Is lack of pesticide awareness killing our farmers?
Vijay Sardar – a resident of Dahigaon in the Akola district of the state – was admitted to Government Medical College (GMC) in Akola on August 7th with contact pesticide poisoning. He died five days later, aged 32. As of August 17th, there have been an additional twenty admissions to the GMC in Akola and 47 admissions to the GMC in the Yavatmal district because of pesticide poisoning in the previous 45 days.
Sardar’s death is being investigated by state government officials to rule out explanations for the death due to suicide. Meanwhile, measures are being undertaken to reduce accidental deaths due to pesticide inhalation. More than 43,000 units of safety gear have been distributed across the state. However, officials have warned that limited awareness of the dangers of pesticide inhalation could be a reason behind accidental poisoning. None of those hospitalised in Yavatmal wore safety gear, reports have said.
“Officials have warned that limited awareness of the dangers of pesticide inhalation could be a reason behind accidental poisoning.”
Pesticide poisoning made international headlines last year after it caused the deaths of at least fifty people in the state. Yavatmal alone reported nineteen deaths and more than 800 hospitalisations.
Pesticide is sprayed on the state’s farmland between July and October. However, it has been alleged that little guidance is offered to farmers from the state and central governments on how to do this safely.
As a Times of India editorial published last year noted, “farmers are meant to be educated on usage and dosage by trained agricultural extension agents.” Often, however, “the farmer is advised on sale, usage and dosage by his local shop selling agricultural equipment and clearly there is a conflict of interest there.”
“Pesticide is sprayed on the state’s farmland between July and October. However, it has been alleged that little guidance is offered to farmers from the state and central governments on how to do this safely.”
This can lead to pesticide being used in unsafe quantities. Practises hazardous to human health are also rote. For example, some farmers mix pesticides even though this increases their toxicity.
As a result, pesticide poisoning is a common occurrence in India’s farmlands. Data released this year found that pesticide poisoning caused as many as 272 deaths in Maharashtra alone in the last four years. Deaths due to pesticide poisoning have also been reported in states such as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in recent years. With this in mind, many have asked why the use of pesticides in India is not better regulated.
Pesticides are used in India which are banned elsewhere in the world because of their toxicity. These include Monocrotophos and Oxydemeton Methyl, both of which are named Class I pesticides by the World Health Organization (WHO) as they can prove injurious to health and even fatal at low doses.
Although the Centre has banned eighteen pesticides because of their injurious impact on health, campaigners warn that it is not enough. Tigher restrictions are not forthcoming.
This is not to say that legislation has not been proposed to strengthen the regulatory framework surrounding pesticides in India. However, campaigners and farmers’ groups have disputed the effectiveness of proposed legislation. In the meantime, the availability of poisonous pesticides and a lack of information contribute to a preventable crisis of pesticide poisoning deaths.