India – Andra Pradesh – El Manejo de Plagas sin Pesticidas para plagas agrícolas: Escapando la Trampa de Pesticidas

Autor: Gerry Marten

  • Asistencia en visitas al sitio y aportaciones editoriales: Ann Marten
  • Esta historia detallada de un Punto de Inflexión Ecológica incluye una fotogalería
  • Esta historia se publicó en The Ecologist

Los agricultores de algodón en el distrito Khamman de la provincia Andhra Pradesh habían caído en un abismo, aparentemente sin salida, de uso de pesticidas y endeudamiento. Los suicidios se volvieron comunes. El “manejo de plagas sin pesticidas” fue el punto de inflexión que regresó la salud y la esperanza a los agricultores de la aldea de Punukula. Ahora cientos de aldeas siguen su ejemplo.

The Problem

Cotton was introduced to Khamman District, Andhra Pradesh, about 20 years ago. The farmers were already growing crops such as millet, sorghum, groundnuts, red gram (pigeon pea), green gram (mung bean), chili, and rice for home consumption and selling the surplus for cash income. Cotton was a particularly attractive new crop because it could earn much more than their other crops. However, cotton production required chemical inputs with which the great majority of these poor small-scale farmers had no previous experience. Most of them had never used chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

Middlemen (known locally as “traders”) served as technical advisors for cotton production. They provided seeds, chemical fertilizers, and insecticides on credit while guaranteeing purchase of the crop. The traders provided essential services, but they had a vested interest in selling their products. Their knowledge for giving technical advice was often limited to information provided by pesticide companies and other suppliers of their products. The farmers were dependent on traders for advice, credit, and marketing because no alternatives were available.

Yields and incomes from cotton were high during the early years of cotton production. Expenses for insecticides were relatively low because cotton pests were not yet established in the area. Many farmers were so impressed with the insecticides that they started using them on their other crops as well. Unfortunately, cotton pests such as cotton bollworms, pink bollworms, army worms, red hairy caterpillars, leafhoppers, and aphids became more and more of a problem as the years passed. These pests not only increased in abundance, they also developed resistance to insecticides, making it necessary to apply a greater variety of insecticides and in increasingly larger quantities. Larger fertilizer applications also became necessary as soil fertility declined with cotton cultivation. As fertilizer and insecticide applications increased, the cost of cotton production also increased and was eventually so great that cash inputs often exceeded the value of the crop. As a consequence, farmers fell further and further into debt to the traders.

All family members, including children, participated in spraying insecticides on the fields. The fact that they often did not know how to do it properly not only limited the effectiveness for reducing crop damage but also exposed the families to toxic effects. Insecticide poisoning was common. People had health problems such as headaches, nausea, skin rashes, fatigue, disruption of vision, and sometimes acute poisoning that required hospitalization or caused permanent psychological damage. Humans were not the only ones to suffer from insecticide poisoning. Cows and goats sometimes died when they grazed near cotton fields sprayed with insecticide.

Farmers wanted to get away from insecticides, but insecticides had drastically reduced the populations of insectivorous birds, wasps, beetles, and other predatory insects that provided natural control of pest insects. Without natural control, damage to the cotton crop was severe if farmers reduced their insecticide use.

This was the “pesticide trap.”. The trap was not only ecological but also social because farmers were tied to traders by debt (with interest rates of 3%-5% per month) and dependent on traders for technical advice. Some farmers resorted to illegal activities such as teak smuggling to cope with their debts. Suicide became increasingly common due to insecticide-induced depression and despair over debts, the favored method of suicide being ingestion of insecticide.

