Escaping the Pesticide Trap: Natural Management for Agricultural Pests (Andhra Pradesh, India)

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The economics of addiction can be summed up in a few words: Sell a product that makes buyers need it more. Cotton farmers in Andhra Pradesh had descended into a seemingly hopeless abyss of escalating pesticide dependence and debt. Suicides were becoming common. “Non-Pesticide Management” was the tipping point that brought health and hope to the farmers in Punukula village. Thousands of villages are now embarking on the same path.

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. It was assembled by the Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad in collaboration with agricultural entomologists at the state university. 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 polyhedral” 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 “Society for Eradication of Rural Poverty” 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.

Since my visit in 2005, the Center for Sustainable Agriculture has provided technical training on NPM to thousands of women in existing self-help groups throughout the state. With government assistance, the women have taken NPM to their villages, where they have created employment opportunities for themselves and other women supplying neem, pheromone traps, and other NPM materials to farmers. By 2008, 340,000 farmers in 3170 villages were using NPM on nearly a million acres of cropland, not only for cotton but also for grain and vegetable crops. While NPM reduces farmers’ production costs by freeing them from expenses for chemicals, some farmers are earning more because pesticide-free produce, valued as healthy food, is beginning to command a higher price than produce grown with pesticides. The Society for Eradication of Rural Poverty plans to extend NPM to approximately a million farmers by 2012. (For more detail, see Replication of Punukula’s Example to Other Villages.)

Appendix: 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.

An old insecticide can used to dip water out of the well at a teashop in a village that used pesticides.

An old insecticide can used to dip water out of the well at a teashop in a village that used pesticides.

Punukula village

Punukula village (Andhra Pradesh, India).

Margam Mutthaiah

Margam Mutthaiah (second from right) tells his story as the first farmer in Punukula to use Non-Pesticide Management.

Machine used to grind neem seeds for use in Punukula and sale to other villages

Machine used to grind neem seeds for use in Punukula and sale to other villages.

A Punukula woman enthusiastically describes improvements in health since they stopped using pesticides

A Punukula woman enthusiastically describes improvements in health since they stopped using pesticides.

Manually crushing neem seeds into a powder

Crushing neem seeds into a powder.

Preparing solutions

Preparing solutions from neem seeds, chili-garlic, and the leaves of insect-resistant trees.

Preparing solutions

Preparing solutions from neem seeds, chili-garlic, and the leaves of insect-resistant trees.

Ingredients for making chili-garlic solution

Ingredients for making chili-garlic solution.

Poster showing how to prepare and apply chili-garlic solution

Poster showing how to prepare and apply chili-garlic solution.

Pouring chili-garlic solution into a tank for spraying onto cotton plants

Pouring chili-garlic solution into a tank for spraying onto cotton plants.

Visitors to Punukula inspect a cotton field

Visitors to Punukula inspect a cotton field that contains “trap crops” (right foreground) to attract pest insects away from cotton plants.

Poster showing how to prepare and apply bollworm virus solution

Poster showing how to prepare and apply bollworm virus solution.

Ingredients for Success – Escaping the Pesticide Trap

  • Author: Gerry Marten
  1. Shared community awareness and commitment. Strong democratic institutions and genuine community participation are prominent in EcoTipping Point stories. Of particular importance is a shared understanding of the problem and what to do about it, and shared ownership of the action that follows. Communities move forward with their own decisions, manpower, and financial resources. In Punukula, this process was greatly facilitated by support from the village council (panchayat) and farmers’ association. Women pressured their husbands to use Non-Pesticide Management (NPM), and they played an essential role in gathering and grinding neem seeds and preparing neem solutions as well as other NPM materials like chili-garlic solution.
  2. Outside stimulation and facilitation. Outsiders can be a source of fresh ideas. While action at the local level is essential, a success story typically begins when people or information from outside a community stimulate a shared awareness about a problem and introduce game-changing ideas for how to deal with it. Venu Madhav came from a village about 100 kilometers from Punukula, as a worker for a local non-government organization called SECURE (Socio-Economic and Cultural Upliftment in Rural Environment). He encouraged the villagers to consult with a woman in another village who had learned how to control pests without chemical pesticides. Venu Madhav and the SECURE staff found an “early adopter” in a prominent village elder, Margam Mutthaiah. They coached him in Non-Pesticide Management, and two SECURE staff members were posted in Punukula to facilitate further progress. The Center for Sustainable agriculture in Hyderabad, with assistance from agricultural entomologists at the state university, provided technical support for Punukula and technical training to spread NPM to other villages.
  3. Enduring commitment of local leadership. Trusted and persistent leaders inspire the deep-rooted and continuing community commitment and participation necessary for success. Margam Mutthaiah proved to be a strong and dedicated leader. Adoption of Non-Pesticide Management grew in a widening circle, until the entire village of Punukula was pesticide-free. As NPM began to spread to other villages, the entire village of Punukula assumed a role of leadership, hosting thousands of visitors who came to learn about NPM. Andhra Pradesh’s state government showed leadership when it responded to the efforts of pesticide companies to stop the spread of NPM, by deciding instead to disseminate NPM through its anti-poverty network and committing the resources for NPM to eventually become a reality in more than 15,000 villages.
  4. Co-adaption between social system and ecosystem. Social system and ecosystem fit together, functioning as a sustainable whole. Communities create a “social commons” to fit their “environmental commons.” Instead of investing scarce cash resources in pesticides, the community invested its more abundant time and labor in Non-Pesticide Management practices, using the locally available neem tree. They also ventured into vermicomposting as a superior substitute for chemical fertilizers. They then declared Punukula to be a “pesticide-free village,” improving not only the health of the people, but the entire ecosystem as well.
  5. “Letting nature do the work.” EcoTipping Points give nature the opportunity to marshal its self-organizing powers to set restoration in motion. Neem is a local, fast-growing tree that produces a multitude of natural pesticides. Placing neem cakes in the soil improves not just pest control, but nitrogen content as well. Nearly a dozen other complementary natural methods were also used to trap and/or kill pests and to lure insect-eating birds to the cotton fields. The return of birds and other pest predators to the fields made pest control increasingly easy; eventually fewer neem applications and less labor were required.
  6. Rapid results. Quick “payback” helps to mobilize community commitment. In a single cropping season, “early adopter” Margam Mutthaiah showed Non-Pesticide results good enough to convince 20 other farmers to try it. Their harvest proved to be just as good as those still using pesticides—at much less cost. Punukula quickly became a model for neighboring communities and eventually for the entire state.
  7. A powerful Symbol. It is common for prominent features of EcoTipping Point stories to serve as inspirations for success, representing the restoration process in a way that consolidates community commitment and mobilizes community action. Health and Prosperity” were central symbols for motivating a continuation of the positive change set in motion by Non-Pesticide Management.  Villagers always emphasized the idea of how removing the toxins from their land was returning them to health, vigor, and well being they did not even realize they had lost, since they were no longer poisoning themselves.  They also returned regularly to the theme that giving up pesticides gave them the opportunity to get out of debt, since they no longer needed to spend large amounts of money on these costly agricultural chemicals.
  8. Overcoming social obstacles. The larger socio-economic system can present numerous obstacles to success on a local scale. Agrochemical dealers who promised to purchase the cotton harvests punished Non-Pesticide Management users by paying less for their crops, but the village farmers formed a marketing cooperative that found fairer prices elsewhere. They overcame their debt problem by banding together so pesticide providers were not able to bully them with demands for immediate repayments. Also, they were able to persuade the state government to encourage Non-Pesticide Management, over the objections of pesticide companies and dealers.
  9. Social and ecological diversity. Diversity provides more choices, and therefore more opportunities for good choices. Farmers at Punukula received a diversity of technical assistance which, when added to their own creativity, led to a diversity of Non-Pesticide Management techniques and the most effective strategy for controlling crop pests. Eventually natural biodiversity was restored to the landscape, providing natural control by bird and insect predators of crop pests.
  10. Social and ecological memory. Learning from the past adds to the diversity of choices, including choices that proved sustainable by withstanding the “test of time.” For centuries Indians have used neem to protect stored grains from insects and produce soaps, skin lotions, and other health products. Moreover, Nature contains an evolutionary “memory” of its ecological design for sustainability. Non-Pesticide Management took advantage of the ecological memory that resided in birds and other pest predators, whose populations recovered once toxic pesticides declined in the environment.
  11. Building resilience. “Resilience” is the ability to continue functioning in the face of sometimes severe external disturbances. The key is adaptability. Pesticide abstinence brought back natural control of pests. This reduced costs for agricultural inputs as well as hospital bills and the indentured servitude of children, which allowed families to reduce their debts and establish more financial resilience. People were able to expand their acreage of crop production, pursue more education, and engage in more entrepreneurial and community projects. Teaching Non-Pesticide Management in schools made it an established part of the village culture. All of these advances, along with the confidence engendered by success, increased community solidarity, a stronger social support (mutual help) system, and getting indentured children back to school, made Punukula’s villagers better able to withstand many types of challenges.

