Terming the expansion of commercial plantations in Western Ghats as the reason behind its ecological “degradation”, an expert panel has recommended urgent curtailment in the “disastrous” farming practice in the ecologically sensitive zone.

The expert panel, which was set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, has also suggested a policy directive for various commodity boards to address the farmers involved in disastrous farming practices all along the Western Ghats.

“Expansion of commercial plantations in Western Ghats has led to fragmentation of forest, soil erosion, degradation of river ecosystems and toxic contamination of the environment,” the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report said.

The report has been prepared by a panel headed by Madhav Gadgil. It was submitted to the Ministry in August last year.

Suggesting measures for promoting ecologically suitable farming methods in the area, it said, “A policy shift is urgently warranted curtailing the environmentally disastrous practices and switching over to a more sustainable farming approach in the Western Ghats.”

It has also favoured setting up of the proposed ‘Western Ghats Ecology Authority’ to cover the Western Ghats.

“To put such a policy change in practice covering the entire Western Ghats, a coordinating agency with executive powers would be essential. The proposed Western Ghats Ecology Authority will be the best suited one for this task,” the report said.

Giving details of the changes in agri-practices in the area, the report also highlights the toxic impact of pesticides on ecology and environment.

“The quantity of toxic pesticides being pumped into the plantations is so huge that not only has it impacted the ecology and biodiversity of the Ghats, but has also made agriculture unsustainable,” it said.

Farmers involved in commercial production of crops like tea, coffee and rubber have been using pesticides such as DDT, after these crops were introduced during the British rule.

The Ecology Report also noted that the farmers have realised the adverse impact of these “water guzzling” crops, after environmental groups raised concerns on it and started the demand for more sustainable crop management practices.

The report has also suggested integration of various state departments and other agencies working in the region to form a common policy supporting the environment in whole of the Western Ghats.

“Since commodity Boards play a major role in agriculture development in the Western Ghats and since they come under the Commerce Ministry, a clear policy direction would be needed to support sustainable agriculture development in this region,” it added.

The Western Ghats starts from Maharashtra and runs through the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala ending at Kanyakumari, at the southern tip of Indian peninsula.