The Solution: Non-Pesticide Management (NPM)

Non-Pesticide Management (NPM) provides a set of natural alternatives to chemical pesticides. The core of the NPM strategy is use of the neem tree. Neem seeds are ground into a powder that is soaked overnight in water and sprayed onto the crop. To be effective, it is necessary to spray at least every ten days. Neem does not directly kill insects on the crop. It acts as a repellent, protecting the crop from damage. The insects starve and die within a few days. Neem also suppresses the hatching of pest insects from their eggs. Neem is not only much less expensive than chemical insecticides, it also has the advantage of not killing predatory insects that provide natural control of pest insects. Neem leaves can be used to protect stored grain from damage due to insect such as weevils, and neem cake can be applied to the soil. Neem cake kills pest insects in the soil while serving as an organic fertilizer high in nitrogen.

The use of neem is complemented by other methods in the NPM toolkit:

  • Spraying chili-garlic solution on the cotton. The solution is prepared by soaking chili and garlic powder in water for 24 hours. Chili-garlic solution kills pest insects directly when sprayed on a crop.
  • Applying a mixture cow dung and urine to combat leaf hoppers and aphids. Cow dung/urine acts as a repellent and disrupts insect growth.
  • Manual removal of leaves that are heavily infested with pest insects.
  • Planting “trap crops” (e.g., sorghum, marigold, castor, and green gum) around the edge of the field to attract pest insects away from the crop. The trap crops are checked daily. Parts of the plants with insect eggs are removed and burned.
  • Putting yellow and white wooden disks in the fields. The yellow disks, which attract sucking insects (e.g., mites and thrips), and white disks which attracts white flies, are covered with sticky grease to trap the insects. Lighting small bonfires on moonless nights to attract and kill moths before they can lay eggs in the field.
  • Placing perches for insectivorous birds in the fields.
  • Deep summer plowing to destroy the pupae of cotton bollworms, army worms and other pests whose pupae are in the soil.
  • Applying a “Nuclear poly Hydral” virus extract. Pest larvae attacked by this virus are easily recognized because they are hanging upside down from leaf edges if the crop. Farmers collect 250 infected larvae, grind them into a solution, and spray the solution on the crop. The solution from 250 larvae (“250 LE”) is sufficient to kill the larvae on one acre of cotton crop.
  • Using inexpensive pheromone tablets to attract pest insects in order to monitor their abundance. Neem, chili-garlic, or cow dung/urine are sprayed on crops only when and where they are really needed.

Escape from the pesticide trap was initiated by K. Venu Madhav. Venu Madhav grew up in a farm family where he used insecticides and saw his father go into debt with their use. He also saw people in his village suffering from insecticide poisoning. The fact that his father formulated and distributed natural medicines made him responsive to what he later learned about alternative methods for controlling pest insects. He was working on a watershed project for a local NGO called SECURE (Socio-Economic and Cultural Upliftment in Rural Environment) when he came across a woman who was successfully controlling cotton pests with alternatives to chemical pesticides.

My wife Ann and I visited SECURE in Gattaigudem (Andhra Pradesh) during March 25-27, 2005 to learn first-hand about the story. In 1998 Venu Madhav and other SECURE staff, with support from the Centre for World Solidarity in Secunderabad (Andhra Pradesh), started talking to the farmers in Punukula, a village of approximately 900 inhabitants, about Non-Pesticide Management (NPM) for their cotton. The village landscape is agricultural with scattered trees. The average landholding is 5 acres (range 2-10 acres). SECURE was already doing a watershed project in the village.

The farmers were skeptical that NPM would work, but the following year, after persistent promotion of NPM by SECURE, one farmer (Margam Mutthaiah), an influential village elder in Punukula, gave it a try. He was highly motivated to do so because his son had recently passed out from insecticide poisoning. The hospital bill was 18,000 rupees, a staggering sum for a village family.

Margam’s results with NPM farming were good enough to stimulate twenty farmers to try NPM in 1999. SECURE posted two staff people (a man and a woman) full time in the village to:

  • Provide displays, audio-visual materials, and practical demonstrations to explain NPM methods to the farmers;
  • Assist farmers with the details of implementing NPM in their fields;
  • Engage them in a continuous dialogue of “participatory problem solving.”