Feedback Analysis – Escaping the Pesticide Trap

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.

Andhra 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.

Andhra Pradesh Positive

Yellow: Vicious cycles reversed by positive tip to form virtuous cycles.
Blue: Spin-offs and associated virtuous cycles.

Replications of Punukula Example to Other Villages in Andhra Pradesh

EcoTipping Points follow-up reports are directed at EcoTipping Point cases that (a) have been exceptionally successful and (b) have a substantial number of replications. The purpose of the questions below is to determine what can be learned from detailed study of the replication experience.

Read other follow-up reports:

Cedar Louis, a graduate student in Anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i, and Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture provided published information on the spread of Non-Pesticide Management in Andhra Pradesh since its beginnings in Punukula village. The publications contain a wealth of pertinent information, showing how NPM has spread to over 3,000 villages.

Below is a summary, consisting mostly of direct quotations.

  • Part 1 is arranged according to the questionnaire we devised for other follow-up reports:
  • Part 2 is further information regarding Non-Pesticide Management that was not mentioned in our original report. Numbers in parentheses refer to references at the end.

Part 1. Questionnaire

1. Approximately how many replications have been attempted?

As of 2008 there were 3,171 non-pesticidal management (NPM) villages in 18 of Andhra Pradesh’s 23 districts. Over 300,000 farmers were using NPM on over 900,000 acres of farmland (1).

“By January 2009 it had grown to cover 1.3million acres (over 552,000 ha).” (5)

There is no mention of NPM in states other than Andhra Pradesh.

1b. Have they all been done by the same organization?


1c. If not, what organizations have done it, and approximately how many replications have been attempted by each organization?

A rather complex institutional structure evolved.

Socio-Economic and Cultural Upliftment in Rural Environment (SECURE) was primarily responsible for the first NPM village (Punukula), with technical and financial support from the Centre for World Solidarity (CWS) and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA). In 2004 CSA approached Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) to build a scaling up model (8).

“The NPM program was first implemented in 2004 by the Andhra Pradesh Society of the Elimination of Rural Poverty (AP SERP) with partial funding from the World Bank. SERP implemented NPM with NGO participation and the main collaborating NGO was the Center for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) in Secundrabad, led by Mr Ramajeneylu. CSA provided most of the technical support and institutional coordination using local-level NGOs for the actual implementation of NPM practices. The local NGO’s used village-level women’s self help groups (SHGs) as the platform to channel their activities. Villages were clustered into groups of 5 with a field worker assigned to each group. The SHGs were represented by the Mandal Mahila Samakyas at the Mandal (sub-district) level and Zilla Samakya at the district level. Based on the success of NPM implementation, Punukula and Enabavi villages being the best examples, the government made a decision to scale up the NPM project and work more directly with the Mandal Mahila Samakayas and SHGs, while scaling back the role of NGOs starting in 2008. Many agree that while it is good to bring in many more villages under the NPM umbrella, the doing away of NGOs and in the process the active knowledge transfer and institutional collaboration has been detrimental to the project….In some areas local level NGOs continue to be involved in NPM, especially if this is something that they were already doing with local communities before the SERP NPM program was introduced…. Mr Raidu, a bureaucrat, heading the NPM program for all of Andhra Pradesh refutes allegations that the implementation has been watered down, saying instead that now the program will be more effective because the government is working directly with the MMS groups.” (4)

“NPM was good entry-level activity for us to win the confidence of farmers. CSA needed outreach, which we have in the form of the country’s largest network of women’s groups. The women were attracted by lower costs of cultivation and a safety net of extension services. Everybody was a winner,” says Kumar. A system was devised in which each party contributed its core competence. CSA was to train the women’s groups and village coordinators, and bring in its network of 30-odd grassroots NGOs across the state. IKP [Indira Kranthi Patham, a SERP program] was to provide funds for training, travel and inputs, and get its groups to own and run the programme. Members of the women’s groups were to travel to Kosgi, where those practising NPM would train them. Every mandal with NPM villages was to have two extension coordinators — one employed by IKP and the other employed by the grassroots NGO. The NGOs were to get only a facilitation charge of Rs 50 per acre serviced by their coordinators.” (7)

“Ten million women from poor households have been organized into 850,675 SHGs. The SHGs federate into 35,525 Village Organizations (VOs), 1100 Mandal Samakshyas (MMSs which are sub district federations), and 22 Zilla Samakhyas (district federations). It is the largest network of organization of the poor in the country” (5). Giving control of the scaling up program to the self-help groups makes them have a sense of ownership of the program (3).

1d. Who is a useful contact person in each organization?

  • SECURE – Mr. Venu
  • SERP – T. Vijay Kumar is CEO, D.V. Raidu is State Project Adviser, and Jayaram Killi is a Consultant at the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty
  • CSA – Dr. G.V. Ramanjaneyulu (

2.What was actually done to make replications happen?

Most of the replications happened because of (a) word of mouth/observation of success by other farmers and (b) SERP’s systematic awareness & training program. This includes appointing village activists who coordinate weekly farmer field schools. Farmers are encouraged to experiment with various techniques suited to the local condition on their fields. Best performing villages are identified as resource villages and best practicing farmers are identified as community resource persons who will help in further scaling up of the program. (3).

“At the village level, two kinds of collectives – one of Sasya Mithra Groups which function along the lines of Polam Badi or Farmer Field Schools and the other of women’s Self Help Groups – act as the basic knowledge generating and sharing forums. At the village level, there is a Village Activist appointed for providing constant extension support to the farmers who enroll themselves in the programme. This VA is paid a monthly salary.” (2)

“CSA organised a serious [series] of training programs through local NGOs and has built a cadre of extension persons and farmers. … This decentralised model with locally adapted production models showed tremendous impact.” (8)

“Enabavi with 280 acres of farmland managed by 52 families has now become a learning centre for neighbouring villages. It has also become a mandatory stop over for members of nonprofits, ministers, planning commission members and international organizations keen to gain first hand knowledge of how organic farming is changing lives for the better.” (6).

“The role of Community Resource Persons (CRPs) is critical for the expansion of CMSA [community managed sustainable agriculture] and making it popular. CRPs are farmers who practice CMSA and demonstrate that it is profitable and practicable to other farmers. Each CRP has a catchment area of five villages where they provide expertise on sustainable practices and initiate new practioners of CMSA. The CRPs work closely with about 20 new farmers who show interest in practicing sustainable agriculture. From every group about five farmers are designated as CRPs after they gain first­hand experience. These new CRPs then start working with new groups of farmers expanding the network of CMSA farmers. This practice has led to a rapid scaling up of the program at a lower transaction cost and helped the program acquire “social movement” characteristics.” (5)

3. Have all the replications been equally successful?

“Mr Ramajeneylu feels that the project is running quite well and that there is 50 % success.” (4)

Only success stories are reported in the literature we received. Sites with especially good yields, etc. include those where the NPM program is combined with rural employment programs (e.g., for digging farm ponds) and high-quality seed programs.

4. What is the opinion of people involved in the replication, with regard to:

(a) the structure that we diagrammed for the vicious cycles and virtuous cycles in that case;

Local stories (2, 6, 7) corroborate our diagrams. Every farmer can say exactly how much he/she saved per acre by not buying pesticides. Almost everyone also mentions lower health care bills, money for educating their children, factory workers coming home, dramatic drop in suicides, etc. Many were also able to take back their mortgaged lands. And NPM generated more employment opportunities (e.g., collecting, processing and selling neem seeds).

