NECESSITY MUST surely be the mother of invention, and you can see it happening in some parts of rural Maharashtra where farmers, fed up with fighting pest infestation and low yields, have found a solution in country liquor—such as arrack, toddy and mahua. It’s cheap. A bottle of arrack or toddy costs only between Rs 25 and Rs 30 for 180 ml, which is quite affordable for farmers. About 100-120 ml of alcohol is dissolved in 15 litres of water and sprayed on the plants as a pesticide a couple of months before they bloom. The alcohol serves to stimulate Gibberellic acid in plants, which aids their growth as well. “When alcohol is diluted, it dissolves organic matter in it. We have seen that alcohol is becoming a popular substitute for pesticides,” says Sambhaji More, an agricultural expert.
The experiment first started out in the fields of Nandurbar some years ago, but has now spread to eastern and central parts of Maharashtra to districts such as Latur, Osmanabad, Nanded, Parbhani, Yavatmal and Beed. These places also have a high incidence of country liquor consumption and have a large number of outlets selling the tipple.
Rampant use of chemical pesticides, sometimes sprayed 12 to 15 times a year, has led to a steady decline in soil quality in those districts, resulting in lower yields. “Through the year, we are only spraying pesticides. Last year I spent Rs 65,000 only on pesticides,” says Santosh Sonawane, a farmer from Yavatmal. Sonawane was introduced to the use of alcohol as a pesticide at a weekly market where a farmer was showing off his chilli, eggplant and tur dal yield to everyone. “It was bigger and healthier in size and sold out in minutes. That is when I decided to use it. It has worked like magic. The mixture can also be given to plants through drip irrigation,” he says.