The tragic death of two in Thiruvalla in the course of spraying pesticides in a paddy field was shocking to the agriculture section in particular, and the state in general. Three persons are still in serious condition at the hospital.
Any tragedy calls for urgent action from the government. The authorities have directed stopping the sale of the lethal pesticide and has allowed its distribution only as per the directions of agricultural officers. The guidelines issued by Agriculture Directdor also include directions for control of purchase and use of unauthorized pesticides. However, none of these is capable of bringing the farm land that has been injected with pesticides back to its natural organic state.
Such a major tragedy occurred amidst government's intensive campaign to popularize organic farming and use of pesticides with minimum of toxicity. If the pesticides used in the paddy fields, which forms the breeding ground of every Keralite's daily bread, are this hazardous, the very thought the chemicals used in other agricultural sectors would scare every one.
Fingers of accusation about lethal pesticides being used in farms are generally pointed at farmers in neighbouring states. But, the tragic deaths in Thiruvalla tell us that it is not only in vegetables that cross state's borders to reach Kerala, but also in the rice grains that we ourselves grow here that this toxic harvest happens. But this again is not something new for us to learn. Tens of surveys and reports over the last few years have been released in Kerala showing that excessive use of chemicals have been making earth arid and humans sick.
In upper and lower Kuttanad, among participants at the camps held by non-government organizations, 10 out of 50 people were bearing signs of cancer. In the high rarnges of Idukki and Wayanad, the number of patients suffering from nervous diseases as a result of use of pesticides has been found to be relatively high. This is in addition to other shocking disclosures in other similar studies.
As a matter of fact, the gravity of the crisis faced by the farmers is not such as can be resolved by blaming the ignorance of farmers about use of pesticides, or by merely organizing awareness campaigns among them. The financial loss suffered by farmers and the agricultural crisis cannot be effectively addressed without solving scientifically, and with empirical basis, the issues of produce loss resulting from attacks by pests and the fall in produce prices. For no one will unnecessarily sacrifice his own life by seeking refuge in pesticides. The first culprit in coaxing farmers into using pesticides by misleading and tempting them, will be the profit-hungry multi-national giants and their dear collaborators among Indian firms.
They even now continue to sell substances such as Monocrophos and Oxydemeton-methyl, banned in global markets and called killer pesticides by World Health Organization, to Indian agriculture areas under different names. In spite of persistent flouting of international criteria, they do not face any economic or legal ban, in which the co-accused will be the governments which fail to ensure people's welfare. What Agriculture Minister informed the Lok Sabha on 6 March 2018 was that in Maharashtra alone during the past four years, 272 farmers were killed from side-effects of using pesticides. Still no action has been taken in the country against any company.
Having crossed 160 years of use of pesticides, the world is currently witnessing a revisit of the contributions and disasters they gave to man in different fields. The victims are not only agricultural land, produce and consumers, but even farmers have now been more or less recognized as their victims. Studies conducted in the US and Europe tell us that due to the transformations caused by pesticides in nervous systems, incidence of depression and suicide tendency is higher than in others. As a people living in the productive land of Western Ghats, where some of the world's most valuable agricultural produce are raised, we also will be able contribute significantly to the studies about the impact caused by use of chemicals and pesticides.
The unfortunate thing is that our research centres have earned the disrepute for its inefficiency to develop, even after two decades, new seed types suitable for Kuttanad. In such a land, to no one's surprise it no more makes news when incidents lilke this that keep repeating from time to time, or people die of poison in rice.