For the last many years, Kerala has witnessed a lot of debate on the influx of pesticide-sprinkled vegetables from neighbouring states, especially from Tamil Nadu.
When TNM visited a few TN villages along the Cauvery Delta belt, farmers openly admitted to maintaining separate fields to cultivate grains or vegetables for personal use.
When unable to do so, the farmers preferred to buy rice produced elsewhere. “We don’t eat what we produce. We buy rice produced in Andhra Pradesh,” states a farmer from Thiruvarur.
Go to any small village market in the interiors of Tamil Nadu, and one gets to see numerous pesticide and fertilizer shops, where costly and highly effective chemicals are available for sale.
“Apart from a few vegetables, Samba rice and udad dal are the major crops here. We spray these with chemicals, right from the time the seeds sprout. If not done, weeds and insects would destroy the crop. But then, how do you expect us to eat the same rice? It would be like killing our own kids through slow poisoning,” remarks a local farmer leader from Thiruvarur.
They believe that they are not the only ones to do so. “Even in Andhra, they may be doing the same. But since we do not know for sure, we prefer to eat that,” he adds.
According to a Nagapattinam farmer, vegetables like cucumbers, ladies-finger and brinjals need high levels of pesticides, since these are very prone to insect-attacks: “For paddy, we need weed-killers. All this has to be done right from the early stages of growth to ensure a high yield.
Many of us keep a separate land for pesticide-free crops. We sell only the crops grown using insecticides and pesticides. We farmers too need to live.”
Elaborating on the effectiveness of a pesticide used in Samba paddy cultivation, he continues: “There is this liquid made by mixing two pesticides Rice Star and Adora. When we first sprayed this mixture on the paddy, all weeds were dead within a day to our surprise.”
One litre of this liquid costs around Rs 6000. He does however admit that the labourers who spray the chemical suffer nausea and dizziness for almost a month afterwards.
A mango-farmer from Thiruvarur also affirms that there are efficient products in markets that can double the yield: “There are many products like Herbozyme, which when sprayed at the mango-flowers, the tree flowers twice over within just a few weeks.”
At the same time, they make sure some trees are left un-sprayed to ensure an organic yield.
When asked why it was essential to spray mango trees, as they are known to bear fruit even when neglected, he replies: “That would suffice only on the home-front, but we need to produce on a large scale when it comes to commercial purposes. This is something that everyone does.”
Anbumani who runs a pesticide shop at Thiruvarur market talks about another new chemical widely used in vegetable cultivation: “Just 100 ml of Coragen costs Rs 2000. Even a drop would kill all pests. There are separate chemicals to deal with pests, insects, fungus, mildew and all other threats crops face. Fruits, vegetables and grains too have separate fertilizers. Spray-fertilizers are in high demand.”
Dr Thomas Biju Mathew of the Pesticide Residue Laboratory at the Agricultural College in Vellayani opines that such excessive use of chemicals in agriculture is due to sheer failure to enforce existing laws:
“Ideally, the Food Safety Department should set safe limits of use for every fertilizer, pesticide and insecticide in the market. These limits need to be sanctioned after publication in the Government Gazette.
Presently, no such limit is set for most chemicals. For the few that we have, no action is taken, when set limits are breached. There needs to be a proper system in place to test the exact amount being used. But this is exactly what we sorely lack.”