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close this bookEnvironmentally Sound Technologies for Women in Agriculture (IIRR, 1996, 213 p.)
close this folderPests and pesticides
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View the documentBiological control of malaria
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View the documentSafe use of pesticides
View the documentHazard of pesticides
View the documentPesticide facts and fiction
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View the documentBeekeeping

Pesticide facts and fiction

Consumers beware

Large quantities of pesticides are used on vegetables which go directly from the farm to consumers. Both farmers and middlemen apply pesticides to vegetables


Only 5 percent of India's crop area is used to grow cotton, but cotton accounts for 50 percent of the pesticides used in the country.

Pesticide use in India has increased rapidly in the past few decades. At present, the annual consumption of pesticides in the country is approximately 80,000 tonnes of active ingredients, with an average consumption of about 400-450 g/ha. India ranks second in Asia after Japan and tenth in the world in pesticide use. The states of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, and Karnataka alone account for 83 percent of pesticide consumption in India. Nearly 67 percent of the pesticides are used for cotton and rice cultivation. About 70 percent of the pesticides in India are insecticides; many of these are organochlorine compounds which leave harmful residues.

Popular misconceptions

Misconception 1

We need pesticides to grow more food for hungry people.


- Currently, the world produces more than enough food for everyone. The problem is not insufficient production but the inability of the poor to pay for, or to grow, the food they need.

- It is possible to grow enough food using a minimal amount of pesticide.

Misconception 2 Pesticides are a cheap, effective way to control pests.


- Indiscriminate use of pesticides can increase crop losses in the long run

- Pesticides lose their effectiveness over time.

- At first. chemical pest control seems cheap and effective, but soon pests develop resistance to these chemicals.

- Since the natural enemies of pests are destroyed as well, pests multiply in greater numbers.

- Farmers tend to apply ever larger doses of more powerful, more costly pesticides, or even mixtures of pesticides to combat resurgence. The cycle continues.

Misconception 3

The adverse effects of pesticides, if any, are confined to the areas where they are applied.


- Particles of pesticide can be carried thousands of miles by wind, rain, snow, and surface water.
- Pesticides can enter the water and soil and affect large areas.
- Pesticides can alter the ecological balance over a wide area.
- Pesticides can also get into the food chain, harming fish, livestock, and people.

Misconception 4

Plants, animals, and people can only be affected by direct exposure to pesticides.


- Direct exposure to pesticides (through touch and inhaling) are harmful. But, indirect, long-term effects, such as groundwater poisoning, are also very serious.

Misconception 5

Pesticides usually disappear after they are applied.


- Many pesticides do break down rapidly, but others, such as DDT, Dieldrin and BHC, can remain toxic for as long as 20 years.

- Breakdown products of some pesticides (e.g., Malathion and Aldicarb) are more toxic than their parent compounds.

Misconception 6

Pesticides are tested in laboratories and in extensive field trials before they are sold in the market.


- The United States has the most stringent testing standards in the world. Yet, few pesticides have undergone all the legally required tests, especially for birth defects, genetic effects, and damage to the body's nervous and immune systems.

- Many pesticides sold in the developing world do not conform to accepted standards. Many are fake products or are adulterated.

Misconception 7

Application or handling of hazardous chemicals is done solely by men, women have nothing to do with pesticides.


- In a large number of cases, women handle pesticides directly while mixing and spraying. Women are often responsible for mixing pesticides and maintaining and cleaning the spraying equipment.

- During storage of household food grains and seeds, the chemicals are handled mostly by women.

- Women head 12-16 percent of farm households in India. In these households, women must perform all agricultural tasks, including pesticide handling and application.

- Many women are employed in rice mills, dal mills, ginning factories, and in the bidi industry, where they are exposed to pesticide residues.

- Agricultural operations like sowing, weeding, and harvesting are done almost exclusively by women. Women also work on coffee, tea, cashew, spice, cotton, and other plantations, all of which involve heavy use of pesticides.

Contributors: Dr. H. K Sawhney and Aarti Gombar