A recent study ‘Impact of large-scale, government legislated and funded organic farming training on pesticide use in Andhra Pradesh, India: a cross-sectional study’ assessed the impact of the Andhra Pradesh Community Managed Natural Farming (APCNF) programme. The aim of this study published in ‘The Lancet Planetary Health’ was to determine whether the APCNF policy reduced the use of pesticides by farmers and sales of pesticides by pesticide retailers.
The APCNF policy promotes zero synthetic chemical inputs, and emphasises four farming practices: microbial seed coating with cow-dung-based and urine-based formulations; enhancing the soil microbiome by integrating cow dung and urine; cover cropping and mulching; which together result in greater soil humus (organic matter) and improved soil aeration and water retention.
The programme also promotes the use of botanical extracts for pest management, minimal tillage using indigenous seeds, and crop diversity. Rythu Sadhikara Samstha (RySS) was established by the government of Andhra Pradesh to train the 6 million farmers who reside in the state in APCNF practices. As of December 2020, RySS had trained 580 000 farmers across 3011 villages in the state.
APCNF training is implemented by farmers known as community resource persons (CRPs). CRPs are selected via a community audit, in which natural farming knowledge and leadership skills are evaluated. After selection, CRPs are trained for 1 year before being placed in the field. Clusters of around 2000 farming households are assigned 2–5 CRPs, who are paid by the government to live in the cluster and motivate and support farmers in adopting APCNF practices.
CRPs also identify a pool of master farmers, known as internal community resource persons (iCRPs), some of whom are trained for 2–3 years to become CRPs for new clusters. One iCRP is appointed for every 100 farmers.
NGOs are also involved. Implementing NGOs assist with farmer training at the cluster level. Resource NGOs contribute to the programme by providing expertise and evaluation support.
The use of pesticides in agriculture has been associated with the destruction of biodiversity and damage to human health. A marked reduction in pesticide use is urgently required globally, but whether this can be achieved rapidly and at scale is unclear.
The researchers did a cross-sectional survey between Aug 11 and Nov 26, 2020, among farmers and pesticide retailers in Kurnool District of Andhra Pradesh (India). It aims to transition 100% of the agricultural land of Andhra Pradesh (population approximately 49 million, 6 million of whom are farmers) to organic farming practices by 2030. T
he study did cross-sectional phone interview surveys of farmers and face-to-face surveys of pesticide retailers. We used multivariable Poisson regression models to estimate relative risks (RRs) and logistic regression models to estimate odds ratios (ORs).
962 farmers were invited to participate, of whom 894 (93%) consented (709 conventional farmers and 149 APCNF farmers). 47 pesticide retailers were invited to participate, of whom 38 (81%) consented. APCNF farmers had practised APCNF for a median of 2 years (IQR 1–3).
APCNF farmers were less likely to use pesticides than conventional farmers (adjusted RR 0·65 [95% CI 0·57–0·75]), although pesticide use remained high among both APCNF and conventional farmers (73 [49%] of 148 APCNF farmers vs 695 [99%] of 700 conventional farmers; p<0·0001).
APCNF farmers had lower pesticide expenditures than conventional farmers (median US$0 [IQR 0–170] for APCNF farmers vs $175 [91–281] for conventional farmers; p=0·0001). Increased frequency of meeting with agricultural extension workers was associated with reduced pesticide use among ACPNF farmers.
Seven (18%) of 38 retailers reported a decrease in sales of pesticides in the past 4 years; no difference in the odds of reporting a decrease in pesticide sales in the past 4 years was identified between APCNF retailers and conventional retailers (OR 0·95 [95% CI 0·58–1·57]).
Despite a major government drive for organic agriculture, about half of APCNF farmers continued to use pesticides and no impact on pesticide sales at local retailers was observed.
The findings from the median of 2 years after adoption of APCNF indicate that the programme has substantially reduced the use of pesticides in Kurnool District of Andhra Pradesh. Farmers have been willing to adopt the techniques, demonstrating that farmers are willing to switch from pesticide use when offered a viable alternative.
These findings are encouraging because they show that a reduction in pesticide use at the farm level is possible on a large scale, in a short timeframe. However, 49% of APCNF farmers used some form of pesticide and demand has not yet changed enough for an impact to be observed on pesticide access at retailers. We found that training is crucial.
A clear association was observed between increased frequency of meeting with extension workers and reduction in pesticide use. Access to agricultural extension workers for support in dealing with pests is especially important in a context where pesticides remain widely available, since farmers are likely to default to what they are familiar with, especially if they are unfamiliar with agroecological approaches.
The findings suggest that government-led training programmes have the potential to reduce pesticide use, but that a combination of policy instruments, which might include private sector regulations (eg, bans on highly hazardous pesticides such as monocrotophos), not just farmer training, is likely to be needed for reductions to be observed on the scale envisioned by the Government of Andhra Pradesh (eg, complete elimination of pesticides).
The proposed ban on 27 hazardous pesticides in India would be one such instrument. Continued monitoring of pesticide use, especially personal exposure and resulting health effects, among farmers in Andhra Pradesh is needed to confirm findings and increase understanding with regard to the impact of this unique sustainable farming policy.
This is the first study to assess the impact of a large-scale government-funded agriculture programme on pesticide use for multiple crops. The findings will improve understanding of the effects of such policies, and could have global implications as the predominant agricultural framework shifts from the use of synthetic chemicals towards organic farming.
The full paper can be accessed here