(b) the nature and role of each “ingredient” in our list of ETP ingredients;

Outside stimulation and facilitation

While outside stimulation and facilitation were essential in introducing NPM to farmers, it is thought that community ownership of the project is essential to its sustainability.

“The Centre for World Solidarity and other NGOs made efforts to raise awareness among farmers about the low importance of synthetic chemical pesticides in raising productivity and the harmful effects of these chemicals on soil, water and health.” (5)

“The NGO and activists of the NPM programme began to conduct awareness activities and meetings with farmers in Rawada village from May 2006…. a beginning was made with one farmer Reddy Sathyam. On a visit to his relatives in Bejjipuram village, he found that they were using NPM methods on their rice crop. On returning he realised that an awareness programme on NPM was happening in his village too. So, he went to the Village Activist and asked him details regarding the NPM methods…. Reddy Sathyam recounted his experience in the Village Organisation meeting to the women farmers, who tried the same spray in their fields and found the results to be satisfactory. Farmers in the neighbouring fields were surprised to see the results and started to show interest in NPM.” (2)

“Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) is a registered society under Department of Rural Development implementing the largest poverty alleviation project in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The project understands that sustainable poverty eradication requires the recognition of the poor as active partners in the processes of social change; therefore, all project interventions are demand based and are in response to the proposals conceived and planned by the poor.

“SERP works towards empowering the poor to overcome all social, economic, cultural and psychological barriers through self managed institutions of the poor. The project reaches the rural poor families through social mobilization processes and formation of SHGs, federation of these into Village Organizations at village level and Mandal Samakhyas at the mandal level. The project envisages that with proper capacity building the poor women’s federations would begin to function as self managed and self reliant people’s organizations. The poor have started to demonstrate that they can shape their own destinies when adequate knowledge, skills and resource support is accessible to them” (3).

“To motivate farmers to shift to NPM, there were kala jatha programmes organized twice in the village. Every month, there was a farmer awareness meeting organized. Mr Gollangi Ramulu, a village elder, convened a meeting of all the farmers and all the issues that were brought up by the IKP programme personnel were discussed in detail. Everyone agreed that there is indeed an urgent need to shift to alternatives. The risks and benefits were discussed by everyone. It was decided that the shift has to happen with everyone in the village taking up NPM at the same time. All the 85 farmers agreed. In this manner, in a very unique fashion, a whole village decided to shift en masse into NPM. ” (2)

“Personnel from Indira Kranthi Patham and SECURE, an NGO, started visiting the village and campaigning about the ill effects of pesticides. They also explained that farming is quite possible without the use of pesticides. In April and May of 2005, a survey was undertaken by them in the village.

“Following the tribal tradition of going through the respected elder in the community, it was decided to first take the village elder Sri Podiyam Venkateswarlu along with other farmers to Punukula village, the first village in Andhra Pradesh to declare itself pesticides-free. After coming back, Mr Venkateswarlu began NPM practices on two of his eight acres of paddy land.” (2)

“In places where NPM is led by the women’s groups, villagers have taken the programme as their own. But in places where the initiative rests with NGOs, sustainability is doubtful.” (7)

“The NGOs might be committed, but what will happen after their project gets over? Only when villages own the programme will it work,” says B Venkateshwar Rao, academic at the Kakatiya University in Warangal, who has been tracking agricultural programmes for a few years.” (7)

Strong local democratic institutions and enduring commitment of local leadership

“The institutional base of Community Based Organizations like Federations of Women Self Help Groups provides a good platform for scaling up such ecological farming practices” (3, 7).

“The Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) supported Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) through its rural poverty reduction program—the Indira Kranti Pathakam [IKP], in 2004. IKP is owned and managed by community institutions—federation of women’s self-help groups (SHGs). These institutions are the bedrock of all rural poverty reduction activities of IKP, including CMSA. Presence of these community institutions is fundamental to the growth and success of CMSA.” (5)

“Five villages were grouped into a cluster and were provided with a cluster activist. Each village has a practicing farmer selected as village activist who coordinates the village level capacity building programs in the form of Farmer Field Schools” (3).

“Every Wednesday, farmer field schools were organized. Dividing themselves up into four groups, farmers would go around the crop fields in all directions of the village lands and come up with recommendations of practices to be adopted, depending on the situation of pests and diseases observed. This constant mode of extension advice helped farmers a great deal.” (2)

“What is remarkable is that the programme is completely owned by the farmers and women SHGs.” (6)

Co-adaption between social system and ecosystem

Farmers have taken control, and the economy has changed.

“The NPM intervention for the first time shifted the control in terms of production back to the farmer” (3)

“The concept of farmers contributing to development of technologies in situ started gaining acceptance. ” (5)

“NPM helps farmers assert themselves as creative individuals, who can think and decide for themselves.” (7)

“Though there are no formal participatory guarantee systems established in the village [Enabavi] in this alternative model of organic farming, there is strong social regulation within the community to ensure that there are no ‘erring farmers’” (3).

“There is even more work for the labourers –in the collection of neem seed, in making powders and pastes of various materials and so on. Farmers are even leasing in land and putting all lands under crop cultivation these days –this implies greater employment potential for the agricultural workers in the village” (3).

Nearly 30 neem seed powder units were established with SHGs along with 15 NPV (virus) units as village enterprises. (3)

“we established farmers cooperatives in AP which are now trying to market their produce as sahaja aharam (” (8)

“300 farmers of Guntur district have formed a cooperative to market their NPM products” (6)

“Marketing links were established. The NPM products were in demand and could command premium in the market. The local processing and marketing of the commodities have also brought in additional benefits to the farmers.” (3)

NPM vegetables bring in a high price, and the demand is great. At markets in Hyderabad, NPM vegetables always sell out in 1-3 hours. (6)

“Many women have set up shops selling bio-products used for NPM farming.” (6, 7)

“Letting nature do the work”

“Useful insects such as spiders, wasps and beetles – which feed on cotton pests – returned to the fields once the chemical pesticides were stopped” (3).

“Organic farming has created a balance between friendly and harmful pests” (6)

“Most farmers are using inter-cropping to control pests, improve soil fertility and make farming profitable and sustainable all year round.” (6)

Other ways NPM lets nature do the work: light traps, trap crops, pheromone traps, bird perches (2, 7)

Rapid results

“In just one season, the positive results began to show.” (3)

The Benefits From Sustainable Agriculture (5)

Economic Benefits

  • Lower Cost of Production & Substantial statewide savings
  • Yield Maintained or Increased
  • Higher Household Income
  • Lower Debt
  • Higher Cropping Intensity
  • Lower Risk perception & Higher Investment in Agriculture
  • Business Innovation & New Livelihood opportunities

Environmental Benefits

  • Better Soil health, water conservation
  • Conservation of agro-biodiversity
  • Fewer Pesticide related health problems
  • Smaller Carbon footprint as a result of reduced use &production of inorganic fertilizers (these are the potential benefits)

“Farmers can save Rs 2,500 to Rs 5,000 per acre by stopping pesticide use. The crop yields without pesticides are the same and fetch better prices. Thus farmers earn more by investing less.” (6)

“By shifting to organic farming, farmers have been able to save 80 per cent of the cost of cultivation.” (6)

“Our visits to the hospital have ceased altogether.” (6)

“Within two years of switching to NPM farming, the villagers were able to free their mortgaged land.” (6)

Overcoming social obstacles

Obstacles mentioned most often are pesticide companies and the agricultural university.