Women had a key role in getting NPM off the ground. They prodded their husbands to pursue NPM, and to do it properly. They contributed to the work in numerous ways such as preparing neem and chili-garlic solutions. Although neem trees are naturally common over much of the Indian landscape, there were not many in Punukula village because they had previously been logged for paper pulp. However, there were enough neem trees scattered around the fields for the women to collect the seeds they needed.

Although neem trees are naturally common over much of the Indian landscape, there were no neem trees in Punukula village because they had previously been logged for paper pulp. To get started with NPM, it was necessary for SECURE to supply neem seed from an outside source.

The harvest of the twenty NPM farmers was as good as the harvest of farmers using insecticides, and they achieved it without spending money on insecticides. Starting in 2000, all the farmers in Punukula village used NPM for cotton, and they started to use it on other crops as well. NPM became even more effective once everyone was using it. Fields were no longer infested by pest insect outbreaks on neighboring fields. In 2004 the Punukula panchayat (local government) formally declared Punukula to be a pesticide-free village.

Once NPM was in place, the farmers of Punukula started to make vermi-compost (earthworm compost) with a mixture of cow and buffalo manure, dried leaves, and rice straw, applying the compost to their fields instead of chemical fertilizer. The compost has eliminated cash outlays for chemical fertilizers and provided other benefits as well. We were told that food grown with vermi-compost, when cooked and stored without refrigeration, will last for a longer time without spoiling than food grown with chemical fertilizers. We also were told that crops grown with compost are less attractive to insect pests than crops grown with chemical fertilizers. Composting is not without difficulties. The supply of cow manure is limited. Most families have fewer cows than in the past.

We visited Punukula village with K. Surendra Babu (SECURE’s education director), who arranged for us to talk with a group of villagers. He translated for us. The villagers that we talked to confirmed what we had heard from other sources. They were enthusiastic about what NPM had done for their village, projecting a strong sense of well being and optimism about the future.

The villagers told us that NPM has brought noticeable changes to the village environment. Insecticide containers no longer litter the village, and the village no longer smells of insecticides. Birds have returned, and so have insects that prey on cotton pests. The natural control that birds and predatory insects provide has allowed the farmers to reduce the intensity of their NPM activities. Some farmers do not need to spray neem or chili-garlic at all. The farmers have become “citizen scientists” who can monitor pest insect populations in their fields and adjust their use of NPM methods to changing conditions.

Health problems due to insecticides have disappeared. Before NPM, there were dozens of cases of acute pesticide poisoning every year. Now there are none. NPM Villagers said that they didn’t realize how much the insecticides were sapping their energy until they experienced how much better they felt after stopping their use of insecticides. With assistance from SECURE, village women have augmented their use of traditional medicine, and SECURE is encouraging the women to pass on their knowledge of traditional medicine to their children.

There have been substantial improvements in farmer income. Farmers are substituting labor inputs for cash inputs when they use NPM and composting. A farm family that uses chemical insecticides needs about 100 man-days of labor for a cotton crop, while a family that uses NPM must invest 100-125 man-days to produce the crop. The benefit of NPM comes from a reduction in cash inputs. The typical cost of chemical insecticides for one cotton crop is 6,000-8,000 rupees/acre. The cost for seed and chemical fertilizer is about 4,000 rupees/acre. The lease cost for land not owned by a farmer is 2,000 rupees/acre. A typical harvest is 7-9 quintals/acre, and it sells for 1600 rupees/quintal, so a farmer typically receives about 14,000 rupees/acre for his cotton crop. As a consequence, NPM and composting have an enormous impact on the cash income from cotton. A farmer who does not own the land and uses chemical fertilizers and insecticides will realize a net gain of only 1,000 or 2,000 rupees/acre while a farmer who uses NPM and composting can expect to earn more than 10,000 rupees/acre.

Some families have used their extra income for home improvements. Others have used the money to increase their livestock. Some families have found it worthwhile to use some of their extra income to hire farm labor for help with the labor inputs of NPM. The wage for farm labor has increased from 25 rupees/day to 30 rupees/day. Most of the villagers are paying off their debts. Some are already out of debt, and others expect to clear their debt within two or three years. There have been no suicides.

