. Remarkably,
even the yields have improved - on rain-fed plots the yields have increased
from 5 quintals per hectare to 8 quintals, on irrigated plots from 8
quintals to 12 or as much as 15 quintals. Certainly, the fields in October
showed a lush and healthy crop, which also reflected the good quality
of the soil in the area.
How difficult is the new system of natural integrated pest management
that the villagers are practising? Their own description makes it sound
relatively easy, and certainly something that can be implemented without
much difficulty in many other places. It consists of a range of techniques
applied successively to different stages of the crop. While the dominant
crop here is cotton, the villagers have already extended this system
to other crops such as chillies, red gram, vegetables and paddy, with
In the case of cotton, the first step is some intercropping - to ensure
the planting of some ''trap crops'' that attracts pests. These (such as
castor and chrysanthemum) attract pests who settle on the leaves, which
can then de removed and discarded during the egg-laying period of the
pests. The villagers also place some tree branches with small containers
of water, to attract birds, who then rest there, and eat the pests and
The purpose is to encourage the presence of ''beneficial'' insects and
birds which eat the harmful ones and therefore exert a natural control
on undesirable pests. Of course this is a more labour-intensive process,
requiring frequent checking of fields, but where rural underemployment
is so high, that is not really an issue. In any case, the villagers
point out that they are saving a lot of time, as earlier they used to
go to the pesticide shop!
When the cotton crop is young, it attracts white flies and sucking pests,
which generate leaf curl disease. For these pests, a neem extract is
sprayed on the crops. This is prepared by the villagers themselves (who
now have their own grinding machine purchased by a local women’s Self
Help Group). The neem seeds are collected in summer, soaked in water
to allow them to expand and dried. Then the seeds are ground into powder,
mixed with water and a very small quantity of detergent. Two sprayings
are usually required.
Since this spray tends to make the leaves brittle and affects flowering,
this is counteracted by a subsequent spray of a combination of fermented
cow dung and urine, to which a small quantity of lime is added. This
ensures good flowering, which in turn attracts new pests such as the
infamous bollworm, for which the genetically-modified BT cotton seed
was developed. To guard against this, a new concoction is prepared -
this time of a large quantity of chillies and a smaller amount of garlic
which are ground together, and mixed with some kerosene. This spray
has been found effective in controlling bollworm.
Another black variety of bollworm - a nocturnal pest called spodoptera
which comes in the last phases of the cotton crop - is dealt with by
placing little balls of rice bran and jaggery in the fields. The pests
die on eating this. Finally, the jassids who also come in this last
phase are attracted to small sheets of iron smeared with grease, placed
in the fields. The insects get stuck to it at night, and can be cleaned
out in the morning. In the fields we visited, cheerful bright yellow
squares could be seen dotting the fields of rich crop.
Because of the increasing use of this method, local production of these
natural inputs has already proved to be insufficient, and the local
people are already purchasing neem seeds, Despite this, the money outlays
on this are unbelievably low compared to the chemical pesticides in
the market, and the system is apparently more effective in controlling
pests and ensuring a healthy and non-toxic crop.
Of course, some people are not happy about this - particularly the pesticide
companies. In the village bus stop, we saw how the detailed instructions
that had been provided on the new pest management method had been completely
covered up by pesticide advertisements. The companies are already aggressively
campaigning against this natural system.
Despite this, the benefits are so self-evident that it is not surprising
that word is spreading rapidly across rural areas and so many people
are flocking here to learn about this method. In an agriculture ravaged
by the aggressive penetration of commercial inputs with often dubious
effects, this represents not only an important alternative but perhaps
a major way forward in redirecting cultivation practices. This little
village may be showing a way forward not only for other farmers in Andhra
Pradesh, but for the whole country.