“Access to good seed and fertilizer and, procurement and marketing services continued to be largely under conventional trader-dominated systems. A more comprehensive approach was required to make farming a viable enterprise.” (5)

“Mainstream agricultural research and extension institutions and other programs providing subsidies to farmers for usage of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are still skeptic and more dialogue is needed between the farmers and scientific community practicing sustainable agriculture.” (5)

“There have been instances when members of the pesticide lobby have tried to dissuade farmers from shifting to organic farming. But farmers are determined to go ahead with the change.” (6)

“Of course, some people are not happy about this – particularly the pesticide companies. In the village bus stop, we saw how the detailed instructions that had been provided on the new pest management method had been completely covered up by pesticide advertisements. The companies are already aggressively campaigning against this natural system.” (9)

“mr. jairam ramesh as commerce minister visited many of the villages including punukula where we now run a decentralised cotton processing unit. we had long discussions with farmers and was fully convinced about NPM. Dr. VL chopra from planning commission also visited and was fully convinced. but the agriculture university and deparment agri didnt come into the prog. we had several rounds of discussion including a recent on on 9-10th in hyderabad in partnership with national institute for plant health management where Sri. BN Yugandhar, ex member of planning commission sat all through for two days to discuss on how to mainstream ecological farming models like NPM with the agiculture scientists and civil soceity organisations.” (8)

“It’s seems NPM has hit the right chord with all — except the state agriculture university and the agriculture department that runs on its advice. How long will they stay away from such a dramatic success story?” (7)

“What ails public sector research?”

“I took part in several studies on the agrarian crisis 1997 onwards. I found public sector research had little to do with the ground realities. The problem is clearly with pesticides and the seed market, but the scientists never talk about these. They love to blame the extension system, never acknowledging the inherent problems with the technologies they promote. The agribusiness industry sponsors lunches and dinners in most workshops and seminars, like in the recent Indian Science Congress. So nobody does a critical assessment of what industry does. Research institutions have found a legal way to accept industry funds: paid-up trials. These funds influence the direction of research.

“Will the agriculture university take up NPM?

“Yesterday it seemed impossible. Today it looks likely. Working with IKP has proven that the government and voluntary agencies can work together. All of us have our strengths and weaknesses. It is said there are difficulties in integrating knowledge from sources other than university and industry. But if a system works, they’ll have to work on it sooner or later. As for the agriculture department, it is bound by what the university recommends. Its officials think they have to learn from ‘experts’ and teach the ‘illiterate’ farmers. They struggle to learn from farmers. They can’t move forward due to innate problems with the technologies they are saddled with. The present agriculture minister and commissioner have shown seriousness and a sense of purpose in dealing with pressing issues. There is good reason to hope.” (7)

“The state government’s department of rural development has adopted the programme. That’s a huge, huge shift. Because NPM is inimical to all that the same government’s department of agriculture has promoted for four decades.” (7)

Social and ecological diversity

A large number of different organizations working together has ensured the successful spread of NPM. Social diversity within the villages is not mentioned as a factor; in fact, homogeneity is thought to be a key ingredient in community solidarity.

Using a diverse “arsenal” of NPM methods, farmers are encouraged to experiment with different strategies to suit the conditions on their individual farms. Many have adopted intercropping as a way to prevent the spread of pests. And biodiversity, including the return of birds and predator insects, is an important component of NPM.

Social and ecological memory

“The emerging new paradigm of sustainable agriculture shows that the new knowledge synthesized from traditional practices supplemented with modern science can bring in ecological and economic benefits to the farmers” (3).

“CMSA technologies and practices are a mixture of scientifically proven methods, indigenous knowledge and traditional wisdom.” (5)

“Farmers experimenting with traditional methods of crop protection came up with varying versions of NPM.” (6)

Building resilience

“There were several men in the village who found it easier to buy a container of chemical pesticide from a pesticide dealer than go through the trouble of preparing extracts to control pest population. … But the women’s SHGs prevented these men from going back to pesticide shops.” (3)

Other “ingredients” that the people involved consider significant for success.

Critical Issues in Scaling Up

While the sustainable models in agriculture like NPM are established on smaller scale scaling up these experiences poses a real challenge in terms of:

  • relevance of small experiences for a wider application,
  • availability of resources locally,
  • farmers willingness to adopt these practices,
  • lack of institutional and support systems,
  • supplementing farmers’ knowledge and enhancing the skills,
  • reducing the time of transformation,
  • reaching to larger areas with minimal expenditure, and
  • establishing extension system which give community a central stage. (3)

The key elements of CSMA are:

  • the leadership and participation of strong community institutions and their federations that own and manage the program;
  • farmer field schools that deliver extension services;
  • a menu of technologies options developed with farmer participation and experimentation;
  • scaling up with practicing farmers as community resource persons [CRPs] who serve as community extensionists; and
  • developing ‘value chain’ investments-from inputs to equipment, post harvest and marketing arrangements of produce for development of sustainable agriculture. (5)

“A variety of factors have contributed to the successes – committed and well-equipped frontline workers as well as farmer-activists are a major reason for such change; women voting with their feet and going out of their way to implement this programme has contributed to the success in several places; existing advantages with some villages, like homogeneity in a community, one village elder that everyone listens to, or everyone in a village being unified in their objectives etc., have also helped. Further, the rapport and commitment of the local Non Governmental Organisation with the village community meant easier transition in several cases. The institutional systems built in the programme, including the presence of an extension worker in the form of the Village Activist right in the village and the regular conduct of farmer field schools have given tremendous strength to the programme. Capacity building efforts at all levels have given the right kind of confidence and inspiration to motivate more and more farmers to embrace these ecological approaches.” (2)

“Three factors have played a crucial role in the transformation of Killaripeta into a pesticide free village. First – the village is homogenous single community village consisting of members from a single family tree; second – one person, Killari Surya Rao and his family who have the greatest influence in the village decision making were the first to convert to NPM and this was influential in the change of others; third – the Community Organiser Appala Naidu, himself a farmer, had been working with these villagers since 1994, in other programmes.” (2)

Part 2. Other Information


“The crisis of food production and geo-political considerations during 1960s created conditions in many developing countries particularly in India to strive for food self-reliance. The country has chosen the path of using high yielding varieties(more appropriately high input responsive varieties) and chemicals which brought about what is popularly known as the Green Revolution” (3).

There were complaints before about cotton from India being contaminated, causing skin irritation, etc. This hurt the market for Indian cotton. (9)

NPM IN 1987

“A ‘white fly’ pest attack destroys standing cotton crops in Guntur district. Government recommends pesticides; an expensive input. The pesticides fail triggering farmer indebtedness and suicides.
“In Telengana, scientists counter the menace of the red hairy caterpillar on red gram without pesticides. MS Chari and MA Qayyum come aboard the CWS a non profit which financed the ‘red hairy caterpillar’ project” (1)

“Agriculturists working in the public sector came together in 1986 to form Centre for World Solidarity, a non­profit, to solve the problem of the red hairy caterpillar ruining the red gram crop. After a series of crop specific tests, scientists recommended that pesticides were not required and coined the term NPM.

SERP took the programme forward with World Bank aid. Rural credit was given to women self-help groups. This scheme was called Velugu and was later re-named Indira Kranthi Patham.” (6)

Enabavi village in Warangal district may have preceded Punukula:
“The village, a 10 kilometres from Hyderabad, stopped using pesticides 10 years ago [i.e., in 1999] and adopted organic farming methods five years later, much before the state administration decided to officially recognize NPM.” (6)

NPM IN 2004
“The new agriculture minister visits Punukula. Impressed he wants CSA [Centre for Sustainable Agriculture] to make a presentation about NPM. The practice doesn’t go down well with the Agriculture department which refuses to accept the viability of the practice.”

“Ministry of Rural Development agrees to implement NPM in 400 acres of Kosgi mandal in Mahabubnagar. SERP, a division of MoRD, grants funds to WASSAN [Watershed Support Services and Activities Network] for the projects. SERP undertakes the project under the IKP [Indira Kranthi Patham] scheme.” (1) This was originally a micro-credit scheme partly funded by the World Bank, but has been very effective in the NPM scaling up effort.

“Though we started with NPM we moved into addressing local pressing problems like seed in groundnut in Ananthpur and SRI in vijayanagaram, organic production, multiple cropping and interegrated farming systems etc. we organised workshops with farmers like subash palekar whose polycrop model (popularly called 36 x 36 ft model) have proven to be successful.” (8)

Moving from CMSA to Organic Agriculture

NPM is seen as part of a progression toward organic farming (5):

Moving from CMSA to Organic Agriculture

Branding and certification for CMSA produce needs to be worked out in future, keeping in view the unique requirements of a community based program and the fact that small and marginal farmers cannot pay large sums of money to procure certification services. (5)

Dr. Ramanjaneyulu is skeptical:

“Organic farming is now well established, but its recent fad is driven by the need to export to the high-end market in the West. It externalises the know-how and trust. The consultants tell the farmers how and what to grow, and the certifying agencies provide the consumer the trust that their conditions have been met. Much of the profit goes to these agencies. The government subsidies actually line the pockets of these agencies. There is no support for the farmer who wants to switch to organic voluntarily.” (7)


Farmers learn about the stages of insects’ life cycles and appropriate measures for each stage—e.g., deep plowing to kill larvae; manual removal when pests are crawling on the plants; sticky traps when they are flying. They experiment in situ on their own fields.


