The introduction of commercial pesticides in the early 20th century and in particular synthetic organic chemicals like DDT (which was discovered in 1939) have had a major impact on agricultural practices. But decades of increasing pesticides use have not brought an end to these pest problems. The shortcomings of such a heavy dependence on these chemicals have become all too apparent. Four basic problems have emerged from the heavy use of chemical pesticides.
- Development of resistance to the chemicals by various pests
- Sudden resurgence of some target pests to even higher levels after the initial drop
- Outbreak of secondary pests that previously had remained below damaging levels
- Environmental contamination.
In the last few years interest in "traditional" insect control methods has been growing largely because such traditional methods are grounded in a solid understanding of the surrounding eco-system and synthetic insecticides have been proven to cause environmental and health hazards.
Traditional farmers with their centuries of experience knew that pests strike only those plants that are not quite healthy. Hence they strove to keep their crops healthy by looking after the soil through fallowing, composting crop residues, crop rotation, companion planting and other cultural practices. These traditional practices are based upon traditional wisdom and knowledge acquired over hundreds of years, in which reside as yet unarticulated deep, scientific and ecologically sound principles. Hence these practices can only be understood by a thorough examination and understanding of the underlying principles. In today's efforts to look for ecologically sound methods of pest control, much can be learnt and adopted from these practices. There is an urgent need to examine the traditional methods of pest control for use in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programmes.
The Southern Regional Seminar on Biological Methods of Pest Control (sponsored by CAP ART (Council for Advancement of People's Action and Rural Technology) and the State Government of Tamil Nadu) was organized by the PPST Foundation on 21st and 22nd November 1988. Dr. S. Jayaraj, Vice-chancellor, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University inaugurated the two-day Seminar. Sri. Sunderlal Bahuguna of CHIPKO Movement delivered the keynote address. Mr. Haribhaskar, Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Government of Tamil Nadu released the Souvenir.
The Seminar was divided into four technical sessions:
- Integrated Pest Management
- Bio-control in Practice
- Traditional Agriculture
- Bio-control by specific agents.
A lively open session concluded the proceedings of the seminar. Certain resolutions emerged, others were pointed to and suggestions for future work, for directions to proceed, in a broad fashion, fulfilled the Seminar's purpose.
Dr. S. Jayarafs inaugural address outlined succintly the imminence of establishing biological means of pest control. He pointed out that the Government of Tamil Nadu had launched a special food grains production programme and set increased targets of productivity for the current year. It was inevitable, therefore, that crop losses caused by pests, diseases weeds and other organisms be avoided. Dr. Jayaraj stressed the need to evolve alternatives to insecticides that ultimately got into the food cycle and posed health problems. Besides, he added pests become remarkably resilient in the face of continued use of pesticides and in some instances actually increased in number. Biological methods, on the other hand, work well within the eco-system without disrupting it and also eliminate pests.
Dr. Jayaraj observed that policy makers, planners, scientists, voluntary agencies and farmers have to work together to adopt IPM. He promised that Tamil Nadu Agricultural University would aid and assist these efforts.
Sri. Bahuguna's keynote address provided a subtle counter-point to the Vice-Chancellor's comments. Sri. Bahuguna, while accepting the premise that farming methods needed to be integrated within the eco-system, went on to critically examine what "modernization" in agriculture has come to mean. Agriculture, he remarked, was formerly culture - "the sublimation of nature for the achievement of peace, happiness and fulfillment for all creatures". But commercial farming had caused agriculture to adopt uneconomic and unnatural methods, all at the behest of industrial interests. Bahuguna referred to the farmers stir in the Ganga Nagar District of Rajasthan (area is also a centre of Green Revolution) and noted how pesticides manufactured in the factories of Fatehabad were supplied to farmers and, subsequently, discovered to be harmful. They were banned ultimately but, meanwhile crops and soil had been destroyed and farmers were demanding compensation!
Farmers today", pointed out Shri. Bahuguna "have become solely dependent on outside inputs and most of their earnings go to the industrialists. They have become the bonded laborers of the industries and bankers". So much so that even water, a natural resource is not available to farmers easily. Agro Industries consume a lot of water, leading to scarcity of drinking water in certain areas. But, stressed Shri. Bahuguna, change is urgent and revolutionary and creative change has to bring about alternatives to the present system. Change can begin in small ways but a creative minority can do much.
Against the background of these concerns and comments, the technical sessions unfolded. The first session was on IPM and Dr. Jayaraj took up the themes of his inaugural address in greater detail.
In the second session, four papers were presented. Mr. Brian D'Silva's (from Jan Seva Mandal) presentation dwelt on Community Management of pests using biocontrol. Mr. AR. Solayappan from the Bio-control Laboratory in Chengalpattu focused on the role and use of viruses as bio-control agents. He dwelt at length on the mass production of the Trieogramma parasites and its deployment against the sugarcane pests. He also referred to the use of viruses in controlling sugarcane pests. The introduction of viruses into the eco-system was questioned by several delegates. Mr. Solayappan maintained that viruses are host-specific and will not be able to attack any other organism. But the question of viruses changing their genetic codes remains unanswered and it was clear that the matter needed further investigation.
