Redefining Pest Management in agriculture

Today agriculture is passing through a difficult phase.  The ever increasing costs of cultivation due to excessive dependency on the external inputs, high fluctuations in market prices due to opening of up of markets, reduced public support after liberalisation coupled with the monsoon vagaries have made agriculture based livelihoods unviable.  Agriculture chemicals especially pesticides occupy major costs in crops like cotton, chillies etc.

This is the story of how Punukula, a village in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh put in efforts over a five year period (1999 to 2003) to rid themselves completely of pesticides. Today, the villagers do not use chemical pesticides at all – they are inspiring other farmers in their district and elsewhere to go the same way and improve their livelihoods. The Panchayat has passed a resolution that they would remain pesticides-free.

The Punukula

For quite some time cotton has been the major crop in Punukula. It was cultivated as a monoculture and large amounts of pesticides were used to protect the crops. This caused a number of problems: there were cases of acute poisoning, which left people disabled for the rest of their life and caused enormous health service bills or ended fatal. The Registered Medical Practitioner of Punukula, Mr Madhu recollects that there used to be at least 50 to 60 poisoning cases per season earlier to 2000.

Another problem was caused by the credits that people took out to finance the pesticides. These credits caused the economics of farming to go out of control. The money seemed to have gone straight into the hands of the “single window” or “all-in-one” dealer. The dealer was indeed dealing a death blow to the farmers’ dreams. He would be the one who would sell them seeds, fertilisers and pesticides – he would give these on credit to the farmers and even supply other credit. However, all of this was at high interest rates of 3-5% per month. Since the farmers were in no position to repay these loans, the agreement would be to sell their produce to this “all-in-one” dealer. The dealer in turn would inevitably fix the price at rates lower than the market value. The farmers had no choice but to accept the rate, in the hope that next year’s investments would once again be supported by the dealer. The cycle became extremely vicious with no way out. The farmers were now truly on the Pesticides Treadmill.

Most people in the village recall with horror the strong clutches of the all-in-one dealer. The social stigma of indebtedness, especially at those times when the money lender put pressure for repayment is unbearable for many.

The beginnings of the transformation

In 1999, the local Non-Governmental Organisation, SECURE (Socio-Economic and Cultural Upliftment in Rural Environment), analysed with the villagers about their livelihoods revealed several problems related to their agriculture including lack of support for investment, higher expenditure each year, lack of marketing support, indebtedness etc. Realising that pesticides in cotton caused many of these problems, the organisation decided to work on the Non-Pesticidal Management (NPM). The NPM project was with the technical and financial support of the Hyderabad-based Centre for World Solidarity’s Sustainable Agriculture wing (now called the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture).

The initial hesitancy

When SECURE personnel approached the farmers with their non-pesticidal technology, the farmers were sceptic. This, they were doing in the face of aggressive marketing including advertising by the pesticide industry and the difficulty in the challenge is entirely understandable.  ‘How can I believe that the insect which cannot be killed by highly poisonous pesticides be controlled by using neem which I every day use to brush my teeth’ remarks Mr. Hemla Nayak recollecting their initial hesitations.  But gradually people started realizing the difference.

 The sweet taste of success

At the end of the first year, the positive results were already apparent with the NPM approach:

In 2001-02, Non-Pesticidal Management work was taken up on 6.4 hectares, with eight farmers in Punukula on cotton, while in the case of pigeon pea, it was done in 7 ha with 3 farmers.

Once again, in the conventional chemical plots, farmers experienced a negative income while the NPM farmers experienced a great economic improvement leaving them with positive net incomes.

NPM in Cotton during 2001-02 (on 6.4 ha, with 8 farmers in Punukula)

Particulars NPM Conventional
Avg.Yield 15.62 14.72
Cost of plant protection 4301 8596
Net income 3420 -5201

By the second year, more farmers joined the effort as they had witnessed the good results first hand in the fields of the first year’s participants. Farmers were also taken on exposure visits to other districts. There were more training-workshops held in the village. Slowly, word spread, and along with it, a serious conviction that getting rid of chemical pesticides is the only way out.

By 2002-03, the NPM was tried out in crops like paddy, pigeon pea, cotton and chilli. The number of participating farmers went up to 59, with an area of 58 hectares. The increased net incomes were to the satisfaction of the farmers.

In 2003-04, the acreage under NPM cotton went up to 480 ha in Punukula and Pullaigudem villages, covering all the cotton area of Punukula. In Chilli, the discontinuation of pesticides also meant a great improvement in the quality of chilli and therefore, the produce fetched higher prices in the market.

Village Acreage Average Yield Average Cost of Cultivation/ha Average Net Income per ha
Punukula and Pullaigudem  480 ha 30 q/ha Rs. 21408/ha Rs. 52593/ha


In 2004-05, for a second year in a row, nobody in the village has gone anywhere near a pesticide dealer or dabba (pesticide storage). The Village Panchayat passed a resolution to announce that it is pesticides-free and would continue to be so.  From the Panchayat’s side, they requested pesticides dealers not to come into their village and market their products.

Farmers of the village were able to get rid of past debts in a couple of years’ time. With the debt burden off, the farmers are willing to try out more and more ecological approaches, as well as try it on more crops. Eerla Dhanamma now bought two more acres of land, after switching over to NPM, for instance. Hemla Nayak says that his debts have been repaid. Man Singh has been able to lease in 2 acres of land on which he is cultivating cotton without pesticides. Field Staff of SECURE point out the various changes – including housing – in the village after pesticides have been removed from their agriculture.

The ecological balance in the fields got restored. There are many more insects present in the fields, without any of them reaching a “pest” stage of threat.  Dhanamma talks about spiders, wasps and beetles returning to their fields. Birds are returning to the village, the villagers report.

The health of the farmers improved – there are no more any cases of acute intoxication from the village. Dr Nagaraju of Kothagudem also observes that acute intoxication cases from these villages have come down.

For the agricultural labourers also, things have improved on many fronts. There was a wage increase from 25 rupees to 30 rupees during the corresponding period [when NPM was practised]. They do not have to be exposed to deadly pesticides now, nor incur medical care expenses for treatment of pesticides-related illnesses. Some point out that 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.

The women’s groups bought a neem seed crushing unit in Punukula in 2004. This was done through the Panchayat with the help of Centre for World Solidarity, which gave a grant for the investment. Two women find full-time employment running this machine.

The rapid spread of the approach

In Punukula, 174 farmers along with 120 farmers from Pullaigudem soon became capable of explaining to others the principles behind the new pest management approach and about how they were benefiting. Word spread both in sporadic ways and in a structured manner. Punukula farmers themselves decided to pro-actively spread the NPM message to nearby villages. Every relative that visits the village gets to hear about the transformation. Similarly, when Punukula farmers go to other places for other social purposes, they make it a point to bring up their story of NPM.

G. V. Ramanjaneyulu and Zakir Hussain

Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu
Executive Director
Centre for Sustainable Agriculture
12-13-445, Street no.1
Tarnaka, Secunderabad-500 017, India
ph.91(40)27017735, 27014302,

Recently Published Articles

Women-led farm initiatives

Women-led farm initiatives

By using organic farming methods, developing connections with markets, generating income, and enhancing their own...


Call for articles

Share your valuable experience too

Share This