Cardamom cultivators in Idukki district not only use a cocktail of pesticides but also apply allopathic medicines and even liquor to the cardamom plant.
Enquiries show that steroids such as Wysolone, antibiotics, vitamin B, aspirin and even rum are in common use, along with the pesticides. The farmers believe that these will check pests, aid growth and even spur flowering of the plants. A worker employed in spraying said two millilitres of rum was added to every litre of pesticides, besides other ingredients. Some farmers even use a concoction of decomposing meat, eggs and other substances.
K.K. Chandran, Principal Agriculture Officer, Idukki, said though allopathic medicines such as steroids would initially boost growth and yield, they would damage the plant in the long run.
However, the prices of cardamom have shot up in recent months and the farmers are willing to do anything to improve their yields and the quality of the pods. Endosulfan is used in most plantations.
Endosulfan is smuggled from Tamil Nadu under different names. Batches of workers from Tamil Nadu carry Endosulfan with them while travelling daily by bus or jeep to Idukki district. Nearly 1,000 jeeps ply to Kerala daily and if each of them brings in 10 litres a day, they stand to gain Rs.1,000 a day a vehicle because of the price difference for Endosulfan in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Thomas Jose, Secretary of the Red Cross unit at Udumbanchola, said. The Agriculture Department, which is the agency to enforce the ban, has so far been unable to seize any stocks of Endosulfan from the district, though its vigil at the check-posts has helped to reduce smuggling. District Collector Asok Kumar Singh said more agencies ought to be empowered to enforce the ban.
Muthuswamy Murugan, Professor, Cardamom Research Station, Pampadumpara, Idukki, said broad spectrum insecticides used in cardamom and tea plantations kill as many as 80 insects, besides several beneficial creatures, such as honeybees and ants. The chemicals used in the plantations included chlorpyrifos, furadan, phorate, lambda-cyhalothrin and cypermethrin. Resides of hexaconazole (fungicide) and Endosulfan had been detected in cardamom, and DDT and its metabolates, phorates and methyl mercury in the soil in the plantations. The main reason for the overuse and irrational use of pesticides by the plantations were the consultants employed by them who recommend chemical treatment in liaison with manufacturers of agro-chemicals. Hardly 10 per cent of the planters went by the advice of the Agriculture Department, the Spices Board or Kerala Agricultural University.
Effects get amplified
When certain pesticides are combined, their effects get amplified because of synergy. About 10 persons from Kailasappara in the district were hospitalised recently following poisoning while mixing pesticides and fungicides. Similar incidents have happened in the past too.
Pesticide shops dot small towns such as Thopramkudi in Idukki district. The pesticides are used mainly for vegetable cultivation there, besides cardamom. Bitter gourd and other vegetables produced there with an overdose of pesticides reach even the Chala market in Thiruvananthapuram. The easy availability of pesticides makes it the favoured choice of those committing suicide. It also causes an increase in suicides as the means to commit suicide is available in almost all households.