The use of pesticides in Bangladesh is declining gradually, thanks to the popularity of a safe food campaign, government support for controlled-pesticide farming and growing health awareness among cultivators, according to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).
Take for instance Ashulia agri-entrepreneur Razia Sultana who, unlike five or six years ago, now does not rush to come by chemical pesticides as soon as snails attack her capsicums or fungal infections leave blots on her cherry tomatoes.
Instead of spraying the chemicals on the entire cropland as she used to do earlier, Razia Sultana now assesses the types of infection and the infected areas, and carefully uses few pesticides in a curtailed volume.
For the cultivation of her high-value crops such as capsicum, broccoli, beetroot and cherry tomatoes on 35 bighas (approximately 11.57 acres) of land, she has already replaced chemical fertilisers with dung and vermicompost.
"I do not use pesticides and insecticides unless it is very urgent. And if I have to apply those chemicals, the uses are limited," Razia said.
Her agro-products come to Dhaka's weekly "Krishoker Bazar" (farmers' market), a place popular with consumers as it offers organic agri-items.
Razia says although less chemical means a bit of a lower yield than the usual, higher vegetable rates at the organic market and less spending for the pesticides have facilitated her endeavour for the "less-chemical switchover".
Bangladesh used as much as 44,423 tonnes of pesticides worth Tk755 crore in 2011. In 2020, pesticide use came down to 37,422 tonnes worth Tk673 crore, according to the DAE Plant Protection Wing.
"Many agri-entrepreneurs and farmers are now using fewer pesticides while some are using natural pesticides. That is why the use of chemical pesticides is decreasing day by day," Md Zainul Abedin, deputy director of the Plant Protection Wing at the DAE, told The Business Standard.
A market for crops grown by controlled use of chemicals has developed in Bangladesh over the last one decade as the nationwide safe and organic food campaign continues to gain popularity. On the other hand, farmers find that using less pesticides does not result in drastic low yields, but it is rather spending less for chemicals which results in benefits in the end.
According to the DAE Plant Protection Wing, use of less pesticide than the prescribed ceiling reduces paddy farming costs by more than 11% per hectare, vegetable farming by around 23% and fruit growing by nearly 14%.
The Plant Protection Wing says the use of chemical pesticides is declining day by day thanks to integrated pest management techniques, balanced use of fertilisers, growing awareness about pesticide use and training.
Planning ministry data also back controlled pesticide use
Aiming at safe food cultivation, the DAE implemented a project titled "Integrated Pest Management (IPM)" from 2013 to 2018 across the country. The Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) of the planning ministry published the evaluation report on the project in June this year.
Pesticide use was 20,635 tonnes in 2012, but fell by more than 14% to 14,775 tonnes in 2018, according to the report.
More than 1.5 lakh farmers, of whom at least 25% are women, directly participated in the IPM project. At least 30-35 farmers who were not part of the project got encouraged at each project site as they came across IPM techniques, noted the IMED report.
As a result, 9,005 hectares of land have come under controlled pesticide use. The project coverage was 2,561 hectares.
The IMED report, however, mentioned 20% of the 6,700 field schools set up for the farmers have been closed down due to registration-related complications and lack of monitoring.
In IPM, neem extract wards off insects
IPM techniques usually use "sex pheromone traps" to control pests. The trap uses a chemical excreted by female insects to attract the male.
Pest management refers to controlling insects, diseases, germs, worms, fungi and weeds which usually damage crops.
In IPM, farmers opt for organic pest management measures, cultivate pest tolerant varieties and prioritise mechanical and controlled chemical measures.
Instead of chemicals, pesticide importers and distributors say many farmers are now using leaves, bitter tree bark, neem extract, mahogany seeds, tobacco leaves and other natural items.
Herbicide use on the rise
The use of herbicides in liquid and powdered forms is on the rise though overall pesticide use has been declining,
According to DAE sources, the use of herbicides has increased from 4,000 tonnes in 2011 to 7,250 tonnes in 2018.
Debashish Chatterjee, manager of the Bangladesh Crop Protection Association, said, "It is true that the use of pesticides has fallen in some cases. Earlier, greater volumes of a pesticide were needed to cover a particular area. But the same product now can cover the land with only 10% of the volume."
"The available products are less hazardous since they have to get the clearance of the environment department before reaching the local market. The department issues the clearance after closely scrutinising the chemical impacts on the environment and water bodies around the fields," he added.
According to the Plant Protection Wing, there are about 400 registered importers and distributors who import pesticides from different countries, notably China, India and Germany. Many of the import and market the products by re-packaging them, while some traders import raw materials and produce pesticides on their own.