Agrochemicals are an important input for the agriculture sector. Judicious usage of pesticides/ agrochemicals is important for the sustained growth of agriculture and economy. There is a significant share of non-genuine pesticides in the Indian market, which can be counterfeit, spurious, adulterated or sub-standard. These products are inferior formulations which are unable to kill the pests or kill them efficiently. Sale of these substandard and spurious pesticides is a major problem with serious implications for farmers, society, environment and economy at large.
The farmer feels cheated as he not only loses his money buying such spurious products but also suffers from crop damage and loss of valuable yield due to poor pest control. Governments lose valuable income as most of these products are sold illegally without any taxes paid on them. Further, the impact of such products on the soil, water and environment and on the health of orchardists is a serious issue.
The market delivery of pesticides is a complex system due to the existence of a number of functionaries between manufacturing companies and farmers. It is compounded further by the presence of a number of analogous agro-chemicals and the existence of unlicensed functionaries in the market.
Apple production is a capital-intensive venture and the expenditure on pesticides constitutes a major portion of total cost. Pesticides applied on apples constitute more than 80 percent of all the agro-chemicals utilised in J&K. The pesticide delivery system here is largely unorganised owing to an extensive network of pesticide companies and their distributors/dealers that popularise and sell agro-chemicals in the rural areas. Fungicides alone account for about 70 percent of the total pesticide sale in J&K, followed by insecticides and acaricides.
Fruit growers in Kashmir say their crops are under threat from spurious pesticides. The government agrees this is a matter of concern but points out that its role in the pesticides market is not a direct one beyond checking and licensing, which is evident from the fact that no concrete action has been taken against those who have been found indulging in sale of substandard pesticides. The appearance of scab infection on leaves and fruits has subdued hopes of a bumper apple crop in Kashmir this year, at a time when the fruit industry has suffered severe setbacks due to August 5 clampdown and early snowfall and then the lockdown because of Covid-19. Most of the orchardists attribute this scab to substandard pesticides and fungicides. They claim that an organised pesticide mafia is supplying substandard pesticides and fertilisers to Kashmir markets. Pesticides and fertilisers of hundreds of companies bearing different names and price tags have become available in the valley and opportunists are enjoying complete political and bureaucratic patronage allegedly in exchange for hefty amounts of money. Experts believe that hundreds of unchecked pesticides and fertilisers available in the markets are completely substandard in nature and are like packs of “fried soil” which do not contain even 0% nutrients in them.
According to a study conducted by FICCI, the fake pesticides industry in India was estimated at INR 3,200 crore (USD 525 million) in 2013, which accounted for 25 percent by value and 30 percent by volume of the domestic pesticides industry in 2013. This percentage is much higher in J&K, as is evident from the study conducted by scientists in Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology Kashmir (SKUAST-K). According to that study, the percentage of spurious chemicals available in the market is: Dodine 29.5%, Myclobutanil 23.2%, Bitertinol 21%, Captan 36.7%, Propineb 25.6%, Hexaconazole 62.2%, Difenoconazole 35.5%, Mancozeb 21.6%, Ziram 19.4%, and Zineb 58.8%.
Reasons for proliferation of substandard and fake pesticides
1. Price of the non-genuine / illegal product may be up to 30%-40% lower than the authentic brand.
2. Margin on non-genuine / illegal products is very high (as much as 25%-30%) as compared to 3%-5% in branded products. This incentivises retailers to push non-genuine / illegal products.
3. Some distributors and retailers mix packets of original branded pesticide with the “exact copies” of the packaging and make a bigger carton. Hence, it becomes extremely difficult for the customer to differentiate between authentic and fake product.
4. Empirical examples show that pesticide inspectors or officers concerned visit shops in certain areas only, once a month or only during peak season. The schedules of their visits are already known to the distributors and retailers and the counterfeiters are able to hide their non-genuine / illegal products. Moreover, most distributors and retailers convince the pesticide inspector with unethical means to draw samples only from products of reputable companies.
5. There exists lack of education and awareness among farmers. Only 25%-30% of the farmers are aware of the proper use of pesticides and they don’t exactly know what to spray in their fields. For example, most farmers don’t ask for specified chemicals or brands and often ignore if specified details are not available on products. Hence, most farmers can’t make out the authenticity of the pesticides they are buying.
6. Farmers are largely dependent on commission agents who normally run pesticide retail shops. They extend credit to farmers to buy pesticides. Therefore, farmers become compelled to buy whatever is available with these agents. Studies indicate that 50%- 60% of the farmers purchase pesticides on credit. Therefore, it is not in their interest to refuse the product which is offered by these agents/ retailers who often refuse to provide credit on branded products.
7. In case a farmer notices less impact of purchased pesticide on the pests and complains to retailer, the retailer blames the farmer instead, stating reasons such as low dosage, improper usage of fertiliser, and so on.
1. The government can make a short term diploma course on pesticide usage mandatory for agro-chemical retailers and also train agro-dealers on dealing with non-genuine/ illegal products. Of all the agro dealers in Kashmir, only 10% are estimated to be qualified.
2. A portal can be developed where the list of distributors and their retailers are listed. This will help farmers as well as quality control inspectors in identifying authorised distributors and retailers.
3. The government can reward a person who gives correct information about an illegal activity. The reward value can be extracted from the offender.
4. Raids should be planned with the help of a special task force which includes a pesticide inspector and a police officer. Even a small number of raids with media coverage will send a strong message to the counterfeiters and it can act as a deterrent.
5. There is need for effective regulation of pesticide trade. Checkpoints at each production centre should be equipped with chemical testing facilities and it should be mandatory that each imported container of pesticides should undergo registration at a checkpoint with sample-based testing.
6. Companies and government institutions need to promote/ identify chemicals that are efficient and environmentally safe.
Keeping these control measures aside, what we see on the ground is that authorities rarely act against the mafia of pesticide dealers. In many cases a fine of Rs 10,000-15,000 and is levied and within a few days the person fined resumes business activity. How cruel is it that a person who has destroyed the crops of hundreds of families and profited lakhs and crores from poor orchardists in exchange for substandard pesticides, is left free after paying a few bucks. This points towards a nexus between the mafia and the people in power. In order to protect the apple industry from further destruction, there is need of long-term measures which include, among others, formation of a regulatory body which can exclusively deal with quality of pesticides, so that people involved in the heinous crime of selling fake and substandard pesticides are booked and their illegal business activities are shut forever. It also includes amendment in the Pesticides Act and other strict measures on the part of the government. Moreover, there is a need for intervention by the Anti Corruption Bureau to break the back of this illegal business.
The writer is a research scholar at Central University of Kashmir