Sri. Narayana Reddy a farmer from Bangalore brought in his own farming experiences to bear on what he had to say about modern farming techniques vis-a-vis "organic" farming. He gave a delightful talk as to how the present day agricultural technology has made the farmer more and more dependent on external outputs. Earlier, seeds used to be collected by farmers from the fields, and ceremoniously brought home and stored and proudly displayed. But now seeds had to be obtained from outside. He referred to his own experience as a user of modern techniques and how in spite of being the best farmer for 3 consecutive years he discovered to his amazement, he was deeply in debt Only his lucky meeting with an organic farmer changed the tide. He noted that farmers were getting caught in a vicious circle, and unable to get away from modem techniques once they had begun using them. The way out of this circle lay with the technologists, who ought to get out of their ivory towers to understand farmers' problems. As far as pesticides were concerned, it was not a question of merely increasing production but using natural resources without hurting human, animal and soil health.
Next, Mr. Sugathan from Biocontrol Research Laboratory outlined the need to set up "insectaries" to culture parasites and predators.
The session on traditional agricultural practices began on a note of marked contrast to the technical session with historical overview of ancient practices of Agriculture by Sri T.M. Mukundan (PPST Foundation). The highlight of the presentation was the dispelling of certain well-entrenched myths regarding Indian Agricultural methods and practice.
Mukundan noted that British official sources reveal amazement at the highly evolved agricultural practices such as the rotation of crops, use of the drill plough, sophisticated animal husbandry practices/all of which were entirely foreign to British agriculture as it existed in the 18th Century. British officials had also noted the near optimal perfection of rice yield as a report submitted to a House of Commons Committee noted in 1832. A 1893 Report on Improvement in Indian Agriculture observed that "little or nothing can be improved" as far as production and management were concerned. If at all there were problems these existed only when facilities as available in the better districts were not to be had elsewhere. Mukundan also observed that the yield per acre of food grains Were, comparatively higher than similar yields in England and Europe even in 1890. Earlier yields, those that obtained in the 18th Century were substantially higher. Besides, there were functional and creative modes of social organization that managed the distribution of produce.
The broad interests invoked by Mukundan's paper were sustained admirably by Mr. Balasubramanian's (Assistant Director of Agriculture, Trichy) energetic good-humored comments on the "science" of traditional agriculture as found in popular sayings, proverbs and still extant in certain practices of fanners in parts of Tamil Nadu.
The second part of this session focused on interesting concepts and practices embodied in "natural" farming methods. Sri. Gopalan (who runs an experimented farm in Kerala) and Mr. Abey George have had experience with natural farming techniques and they were able to highlight several interesting aspects with regard to soil erosion, crop rotation etc. Sri. Upawansa from Sri Lanka presented his experiences in this respect with a wealth of information and in greater detail I The last session returned once again to practical aspects. Specific biocontrol agents were referred to, examined and discussed for effectively. Shahid Ali (an ornithologist) spoke on the role of birds as predators and pests. The relationship of birds to the agricultural environment had never been sufficiently studied in the Indian context. As early as 1935, Dr. Salim Ali had reported on birds in relationship to agricultural practices and recommended that studies be made to:
- quantify and compare species of birds eating insects
- determine crop cycles when birds frequent crops
- locate the synchronized presence of certain birds with certain insects
- find out which granivorous birds concentrate on grain.
Dr. Jagannatha Rao of the Madras Snake Park discussed the use of reptiles to kill pests. Once, the initial fear of snakes had been overcome, he suggested, farmers could rely on these reptilian friends. In the open session there was a great deal of questioning, discussion and participation. Farmers and extension workers came up to speak of their experiences, put forth their demands and voice their expectations.
A farmer from Chengalpattu shared her experience with multicultural farming, agroforestry, and biological methods of pest control, such as using dogs to kill rats. She suggested that a body such as the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University make available in Tamil, booklets on organic and natural farming methods.
Sri. R. Kumaraswamy from Puliangudi in Tirunelveli District commented on the inaccessibility of such centers of information on organic farming that were there. He suggested a body such as the PPST to solicit information on the farmers' behalf. He also narrated how once, the Government gave them faulty seeds to plant and consequently they had to use chemicals to destroy plant diseases. Yet another time the rice crop was so contaminated with pesticides that no rice mill would buy it.
A farmer from Andhra Pradesh talked of his success in using preventive pesticides such as neem leaves. An extension worker from Thiruporur referred to how biogas residue enriched the soil and suggested that conserving forests was primary for the well being of agriculture. Forests guaranteed rain and rain regulated pests, rain cools the atmosphere while it is only in the heat that insects multiply. He ended with a plea for increasing forest wealth and cattle wealth (latter, as a source of manure).
In the concluding session, the following suggestions were made and discussed from the point of view of follow-up action.
- Comprehensive documentation of traditional biological pest control techniques must be made, both from literary sources as well as peoples' practices. There should be a resource centre established for this purpose and this centre should popularize this information amongst the farmers as well as the scientists.
- Even though the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University has many centers where research in biological control is being done, the outcome of such research is not easily accessible to the fanners. Steps should be taken to rectify this lacuna.
- Effective pest control without chemical pesticides is not consistent with the modern chemical-based farm technology. Alternatives in the form of natural and organic farming should be developed and popularized to make large-scale biological pest control possible.
- The problem of feeding our increasing population can be greatly eased if tree farming is extensively adopted - trees that give food, fodder and fuel. Research and experimentation in this direction should be intensified.
- A permanent body, like a registered society, should be set up exclusively to deal with propagating and popularizing the ideas and techniques of biological pest control, starting of an all-India news-letter, and networking of various active groups, agencies and individuals.
A small working group was constituted to take up and finalize these matters and the FPST Foundation was requested to follow it up.'