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Background: The use of pesticides in agriculture has been associated with the destruction of biodiversity and damage to human health. A marked reduction in pesticide use is urgently required globally, but whether this can be achieved rapidly and at scale is unclear. We aimed to assess whether government-legislated and funded organic farming training in Andhra Pradesh, India, reduced pesticide use by farmers and sales of pesticides by pesticide retailers. Methods: We did a cross-sectional survey between Aug 11 and Nov 26, 2020, among farmers and pesticide retailers in Kurnool District of Andhra Pradesh (India). We assessed the impact of the Andhra Pradesh Community Managed Natural Farming (APCNF) programme, which aims to transition 100% of the agricultural land of Andhra Pradesh (population approximately 49 million, 6 million of whom are farmers) to organic farming practices by 2030. We did cross-sectional phone interview surveys of farmers and face-to-face surveys of pesticide retailers. We used multivariable Poisson regression models to estimate relative risks (RRs) and logistic regression models to estimate odds ratios (ORs). Findings: 962 farmers were invited to participate, of whom 894 (93%) consented (709 conventional farmers and 149 APCNF farmers). 47 pesticide retailers were invited to participate, of whom 38 (81%) consented. APCNF farmers had practised APCNF for a median of 2 years (IQR 1–3). APCNF farmers were less likely to use pesticides than conventional farmers (adjusted RR 0·65 [95% CI 0·57–0·75]), although pesticide use remained high among both APCNF and conventional farmers (73 [49%] of 148 APCNF farmers vs 695 [99%] of 700 conventional farmers; p<0·0001). APCNF farmers had lower pesticide expenditures than conventional farmers (median US$0 [IQR 0–170] for APCNF farmers vs $175 [91–281] for conventional farmers; p=0·0001). Increased frequency of meeting with agricultural extension workers was associated with reduced pesticide use among ACPNF farmers. Seven (18%) of 38 retailers reported a decrease in sales of pesticides in the past 4 years; no difference in the odds of reporting a decrease in pesticide sales in the past 4 years was identified between APCNF retailers and conventional retailers (OR 0·95 [95% CI 0·58–1·57]). Interpretation: Despite a major government drive for organic agriculture, about half of APCNF farmers continued to use pesticides and no impact on pesticide sales at local retailers was observed. A combination of policy instruments (eg, bans on highly hazardous pesticides), not solely training for farmers, might be needed to eliminate pesticide use in agriculture. Funding: Scottish Funding Council and UK Research and Innovation.
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