The use of non-pesticide alternatives is a sustainable pest management approach based on the theory that an infestation by an insect species indicates a disturbance somewhere in the environment. Fixing the root of the problem instead of treating the symptoms can both balance the insect population and improve the health of the crop as a whole.
The transition to natural farming methods began as a mass movement. In 2000, about 900 residents of Punukula village, Andhra Pradesh, were suffering from many problems. Farmers reported health problems that ranged from acute poisoning to death. Pest infestation regularly destroyed crops. The insects developed resistance to the chemicals, forcing farmers to take out loans to buy more and more expensive pesticides. People faced huge health care costs, crop failures, loss of income and debt.
With the help of local organizations, farmers have experimented with other pesticide-free practices, such as using natural remedies (eg neem and chili peppers) to control insects and planting bait crops (eg marigold and castor beans). Given that chemical pesticides kill all insects, the use of non-pesticide alternatives is intended to balance the ecosystem so that insects exist in normal numbers (and never reach infestation levels). Many insects, such as ladybugs, dragonflies, and spiders, play an important role in nature and can benefit plants.
During the year of using natural agricultural methods, the villagers noticed a number of positive results. The health problems are gone. Farms using non-pesticide alternatives had higher profits and lower costs. Obtaining, grinding and mixing natural repellents such as neem seeds and chili peppers have also created more jobs in the village. As farmers cultivated more land, technologies such as backpack sprayers helped them grow their crops more efficiently. Residents reported an overall improvement in their quality of life, from health to happiness and finances.
As word spread about the benefits of non-pesticide alternatives, more and more farmers have chosen to avoid the chemicals. In 2004 Punukula became one of the first villages in India to declare itself completely free of pesticides. Soon, other towns and villages in Andhra Pradesh began to engage in organic farming.
Rajashehar Reddy from Krishna County became an organic farmer after observing the health problems of his fellow villagers, which he believed were related to chemical pesticides. He learned organic farming techniques from morning agricultural television shows and YouTube videos. Currently only two crops grow in his village (chili and cotton), but his goal is to start growing vegetables.
Farmer Wutla Veerabharao recalls a time before chemical pesticides, when almost all farmers used natural farming methods. He notes that the changes took place in the 1950s, during the Green Revolution. After noticing how the chemicals changed the color of the soil, he began to limit their use.
Veerabharao was also concerned about his family’s diet and the health effects of chemicals. The pesticide sprayer (usually a farmer or agricultural worker) is in direct contact with chemicals that attack the skin and lungs. The chemicals not only render the soil infertile and harm insect and bird populations, but also affect humans and can contribute to diseases such as diabetes and cancer, Veerabharao said.
Despite this, not all of his fellow villagers took up organic farming.
“Because organic farming takes more time and work, it is difficult for rural people to start paying attention to it,” he explained.
In 2012, the state government ran a local zero-budget natural farming training program. For the past seven years, Veerabharao has run a XNUMX% organic farm that grows sugarcane, turmeric and chili peppers.
“Organic agriculture has its own market. I set the price for my products, as opposed to chemical agriculture where the price is set by the buyer,” Veerabharao said.
It took three years for farmer Narasimha Rao to start making visible profits from his organic farm, but now he can fix prices and sell products directly to customers rather than relying on markets. His belief in organics helped him get through this difficult initial period. Narasimha Organic Farm currently covers 90 acres. He grows pumpkins, coriander, beans, turmeric, eggplant, papayas, cucumbers, chili peppers and various vegetables, with which he also grows calendula and castor beans as bait crops.
“Health is the main concern of human life. Life without health is miserable,” he said, explaining his motivation.
From 2004 to 2010, pesticide use was reduced by 50% statewide. During those years, soil fertility improved, insect populations bounced back, farmers became more financially independent, and wages increased.
Today, all 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh use some form of non-pesticide alternatives. Andhra Pradesh plans to become the first Indian state with 100% “zero budget subsistence agriculture” by 2027.
In communities around the world, people are reconnecting with their natural environment while looking for more sustainable ways to live!