Date 15 July 2020. We are republishing the press release issued by Shetkari Sanghatana today, below.


Shetkari Sanghatana opposes restrictions on the use of glyphosate

Glyphosate is one of the most commonly used herbicides by farmers in India. The Central government has recently issued a Gazette notification proposing to control the use of glyphosate, a herbicide that is widely preferred by farmers. This restriction will significantly increase the burden on farmers who are already in distress. Shetkari Sanghatana is calling on farmers across India to file their objections against the new form restrictions on the use of glyphosate, said Anil Ghanwat, president of the Sanghatana.

Today, farmers are facing acute shortage of farm labour in much of rural India. Weeding is extremely labour intensive, it is back breaking labour, and therefore adds significantly to the costs of farming. Herbicides like glyphosate have helped farmers reduce the cost of weeding very significantly, effectively and safely. In the Vidarbha region, the heartland of cotton, farmers typically save Rs 5000 to Rs 10,000 per acre just on the labour cost on account of weeding, by using glyphosate.

Glyphosate is registered as a herbicide. It has been used primarily in tea plantations for decades, without any impact on human health or the environment. Globally, glyphosate has been used since 1973, and the patent expired in 2000. In the past twenty years, the lower price, and its effectiveness against weeds, have made this herbicide very attractive to farmers across India. Equally importantly, by killing the weeds on the field, the herbicide helps to enrich the soil as well.

Today, glyphosate is being used not only in a wide range of plantations crops and fruit orchards, it is also being used by rice farmers, particularly those who are adopting direct seeding of rice method, during the pre-sowing ground preparations. Glyphosate is also being used by many cotton farmers, who spray close to the ground using a hood over the nozzle so that the herbicide doesn’t affect the cotton plant. (Any other major crop where glyphosate is being used ?)

However, the Central government, apparently at request of the government of Kerala, has proposed that application of glyphosate be allowed only by the authorised Pest Control Operators (PCOs). In the notification, the Ministry of Agriculture has invited objections to be filed by July 30.

Why glyphosate is being singled out?

There are around 120 registered herbicides products and combinations, available in India, as of January 2020. Glyphosate is being used widely for decades, in India, and elsewhere. Farmers buy herbicide and apply it on their fields only because it helps them nurture their crops better, by eliminating weeds that take away moisture and nutrients from the soil. By lowering costs, and improving crops, farmers hope to have a better earning from their fields.

Farmers want to know why glyphosate is being singled out, and its use sought to be restricted.

Decisions without Evidence

Glyphosate is only the latest pesticide which is being restricted. Since 2018, the government of India has banned 45 pesticides. There has been no demand for such bans from the farmers. Farmers choose to spend their hard earned money on various pesticides because they believe that the additional expenditure brings them some benefit. To suggest otherwise, will imply that farmers don’t know what is their own best interest !

However, the new restrictions on glyphosate, together with the earlier bans on dozens of pesticides, all have a similar pattern. The government is increasingly taking decisions without providing any evidence to justify those decisions, although it impacts the lives and livelihood of millions of Indian farmers.

The World Health Organisation says that there is no evidence that glyphosate causes cancer. The US EPA had evaluated glyphosate as "possible human carcinogen" (group C) but later recommended it to group D, "not classifiable as human carcinogen". In 1991, it was classified as Group E: "Evidence of Non-Carcinogenicity for Humans", and in 2015 and 2017, "Not Likely to be Carcinogenic to Humans".

It is surprising that the government has not indicated any new research or study to justify imposing new restrictions on the use of glyphosate.

The farmers want to know the basis for restricting the use of glyphosate.

Lack of Capacity to Implement the decisions

The notification on glyphosate says that only the PCOs will be allowed to apply the herbicide on the field. But in most of rural India PCOs hardly have any presence, leave alone the capacity to organise timely spray of herbicide on farmers fields at different stages of the crop cycle, and across different crops.

Shortage of agriculture labour is one of the key reasons for Indian farmers to look for herbicides. The question is how would PCOs find the necessary labour to undertake timely spraying of glyphosate on farmers' fields. Therefore, this decision to restrict the use of glyphosate can only be seen as yet another misguided way to create employment in rural areas.

If this decision is implemented, the farmers will end up having to pay a much higher price for getting their fields sprayed with glyphosate. This will invariably increase the cost of farming, and therefore reduce their income.

Worse, this decision will invariably lead to black market in herbicides on the one hand. And on the other hand, it will encourage unscrupulous elements to sell spurious herbicides. Either way, farmers will end up bearing the burden of higher price or poorer quality, or both.

The farmers want to know why they always have to bear the cost of decisions taken by those who have little or no stake in farming.

Glyphosate improves soil health

Many farmers who use glyphosate say that it makes soil more porous and aerated. Fields sprayed with glyphosate have higher levels of carbon because the rotting roots of weed help in carbon fixation in the soil. Farmers also say that fields sprayed with glyphosate attract earthworms in a couple of weeks improving the soil health.

Glyphosate, like many GM crops, actually reduces the level of agrochemicals, including pesticides needed, thereby improving farm productivity as well as the environment.

The farmers want to know why they are always the first ones to be denied the benefits of modern science and technology.

Agriculture victim of ad hoc and arbitrary decisions

Consumption of pesticides, including herbicides, in India is among the lowest in the world, according to FAO. While pesticide consumption in India has increased over the past decade, it still ranges between 0.35 to 0.6 kg per hectare, compared to over 10 kg per hectare in China, Israel, Japan or South Korea. Glyphosate is among the most widely preferred herbicides of farmers, particularly in major agricultural countries like Australia, Brazil, Canada, China and the United States.

The Kerala government had imposed a ban on glyphosate for 90 days in early 2019. Their attempt to extend the ban beyond 90 days was denied by the High Court, when some farmers knocked at the door of the court. The law says that state governments cannot impose a ban for more than 90 days, only the central govt can do so. It is in this context that the Central government issued the notification to restrict the use of glyphosate.

There are 290 registered pesticides in India, as of March 2020. The list includes fungicides, herbicides and insecticides. The ad hoc and arbitrary decisions regarding agricultural practices are just adding to the uncertainty, and insecurity among the farming communities.

The farmers want to know why agriculture always becomes the victim of ad hoc and arbitrary decisions of the government.

Farmers want freedom from regulatory chains

Shetkari Sanghatana, founded by late shri Sharad Joshi in 1979, has always stood against various regulatory and legal restrictions that have trapped most Indian farmers in poverty, and prevented Indian agriculture from attaining its true potential. The Sanghatana is preparing to file its objections to the proposed restrictions of glyphosate. The Sanghatana urges other farmers organisations and progressive farmers to make their own submissions against this proposal. The Sanghatana also wants to bring to the notice of the general public that there are anti-development, anti-science, anti-prosperity sentiments that are masquerading as pro-farmers movements, while actively seeking to extend the regulatory chains that only tie Indian farmers to poverty. The proposal restricting glyphosate only reconfirms the long tradition of denying freedom to Indian farmers.


Anil Ghanwat

President, Shetkari Sanghatana