The Cultivation of Green Poisons—A Pesticide Menace

Next time you go out to buy those green leafy vegetables, those bright red fresh looking tomatoes or those ripe yellow bananas, be extra careful. You might end up taking home a bag full of toxic pesticides and chemicals. For decades, our food and water has been contaminated by strong, harmful pesticides that have been promoted as a necessity for higher agricultural output.The cycle of nutrition in an individual begins when he is breastfed by his mother as an infant. A mother’s milk is considered to be the safest and the most enriching source of nutrition for a child. However, in recent times, this is not the case anymore. In a study conducted by a research scientist, it was revealed that two pesticides, namely, Endosulfan and Chloropyriphos, were present in the milk samples of mothers, exceeding the permissible limits by 800% and 400% respectively.

These pesticides were not injected into the mothers; neither did they accumulate it because of some unhealthy food items during a short span of time. These pesticides were a result of years of consumption of fruits and vegetables which contained chemicals well within the permissible limits. Recently, when Supreme Court questioned Nestle’s admission to adding lead in Maggi, Nestle came up with a statement saying that lead is present within the allowed limits. The question here is why should one consume a harmful metal at all, even if it is inside the safety zone? A research shows that when we add up the quantities in which we consume our daily foods containing pesticides and chemicals in allowed limits, an average individual in India, at the end of the day, ends up ingesting 400% more than the safety limits.

The history of pesticide use in India dates back to 1948, whilst their production started in 1952 in a manufacturing plant near Kolkata. The use of pesticides in India increased enormously during the Green Revolution phase with the introduction of HYV (High Yielding Variety) seeds. These seeds, being more receptive to pesticides and insecticides, amplified their effects. Ever since, they have been used in the agricultural field in large quantities for high yields. Pesticides, although sprayed on land, often make their way into water sources through run off or by seeping, and contaminate the water sources. These toxic chemicals run into rivers which harm the aquatic life and also their seeping into the groundwater makes it unsanitary and unfit for human consumption.Another way in which pesticides are a potential harm is volatilisation, which refers to the conversion of pesticides into vapour form when sprayed.

This vapour travels through air and can be threatening to wildlife, causing reproductive damage to insects and small mammals. After numerous studies, pesticides have been found to be connected to cancer, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, and even birth defects. Pesticides even have the potential to damage the nervous system, the endocrine system and the reproductive system. Farming which involves the use of insecticides and pesticides also adds to the farmers’ expenses. Farmers often times get themselves into huge debts, just to be able to cultivate crops with hybrid seeds and pesticides. Kasaragod district in Kerala reported one of the worst and longest running episodes of pesticide poisoning in India. The spraying of Endosulfan for over 20 years on cashew plantations in the state proved to be disastrous for the natives of the village.

They reported numerous cases of serious physical deformities, neuro-toxicity, late sexual maturity, health complications and poisoning. Some of the pregnant women were reported to have had miscarriages up to 10 times. One of the major reasons why India is dealing with such detrimental effects of pesticides is because in our country, there are still 67 known pesticides and insecticides being regularly used in crops and fields, which have been banned by all the other countries on grounds of health or environmental issues.Although pesticides are said to escalate agricultural output and keep the pests and crop diseases at bay, in reality, we do not need pesticides for higher yield. There are various other methods by which perfectly healthy crops can be grown in large quantities without the use of these poisons.

The state of Sikkim stands as an excellent example to this by becoming India’s first fully organic state. This move has benefited over 66,000 families of farmers, crossing the boundaries of organic farming by making inclusive the socioeconomic aspects such as rural development, tourism promotion etc. The process of organic farming involving carbon based fertilisers and biological pest control not only eliminates the risk posed by the ingestion of persistent chemicals by humans, but also increases crop diversity and maintains a natural balance in the ecosystem. It enhances soil fertility, keeps a check on the increase of greenhouse gases, discourages algal blooms and encourages biodiversity. Therefore, organic farming should be encouraged on a large scale because it provides the best alternative as the most economically and environmentally efficient form of agriculture. It is high time we make a transition from poisons on our plate to nutritious and tastefully rich, nature blessed food.

Picture Credits : theecologist

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