“Women have proven once again that when they are in the driver’s seat, their development approaches are more eco-sensitive, equitable, sustainable and long term in their vision.” (2)

“the women’s SHGs prevented these men from going back to pesticide shops. Others also realized that pesticides meant higher debts as well as high medical costs. The women even took on the additional work of preparing the anti-pest sprays from neem and chilli-garlic paste. They also ensured that no one brought pesticides in their village” (3).

“When we started NPM work with farmers, men would sit in the front row and women would sit behind. Now, the women take the front row. They are NPM’s torchbearers, the new village leadership. Nothing gives more satisfaction.” (7)


“By 2011-12, SERP plans to expand NPM to 25 lakh [2,500,000] acres, that would be 10 percent of the state’s total cultivable area.” (1)

“The success of the program in reducing the costs of cultivation and increasing the net incomes of the farmers has received Prime Minister’s attention and was selected for a support under 11th Five Year Plan under National Agriculture Development Project to cover one million farmers cultivating one million ha in over 5000 villages.” (3)

“The state government has proposed to scale up NPM into organic farming in 5000villages over next five years covering10millionha with an outlayofUS$45.5 million. The proposal has been accepted under Additional Central Assistance from Prime Minister’s package for distress states called Rastriya Krishi Vikas Yojana.” (3)


  1. Down To Earth. Non-Pesticidal Management in Andhra Pradesh. Timeline.
  2. Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. 2008. “In the Hands of the Community” Inspiring stories from Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture CMSA Programme [Implemented under Indira Kranthi Patham, Rural Development Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh]
  3. G.V. Ramanjaneyulu, M.S. Chari, T.A.V.S. Raghunath, Zakir Hussain and Kavitha Kuruganti. 2009. Non Pesticidal Management: Learning from Experiences. Chapter 18 in R.Peshin, A.K.Dhawan (eds.), Integrated Pest Management: Innovation-Development Process. (Springer)
  4. Cedar Louis. 2010. Report on Andhra Pradesh’s NPM Program. pers. comm.
  5. T. Vijay Kumar, D.V. Raidu, Jayaram Killi, Madhavi Pillai, Parmesh Shah, Vijaysekar Kalavadonda, and Smriti Lakhey. 2009. Ecologically Sound, Economically Viable Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh, India. (World Bank)
  6. Savvy Soumya Misra. 2009. Riding high. Down to Earth, January 1-15.
  7. Sopan Joshi. 2006. No Pesticides. Down to Earth, May 31.
  8. Ramanjaneyulu GV. 2010. pers. comm. of March 15.
  9. Jayati Ghosh. 2004. Detoxifying the villages. Frontline 21(22).

Why has the Adoption of Non-Pesticide Management Been More Successful in Some Villages than Others? An Update on the Dissemination of Non-Pesticide Management through Andhra Pradesh, India

  • Author:  Ted Swagerty
  • Editorial contributions: Gerry Marten and Regina Gregory
  • Posted: February 2014


By the late 1990s Andhra Pradesh had descended into a nightmare of farmer debt and health problems due to the use of chemical pesticides for cotton and other crops. With help from a local nonprofit organization “Socio-Economic and Cultural Upliftment in Rural Environment” (SECURE), Punukula village was able to break away from chemical pesticides by using Non-Pesticide Management (NPM), a toolkit based on neem and other ecological methods (see Escaping the Pesticide Trap: Non-Pesticide Management for Agricultural Pests in Andhra Pradesh, India. Starting in 2004, the Andhra Pradesh state government’s Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) collaborated with the Center for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) to spread NPM throughout the state by way of SERP’s existing network of women’s Self-Help Groups. A report about the spread of NPM was posted to the EcoTipping Points website in 2010.

I visited Andhra Pradesh during July-September 2013 and interviewed G.V. Ramanjaneyulu (Director of CSA), D.V. Raidu (Head of SERP’s Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture department), and K. Venu Madhav (Director of SECURE). I also visited four villages with Raidu and SERP staff, and one village with Venu Madhav, and heard from some of the villagers about what they had experienced. Each village had a different history with NPM. The purpose of the interviews and village visits was to get up to date on what had happened with NPM dissemination, while answering two broad questions:

  • What was the process by which NPM was disseminated?
  • What were the lessons from the experience?  What seemed to be responsible for greater success in adopting NPM?

The Non-Pesticide Management Dissemination Process

Raidu estimates there are currently 14,020 NPM villages, or more than 15,000 if you count habitations (i.e., very small villages). Ramanjaneyulu estimates 11,600 villages are currently practicing NPM. They agree there are 700 mandals (sub-district groups of farmers and practitioners).  Overall reduction of chemical pesticide use has been about 50% since 2004.

SERP has many departments such as health, education, microloans, and insurance. The Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture department is responsible for disseminating NPM and supporting communities that are using it. SERP’s Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture partners with existing Self-Help Groups, which have a layered structure extending from Village Organizations to Mandal Samakhya (a federation of multiple villages) and Zilla Samakhya (a district federation).

Each SERP team for NPM dissemination consists of the following:

  • Project Director. Oversees NPM activities in a given district.
  • District Project Manager. Oversees several Cluster Activists and is responsible for training and replication in his district.
  • Cluster Activist. Oversees Village Activists, who work directly with farmers.
  • Assistant Project Manager. Assists the District Project Manager.
  • Technical Consultants. Mainly used for accounting and maintaining software but also have extensive agriculture experience.
  • Mandal Coordinator cum Technical Assistant (MCTA). Technicians in charge of maintaining software, aiding the Technical Consultants.

From the District Project Manager to the MCTA the group is known as the District Project Management Unit.

Each village has a Village Activist, and each group of five villages has a Cluster Activist. Cluster Activists are in constant contact with their Village Activists, overseeing NPM practices being carried out and aiding training with other farmers in the area. Cluster Activists are expected to give a weekly training course in each village, so they are generally teaching a course every weekday morning. These courses are known as Farmer Field School. The Village Activists assist the Cluster Activist or implement local training themselves while also being present in the village for permanent consultations. The main strategy for convincing farmers to switch from chemical pesticides to NPM is to urge farmers to try NPM so the results can speak for themselves.

The head of the women’s Self-Help Group mandal committee is tasked with auditing Cluster Activists’ activities for 10 days each month. She answers to the District Project Management Unit and is paid 2,000-2,500 rupees per month.

SERP’s steps for NPM dissemination are as follows:

  1. Head office selects villages for NPM expansion with help of the district team. Requirements for village selection: The village needs Self-Help Groups; it contains at least 100 acres of agricultural land and 100 farm households.
  2. Select Village Activist at a monthly Self-Help Group meeting in that village. Usually this is done by asking at the end of the meeting whether anyone is interested in being a Village Activist. Criteria for Village Activist selection: Should be a farmer with his/her own land; should be literate and educated up to tenth grade; good communication and leadership skills. Village Activists have to conduct meetings and have numerous social interactions. Each Village Activist is paid 2,000-2,500 rupees per month.
  3. The District Project Manager and Cluster Activists train Village Activists with a 3-day course (2 days in the classroom and 1 day in the field), usually held at the the Cluster Activist’s or Village Activist’s village. Criteria for Cluster Activist selection:  Same as Village Activist, but with a requirement of 12 years of education and experience with Self-Help Groups on the mandal level. They conduct training, oversee NPM techniques and preparation of botanical extracts, are responsible for promoting NPM in the villages, and conduct meetings with Self-Help Groups. They are paid 6,000-7,000 rupees per month.
  4. The Cluster Activist conducts Farmer Field School courses once a week in each of five villages, so they are generally teaching a course every weekday morning. It is the responsibility of the Village Activist to get at least 10-15 farmers for each Farmer Field School course. The Cluster Activist starts Farmer Field School at 7:00 a.m., before pests hide in the soil or behind leaves. Farmer Field School is a continual education/training service. The Cluster Activist trains farmers on pests, diseases, and soil amendments and promotes botanical extracts. The NPM shop sells botanical extracts to beginning farmers at a discount.

