Farmer deaths due to pesticide use: An issue less reported

Written By: Srishti Singh Sisodia
Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Published: Oct 23, 2017, 11:21 AM(IST)

India urgently needs to address pesticide mismanagement from several aspects, the most urgent step needed is to ban the use of class I pesticides. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

Farmer's death is one of the most discussed topics in India. Along with farmer's suicide, deaths due to pesticide poisoning and accidental intake of harmful pesticides or insecticides is also one of the major problems that Indian farmers are facing.

“The death of farmers in Maharashtra due to pesticide poisoning is because of the gross negligence in pesticide management in the country. The Ministry of Agriculture at the Centre and agricultural departments of the states are solely responsible for the unsafe use of pesticides in the country. Deaths and illnesses due to pesticides can be avoided if we can urgently fix some of the crucial gaps in our regulations and improve its enforcement,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE.

Farmer's suicide is a highly politicised issue in India, but on the other hand, pesticide poisoning is the least reported cause for farm fatalities.
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To tackle farmer's suicide, the government is coming up with various dysfunctional schemes but problems related to pesticide poisoning is completely neglected. Farmer's suicide is a highly politicised issue in India, but on the other hand, pesticide poisoning is the least reported cause for farm fatalities. Over 35 farmers have reportedly died and hundreds have become ill due to pesticide poisoning in several districts of Vidharba region in Maharashtra, since July this year.

Every year, there are about 10,000 cases of pesticide poisoning in India. In 2015, about 7,000 people died because of accidental intake of insecticides/pesticides. The incident highlights the urgent need to fix several long-standing gaps in pesticide management in the country

Most of the incidents have been reported from the districts of Yavatmal, Nagpur, Akola and Amravati, where farm workers died due to inhalation of toxic pesticides while spraying it on the fields. Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said, "India’s terrible management of pesticides has started taking a deadly toll".

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On the basis of acute toxicity of active ingredients, pesticides are categorised as extremely hazardous (class Ia), highly hazardous (class Ib), moderately hazardous (class II), slightly hazardous (class III) and unlikely to present acute hazard in normal use (class U).

Pesticides such as Monocrotophos, Oxydemeton-methyl, Acephate and Profenophos are believed to be responsible for the tragic deaths and illness. In Maharashtra, pesticides such as Monocrotophos, Oxydemeton-methyl, Acephate and Profenophos are believed to be responsible for the deaths and illness.

Class I pesticides have been excessively used in India over the last many years. Many of the class I banned in several countries, but India still allows its usage. For example, Monocrotophos is banned in 60 countries. Carbofuran is banned in 49 countries, Phosphamidon is banned in 49 countries.

There are 18 class I pesticides that are allowed to be used in India. In 2015-16, of the 7,717 tonnes of pesticides (technical grade) used in the country, 2,254 tonnes were the class I pesticides (about 30 per cent of total pesticides).

The International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management, jointly released by FAO and WHO, “pesticides whose handling and application require the use of personal protective equipment that is uncomfortable, expensive or not readily available should be avoided, especially in the case of small-scale users and farm workers in hot climates”.

All class I pesticides are supposed to be used under proper supervision and guidelines but due to illiteracy and ignorance farmers are suffering from the pesticide poisoning.
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In Maharashtra, the difficulty level for the farmers is comparatively more than farmers of other states because it is a cotton belt. When the cotton crop grows above 6 ft then it becomes really difficult for a farmer to save himself from chemical contact as he has to spray above his height.

There are various precautionary steps that have to be followed to avoid such fatalities. But, it is very difficult for a daily wage farm worker and small-scale farmer to use all essential equipment and tools such as hand gloves, face mask, a cap and gumboots are required while spraying pesticide because they can not afford to buy it.

In the absence of proper and appropriate tools, farmers are getting immensely affected because they don't know the exact "dos and don'ts" which are taken as read and has to be followed while spraying the chemical. For example, the sprays must be done before sunrise or late in the evening as there is a lesser possibility of strong winds, and also with the rise in temperature, the chemical becomes more toxic.

“While India urgently needs to address pesticide mismanagement from several aspects, the most urgent step needed is to ban the use of class I pesticides. The recommendations of the Anupam Verma Committee is inadequate and the government actions so far are not in line with the urgency and scale of the problem,” said Amit Khurana, senior programme manager for food safety and toxins, CSE.

All class I pesticides are supposed to be used under proper supervision and guidelines but due to illiteracy and ignorance farmers are suffering from the pesticide poisoning. Regardless of what the ‘Lethal Dose 50’ (LD50) level that is present on the packaging of any pesticide containers, the fact remains that the active ingredients of any pesticide are nothing but poison, hence, it has to be handled carefully.

Why is the government of India not putting a complete ban on usage of Class I category of pesticides?
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There is a major problem with the way pesticides are approved for use in India. There is even a bigger problem of enforcement. Use of unapproved pesticides and unsafe application of the pesticide by farmers continues to be a big problem.

“Till we reform our pesticides regulations and regulatory institutions, pesticide poisoning and accidental deaths would continue. A Pesticide Management Bill was introduced in the Parliament in 2008 but it was allowed to lapse. We need a new Pesticide Management Bill to address the issues related to the unsafe use of pesticides,” said Chandra Bhushan.

The data and facts suggest that India needs to ban the use of class I pesticides and there is an urgent need to develop a proper channel to train and educate farmers about the correct usage of pesticides and insecticides. If some casualty happens then, the first aid must be given on time. Block level hospitals need to be well equipped to tackle such cases. The enforcement should focus on each blocks and districts of various states.

With a proper system of pesticides management in India, the government will be able to put an end to the unfortunate deaths caused by pesticide poisoning.

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Srishti Singh Sisodia

Srishti Singh Sisodia is digital journalist at WION. She has been a college-level football and cricket player. When not working or playing matches, she watches movies.

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