Government to study impact of agrochemical residues

Chemical contamination of food

The government is launching a study to assess the impact of agrochemical residues in ecologically sensitive areas, amid growing concern over the use of pesticides and fertilizers in farmlands.

The Kannan Devan Hills in Idukki district and Kuttanad in Alappuzha have been selected for the study. The initiative has been taken up by the Department of Environment and Climate Change in the wake of widespread complaints that indiscriminate use of chemicals in agriculture is contaminating food and the environment.

Director, Environment and Climate Change, P. Sreekantan Nair said the department had invited expressions of interest for the study which would cover the impact of agrochemicals on farm products, biodiversity, aquatic organisms, soil, human health, and the environment.

Mr. Nair said the data generated by the study would be used to formulate corrective measures in the use of agrochemicals across the State. “It will reveal the reasons behind the overload of chemical residue in the environment, whether it is caused by excessive application or careless disposal. Based on the data, we will come up with recommendations for changes in agricultural practices.”

The unscientific application of chemical pesticides and fertilizers is one of the reasons for the increasing stress on the sensitive ecology of Kuttanad, known as the rice bowl of Kerala. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has recognised Kuttanad as a World Heritage Site for the unconventional system of paddy farming about four metres below the sea level. But over the years, heavy chemical residues have polluted the Vembanad Lake and robbed the soil of beneficial microorganisms.

Bees, ants too killed

Heavy pesticide residue has been found in soil samples collected from cardamom and tea plantations in Idukki. Farmers are reported to use broad-spectrum pesticides that eliminate insects, bees, and ants as well as other animals and fish in downstream water bodies.

A study carried out by the Kerala State Biodiversity Board had revealed indiscriminate use of pesticides in the Cardamom Hill Reserve (CHR). “Toxic pesticides sprayed in the cardamom plantations get washed down during rain, polluting water bodies. Pesticides also hinder the survival of animals, including pollinators,” says K.P. Laladhas, member secretary, KSBB. The board has launched a programme to phase out the use of pesticides and promote organic farming in Idukki.

Phosphorous level

Excessive levels of fertilizer residues have also been reported in soil samples collected from across the State. A survey coordinated by the State Planning Board revealed exceedingly high levels of phosphorous in the soil, affecting fertility in farmlands across Kerala and polluting the environment. About 60 per cent of the 1,00,000 soil samples were found to contain high phosphorous.

Phosphorous run-off from farms is a major source of contamination of water bodies.

Study to cover Kuttanad, Idukki

Corrective measures to be formulated

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