Indian Agriculture is passing through a turbulent phase due to internal and external factors. The world agriculture and food market is changing, technologies are changing, expectations of stakeholders are changing. The government of India is reviewing many of its agriculture-related policies including agri-input related policies and laws. In this article, the author will discuss the views related to agro-chemicals, also known as pesticides.
Pesticide Management Bill and Future of Pesticides :
Before I discuss the dimensions of the new proposed law and subordinate legislation, it will be useful to have a detailed insight and information about the future of Agro-chemical use in India and global agriculture. The way the impact of climate change is predicted on food security, we should study the impact of this on various biological systems like seeds, insects behaviour etc. The role of agro-chemicals will remain crucial and may need a serious evaluation of various parameters to attract investments and technologies to address emerging issues.
The following points need serious consideration before we create a new regulatory system for agrochemicals in India.
- We should Identify and evaluate the circumstances under which chemical pesticides may be required in future for pest management.
- It will be useful to determine what types of chemical products are the most appropriate for ecologically based pest management.
- It will also be useful to explore the most promising opportunities to increase the benefits of agrochemicals and at the same time reduce the health and environmental risks of pesticide use.
- What should be the role of the public sector and private sector in governance and supply of agro-chemicals like in research, product development, product testing and registration, implementation of pesticide use strategies, and public education about pesticides?
Pesticide Application and Food Security :
It is important to appreciate the use of agrochemicals in food security because it encompasses pesticide use in various stages of production systems i.e. processing, storage, and transportation of field crops, fruits, vegetables, ornamentals, fibre, fodder, forest products, livestock, and the products of aquaculture.
In a wider sense, in modern world agriculture, the pests to be considered should also include weeds, pathogens, and vertebrate and invertebrate organisms that must normally be managed to protect crops, livestock, and urban ecosystems. Restricting the definition only to insects may create a lot of confusion and policy overlaps.
Under the climate change situation to ensure food security, pesticide research must consider all aspects of pest control like identification of pest behaviour in the changing ecosystem, changing pest biochemistry and physiology, resistance management, impacts of pesticides on economic systems, and other relevant issues. The proposed law should encourage work and trials in these areas as well.
A critical early challenge was to define the expected challenge and changes required.
The policymakers should define the future of food security and agriculture in India or the next 10 and 20 years i.e. 2040 AD.Beyond 15 to 20 years, it is difficult to predict technological innovations in a fast-changing world and their effects. For example, the invention of many pesticides and their spread and then identification of side effects and proposed restrictions for use is a classic example of how things change on the ground with emerging data and evidence. Similarly, we can see the changes in transgenic crops and their implication on climate and other ecological issues. A 20-year span is also sufficient to study the adverse unexpected effects of technology on the ground. Another example is the development and promotion of chlorinated hydrocarbons, widespread use beginning in the early 1950s culminated in regulatory restrictions in the early 1970s
What is a pesticide?
The existing law is the Insecticide Act, the new proposed law is the Pesticide Management Bill. The term pesticide required a more precise definition and a more clear understanding. This will have a serious impact on the approval of the products, implementation of the proposed law and related subordinate regulations. Any inconsistency with biological definitions of pesticides will also become a serious loophole in the registration process. The definition of pesticide also has social aspects; public perceptions, safety considerations, toxicity and colour related policy need detailed discussions before decisions.
Regulatory Challenges in Pesticide Registration:
According to the author, it is important to have a strict legal definition, but also including microbial pesticides, plant metabolites, and agents used in veterinary medicine to control insects, parasites and nematode pests in the livestock sector as well.
To identify circumstances in which chemical pesticides will continue to be needed in pest management will also need an assessment of the full range of agricultural pests and of the composition and deployment of chemical pesticides to control pests in various environments. It is also an impossible task to predict all scenarios because of the large volume of data and the number of analyses required to generate a credible understanding of all pesticides and their efficacy and uses. This can be ensured by making a clear and transparent registration process and also the re-evaluation process.
The potential effects of pesticides on productivity, the environment, and human health is a matter of social and political debate. The uses and potential effects of chemical pesticides and alternatives to improve pest management vary considerably among ecosystems. The proposed law should also have the potential to reduce overall risks by improving the adoption of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approaches that optimise and minimizes the use of chemicals under diverse conditions of soils, crops, climates, and farm-management practices.
Overall, chemical pesticides will continue to play a role in pest management for the foreseeable future, in part because the environmental compatibility of products is increasing — particularly with the growing proportion of reduced-risk pesticides being registered with the regulatory authorities. There is also a growing option of competition from safer alternatives. In many situations, the benefits of pesticide use are high relative to risks because there are no practical alternatives.
What should be the priority for Pesticide Management Regulations in India?
To determine the types of chemical products that are most appropriate for ecologically based pest management, the regulation should consider societal concerns, scientific advances, and regulatory pressures. The internal and external pressure will continue to drive some of the more hazardous products in the marketplace. With growing public pressure and scientific advances, synthetic organic insecticides traditionally associated with broad nontarget effects, potentially hazardous residues, and with exposure risks to applicators are expected to occupy a decreasing market share. Many products registered in the last few years have safer properties and smaller environmental impacts than older synthetic organic pesticides. This trend will put pressure on the regulatory changes that restricted the use of older chemicals and the technological changes will lead to competitive alternative products.
Role of Innovations in Agrochemicals
The novel chemistry and new chemical products will have a very different genesis from traditional synthetic organic insecticides; the number and diversity of biological sources will increase, and products that originate in chemistry laboratories will be designed with particular target sites or modes of action in mind. Innovations in pesticide delivery systems (notably, in plants) promise to reduce adverse environmental impacts even further but are not expected to eliminate them.
Innovative products may also have limitations
Many new products may also share many of the problems that have been presented by traditional synthetic organic insecticides. For example, there is no evidence that any of the new chemical and biotechnology products are completely free of the classic problems of resistance acquisition, nontarget effects, and residue exposure.
New Tools of Pest Management in future
The role of Artificial intelligence in crop management, genetically engineered organisms, precision technology, drone-based monitoring, etc will reduce pest pressure and this may constitute a “new generation” of pest-management tools.
The experience says that genetically engineered crops that express a controlled chemical can exert a strong selection for resistance in pests. Similarly, genetically engineered crops that depend upon the concomitant use of a single chemical pesticide with a mode of action similar to that of the transgenically expressed trait could increase the development of pest resistance to the chemical. The serious debate on the adverse environmental impacts of many technologies is under serious considerations.
New Regulations may face bigger and complex challenges:
The multiple approaches and multiple modes of action to have effective mechanisms and to minimise side effects is vital, but the interplay between them may add new challenges for policymakers.
It is also fair to assume that the uses of transgenic crops will probably maintain or even increase. This will also emphasize the need for effective resistance management programs, novel genes that protect crops, chemicals with new modes of action and nonpesticide management techniques.
Pesticides and their impact on Public health will remain a concern
There remains a need for new chemicals that are compatible with ecologically based pest management and also address the issues of applicator and worker safety. Pesticides in the human diet of the various vulnerable sections will remain a concern. The health of the applicator and worker safety will remain a concern for the regulators.
The proposed Pesticide management Bill was drafted almost 15 years ago and still under discussion. It will be useful if we can have a fresh look at this proposed law and also address the issues which emerged in the last few years before getting approval from Parliament. This will help in making suitable subordinate legislation to address the needs of society will minimize controversies.
(Views expressed above are personal to the Author)