“Farmer brethren! Insects whether herbivores or carnivores are not farmers’ enemies. Real enemies of the farmers are the pesticides. Due to lack of awareness about the insects, farmers start using pesticides when they sight insects, but it is not required. So if you know about these insects you can save yourself a large sum every year,” Savita informed the farmers during a session of insect school held upon a cotton field.
Every week Savita, along with her associate Manisha, runs a special field class. Both women and men from the village participate in the class which seeks to educate farmers about insects so they may stop using pesticides in their fields.
The woman attendees of the insect school are not anyone’s fools. Besides being well versed with their farming input costs, income and pesticides etc, they are also able to recognize each and every type of insect and its effects.
“So far we have identified 43 herbivore and 162 carnivore insects. To ease their recognition, we have divided them into many categories like big ones as major insects and smaller ones as subedar major. Insects do not come to the fields on their own but are attracted to the blooms or the smell that the plants emanate. Carnivores are about the triple in number than the herbivore insects,” said Manisha showing a grasshopper perched on a cotton leaves.
Ranveer Singh Mallik who is associated with the Insect Literacy Mission explains the link between a plant, insect and pesticide.”Whichever may be the insect, whether it feeds on the leaves or nectar, it is vital for the plants. Insects become a threat only when they exceed a certain level (ATL) in their population. This level is achieved only when a farmer sprinkles his fields.”
Many districts of Haryana like Jeend, Hissar, Kaithal and Karnal cultivate cotton. In 2001 cotton crop was viciously attacked by American caterpillar to offset which the farmers did 30-35 sprays in a year but to no avail. During this time Haryana’s ADO Dr Surendra Dalal did research on insects and established that insects are not our crops’ enemies.
Ranveer said: “Dr Dalal had understood that the insects are not farmers’ enemies, but the farmers were not ready to accept so he began his mission to educate farmers in their own fields.”
Savita and Manisha have now become insect trainers and daily classes run in several villages like Lalitkhera. As per Ranveer, thousands of farmers in Jeend have given up using pesticides in their cotton fields.
Women play a major role in Haryana’s agriculture and animal husbandry so in insect school too they form a majority. Manisha said: “When in the beginning pesticide use was being curtailed women resisted saying that it would affect the crop production. Since women work more in cotton fields, Dr Dalal involved them in the mission wherein they were informed that the use of pesticides was neither good for their crops nor men. Now we have several thousand women supporting us.”
As per people associated with the Insect Literacy Mission ever since the farmers have stopped using pesticides their crop production has increased and they end up saving Rs 6,000-7,000 monthly. Manisha tells about the economic reason behind sparing the insects. “A farmer used to spray his cotton crop numerous times a year which was not really required. The farmers have stopped the use of pesticide to save Rs 6,000-7,000 thousand besides saving the environment, land and water from degradation.”
Manisha added, “It is not that the pesticide gets sprayed automatically, our men spraying them can be affected, several have already fallen ill due to these chemicals. Many ailments occur due to these so what is the point of using them?
The farmers attending the insect school not only have distanced themselves from the pesticides but also have begun using balanced fertilizers. Manisha said, “Previously we used a sack of urea per acre of cotton field thereafter 3-4 sacks in succession. Now we make a solution of it. For the solution we add a two-and-a-half kilo of urea, two-and-a-half kilo DAP and half kilo zinc to 100 litre water. This solution is more effective than 50 kg urea, it improves the crop and saves us money on fertilizers.
Importance of insects
Woman Insect Commando (master trainer) Savita explains the importance of insects by giving examples.
One might have noticed that cotton has two types of flowers—pink and white while wheat has one type. These colours are to attract various insects. Insects come and sit upon their flowers eating them which helps the plants in reproduction and so is cotton produced.
Second example: Grasshopper. This insect is green in colour and eats the central part of the leaf. It may seem that it is destroying the leaf but in fact, is beneficial. Sunrays filter through these holes to the bottom most leaves and so the grasshopper is vital for us.
How do carnivore insects help to control herbivore insects?
Green-coloured insect chrysopa has net-like wings. It feeds upon leaves. Adult chrysopa is a herbivore, but its offsprings are carnivores. These offsprings feed upon the eggs of other insects like whitefly, green caterpillar etc. similarly spiders stun other insects and feed off them.
Millibug has a sac beneath its back protecting its 250-300 eggs. When we spray pesticides, we kill only the adult insect while the eggs remain unaffected in the sac and within 3-4 days one bug is able to produce more than 300 insects. We kill them and again they’d sprout. If we do not put any pesticide, these will perish on their own because the same sac carries four parasites which feed upon them.