Impact of large-scale, government legislated and funded organic farming training on pesticide use in Andhra Pradesh, India: a cross-sectional study

Elsevier, The Lancet Planetary Health, Volume 6, April 2022
Jaacks L.M., Serupally R., Dabholkar S., Venkateshmurthy N.S., Mohan S., Roy A. et al.

The Impact of Large Scale Government Legislated and Funded Organic Farming: Training and Pesticide Use

In the journey towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), large scale organic farming has emerged as a strategy of increasing significance. As we traverse this landscape of sustainable agriculture, we dive deep into the realm of organic farming, investigating government-legislated and funded initiatives, their impact on pesticide use, and how all these elements intertwine to impact our SDGs.

Organic Farming and its Relevance to Sustainable Development

The concept of organic farming revolves around the use of techniques that aim to enhance soil fertility, promote biodiversity, and reduce the environmental footprint of agricultural practices. By eschewing synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, organic farming not only aligns with several of the 17 SDGs, but it also nurtures a healthy ecosystem and creates sustainable livelihoods for farmers.

Large scale organic farming, in particular, is poised to make a substantial contribution to these goals. With the backing of government-legislated initiatives and funding, it has the potential to effect a significant shift in our approach to food production, consumption, and the overall health of our planet.

The Role of Government Legislation and Funding in Organic Farming

Government plays a crucial role in steering the agriculture sector towards more sustainable practices. Legislation is a potent tool that can be leveraged to regulate the industry, enforce standards, and promote organic farming. Similarly, funding can provide the necessary financial support to farmers transitioning to organic practices, ensuring that the shift is economically viable.

Countries around the world have already begun to recognise the importance of government intervention in promoting organic farming. For instance, the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy has provisions to financially support organic farming and encourage environmentally friendly agricultural practices. In the USA, the National Organic Program lays down regulations for organic agricultural production, ensuring adherence to stringent standards.

Large Scale Organic Farming: A Training Perspective

One of the key challenges in transitioning to large scale organic farming is the requirement for new skills and knowledge. Farmers need to be trained in organic farming techniques, such as crop rotation, green manuring, composting, biological pest control, and the use of organic fertilisers.

Government-led training programmes can play a vital role in this transition. By providing access to knowledge and best practices, these programmes can help farmers make the shift to organic farming more efficiently and effectively. They can also equip farmers with the skills needed to maintain the fertility of their soil, manage pests without relying on synthetic pesticides, and produce high-quality, organic produce.

Impact on Pesticide Use

One of the most significant benefits of organic farming is its potential to reduce pesticide use. Synthetic pesticides have been linked to a variety of environmental and health problems, including water contamination, soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, and risks to human health.

By promoting organic farming practices, governments can help reduce the dependence on these harmful substances. Training programmes can educate farmers about alternative methods of pest control, such as biological control and the use of natural pesticides. This can not only reduce the environmental impact of farming but also contribute to several SDGs, including good health and well-being (SDG 3), clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), and life on land (SDG 15).

The push for large scale organic farming is more than just a shift in agricultural practices; it represents a broader movement towards sustainable development. Government-legislated and funded initiatives can play a vital role in this transition, providing the necessary support and training for farmers to adopt these sustainable practices.

The Ripple Effects of Large Scale Organic Farming

The ripple effects of large scale organic farming are wide-ranging and deeply influential. The benefits of such practices extend far beyond the immediate fields, impacting local communities and economies, and contributing to global sustainability efforts.

Firstly, large scale organic farming can contribute to sustainable economic growth (SDG 8) by creating job opportunities. As organic farming is typically more labour-intensive than conventional farming, it requires a larger workforce, creating employment opportunities for local communities.

Secondly, organic farming can contribute to responsible consumption and production (SDG 12). By encouraging sustainable farming practices, organic farming can promote more responsible consumption habits, helping consumers become more aware of their food choices and their environmental impact.

