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Pesticide residue mars horticulture exports: expert

T. Nandakumar
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The excessive use of pesticides by farmers in India is hindering the country’s efforts to penetrate the global market for fruits and vegetables in a big way, according to Sreejith Aravindakshan from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Talking to The Hindu here on Sunday, Dr. Aravindakshan, who was here to participate in the National Biodiversity Congress, said India’s horticultural exports to northern Europe were largely constrained by the inability of the smallholder-dominated production system to meet western food safety standards marked by low tolerance for pesticide residue. “With an annual production of 75 million tonnes of fruits and 147 million tonnes of vegetables, India is one of the largest horticultural producers in the world but a failed exporter. In the absence of clear public food safety standards and good agricultural practices, smallholder vegetable farmers in India are excluded from global high-value chains. Success stories of collective efforts such as Kudumbasree groups in Kerala and Mahagrapes in Maharashtra are the only exceptions,” he said.

Observing that India was still stuck in the Green Revolution era, Dr. Aravindakshan said the inappropriate use of fertilizers and pesticides by farmers had contaminated soil and water with a heavy load of toxic residues. “In most cases, the blanket application of fertilizers and pesticides is based on recommendation by dealers of these products,” he said.

A Sutrofor Erasmus Mundus Fellow at the University of Copenhagen, Dr. Aravindakshan said Indian food products were seen as a toxic cocktail in many other parts of the world because of the pesticide residue.

“The negative health effects of pesticide residue have been increasingly reported from States such as Kerala. Regaining the soil and water is an arduous task and not possible with individual effort. Smallholders’ access to demanding markets will depend on collective action in the domain of pest management for food safety,” Dr. Aravindakshan said.

In vegetable production, he said, the extensive use of pesticides often drove pests to neighbouring fields or caused them to develop pesticide resistance. “The best results occur when the majority of farmers in an area adopts integrated pest management practices using bio-control agents or a combination of pesticides with crop rotation or intercropping of different varieties,” Dr. Aravindakshan said.

An expert in conservation agriculture, Dr. Aravindakshan highlighted the importance of an institutional mechanism to address pesticides safety. He said the certification process in India had to match global standards if small farmers were to be equipped to tap the demanding overseas markets. It will ensure better food for domestic consumption while pushing up export earnings, he said.

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