news Sunday, June 14, 2015 - 05:30
    The ruling and opposition parties in Kerala appear to be fighting to project themselves as the promoters of organic farming and check the presence of pesticide in vegetables brought into the state, especially from Tamil Nadu.   There seems to be a concerted effort by political parties and the government to exert pressure on Tamil Nadu, at the same time increasing Kerala's organic produce.   Kerala’s low vegetable production makes it heavily dependent on other states, especially Tamil Nadu. However, after it was found that the amount of pesticide in vegetables was higher than permissible levels, the state has initiated measures to curb the entry of produce that is contaminated while simultaneously promoting organic farming to make the state self-reliant.   Clamp down on Tamil Nadu produce   The Office of the Commissioner of Food Safety has taken up the issue with its Tamil Nadu counterpart, and has raised concerns over the usage of pesticides in vegetable cultivation.   Two months ago a team of officials had visited vegetable farms in Tamil Nadu and found that pesticide residue in harvested produce was 5 -10 times higher than the permissible level.   Following these findings, the Kerala government on Monday decided to take steps to check the entry of vegetables and fruits with high pesticide content from other states especially from Tamil Nadu.    The departments of Health, and Food and Civil Supplies have decided to implement rules under the Food Safety Act which mandate that vegetable and fruit traders be registered, and also reveal where the produce has been sourced from.   The government has also decided to step up inspection at the state borders. The government would ban growers whose produce was found to have high pesticide content.   Earlier Food and Safety officials had identified 13 vegetables, including curry leaves and chillies, as containing extremely high levels of pesticide residue. Chillies and red spinach were found to have the highest pesticide content.   After the Kerala government’s clampdown, the Tamil Nadu government had reportedly decided to impose restrictions on the sale of pesticides in private retail outlets in the state.   Organic farming as an alternative   Kerala’s 2008 Organic Farming Policy envisioned the implementation of organic farming in the state in a phased manner eventually making the state self-sufficient in horticultural produce. In five years the mission was to bring 2,600 hectares in the northern districts Kasaragod, Kannur and Wayanad of Kerala under organic cultivation. At the end of five years in 2014, it was decided to extend organic farming to 2,000 more hectares in those districts.   Individuals or farmers’ groups who wish to practice organic cultivation have to permit the testing of the soil to ensure that there are no artificial chemicals. Bio-fertilizer or cow dung is given to the farmers. They are then certified as organic farmers by the government. The horticulture mission has also put in place various schemes and programmes to develop roof-top farming and poly-house farming to reduce dependence on vegetables and fruits from other states.   Political parties, including the opposition Communist Party of India (Marxist) have chipped in to promote chemical free farming.  During a press conference in April, CPI (M) MLA Thomas Issac said that it was important to overlook set aside differences of politics and work towards achieving a goal of urgent need. “Setting aside politics, the party aims to spread the importance of organic farming in the society, we should together fight against this and make Kerala a self-sustainable state. Though we are the Opposition we give complete solidarity to government in this mission.”   The party has also launched the Organic Life campaign which was inaugurated by former Member of Parliament P Rajeev by initiating farming at district party offices. The party has also opened an organic produce store in Palayam market Thiruvananthapuram. In a press release in April the party had said that it was important to be self-reliant, “We should be able to produce vegetables that we need by ourselves. Each family needs to make use of all available space in their household for organic vegetable farming. The vegetable farmers who are currently using chemical pesticides should try to switch to organic farming,”    Film actors like Innocent, Mammootty and Manju Warrier have also thrown their weight behind the move towards organic farming. Warrier was later appointed as the state brand ambassador for Organic Farming.   There has however, criticism from some quarters that the government lacked strategic vision and that the model of organic farming adopted by the state was not organized and was unlikely to make the state completely independent.