Identify fake pesticides with authenticated solutions

Chander Shekhar Jeena
Chander Shekhar Jeena

The Agriculture Industry, which is the backbone of our Indian economy, is facing multiple threats from the growth of fake pesticides. According to a latest study conducted by FICCI, the fake pesticides industry in India was estimated at INR 3,200 crore (USD 525 million) in 2013, which accounted for 25 per cent by value and 30 per cent by volume of the domestic pesticides industry in 2013. The Study indicates that this market is expected to grow at the rate of 20 per cent per annum in terms of value, and if not addressed, can reach to approximately 40 per cent share by value in the pesticides industry by 2019. The problem is extreme in many States including Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Consequences of Counterfeit pesticides:

The Contribution of the Indian agriculture sector in the Indian GDP already declined from 19.34 per cent in 2001-02 to 15.79 per cent in 2013-14. Moreover, as per census 2011, India has approximately 119 million cultivators and this number is decreasing by approximately 2,000 every day. This trend is worrying and will create a natural stretch on the agriculture sector in the future.

Table: Counterfeit pesticides market size in India 

Financial Year

Counterfeit pesticides market size in India (Rs.)

Reported by


1,200 Crore

Agrochemicals Policy Group (APG)


1,400 Crore

Agrochemicals Policy Group and FICCI report on Indian Agrochemical industry http://www.ficci.com/events/20563/add_docs/sectorbrief.pdf


3,200 Crore

FICCI & Tata Strategic Management Group Press Release dated Sep 23, 2015

*1 Billion= 100 Crore

The growth of spurious is adding fuel to the fire as India suffered a loss of 10.6 million tons of food grain production in 2015-16. In light of this, India’s position as one of the leading food grain exporters in the world is also at stake. There is no denying that the damage through such products is multi-fold and the counterfeit pesticides pose a significant threat to various stakeholders

These include:

Farmers: Risk of life & valuable crop loss:

Various cases of farmers committing suicide due to loss of crops have been reported by the media. Although there are various reasons for the loss of crops, the involvement of fake pesticides can’t be ignored or denied. Spurious pesticides are known to damage the crops resulting in a decreased yield or at times, even destroying a field.

Some example of this include:

1. Punjab: More than half of 5 lakhs hectares’ cotton crop was completely destroyed.

2. Jammu and Kashmir: Crop production went down by 50 per cent

3. Fake pesticides are a serious threat to the Kashmir apple industry which is worth Rs. 4,000 Crore (USD 750 million)

Consumers: Risk of Health:

Counterfeit pesticides pose increased risks to consumers through unknown and untested residues. Unlike legal, registered products, spurious pesticides could contain unknown toxic impurities and have not been tested for human health impact.Residues of unknown and untested substances could get carried into harvested food and compromise consumer health, whilst also posing health threats to farmers through exposureduring application. In 2013, a total of 23 children died in Bihar after they consumed contaminated free school lunches containing monocrotphos pesticides.

Government: Risk of reputation, export and economic damages

Increased cases of spurious pesticides make the public lose their confidence in the government’s ability to regulate the agriculture sector effectively. In 2013-14, India exported 29 million tons of food grains (worth Rs. 1,578 billion) and 3 million tons of fruit and vegetables worth Rs. 88 billion. In such a scenario, India’s position as one of the leading food grain exporters in the world is also at stake as there is increased possibility of rumours or sabotage by other countries or rejection of Indian exports goods items from developed countries. In recent years, the European Union and Saudi Arabia temporarily stopped buying some varieties of vegetables from India after detecting pesticide residues in the exported produce. Indian officials say such cases result from the overuse of chemicals. The latest cases of rejection include that of soybean and Alphanso Mango. Not only this, the government loses not just the tax revenue but also its prestigious goodwill and reputation.

Industry: Loss of sales and reputation

Due to the presence of counterfeit pesticides, the farmers lose faith in legitimate products and companies, which result in loss of reputation and customer trust. Also at stake are the Indian crop protection industry, which is estimated at Rs. 25,000 crore (US $ 4.1 billion) in Financial Year 2014 along with the Food Retail industry.

Environment risk

There is high risk of environmental contamination and adverse effects on groundwater, following crops and biodiversity. Firstly, the production of counterfeit products may subvert environmental regulations leading to the production processes and waste contaminating the land, air and water. Secondly, the use of counterfeit products, such as pesticides, may cause severe crop and environmental damage. Thirdly, the destruction of counterfeit products can result in more landfill waste or toxic fumes from incineration.

Types of counterfeit Pesticides:

To fight any type of counterfeit activity, one needs to first understand the nature, extent and reasons behind the increase of such activity in various sectors as it varies by market and can originate from many different sources in different forms. The three main forms of counterfeit pesticides are;

Fake pesticides:

These products are often sold in simple packs (white bottles) with minimal information on the label about their use and no mention of any health or environmental precautions. They contain anything from water or talc, to diluted and outdated or obsolete stocks, including banned or restricted materials. Some fakes also provide a degree of biological control, as they sometimes may contain an illegal and untested copy of the proprietary active substance.

Counterfeit of genuine branded products:

These are sophisticated copies of legitimate branded products usually with high quality of labelling and packaging. Most contain a copy of the original active substance; however, its biological efficacy is often diminished owing to high level impurities of manufacturing and process by-products. Such products are often difficult to be distinguished from the genuine ones. Mostly, farmers are fooled into buying them unknowingly in absence of proper education and awareness.

