ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Poison in the Field

Toxic and unregulated pesticides are killing farmers and labourers.

Maharashtras Vidarbha region has faced an immense developmental backlog and an acute agrarian crisis that has led to nearly 14,000 suicides of farmers in its six districts in the last 16 years. Since July this year, it faces another kind of disaster with farm labourers and small farmers being hospitalised for symptoms of pesticide poisoning in Yavatmal district and other places. This has hardly drawn any government or media attention until recently, when 19 deaths were reported since August. Considering the public outrage over farmer suicides and the state of agriculture, both the state and central governments ought to have been extra vigilant about such occurrences. Despite cases of poisoning in previous years, preventive steps have not been taken. These deaths, a total of 30, including the 19 in Yavatmal district, highlight the urgent need for regulation of pesticides and close monitoring of their use.

Since 2002, when Bt cotton was approved for sale in India, rain-fed Vidarbha, which has little surface irrigation and generally depleted soils, has been growing that variety of cotton. Encouraged by good prices last year, Vidarbha farmers planted cotton on 16 to 17 lakh hectares. For several years, this region and other parts of India have seen a higher pest incidence and pockets of resistance to the green and pink bollworm, quite apart from the infestation of secondary pests. In the last two years, the efficacy of Bt cotton has failed in the northern and western states where the whitefly and the pink bollworm have wrecked Bollgard II. The pink bollworm had already developed resistance to Bollgard I in 2009. In 2015, in Gujarat and some parts of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, the replacement Bollgard II was also damaged. In 201516, there were crop losses due to whitefly infestations in Punjab and Haryana. While unofficially there is acceptance that Bt cotton has lost its bio-efficacy, the government has not done anything significant to give the farmer alternatives or regulate the sale of this variety. On the contrary, farmers are blamed for not managing insect attacks and not planting refugia around the Bt cotton crop.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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