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.

3 comments:

Aniruddha H D said...

It's the same scenario everywhere. I'm not sure if the government is doing anything at all to educate these farmers, or the NGOs. I don't blame the farmers, they probably don't know all the chemical properties of the pesticides they use, they are just doing what they think is best for their crop. These chemicals enter land and water causing a rather more magnified problem besides for those who directly consume/produce these fruits.

David said...

Very interesting, thank you! These pesticides can cause all sorts of health problems for the farmers. As neurotoxins they can cause considerable mental changes, such as depression which the farmers might not necessarily associate with the chemical, but with other factors, and many of them are also synergistic and so the damage is magnified. Worrying.

Anonymous said...

The post is interesting and so are the previous comments to the posts. Why is it that we often jeopardize the long term future for short term benefits. The scene is indeed worrying. The effect of many pesticides tend to be manifested in the future; often cumulative. I wouldn't be at all surpirsed if the increasing rate of several cancers mighthave a link to this

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