In various cases, counterfeiters purchase genuine, empty bottles from the farmers on as high as 25 per cent of the M.R.P. mentioned on the original bottle. This way, the counterfeiters put substandard ingredients into the bottle and resell it.

Illegal Parallel imports:

These are legitimate parallel traded products substituted with illegal generic copies, repackaged and sold as legitimate products.

Reasons behind increase of counterfeit pesticides of counterfeit pesticides

The problem is increasing because of various factors like;

Difficulty in identification of fake products with legitimate one due to lack of awareness:

In India, majority of the farmers are illiterate and there exists a lack of education and awareness at the farmer level. Only 25-30 per cent of farmers are aware of the correct use of farmers are aware of the correct use of pesticides. Many do not ask for specified chemicals or brands and often ignore if specific details are not available on the products. Ironically, even though the food manufacturers and producers are consumer-oriented companies, they do not speak publicly about this problem. Many food companies do recognize the challenges but prefer to resolve these quietly and directly with their suppliers.

The main disadvantage of this practice is that it does not bring the problem out in the open and consequently thousands of food producers remain uninformed about the existence of this grave issue and thus how to deal with it. It is important that farmer organisations and Co-ops play a leading role in increasing awareness about the risks of using counterfeits.

Lack of monitoring and surveillance

In India, the responsibility of enforcement is divided between the regional and national authorities but the political divisions and sensitivities have led to weak enforcement coordination and action. At national levels, this requires multi-disciplined specialists’ teams with skills in policing and prosecution, chemicals, agriculture, customs, environment, etc. These skills are available, but more often than not are not working together.

Focus on high-Profile sectors

National anti-counterfeit activities tend to focus on high profile sectors where the VAT losses are longest (luxury goods, CDs, clothing, software, pharmaceuticals). Less highprofile sectors like farmers do not get the requisite resources-despite the acute environmental and health threats posed by counterfeit pesticides.

Inadequate judicial frameworks and penalties

India does not have adequate legislation to properly prosecute counterfeiting. For example, in some countries, it is illegal to buy or sell counterfeits, but not to possess them. Other countries have inadequate penalties. In one known case, a convicted counterfeiter found in possession of hundreds of tons of illegal pesticides was only given a very small fine.

Challenges of quantifying the problem

It is difficult to present detailed data of the extent and growth of the problem because of its illegal nature. This is the same problem encountered by all sectors who face counterfeiting. Even in areas where judicial authorities devote significant resources, like illegal cigarette smuggling or narcotics, the estimates of the size of the problem vary wildly.

Role of authentication Solutions in fighting this menace

Counterfeiters today are tech savvy and can easily produce packaging material similar or better than that of genuine products. But, if there is a problem, there are solutions.

Technology-based solutions could be one of the strategies to counter the problem. Various studies and scholars have attempted to propose technology-based solutions to combat fake agro-inputs products in the supply chain. The Proven adoption of these technologies by countries like Tanzania and Uganda can be treated as case studies. These authentication solutions have multiple benefit as they provide

1. Tamper proof packaging;

2. Product authentication and

3. Tracking and tracing of product

Proposed solutions for India (see figure 1)

In India, farmers do not have any tool/medium to differentiate genuine pesticides from fake ones at the time of purchase. Due to lack of awareness and illiteracy, they rely on the visual appeal and can only check the quality of products with the marking of ISI/AGMARK. However, with the advancement in digital technology, it has become easy for unethical manufacturers to produce fake ISI/AGMARK product as well. Farmers only come to know about counterfeit pesticides after there has been a loss of crop or field. However, until that happens, there is no way to analyse the contaminants in the fake products as the farmers apply the in all of their crops, or use up the packing materials. Therefore, there remains a constant need to spread awareness on ‘How to identify genuine pesticides from the fake ones?

The usage of authentication technologies on pesticides products can be great help to the farmers and authorities, not only in identifying the fake products but in identifying the counterfeiters involved in the fake pesticides’ business as well. Further, the government authorities can use anti-counterfeiting devices comprising of overt, covert and forensic security features.

Example of such tools are security hologram seal and labels, tamper evident security film, low cost transponder tags, and light sensitive ink designs. Integrated with track and trace technologies, these solutions can help farmers and enforcement authorities in identification of genuine and fake pesticides.

All these anti-counterfeiting solutions (label) can be linked with the database of our Indian Government Kisan Call Centre. According to the Indian Government, nearly 70 lakh farmers across the country are registered with the KISAN SMS Portal. The farmers can easily check the originality of pesticides by giving a missed call or SMS at the toll-free number 1800-180-1551 by confirming the unique number printed at label. A message is then sent to each farmer in his preferred language and contains information about the pesticide’s batch number, expiry date and originality.


Adopting authentication solutions is a win-win situation for all the stakeholders; as the brand owner and the authorities enjoy the revenues and tax/duties respectively and the consumer has access to the original product. These authentication solutions also help the end consumer to identify a genuine product in turn winning his loyalty and boosting the brand value.

ASPA is committed to educate stakeholders about the adoption of authentication solutions and conducting series of workshop for professional involved in tax revenues, supply chain management, quality & product packaging providing them information on importance of authentication solutions in fighting fakes.

In upcoming year, ASPA is organising the 2nd Authentication Forum an international event in New Delhi on 15-16 March 2018, where more than 200 delegates are expected to come to discussing learnings from past experiences to a new road ahead reviewing the 5W’s of counterfeiting, consumer experience, role of Government, overview of current authentication technologies to evolution of new generation technologies such as blockchain and NFC in fighting counterfeiting.

For more information, please visit at www.aspaglobal.com

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