Farmers’ lives choked by poisons in the field

Agriculture Deaths farmers Fertilizers National Poisoning

Accidental pesticide poisoning cases increase proportionally with the sales of chemical fertilizers

Cases of unintentional pesticide and insecticide poisoning have increased by 13 percent in Karnataka, and about six percent across the country between 2019 and 2020, shows data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report.

In Karnataka, 862 cases were reported in 2019 and it rose to 957 in 2020. Additionally, 6962 cases of unintentional pesticide and insecticide poisoning were reported in 2019 across India whereas in 2020 this increased to 7437.

Naveen Narayan, the owner of Commana Seeds said, “While selling pesticide and insecticides, an instruction manual is handed over to the farmers. The manual consists of instructions in approximately four to eight languages. Farmers don’t pay attention to the instructions on the labels when they buy these products from us. We have had a few of them come back complaining of allergies and breathlessness, that was when we made it a mandatory rule to explain the preventive measures to them while selling these chemicals.”

Tushar Kapde, a farmland owner said, “I have witnessed that farmers’ eyes turn red due to a reaction. They also end up feeling dizzy. This is mainly due to negligence in wearing goggles and a mask.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO), on unintentional pesticide poisoning states that the majority of cases of unintentional pesticide poisonings were of occupational origin, occurring among plantation workers and farmers mixing or using pesticides.

Banning toxic pesticides and its labelling was a part of WHO’s aims in the Clinical Management of Acute Pesticide Intoxication report.                 

The report mentions the importance of effective regulation, to avoid sale of banned pesticides through black markets.  In addition, efforts need to be made to reduce human toxicity of pesticides in agriculture.    

 A research by BMC Public Health (2020) shows that 9401 fatal and 18 crore non-fatal cases of Unintentional Acute Pesticide Poisoning were reported in the Southern Asian region.          

The Pesticide Management Bill, 2020 regulates the sale of pesticides by allotting safety labels.  It categorizes pesticides on the basis of their concentration. It also looks into the issuing of licenses to pesticide or insecticide retailers and sellers.       

Every pesticide and insecticide undergoes verification by the Central Insecticide Board (CIB) for its toxicity. The bottles are marked with poison indicators in the colors green, yellow, blue and red. The toxicity labels are built on the basis of hazard classifications with green being the safest and red being highly toxic.

“The bill promotes the usage of safe pesticides and focuses on reducing environmental risk,” said Sanjay, a wholesale retailer.

Satish V, Director, Mysore Fertilizer Company said, “The central government had taken an initiative to ban pesticides and insecticides with high toxicity. But even after the ban, farmers tend to use highly toxic pesticides and fertilizers due to lack of alternatives.”

Approximately 55 pesticides and insecticides were banned for use in the country by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare in 2021.

Tushar said that there are two types of insecticide, gas poison and contact poison. Gas poison enters the human being through the respiratory tract and causes long lasting permanent damage.                              

“Contact poison on the other hand causes damage when it comes in contact with skin. Farmers wear fertilizer pumps like school bags. In cases of a damaged fertilizer pump, the content drips onto their waistline and inner wear. Constant contact of this liquid for approximately 10–12 hours causes rashes, irritation and boils,” he added.

Srinivas Tadepally, a farming enthusiast said, “Exposure to Coragel (A pesticide) and other such strong pesticides or insecticides causes breathlessness and lightheadedness.”

The country saw a rise in the sale of chemical fertilizer by 30 Lakh Metric Tonnes (LMT) in 2021. In 2020, the sale of chemical fertilizers was 561.42 LMT and in 2021 it was 590.94 LMT.   

Sandeep Anirudhan, an environmentalist said, “Farmers grow chemically fertilized crops for the market and are well aware of its effects on themselves, the environment and consumers.”

He added that awareness is not the only thing that is required for wearing protection equipment. Moreover, chemical fertilizers also cause soil infertility. They make the soil dry and expose it to sunlight. This in turn causes a reduction in microbes functioning which drains fertility of the soil in the long term.           

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