Currently SERP employs about 12,500 Village Activists and 2,500 Cluster Activists. In addition, SERP has equipment and loans available to people who want to start enterprises making and selling the botanical extracts needed for NPM.

Similarities and Differences of Approach between CSA and SERP

In the interviews with Ramanjaneyulu (CSA) and Raidu (SERP), they expressed some differences of opinion about which pest control techniques are appropriate for the NPM toolkit. CSA believes that farmers should use only locally manufactured inputs in order to free themselves from depending on external agricultural inputs that can run up production costs. External inputs could be a slippery slope leading to the use of chemical pesticides. Ramanjaneyulu expressed frustration that up to 90% of farmers continue to use some type of chemical fertilizer. CSA emphasizes locally produced inputs such as neem cakes and chili spaying but considers questionable, for example, the use of pheromone traps, which cannot be made locally and therefore represent an added cost to poor farmers. In contrast, SERP believes in “integrated pest management” (IPM) which includes pheromone traps and limited pesticide spraying at important times of pest egg laying/incubation. SERP considers pheromone traps worth using because they are effective and the cost of 25 rupees per trap is not so much. Raidu defended IPM practices and lumps these practices into NPM when he is discussing it in general terms.

In 2008, CSA and SERP decided to work more independently of one another, so each organization could follow its preferred strategy. SERP operates on a larger scale. Broad appeal of NPM and adoption by a large number of farmers is a high priority for SERP. CSA is more concerned with local village resilience. In the interviews, Raidu emphasized the spread of NPM and eventual elimination of pesticides. Ramanjaneyulu emphasized the reduction of economic stresses on local communities.

However, these two organizations still have much in common. They are both committed to eventually eliminating chemical pesticides and fertilizers in rural India. They are dedicated to making agricultural livelihoods sustainable. They are both involved in a variety of projects to develop the countryside sustainably, including compost, biogas, cover-cropping, intercropping, vermiculture, agricultural loans, rainwater catchment and seed banks. They cooperate extensively with self-help groups and community resource persons to realize their goals, and both offer technical assistance and training.

The leaders of both organizations stress that one must “unlearn” agricultural practices learned in university and listen to the farmers, or the projects will go nowhere. They are aware that their role is mainly as advisors and facilitators. For NPM to spread, it’s necessary to encourage farmers to talk to one another and spread it themselves. Both emphasize the role of local people and resources, and both consider a decentralized strategy to be crucial for success. Among other things, decentralization has allowed the organizations to avoid political/legal battles with powerful adversaries such as industrial agricultural corporations.

The challenges for CSA and SERP are also very similar. Despite their success, they struggle financially, and this hinders research on further ecological innovation. SERP is part of the state government and gets funds from several sources including the government of Andhra Pradesh.  CSA’s funding is almost fully sourced by grants and donations. Both organizations are also forced to work with Bt-cotton. There is simply not enough natural “organic” (i.e., non-Bt) seed. They continually struggle to set up natural seed banks and avoid the use of GMO products. There are now about 1,800 seed banks.

Another challenge is fitting the dissemination of NPM with the daily lives of the farmers. For example, if it rains the day before a training course, half the participants may not show up because they are tending to their lands instead.

Results from Village Visits

Suraram village

Farmers in Suraram (approximately 70 km east of Hyderabad) grow mostly vegetables, rice, and other grains such as pulses and millet. NPM was introduced in 2007 by several women who were interested in the financial rewards of being a Village Activist. They heard about NPM at the monthly mandal Self-Help Group subcommittee meeting. They did the three-day training course with the Cluster Activist for that district.

Presently, nearly 250 farmers out of 350 farmers practice NPM in Suraram. Since 2007, approximately 50 farmers have switched to NPM each year, a typical pace for NPM to spread through a village. While farmers are hesitant to adopt NPM because they are cautious, it helps tremendously that every advocate for NPM is a farmer herself and can almost always provide advice and expertise. Generally, farmers first experiment with a small plot of their land (a half or a quarter of an acre). Then if they are satisfied, they convert all of their land to NPM techniques.

No agricultural inputs from outside the village are used in Suraram. The villagers make and apply all of the recommended botanical extracts (i.e., organic pesticides), which they use instead of chemical pesticides. Most commonly used are:

  • Neem solution (made from neem seeds and leaves, water, and sometimes cow urine);
  • Chili, garlic, tobacco, and neem;
  • Guava, pomegranate, neem, and bantanum (an Indian fruit).

Generally, a farmer saves anywhere from 6,000 to 12,000 rupees a year from not buying chemical pesticides.

SERP’s Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture department has loaned money to local women to start their own enterprises. Most of the women have repaid their loans or are paying back. They are making 30,000-50,000 rupees of additional income per year. One local woman is making botanical extracts and selling them to farmers who don’t have time or interest in making their own. These extracts usually cost 20 to 25 rupees per liter. SERP loaned a grinder to another woman, and now she grinds flour for 3 rupees per kilogram.

With these savings and added income, there is a noticeable improvement in rural livelihoods. Children are attending school full time; families are buying more things to improve their lives (e.g., chicken coops, livestock, and generator batteries).

As far as challenges go, the villagers modestly say they don’t have many. They don’t mind the increase of work and time because this system has proven to be more healthy and lucrative. Negative memories of chemical pesticides in the past seem to help them appreciate NPM.

The farmers in this area that do not practice NPM generally hold larger pieces of land and so can afford to invest in large amounts of pesticides and fertilizer. These farmers are far less willing to risk their high yields by changing to NPM. I heard the same in the other villages that I visited. SERP, CSA and SECURE all focus on helping small and marginal farmers adopt NPM.

Madigoan village

Farmers in Madigoan (approximately 90 km east of Hyderabad) grow mostly rice, maize, green gram (mung bean), red gram (pigeon pea), peas, and peanuts. Systemic Rice Intensification, using a long rope to indicate the exact spot each rice seedling should be planted (25 cm evenly spaced), is common in this village, though it is very time intensive. Conventional rice farmers generally group six seedlings together in each hole, with inconsistent spacing. It takes a full day for several people to plant an acre of rice with Systemic Rice Intensification, but farmers don’t seem to mind because it increases yields by about 20%.

This village has been celebrated for its rapid adoption of NPM, distinguishing itself from other villages by its exceptionally motivated village leadership. Samuel, the village chief, became interested in NPM after the suicide of a 14-year-old girl. He asked a woman (Self-Help Group subcommittee member) whom he knew was practicing NPM to promote it. Within a week or two, Samuel and two very vocal women (including the mother of the deceased 14-year-old) were attending their first Farmer Field School course. All three became Village Activists and worked closely with the Cluster Activist to arrange Farmer Field School courses on a weekly basis. They also worked to promote NPM actively to other farmers. Samuel, using his connection to fellow farmers and his position as a village leader, urged other farmers to switch to NPM. To those who were skeptical, he challenged them to experiment with half an acre for one season. After that season, most farmers fully adopted NPM practices.

In just 7 years, starting from 2006, nearly every farming family (200 in a village of 235) is practicing NPM. Some external inputs are used here, particularly pheromone traps. 50 to 60 farmers are fully “saturated,” meaning they do not use chemical pesticides or fertilizers. However, 10% of the farmers own larger farms, and those farmers continue to use chemical pesticides. Most of these larger farm owners are absent from the village, choosing to live in a nearby larger town.

The cost of rice production is high when using chemical pesticides: 14,000 rupees per acre, compared to 6,000-7,000 rupees per acre when using NPM. NPM has allowed rice farmers to earn more take-home income: 30,000-35,000 rupees per acre compared to 15,000-25,000 rupees per acre from farming with chemical pesticides.

It seems the most significant difference between NPM dissemination in Suraram and Madigoan is that Madigoan’s leadership actively promotes NPM among village farmers. Both groups of NPM advocates are spreading the message, but Suraram’s is promoting NPM more passively, whereas Samuel actively spreads the NPM message with his enthusiasm and the advantage of his leadership position in the village.