The increase in income has given farmers the ability to increase the area of land they cultivate by leasing land that is not in use. The demand for leased land has been so great that all land in the village is now under cultivation.

There have been even further-reaching effects on village society. Village solidarity and the confidence to take on new entrepreneurial ventures have increased. So has the status of women and their opportunities for new activities. For example, neem has become a source of income for some of the village women, who collect seeds from the surrounding area and use simple equipment to grind the neem seed into powder. They sell the powder for NPM in other villages. An attempt to set up a nursery for neem has not been successful.

Villagers are no longer timid about demanding appropriate attention from the government. During the first few years of the NPM project, villagers took their problems to SECURE, but once the village developed a capacity to identify and articulate its needs, SECURE encouraged villagers to take their problems to the government. Improvements in village infrastructure have a major role in their plans for the future. A facility to produce safe drinking water is at the top of the list. Education for their children is also a top priority, and they now have some money to do something about it.

SECURE is teaching children about NPM in 27 village schools. In addition, a volunteer in each school monitors attendance and does home visits to keep the children in school. SECURE has begun an intensive residential ten-month course for teenagers who have dropped out of school, providing catch-up instruction that they need to return to school with their age group. The program gives special attention to children who have been contracted as indentured farm laborers. Parents sometimes contract their children for labor because they need money for dowries, alcohol, or debt payments. SECURE has secured the freedom of approximately 250 indentured children to help them to return to school.

The people of Punukula have a strong desire to help people in other villages escape the pesticide trap. Their village serves as a model for dissemination of NPM to other villages, about 2000 farmers visiting Punukula each year to see the benefits of NPM and learn how to do it. SECURE helps other village to get started with NPM, and eight collaborating NGOs are doing the same, covering a total about two hundred villages so far.

Margam Mutthaiah has become a confident and articulate spokesman for NPM. I was impressed by this when we attended a one-day workshop on agricultural technology for government agricultural workers. The speakers, who were agricultural researchers from universities and government, complained about inappropriate technologies being forced on Indian farmers by American multinational corporations, but they did not suggest alternatives. SECURE provided a striking contrast when Margam gave an impassioned presentation of the Punukula story. SECURE also had an exhibit at the workshop that explained NPM in detail. It was the workshop’s only exhibit.

Pesticide companies and traders have tried to obstruct the spread of NPM, but with limited success. Traders may refuse credit to farmers who donÕt buy their pesticides, but NPM farmers have enough cash from their cotton production to purchase inputs such as seeds from other sources. Traders also pay lower prices for NPM cotton, but SECURE has been able to arrange the sale of NPM cotton to a government marketing agency at the regular price. Pesticide companies blocked a visit to Punukula by the minister of agriculture for Andhra Pradesh state, but in the end, the government decided to add NPM to its agricultural extension program. SECURE is now providing NPM training for that program.

Venu Madhav, who is now director of SECURE, explained their basic strategy for disseminating NPM. The keystone is intense campaigning based on farmer-to-farmer communication and demonstration of successful examples of NPM and what they have accomplished. Ensuring the kind of village organization that can successfully implement NPM is also a priority. SECURE helps villages that want to embark on NPM only if they agree to ban dowries, child bondage, and alcohol consumption. Village operations emphasize:

  • Thorough training in NPM methods;
  • Comprehensive agricultural extension support so farmers can break away from traders as agricultural advisors;
  • Building a local capacity for villages to deal effectively with government and the market system.
  • SECURE’s agenda for future development includes:
  • Setting up gin mills in villages so farmers can benefit by selling higher-value processed cotton directly to users such as weavers;
  • Establishing women’s associations for village savings and loans;
  • Training young people in modern agriculture and animal husbandry as well as leadership;
  • Promoting rotation crops to increase soil fertility;
  • Strengthening education on traditional culture so children, including those who move away from the village after finishing school, appreciate their roots.

