Farmers and Pesticides- A fatal relationship

Dakshin Kannada

Cashews and Arecanuts from Dakshin Kanna can send you into a coma 

Dakshin Kannada, a district south of Karnataka is famous for its areca-nut and cashew plantations apart from other crops which include pepper, cocoa and rubber. However, 70 per cent of the farming done in Dakshin Kannada is chemical based, which means the farmers use highly toxic insecticides and pesticides in their farms. It has not been long since the ‘Endosulfan Tragedy’ hit the region, and the district is all set for a similar tragedy again. A replacement for Endosulfan is now being used here in most of the plantations named “Monocrotophos”.  It is a toxic pesticide and is banned in countries all over the world including Sri Lanka and China but is still being used in India due to its availability and less cost. While Endosulfan costs around Rs. 800 per liter, Monocrotophos costs just Rs. 550 per liter.

It is mentioned on the back of the can that it is poisonous and is not meant for use in edible plantations, but there is no stopping the Indian farmers and authorities. Dr. Shree Kumar, Ex-director of the Co-operative society, currently an ayurvedic practitioner said, “Our next generation will not forgive us if we do not ban it [pesticides] and make some solutions.”

Intercropping is practiced in the region on a very large scale where food crops are planted along with cash crops. While cash crops take a longer time to mature, the food crops reach maturity at a much earlier stage. The residues of these pesticides are brought to our plates as well. One such example as stated by Dr. Shree Kumar is- intercropping of banana along with areca-nut in Ishwarmangala area of Puttur taluk. Banana tends to mature in 10 months and is consumed by everyone living there. However, pesticide spraying in areca-nut plantation is done at least three times a year which has direct residual effects on banana apart from the cash crop.

Mr. Venu Gopal, Co-owner of Navneet Farms, Puttur says, “Most of the chemicals which are in the market are supposed to be banned. So in the first place we don’t know why they are available. So this question you better ask to people who are making them available to us, because always farmer is being asked why do use a banned substance when you know it is dangerous and you are actually creating danger for the end user but the question is why is the question not being asked to the authorities and companies which are bringing it to the market.”

The Ministry of Agriculture had banned the use of Monocrotophos on vegetables through its order no: S.O. 1482(E) in 2005. However, farmers in the area are not aware of the order, dangerous impacts or the alternative solutions for that matter. P. D. Ray Pappadnadka Irride, another farmer from Puttur didn’t even know the name of the pesticide he was using in his farms. When we asked him what replacement you are using for Endosulfan now, he had to go through his entire bills and then give us the name of Monocrotophos. He said that the Co-operative societies, which are the government subsidiaries, provide the seeds, manures and fertilizers to us and we just use it.

Before monocrotophos, Endosulfan was a widely used pesticide especially for cashew plantations in the area which caused major disasters for the people living there. From 1976 till 2000 aerial spraying in cashew plantation was done in DRC which affected over 5000 farmers and people living in that area. Even people who were not involved in farming at all got affected due to Endosulfan and the lives of these people became highly miserable. The worst part behind the ‘endosulfan tragedy’ was that nobody knew that the reason was Endosulfan use until a doctor noticed a pattern of diseases in people of a particular area (Kasargod belt) after which the ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) was brought in for the research and concluded the cause. Much later the Ministry of Agriculture banned the use and rehabilitation centres etc were set up for the people.

Dr. M Gangadhar, Director, DCR (Directorate of Cashew Research), Puttur said, “Our team of scientists is doing continuous research and study for alternative solution but till now we have no other solution except the use of chemical pesticides.”

Doctors in and around the area are getting different cases from respiratory disorders to dermatological conditions on a daily basis but, they cannot claim for sure that it is due to monocrotophos use. According to WHO (World Health Organisation) report, 2009, “Monocrotophos is an organophosphorus compound that inhibits cholinesterase, and is highly toxic by all routes of exposure. Monocrotophos can be absorbed following ingestion, inhalation and skin contact. When inhaled, it affects the respiratory system and may trigger bloody or runny nose, coughing, chest discomfort, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath and wheezing due to constriction or excess fluid in the bronchial tubes. Skin contact with organophosphates may cause localized sweating and involuntary muscle contractions. Eye contact will cause pain, tears, pupil constriction and blurred vision. Severe poisoning will affect the central nervous system, producing lack of coordination, slurred speech, loss of reflexes, weakness, fatigue, involuntary muscle contractions, twitching, tremors of the tongue or eyelids, and eventually paralysis of the body extremities and the respiratory muscles. In severe cases there may also be involuntary defecation or urination, psychosis, irregular heartbeat, unconsciousness, convulsions and coma. Respiratory failure or cardiac arrest may cause death.”

But, not to worry, there are solutions available for dealing with them. As stated by Dr. Shree Kumar, organic farming, though giving a slightly low yield, not only increases life of trees and crops but also human’s. It is an eco-friendly method of farming using natural products and by-products as fertilizers and manures. As put by Dr. Ashwini Krishnamoorthy, Co-owner of Varanashi Organic Farms, at first when she and her husband decided to go organic, they faced a lot of hardships in terms of losses and low yields but they didn’t give up and kept going on as a result of which today they are doing better than most of the other chemical farmers in the area.

The government has also come up with a pesticide management bill 2017 which is yet to be finalized. According to recent reports the bill should be finalized by June 2018. According to the Economic Times, “Pesticide Management Bill 2017 is expected to replace the Insecticides Act of 1968.The draft bill, released on February 19, proposed larger penalties on sale of spurious, substandard and misbranded pesticides and giving state governments more power to deal with the issue. It also had clauses for registration of new molecules.”

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