Agriculture Op-ed

“Poisoning Pesticides, Perishing Peasants” – The miseries of Chemical Poisoning and Farmers’ Deaths

“UNNATURAL DEATHS ARE ON THE RISE” shouted the magazine’s column as I took a pew in bamboo chair for the evening coffee, at our home garden. The news slayed me completely with disturbing data on the rising killings, accidents, suicides and all possible aberrant deaths, that I totally forgot about my dying coffee and remained transfixed by the thoughts.

Yes, there are a number of unnatural deaths proliferating across our country in recent years. Two pivotal fragments of this 1.3 billion population are the subjects of most number of unnatural deaths. One is the unnatural deaths of the stalwart jawans shielding us with their lives and the other, the unnatural deaths of counts of agonized farmers nourishing us with their lives. The death of jawan is rightly considered the act of bravery and thereby he becomes a martyr. The death of farmer is an act of tragedy but pathetically the farmer becomes the most cherished sensation of the media. Let me not speak on the most saddening suicides of the farmers, for a lot has been regrettably spoken about “what could have been done to save them”. Let me now really speak for “what could be done to save them – save us”.

My father is a passionate gardener who adores our small home garden holding healthy flowering and fruiting trees and a variety of greens. I often wonder if he could nakedly observe the growth and division of meristematic plant cells, for he always remains that fastened to the garden since the moment he gets back from work. A week ago he showed me much worriedly a white coloured covering over the twigs of pomegranate and guava trees, which I identified as the papaya mealy bug in resort of my choosy knowledge.

Discontentedly, in resort of his judicious knowledge he moved on to a popular pesticide store in the city and on the advice of that plant doctor (in my father’s words)  he sprayed a commercial pesticide with monocrotophos as the active ingredient, and this is most absurd prescription I have ever heard as monocrotophos would only aggravate the mealy bug incidence! Besides, the dosage prescribed – “Two full caps of the pesticide in a mug full of water, for a single plant” (in my father’s plant doctor’s words) is making me die every time I look at the dying plants.          pesticides poisoning This is the condition of pesticide usage in many places all around the country. Already debts are pistoling the farmers day by day and now this kind of unsafe pesticide usage practises are adding up to their fatals as assassinations. Improper usage of these chemicals are not only killing farmers but the whole environment including you and me. There are various snags with the use of pesticides and fertilisers and all of a sudden turning to organic farming pan India will make no panacea, but still organic farming is a slow but sure rehabilitator. The aftermath of green revolution has made the soils insatiable and a hasty change to organic farming would bring the productivity to a plunge just like our recent GDP growth rate! Let there be a gradual change, in transition such that the productivity is not affected much. While chemical farming has become less avoidable, its usage must never be less cautious. What can be done?

pesticides poisoning
Farmers handle the most toxic hazardous chemicals with bare hands, not knowing the consequences. Image Source:

One, the government should regulate the use of pesticides and chemicals. It should educate the farmers on pesticide spray preparation and usage through extension workers. Only licensed vendors must be allowed to sell the chemicals. Two, the media should act responsible in creating awareness to the farming community. Three, the farmers must enlighten themselves of the ill effects of inappropriate usage of chemicals as it is their precious lives at stake. And Finally… No, we will not talk about ourselves. This is how we play the blame game. It is absolutely real that the government, media and farmers themselves are responsible. But it is evenly essential that we also bear the responsibility. We are as well bound to be well – informed messiahs spreading the word. Again, there are some of us thinking “I can learn the ill effects and risks associated, but why should I care when I am never going to trade or make or spray chemicals as I have nothing to do with farming?” As long as you eat food you too are impacted! Improper pesticide usage over crops will leave residual toxic chemicals on food, making it a slow poison.

From the government’s side, it has already reviewed the use of 66 pesticides, recommended a complete ban on 13 of them from 2018 and a phased-out ban on 6 others by 2020, also the government has set January 31, 2019 as the deadline for all existing agricultural input dealers to undergo the 48 – day diploma programme, failing which their license will be stripped off and all the new dealers must possess graduation in either agricultural or life sciences. Though the government’s measures are appreciable, it must still consider banning a few more hazardous chemicals like Monocrotophos and Glyphosate which are widely used. Also, farmers should be properly educated about the safe and proper use of chemicals in farming. Moreover any of the measures will be successful only when the loopholes are blocked and illegal sale and usage of banned chemicals are clogged. To cite from the media’s contribution – it can massively clarify the farmers in a constructive manner but unluckily fails to propagate it most of the times. But still, there are a few notable responsible spells from the media benefitted by farmers.

Rahina – 6, Endosulfan victim.
Rahina’s mother says that attending school for the blind is improving her two daughters lives and is helping to develop their awareness. She worries about the future of her daughter’s and has decided not to have more children.
Picture Source : The ecologist

The other day, I was changing channels in the muted television and interestedly stopped over one considering it to be a science programme as the cast on screen appeared with most of the safety apparels like long gloves and a nose mask kept temporarily over the chin, just the way we surface around our science labs. When I unmuted, she commentated “Its 5 minutes now, and the gravy must be ready” and simultaneously took out the bowl from the oven which came into focus only now! Yeah it’s a food science show probably! Cookery show at its best. She was working with the most unhazardous thing in the world (at least to touch!), yet was protective. That’s the way and the show sets an example for kitchen safety. Consequently, the sight of farmers rolled up in my eyes. They handle the most toxic hazardous chemicals with bare hands not knowing the consequences. For me, this scene analogizes with that of Mr Bear Grylls affectionately tending a scorpion! Likewise, the way our farmers spray the chemicals is even more worrisome. There are very many flaws which they do unknowingly, yet harming them miserably.

We live in a country, where kids are always extra – fed which gives the mother an endearing pleasure but scientifically that’s getting the child overfed. That’s the same notion in which the farmers feed their crops with extra chemicals envisaging its booming growth, unaware of its adversities.

They are not reluctant, they are not ignorant, they are only unaware. We live in a country, where kids are always extra – fed which gives the mother an endearing pleasure but scientifically that’s getting the child overfed. That’s the same notion in which the farmers feed their crops with extra chemicals envisaging its booming growth, unaware of its adversities. Rectification of improper practises has become obligatory for safe farming practises. Let the government, media and every other institution do its part. As responsible people we too have our very part in understanding the hitches in farming, creating awareness and getting involved just the way we did in tackling Blue Whale Challenge. All of us don’t have to make a smart Rachel Carson out of us to present the world our “Silent Spring”. Let us zestfully do all that we could do. Let us ensure that every farmer we know complies with the safe protocol in handling the chemicals and uses it sagaciously. If we don’t know a farmer, let us befriend one. Let us share our learnings to apprise the unaware.

                    At the end of the day, the Farmer’s victory is our own victory!