Mangapet village

Cotton, vegetables and rice are the main crops grown in Mangapet (approximately 120 km east of Hyderabad ) with 3,000 acres devoted to Systemic Rice Intensification cultivation. There is very little use of external inputs here, though a few farmers use pheromone traps. 300 farmers out of 450 have adopted NPM in just over 4 years. One NPM technique is to make bird perches in the middle of fields so birds will rest there and hopefully help with eating pests. The farmers have also taken to covering yellow plastic bottles with sticky oil. The color attracts sucking insects such as thrips and aphids, and the oil traps them to the plastic. 100 farmers are “saturated”— using only compost for organic fertilizer—while others are transitioning to compost and away from artificial fertilizer. NPM, especially organic farming with no use of chemical fertilizer, takes up to 3 to 4 years to get yields comparable to what they were getting previously with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The chemical pesticide cost for rice is around 5,000-6,000 rupees per acre and the pesticide cost for cotton 25,000 rupees per acre. Costs for chemical pesticides and fertilizers have been increasing because of:

  • A slow but steady increase in price by pesticide and fertilizer dealers.
  • A cut in Andhra Pradesh government farming subsidies that supplement the costs of pesticides and fertilizer.
  • The price of petroleum affects the cost of manufacturing and transporting agrochemicals.

Seeds are still a very large challenge because:

  • Dealers will provide fake or sterilized seeds.
  • The diversity of seed varieties is decreasing because people prefer getting seeds from seed dealers or the Agriculture Department instead of keeping seeds from their previous year’s production.

Another challenge is an infrequent and inconsistent supply of electricity, which prevents farmers from irrigating with regularity.

Since the spread of NPM, the pesticide dealers in this area shifted their business to selling fertilizers, cement bags, and scrap metal. Some closed their shops. According to SERP Cluster Activist Niomala, there were eight pesticide dealers in her cluster of five villages, but now there are only two.

Niomala first heard about NPM in 2007, when she started her subcommittee membership in the local Self-Help Group. She then became a Community Resource Person in 2009. She became a Cluster Activist in 2010 and still is at the present time. Like many other village participants in SERP programs, she entered the subcommittee and other positions as a means to earn extra income. As she learned more about NPM, she says she saw the wisdom of its practices and decided to promote it as a full-time Cluster Activist. Before 2007, she and her husband had been leasing their land to other farmers. When she learned about NPM, she took back their land and started practicing NPM herself.

As a Cluster Activist, Niomala gives a daily Farmer Field School course in each of her five villages. Each village course has a regular day of the week to meet. Mangapet’s day is Wednesday, the day I visited. That day she was teaching how to spot pests in the early morning and why it is imperative to spray botanical extracts at that time before they hide in soil and behind leaves. Every course is held at 7:00-8:30 am. The Cluster Activist is responsible for leading a minimum of 20 Farmer Field School courses in six months. Whenever Cluster Activists or Village Activists are not fulfilling their obligations such as showing up to do the course, villagers can report it through an application on their mobile phones. Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture monitors Cluster Activist activity through online software collected from mobile phones. Information about complaints is collected at the end of the month, and complaints are discussed with Cluster Activists before they receive their pay.

Niomala is proud of the work they have accomplished. All the target group farmers in her cluster (i.e., small and marginal farmers) are using NPM. Niomala thinks that they could promote more in the surrounding villages.

Milesh was selected as a Village Activist at a Village Organization meeting in 2009 when NPM was promoted at the monthly Village Organization meeting. Like Niomala, he was initially attracted to the small financial gain that goes to NPM organizers.

Bharat (a SERP employee) confirmed that farmers with large holdings seldom take to NPM, because they can bear the high costs of pesticides and fertilizer. They also see conventional (industrial style) agriculture as less risky (i.e., more consistent yields). Small and marginal farmers can’t afford to invest in fertilizer and pesticides, so they choose NPM. Simply put by Bharat, “Large farmers don’t want to take chances.”  It seems that initially small and marginal farmers took to NPM because they didn’t have much else to lose. “Everything relates to financial matters,” Bharat said. He is pleased to see widespread adoption of NPM in Andhra Pradesh but says India still has a way to go. During his Masters Program, Bharat studied in Thailand and was astounded to find that some Thai farmers were getting yields of 90 bags of rice per acre using Systemic Rice Intensification, compared to Indian farmers who get 40-50 bags (at most 70).

Vijaya got married when she was very young. She owned one acre of land and leased an additional two acres. Her husband committed suicide in 2007, followed by her brother. In 2009, DAP (dialkylphosphate) pesticide went from 500-550 rupees per liter to 1,200-1,300 rupees per liter. This was due to dealers raising prices as well as elimination of government subsidies. This price jump devastated the village. She was in debt 3 lacs (approx US$5,000). She is now steadily working out of her debt. She owns and runs an enterprise making and selling (a) botanical extracts and equipment such as sprayers and (b) rollers to punch holes in the ground for 25-cm spacing of rice seedlings with Systemic Rice Intensification.

I asked the group why NPM replication has been so successful in Mangapet and not as successful in other neighboring villages. The villagers attribute their success to the fact that their District Project Management Unit is a motivated group of leaders that believe in the merits of NPM. They were one of the first in the district to promote NPM, and they believe that has made them a shining example to other villages. Niomala offered several explanations why she thinks some communities are slow to adopt NPM:

  • Marketing. She feels that there could be a lot more marketing and promotion on both ends of the supply line—producer and consumer. SERP could do more promotional activity encouraging all farmers to make the switch. And SERP or NPM communities should engage in a promotional campaign about the value of organic food. Right now no consumers want to pay extra for organic produce. If there were high prices attached to organic produce, she thinks more farmers would switch to organic, including big farmers.
  • Big Farmers. Big farmers are most hesitant and least likely to switch to NPM. Their large land holdings protect them from serious losses even if there is a bad year. The sheer quantity they produce makes it possible for them to ride out most problems. If they do switch to NPM practices, they worry that their yields won’t be as high, which is partially correct. Any time a soil goes through that transformation to organic there will be a 2-3 year period where yields are lower and pests are especially aggressive. Additionally, big farmers tend to live in larger towns and cities and not participate in the village meetings.
  • Theory alone cannot help you. Niomala says that she can talk all day to farmers about NPM but it isn’t until she actually shows them her NPM fields that they start to consider NPM. She believes farmers everywhere need more exposure to NPM.

Chippakurthy village

Rice and vegetables are the main crops in Chippakurthy (approximately 150 km east of Hyderabad). Out of 600 farmers in this village, 120 practice NPM, but only 10 practice totally organic agriculture. This is largely because the village is dominated by several large landowners who don’t have any interest in NPM, while the rest of the population is made up of tenant farmers (425 out of 600) who do not own their own land. These farmers belong to another target group:  the Poorest of the Poor. SERP has implemented a microloan program for Poorest of the Poor farmers to help lease half an acre of additional land when they adopt NPM. The program has had tremendous success in alleviating poverty and generating income for the families involved.

Anjaneyulu’s mother heard about NPM in her monthly Self-Help Group meeting. She had her doubts, but she arranged for the District Project Manager to visit her land, and he explained about the financial benefits of NPM. In 2011, Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture gave her a loan of 10,000 rupees to lease half an acre in addition to the half acre that she already leased. Before the loan, they weren’t able to irrigate their half acre adequately. With the loan they were able to lease half an acre and buy a small pump to allow for irrigation. Average output is 30 quintals (3,000 kg) of rice for half an acre. The first year they produced 52 quintals (5,200 kg). In 2011, a quintal would generally sell for 1,150 rupees. The rice harvest gave them an income of 55,000 rupees while their vegetable harvest generated 35,000 rupees. They were able to make around 90,000 rupees from just 1.1 acre of land. They were also able to make a sizable payment on their debts of 1 lac 50,000 rupees (US$2,250). The next year Anjaneyulu was able to take another loan from the local Self-Help Group. Now, they are leasing 5.1 acres (5 acres for rice cultivation and 0.1 for a vegetable garden). After a local news article was published about his recent success, people started calling him for an order of his organic vegetables. He was also able to get an advance for his next rice crop.

