Pesticides creating havoc in India
A recent report that the DNA of farmers in Punjab might have been altered making them susceptible to cancer is shocking but has come on the heels of many such articles over the past few years…that farmers in Punjab (India’s grain belt) have been overdosing on pesticides and it’s affecting their health. Mutated DNA has been found in the blood samples of 65 percent of those tested in some areas. High levels of arsenic and mercury were also found in the tap water. Ground water is contaminated as well.
There are reports of children in the village of Giana (Punjab) aging prematurely…of birds and fishes doing the disappearing act in another village (Mahal). There is a rise in miscarriages, and worse…fears of children born with congenital malformations. There is an increase in cancer cases.
Pesticide poisoning is a problem all over India
Punjab is showing the most dramatic effects of pesticide exposure but other states like Gujarat, Punjab, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu (cotton growing states) are also suffering. Children in these areas have suffered “mental development disorders” related to pesticide exposure. Children, often employed to spray pesticides, are particularly vulnerable to even small doses.
In Andhra Pradesh, during the 2001 cotton season in Warangal, from August to December, about 500 farmers/laborers died due to pesticides and almost 1,000 had health problems.
In Kerala, the “crippling results of prolonged exposure to endosulfan in Kasargod district” are well-known.
The reasons for the widespread damage to our environment and to human beings due to pesticides is given below. I have summarized these points from the articles linked to above and the points may not be comprehensive:
- Not reading instructions that come with the pesticide, which in any case illiterate farmers cannot do
- Not wearing protective gear or extra clothing as a shield against the spray
- Exposing women in their childbearing years and children to pesticide sprays
- Although spraying pesticide is not recommended between the peak sun hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m, it’s still done
- Although spraying a few hours before harvesting is not done, it is….in fact pesticides are sprayed all the time..during planting, when the tender shoots appear, when the flowers appear and again on the fruit or vegetable or grain itself!!
- Spraying up to 30 times a year (4-5 times more that recommended)
- Re-using empty pesticide cans
- Blatant and indiscriminate usage of banned pesticides (banned in developed countries) or those in the “restricted” category by illiterate farmers. And the more they use, the more they need the next time
- A lack of monitoring by experts leading to misuse of “safe” pesticides
- Using drain water contaminated with sewage, fertilizers and pesticide for farming purposes
- The unholy nexus between government officials and pesticide companies
- Large scale export of Neem oil, an organic alternative..which is being used by developed countries to stop pesticide contamination in their own countries
- Lethargy on the part of the Ministry of Environment and Forests which is supposed to monitor and prevent pollution. After all, pesticides are contributing to the disappearing sparrows, frogs, vultures and other species…
All of us are paying the price for this. All water in India is contaminated with pesticide, and so is milk and well, all food produce.
I am hardly an expert, but from what little I have read it is people at the grass-roots and constantly in touch with farmers who can begin to make the difference.
I also think that animal welfare groups who are usually quite vociferous need to raise their voice against this in a big way…as pesticide use will finally lead to extinction of many species. But in the media one only reads of animal welfare groups protesting against some advertisement or film which has animals in it. I don’t know if this is the fault of the media or the animal groups.
Government intervention is necessary, which basically means stopping all bribes and kickbacks from pesticide companies. A tall order!
(Photos are taken by me and copyrighted. They are stock pictures.)
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