Friday, 17 September 2010

Pesticide usage in Kerala’s agricultural sector

Agriculture contributes 17.2% to Kerala’s economy (as of 2002-2003). Correspondingly, the sector requires a sizeable amount of pesticides (roughly 656.5 tonnes per annum), of which fungicides account for 73%.

These facts were highlighted in a paper by Indira Devi (‘Pesticides in agriculture – A boon or a curse? A case study of Kerala’) published in the Economic and Political Weekly. The study focused on farms of mango and banana (in Palakkad and Wayanad districts), pineapple (in Ernakulam and Idukki districts), bitter gourd (in Idukki and Kottayam districts), and amaranthus and okra (in Palakkad and Trivandrum districts), and stated that 56% of mango farmers and 86% of banana farmers use chemical pesticides.

Even if there is an overall decrease in pesticide usage, the currently favoured and indiscriminately used pesticides are those that are potent in small doses, and relationally, more toxic. These include:
- PAN bad actor chemicals such as carbendazim, diuron, mancozeb, and paraquat (which are banned elsewhere for their highly toxic effects ranging from groundwater pollution to carcinogenic and teratogenic properties)
- Lindane, the highly toxic restricted-use pesticide, the usage of which has been increasing over the years (apparently with an annual compound growth rate of 107.54%)
- Cypermethrin, fenvalerate, and neem-based pesticides (which have an increase of 21-30%).
- The carcinogenic Methyl parathion (with an increase of 16.83%)
- Chloripyriphos (an increased usage of 7.5 %).
- The highly toxic Methoxyl ethyl mercury chloride.
- The banned Endosulphan (allegedly used in some mango plantations in Palakkad)
- The arsenic and phosophorus containing Calcium carbide (the effects of which ranges from digestive disorders to stroke and hypoxia), which is usually used as a ripening agent.

The chemical sprayings for mango comprises of various fractions/mixtures of carbaryl, cyperrmethrine, endosulfan, malathion, mercaptothion, planofix, profenofos, sevin, and sulphur. The number of pesticides used by farmers averages around 14 for banana, 15 for bitter gourd, and 11 for okra and amaranthus. Unsurprisingly, market surveys have revealed high levels of residual pesticide in vegetables and fruits grown in Kerala.

It is quite likely that the farmers who use these pesticides are ignorant of the injurious health effects posed by these chemicals, not just to the consumers but also to themselves. As far as they are concerned, they are using potent pesticides which are much more effective in accomplishing its purpose than the recommended and safer options. Perhaps they are in the same boat as most of us who seldom think before choosing cosmetic products.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Addendum: Plastiki

Plastiki’s epic voyage, which commenced on March 20th at San Francisco, concluded at Sydney Harbour on 26th July 2010. As mentioned in my post, the journey has highlighted the plastic problem (as exemplified by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) and the increasing pollution of the ocean.


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