Feedback Analysis of the Andra Pradesh Story

Autor: Gerry Marten

The negative tipping point in the story of cotton farmers of Andhra Pradesh was the introduction of cotton farming that included chemical pesticides as an integral part of the production package. Insect control with chemical pesticides proved unsustainable. The farmers descended into a downward spiral of pesticide poisoning and debt:

  • The pest insects developed resistance, setting in motion a vicious cycle of heavier pesticide use and more resistance. Human pesticide poisoning became common.
  • Natural control of the pest insects by birds and predatory insects declined as these animals were killed by heavier insecticide use. This made the farmers even more dependent on insecticides, increasing the quantity of insecticides applied to the fields.
  • Heavy insecticide use cut deeply into the farmers’ income. Compounded with sometimes catastrophic medical expenses due to pesticide poisoning, debt increased, and so did despair and suicides. Debt to pesticide dealers made it difficult for farmers to break away from cotton production and the pesticides.
Andra Pradesh Negative

The positive tipping point was the introduction of Non-Pesticide Management based on neem and an assortment of other ecological insect control methods. It started in Punukula village. The vicious cycle involving resistance to chemical insecticides disappeared. The ensuing cascade of effects reversed the other two feedback loops in the negative tip, transforming the vicious cycles to virtuous cycles:

  • Natural control was gradually restored as birds and predatory insects returned to the farms.
  • Free of heavy medical expenses and chemical insecticide costs, the farmers realized enough profit to start paying off their debts. Suicides declined and they were able to break away from the pesticide dealers.

Confidence from success with Non-Pesticide Management, along with higher incomes from farming, set in motion additional virtuous cycles involving entrepreneurial activities and projects for village welfare:

  • Some of the farmers used their extra money to lease more land for agricultural production. In addition to increasing their income, the additional demand for farm labor increased farm wages.
  • The village was stimulated to undertake a project to rescue indentured children and others that dropped out of school, providing them with catch-up education to return to school.

A new virtuous cycle was set in motion when people from other villages heard about the success in Punukula and came to see what happened. Non-Pesticide Management spread to hundreds of villages.

Andra Pradesh Positive

Visit to a Place that Still Uses Insecticides

Surendra took us to talk to people who live in a cotton-growing area about 25 kilometers from Punukula, where insecticides are still in use. We went to a crossroads where people go to wait for buses and talked to whoever turned up at an outdoor tea shop there. There were about twenty people, almost all of them men. We bought a round of tea for everyone and asked questions for more than an hour as people passed in and out. Everyone was friendly, and most of the people were quite expressive. Sometimes one person answered a question and everyone agreed. Other times they had animated discussion for as much as five minutes and Surendra summarized what they said. The women watched but didn’t say much.

Everyone there was a cotton farmer. When I asked how things were going, with no prompting from me they immediately answered that they were using more insecticide every year but the pests were getting worse. They said that most people had experienced health problems from insecticides, the same ones that we had heard about in Punukula. When I asked them what they were doing about it, they said they wanted to get out of cotton production. They planned to plant less cotton this year.

We asked if they had heard of NPM. Two men said they had heard of NPM at Punukula and expressed an interest in visiting there to learn more about it. Everyone else said they had not heard of NPM. Some expressed anger that the government had not informed them about NPM, and they complained that government extension agents were lazy and poorly trained. However, one of the men who knew about Punukula said he learned about it from a government extension agent. He thought extension agents provided good information but people didn’t pay attention. We asked to see some insecticides, and the proprietor of the tea shop took us to his home around the back of the tea shop to see his spraying equipment. We saw old insecticide containers lying about, some of them being used as household containers. An old insecticide can was used to dip water from the household well.


  • G.V. Ramanjaneyulu, Kavita Kuruganti, Zakir Hussain, and Venu Madhav. 2004. No Pesticides, No Pests. Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Secunderabad, India.

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