For farmers in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh it is cheaper than pesticides and gets the job done just as well. The product? Pepsi or Coca-Cola.
Agricultural scientists give them some backing – they say the high sugar content of the drinks can make them effective in combating pests. Unsurprisingly, Pepsi and Coca-Cola strongly disagree, saying there is nothing in the drinks that can be used in pest control.
Farmers in the Durg, Rajnandgaon and Dhamtari districts of Chhattisgarh say they have successfully used Pepsi and Coke to protect their rice plantations against pests. It is a trend that has been seen in other parts of India, with farmers also using Indian brands of colas.
The practice of using soft drinks in lieu of pesticides, which are 10 times more expensive, is gaining so much popularity that sales of the drinks have increased drastically in remote villages. Farmers say the use of pesticides costs them 70 rupees ($1.50) an acre. By comparison, if they mix a bottle of Pepsi or Coke with water and spray it on the crop it costs 55-60 rupees less per acre.
Agricultural specialist Devendra Sharma says farmers are mistaken in thinking that the drinks are the same as pesticides. He says the drinks are effectively sugar syrups and when they are poured on crops they attract ants which in turn feed on the larva of insects. Mr Sharma says using sugar syrup for pest control is not a new practice. “Jaggery made from sugar cane has been used commonly for pest control on many occasions. Pepsi and Coca-Cola are being used to achieve the same result,” he says.
Fellow scientist, Sanket Thakur, has a different explanation: “All that is happening is that plants get a direct supply of carbohydrates and sugar which in turn boosts the plants’ immunity and the plantation on the whole ends up yielding a better crop.”
Vikas Kocchar, regional manager for public affairs and communications of Coca-Cola, says claims that the drink can be used as a pesticide have no scientific backing.
Anupam Verma, Pepsi sales manager in Chhattisgarh, says sales figures in rural areas of the state have increased by 20%. But he adds: “If there was any truth in these claims then we would rather be selling our product as a pesticide rather than soft drinks. There is more money in selling pesticides than in selling soft drinks. Their claim smacks of lies. At best it is idle natter.”