I talked to three Cluster Activists. Each of the three came into promoting NPM as a Cluster Activist because of their practical experience. The Mandal Federation committee asked them to be Cluster Activists. They are continuing to get yields of 52-58 quintals using Systemic Rice Intensification. The District Project Manager helped them get a premium rate of 600 rupees extra per bag for selling to an organic rice dealer. After refining they have 35 quintals which they are selling at 3,000 rupees per bag for a profit of 1 lac 5000. The Cluster Activists are choosing to promote cautiously by asking farmers to transition slowly and experiment with half an acre of NPM. “The Poorest of the Poor farmers are the most cautious because we don’t own the land,” said Anjaneyulu.

Punukula village

Punukula was the first official NPM village in Andhra Pradesh. Venu Madhav explained the history. SECURE had several programs:

  • Community Forest Management, which works with four tribes in Andhra Pradesh on 300-400 acres. The tribes are getting income from forest projects.
  • Watershed Program, which works on arresting the erosion of top soil and regenerating soil by planting trees and digging ditches that prevent erosion.
  • Health Program, which includes HIV prevention and promoting use of herbal remedies.
  • Education and Women Empowerment Program.

Between 1996 and 1997, when Venu was working for the Watershed Program, he discovered farmers were smuggling wood out of the forest to sell. When he asked them why, they said they had to do this to make up for heavy farming losses. Their debt kept accumulating. In just 10 years, there had been 15 farmer suicides. He knew about the Center for World Solidarity, which had previously advised about a cheap, organic way to deal with red hairy caterpillar. The Center for World Solidarity developed and disseminated a natural pathogen of the caterpillar. Venu asked the Center for World Solidarity if they knew of an organic substitute for chemical pesticides and they suggested a botanical extract made from neem. 1998 was the first year he developed the neem cake and neem botanical extract with a few dynamic farmers who were willing to experiment. The agricultural program at the Center for World Solidarity became the Center for Sustainable Agriculture in 2004.

At first, Punukula farmers were told by the pesticide dealers that they wouldn’t get a premium price for NPM cotton, but they took samples to a government cotton center, which said it was high quality. The government cotton center even offered to send two trucks to pick up the farmers’ cotton harvest. The next day the local pesticide dealer bought all the cotton at premium price.

In the second year, 25 farmers came forward expressing a desire to practice NPM. In the third year, an agriculture officer came to Punukula to speak about the merits of chemical pesticides. By this time, around half the village was practicing NPM, so they politely asked him to stop speaking if he was going to keep talking about the value of pesticides.

Punukula had NPM training every two weeks. The cooperative still meets once a month, but there isn’t much training anymore as most people in Punukula are very familiar with NPM techniques. 2003 was a real turning point, when almost every farmer in the village switched to NPM. State government officials visited Punukula in 2004, after the Agriculture Minister praised the program. Then many NGOs started promoting NPM and villages from all over the state started to adopt it.

There was a SERP/CSA/SECURE poster when the organizations started to work together. The poster promoted the use of ALL of the following methods:

  • manure fertilizer;
  • neem cake/botanical extract;
  • mulching (chop and drop);
  • use of pond/tank silt for fertilizer/compost;
  • vermiculture;
  • green fertilizer (cover crops);
  • contour plowing across the slope to arrest erosion;
  • appropriate and responsible use of water.

According to Venu, “NPM in Punukula was so successful because they had a lot of support from local farmers. Many other villages in the surrounding area don’t have that kind of support or initiative. Somebody needs to have a large amount of initiative to spread NPM to other places. The farmers in Punukula need to go and talk to other farmers in other villages.” There seems to be a lack of dissemination infrastructure. Out of 50 villages in the area surrounding Punukula, 25 are practicing NPM. The villages that practice NPM have done it on their own. The other villages are continuing with conventional pesticide use because of a lack of initiative in those communities and a lack of NPM outreach. Where SERP is promoting NPM, it has been able to introduce NPM into more villages by making full use of the existing social infrastructure provided by Self-Help Groups.

A number of challenges remain. “The seed market is controlled by agriculture corporations, and they won’t let it go,” Venu said. “If we had more resources, we could develop organic (i.e., non-GMO) cotton seed banks, but organic cotton seeds are extremely rare.”  NPM is practiced with cotton, but the only seeds available are Bt-cotton seeds, so NPM is often used in combination with Bt-cotton. Bt-cotton emerged onto the market place around 2008. In about 5 years, it has managed to devastate the supply and variety of other cotton seeds. To the best of Venu’s knowledge, there are no other cotton varieties in Andhra Pradesh. There are no awareness campaigns about the threat of Bt and the problems it creates. There needs to be a distinction made between Bt-cotton and organic cotton. If this happens, Venu hopes there would be a resurgence of organic cotton seeds. They are also in need of neem seed and more neem trees for NPM.

“We made a huge contribution to society with development of NPM,” he says, but now the challenges have changed. We need to develop marketing, acquire organic cotton seeds, arrange buyers for organic cotton, and make enough botanical extracts to replace chemical pesticides. We also need to develop enough compost to replace artificial fertilizer. We could then apply for organic certification and develop links to more buyers.”  Because organic fertilizer (manure and urine) is time consuming to collect, Venu would like to find funds for a program to make cement slopes on top of the ground inside farmhouses so they can easily collect cow manure and urine.

Venu estimates that cotton farmers probably save an average of 4,000-6,000 rupees per acre with NPM. Although suicides have stopped, debt is still a reality because farmers are forced to expand and take on more land. “It’s the nature of farming as a business.”

A cotton mill in Punukula provides value-added income for the village. Since 2008, 52 families are getting employment there. But in 2009, the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) law was passed through parliament, which is similar to American Depression-era public work projects. Workers apply for EGS and get a day’s salary, but with poor oversight most people work for only two hours a day. Naturally, the EGS program disrupts programs like SECURE’s cotton mill, which pays the same wage but expects workers to work a full day. Finding people to work a full day rather than just 2 hours remains one of the biggest challenges for the cotton mill.

Conclusions about Why Some Villages Have Been More Successful at Adopting NPM

The awareness, education, and organization programs described above have been crucial to the dissemination and adoption of NPM methods in Andhra Pradesh. Economic considerations are frequently mentioned as well. Village Activists and Cluster Activists all mentioned their salaries as a reason to get involved in NPM replication. In all the villages that I visited, I was told that NPM can cut production costs in half, so NPM farmers have much more disposable income. Also, manufacturing NPM pesticides has become a booming cottage industry, with some women making an additional 30,000 to 50,000 rupees of income per year.

However, because the financial advantages of NPM were roughly the same for all the villages that I visited, they don’t explain why some villages were more successful than others. Two other factors seem to determine the greater or lesser success of NPM in different villages:

Leadership. Ramanjaneyulu and Raidu agreed that the methods and technical expertise of CSA and SERP are only as useful as village leadership will allow. If the village leadership is motivated and organized, they will have tremendous success. If there is lack of leadership, planning, or commitment to NPM, a village will have at best mixed results. Similarly, the farmers that I interviewed during the village visits said that the success or failure of NPM in a particular village depends almost entirely on the village leadership. Lack of leadership, organization, and competent functionaries will prevent successful implementation of NPM. In Madigoan, which has an 85% adoption rate and is celebrated for its rapid adoption of NPM, the tragic suicide of a 14-year-old girl motivated the village leadership to encourage NPM. While most NPM advocates are spreading the message more passively, Madigoan’s chief actively spread the NPM message with his enthusiasm and the influence associated with his leadership position. In Mangapet, the villagers attribute their success to the fact that their District Project Manager Unit is a motivated group of leaders who believe in the merits of NPM. Punukula was fortunate to benefit from the dedication of Venu Madhav, SECURE, and Punukula’s leaders.

Demographics. Farmers who do not practice NPM are generally (a) large landowners and (b) the “Poorest of the Poor.” The large landowners can afford to invest in large amounts of pesticides, and they are far less willing to risk their high yields by changing to NPM. Also, they are difficult to reach as many live outside the villages. The Poorest of the Poor are the most cautious because they do not own the land. SERP, CSA and SECURE all focus on helping small and marginal farmers. Chippakurthy, the village with only 20% adoption rate, is dominated by several large landowners who have no interest in NPM, while the rest of the population is made up of poor tenant farmers.

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