Lastly, the role of organic farming in mitigating climate change (SDG 13) cannot be understated. Organic farming techniques enhance soil health, which in turn increases the soil's capacity to sequester carbon, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Policy Recommendations for the Future

While the current efforts towards large scale organic farming are commendable, there is room for further development. Governments can increase their support for organic farming in several ways.

Firstly, more robust legislation could be implemented to ensure standards for organic farming are maintained and consistently improved. Secondly, increased funding could be allocated to assist farmers in the transition process, helping to offset initial costs and potential yield decreases during the transition period.

Thirdly, governments could invest more in research and development to drive innovation in organic farming techniques. This could help overcome some of the challenges associated with organic farming, such as lower yields and susceptibility to pests and diseases.

Lastly, public awareness campaigns could be launched to educate consumers about the benefits of organic produce. By creating a higher demand for organic products, these campaigns can help drive the growth of the organic farming industry.

The transition to large scale organic farming is not just a step, but a leap towards sustainable development. With the right government legislation and funding, and a keen focus on training and reducing pesticide use, this leap can propel us closer to achieving our SDGs.

While challenges undoubtedly exist, the potential benefits of large scale organic farming - from healthier ecosystems to sustainable livelihoods and a more resilient food system - underscore the importance of this transition. As we navigate towards a sustainable future, the role of organic farming remains a beacon of hope, a testament to what we can achieve when we harmoniously combine human ingenuity with respect for nature.

Background: The use of pesticides in agriculture has been associated with the destruction of biodiversity and damage to human health. A marked reduction in pesticide use is urgently required globally, but whether this can be achieved rapidly and at scale is unclear. We aimed to assess whether government-legislated and funded organic farming training in Andhra Pradesh, India, reduced pesticide use by farmers and sales of pesticides by pesticide retailers. Methods: We did a cross-sectional survey between Aug 11 and Nov 26, 2020, among farmers and pesticide retailers in Kurnool District of Andhra Pradesh (India). We assessed the impact of the Andhra Pradesh Community Managed Natural Farming (APCNF) programme, which aims to transition 100% of the agricultural land of Andhra Pradesh (population approximately 49 million, 6 million of whom are farmers) to organic farming practices by 2030. We did cross-sectional phone interview surveys of farmers and face-to-face surveys of pesticide retailers. We used multivariable Poisson regression models to estimate relative risks (RRs) and logistic regression models to estimate odds ratios (ORs). Findings: 962 farmers were invited to participate, of whom 894 (93%) consented (709 conventional farmers and 149 APCNF farmers). 47 pesticide retailers were invited to participate, of whom 38 (81%) consented. APCNF farmers had practised APCNF for a median of 2 years (IQR 1–3). APCNF farmers were less likely to use pesticides than conventional farmers (adjusted RR 0·65 [95% CI 0·57–0·75]), although pesticide use remained high among both APCNF and conventional farmers (73 [49%] of 148 APCNF farmers vs 695 [99%] of 700 conventional farmers; p<0·0001). APCNF farmers had lower pesticide expenditures than conventional farmers (median US$0 [IQR 0–170] for APCNF farmers vs $175 [91–281] for conventional farmers; p=0·0001). Increased frequency of meeting with agricultural extension workers was associated with reduced pesticide use among ACPNF farmers. Seven (18%) of 38 retailers reported a decrease in sales of pesticides in the past 4 years; no difference in the odds of reporting a decrease in pesticide sales in the past 4 years was identified between APCNF retailers and conventional retailers (OR 0·95 [95% CI 0·58–1·57]). Interpretation: Despite a major government drive for organic agriculture, about half of APCNF farmers continued to use pesticides and no impact on pesticide sales at local retailers was observed. A combination of policy instruments (eg, bans on highly hazardous pesticides), not solely training for farmers, might be needed to eliminate pesticide use in agriculture. Funding: Scottish Funding Council and UK Research and Innovation.