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Rajesh Kumar Thakur, Hindustan Times
Hajipur\Chhapra, July 28, 2013
The Saran mid-day meal tragedy, in which 23 students lost their lives after eating food contaminated by pesticides, has led to innovative ways to preserve foodgrain in Bihar.

Enterprising, or as the Hindi colloquialism says - jugaadu, farmers in this part of north Bihar have started using matchsticks to safeguard their produce from pests and rodent attacks. Matchsticks are considered a 'safe' alternative to insecticides and pesticides.

"The main ingredients of matchstick head are potassium chlorate and red phosphorus. These serve as disinfectants and have pesticide's properties too, but are relatively safe," said Rajat Singh, a chemical engineer.

Sale of matchboxes in rural areas has gone up by 25 times since the Saran tragedy. Niraj Kumar, a shopkeeper at Masrakh village, said he had sold more than 15 cartons of matches in the past one week.

"Farmers put matchsticks in sacks of foodgrain to keep them safe from pests. This new measure is proving to be most effective," he said.

Dr Rajiv Ranjan, a Patna-based doctor, said the chemicals in matchsticks are used to preserve grain in several countries.

Nawal Thakur, a farmer at Sarai, said he has been using matchsticks to keep away rodents and insects since the last one month. "It is not dangerous for humans and does not smell foul. Also, a small box of matches is enough for one sack of foodgrain," said Thakur.

"It is cheaper and safer than insecticides. While a box of matchsticks costs Rs. 10, one has to pay between R50 and R100 for insecticides," said Naresh Rai, a Saran farmer, "And matchsticks could simply be removed when the grain is to be consumed."