An estimated 230,000 suicides occur every year in India, at least 30% of which are a result of pesticide poisoning.
Poisoning deaths are however underreported due to stigma associated with suicide, weaknesses in reporting and lack of clinical and laboratory services.
The Indian government banned 18 pesticides in 2018 and 2020, including several highly hazardous insecticides used for self-harm. It has also proposed bans on a further 27 pesticides.
The impact of these bans on deaths and agriculture need to be carefully monitored.
*warning: video contains content about suicide*
CPSP is working with the state government in Maharashtra to collect data on pesticide poisoning deaths.
Through our partnership with the Directorate of Forensic Science Laboratories (DFSL), we have been able to collect toxicology data from eight regional laboratories in Maharashtra, allowing us to examine the pesticide compounds responsible for poisoning deaths.
We are developing a joint paper with the DFSL to guide policy decisions regarding pesticide usage in the state.
CPSP is working closely with the health and agriculture departments in Tamil Nadu to support the development of new legislation. In 2019, the state issued a temporary ban on six lethal pesticides and one rodenticide from use.
With CPSP’s help, the state has also taken steps to improve data collection and recording of suicides and poisonings.
CPSP supported the Emmanuel Hospital Association (EHA) – a network of 22 hospitals and community health and development programmes in North, Central and North-East India – to run a pilot project on community responses to pesticide suicide.
The project aimed to understand how rural communities respond to pesticide use and pesticide suicides and empower them to address the issue and take action for their own wellbeing and safety.
Workshops and training sessions were delivered to local communities, including young people, suicide survivors and family members. Key topics include awareness raising, education, skills building and advocacy.
The project ran from October 2020 until late 2022.
CPSP conducted an analysis of agricultural output in Kerala, following the state’s ban on 14 highly toxic pesticides in 2011. These bans were followed by a marked reduction in deaths by pesticide poisoning.
The aim of the project was to determine whether the bans had impacted crop production. Researchers collected data on agricultural production for eight key crops which had been treated with the banned pesticides. These were examined alongside information on rainfall, changes in land use and agricultural policies.
The study found no evidence that the Keralan bans had any negative effect on agricultural yield and food production.
CPSP supported a study in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh, examining whether organic farming training has reduced pesticide use.
The project evaluated the impact of the Andhra Pradesh Community-managed Natural Farming (APCNF) programme, which aims to transition 100% of the state’s agricultural land to organic by 2030.
Between August and November 2020, phone interviews were conducted with 872 farmers, along with face-to-face surveys with 38 pesticide retailers. The study found that APCNF farmers were significantly less likely to use synthetic pesticides compared to conventional farmers (49% compared to 99%), however pesticide use remained high. Very few retailers reported a decrease in the sale of pesticides.
These results indicate that although the APCNF programme has substantially reduced the use of pesticides, demand for pesticides remains high. Farmer training is therefore not enough on its own to eliminate pesticide use in agriculture.
This project concluded in 2022 and was conducted in collaboration with the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security at the University of Edinburgh.