Saturday, July 18, 2009

Phorate Story of UP

Indian agro-chemical market is just 2 per cent of the total market with the usage of agro-chemicals being low in developing regions of Asia, South America and Africa, these markets remain promising growth potential for India. The current exports of pesticides from India amounts to Rs 1,500 crore and it can increase manifold.

Agrochemicals Policy Group (APG) estimated that spurious and substandard pesticides worth around Rs 1,200 crore are palmed off to unwary farmers every year. This results in a net loss to the farmers of crops worth about Rs 6,000 crore. APG is a pesticides industry body that aims to promote the safe use of plant protection chemicals.

A random sample of 18 manufacturer’s commercial phorate, an insecticide, available in the market was collected and analyzed for different location / dealers by CARD (Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development) in Uttar Pradesh. In a surprise, it was found that 13 out of 18 samples tested negatively and failed with the recommended active ingredient content and can be categorized as spurious and sub-standard agrochemicals. To illustrate the seriousness of the issue, majority of samples of phorate, tested 0.5 to 2.0 per cent for the supposed ingredient formulation of 10 per cent.

Over the past few years Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and other states have been attributed to the use of spurious pesticides that caused widespread crop losses and followed by farmer’s suicide. According to APG dossier, most spurious pesticide-making units are located in western Uttar Pradesh, coastal Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and western Maharashtra. Indira Market in Delhi is said to have become the leading centre for the sale and distribution of these fake pesticides. Spurious products are mostly sold in under-developed markets like eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and the north-east, though one can also easily get such products in developed markets like Nashik, Pune, Bangalore, Guntur and Warangal.

Spurious pesticide manufacturers usually imitate popular and expensive brands from multi-national and leading Indian manufacturers that have better acceptance among the farmers. Some counterfeit pesticides do not contain any active plant protection ingredient and largely comprise materials like talcum powder, chalk powder, any odd solvent or just kerosene. Others may contain some active ingredient but only a fraction of that mentioned on the label or recommended.

As most spurious pesticide manufacturing and sale operations are conducted without bills and invoices, the government loses excise revenue of around Rs 168 crore (at the rate of 14 per cent) every year. The state governments also lose VAT revenue (4 per cent) worth around Rs 48 crores, the APG estimates states.

APG attributes the thriving spurious pesticides market to inadequate legal and other preventive action by the authorities concerned against manufacturers and traders of fake and sub-normal pesticides. India’s pesticides industry is overseen by the Central Insecticides Board (CIB), a regulator created under the Insecticides Act, 1968. It is also responsible for the registration of agro-chemicals. The state agricultural departments are also involved in enforcing the Insecticides Act in terms of issuing manufacturing licences, environmental clearances and monitoring the distribution and quality of the products.

In the lines of pharmaceutical industry, the adoption and adherence to good manufacturing practices (GMP) should be made mandatory for pesticides manufacturers. There is also urgent need for revamping the state- level pesticide testing laboratories and equipped with modern technology to ensure better monitoring of the pesticides quality. Most of these laboratories lack qualified analytical chemists and proper analytical instruments and reagents at present. Their analysis reports are often questionable as a result. To make India a supplier of high-quality agrochemicals, all exporters of agro-chemicals must be brought under ISO certification, it said, adding that to avoid the lowering of export prices, the crowding of several manufacturers for the same molecule should be controlled

However, the overall Indian agricultural pesticides market is quite small by global standards. Although India accounts for around 17 per cent of the world’s total cultivated area, it accounts only for 3 per cent of global pesticide consumption. About 80 per cent of the country’s crop land, comprising largely rainfed area and small farms, is seldom treated with plant protection chemicals. The cost-benefit ratio of pesticide use is reckoned to be about 1:5.

The worse part is that the grower cannot make out the genuineness of a product till he uses it. By then it is too late. With the private market of pesticides growing steadily, there is a need for stringent regulatory measures.

There are apprehensions in the market that the Agriculture Department is keeping a tab only on the state manufacturers, while a number of dealers are bringing in spurious pesticides from Delhi and other places and selling these after mixing with genuine stocks.

The genesis of the problem lies in the huge profit margins of the companies that have everything to gain by selling "doctored" products to unsuspecting farmers. While a marginal decrease in the potency of the formulations may not affect the farmers, it means big bucks for the companies. Indian companies too try to elbow their way in by launching the same products as MNCs, but with a smaller price tag. Often, the first casualty is quality.

The cumbersome procedure in bringing the defaulting companies to book and The Insecticide Act, 1968, is a paper tiger. While the licences of the errant dealers are cancelled, they have the option to plead their case with the Joint Director, Agricultural Plant Protection.

The suspect companies are also issued show-cause notices and their quality-control heads are asked to explain the deficiencies in their products. However, the companies adopt "delaying tactics" by asking for a re-test from the Central Laboratory and in a majority of the cases, the samples pass. In case this laboratory fails a sample, it is up to the department to initiate court proceedings. Sources say that it is hard to recall an instance where a company or dealer may have been prosecuted for sub-standard or spurious products.

The government should amend the Insecticides Act and bring pesticides under the Consumer Rights Act so that farmers can get compensation in the case of financial loss due to sub-standard pesticides supplied by dealers/manufacturers.
The system introduced in the southern states under which random samples are taken from every consignment of pesticides entering the state. Special barriers have been set up for the purpose at the entry points. It is most important as spurious pesticides can actually cause harm to the plants as the pests become resistant and their population multiplies at a high rate.

Abid Hussain

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