Impact of integrated pest management farmer field schools on health, farming systems, the environment, and livelihoods of cotton growers in Southern India


Crop productivity has increased worldwide since the late 1950s thanks to the modernisation of agriculture. However, many small-scale farming systems located in regions with limited access to resources have seen their profitability constrained by the intensification of input use. The rain-fed cotton farming sector in South and Central India provides an example of the crisis that affects subsistence agriculture. Marginal farmers are often burdened with debts and their health is undermined by exposure to highly toxic pesticides. In the given conditions, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has been promoted as means to improve the sustainability of cotton cultivation. The objectives of this thesis were to assess the impact of adopting IPM in cotton farming systems and to develop or adapt rigorous impact assessment methodologies and tools for this purpose. The research was carried out where participatory season-long training, namely Farmer Field Schools (FFS) on cotton IPM had been conducted. FFSs aim to promote the spread of better practices in agriculture through human capacity building; therefore this thesis addressed the human and social gains, in addition to the environmental benefits associated with attending IPM FFSs. The research design followed the so-called Double Difference model, comparing farmer practices before and after the adoption of IPM with the practices of a control group of farmers who did not attend IPM FFSs. The acute poisoning’ rate among farmers exposed to pesticides was found to be 84%, being notabily severe among women and poor farmers. Pesticides belonging to WHO category Ib and II (Highly Hazardous and Moderately Hazardous). were the most used products with an average application rate of 8 sprays per growing season. IPM adoption reduced pesticide use by 78% without affecting crop productivity, suggesting that a large part of the current use of pesticides is unnecessary. Those farmers who had learned more about pest and predator ecology attained the highest reductions. However, the adoption of IPM increased the demand for female labour in the family, indicating that the availability and opportunity costs of women workers might influence its adoption rate. IPM substantially reduced the ecological impact of pesticide use, but there is still scope to reduce other impacts generated by cotton cultivation such as global warming and eutrophication. Empowerment outcomes associated with attending FFSs in terms of improved collaboration and connection with outsiders as a means to achieve better village governance were reported by the farmers participating in this assessment. The gender sensitiveness of the research highlighted the relevance of educating women to pursue tangible livelihood improvements. In conclusion, it was shown that strategies based on education can be an efficient approach, provided that farmers have direct access to quality training. Further studies on a regional scale are needed to support the scaling-up of the educational programmes, which must be both economic and effective.