Hidden health hazards

- SANGAM PRASAIN
Hidden health hazards

Jul 21, 2014-

In December last year, the government held a weeklong awareness campaign “Pesticides Harm Lives: Eliminate Use of Highly Hazardous Pesticides” to educate people about the harmful use of pesticides on agricultural produce and their impact on human health.

But this effort seems to have been fruitless with a recent study finding high levels of pesticide residues in the fruits and vegetables sold at the Kalimati Fruits and Vegetables Market, the largest wholesale bazaar for fresh produce in the country.

Nearly 14 percent of the vegetables being supplied to the market have been found to have a high level of pesticide residues or had pesticides beyond permissible limits.

The Rapid Pesticides Residue Analysis Laboratory found that 26 of the 187 vegetable samples examined contained harmful chemicals that are known to slow down enzymatic activity in human blood. The quality of the fruits and vegetables being eaten by the people in the Kathmandu valley may thus be severely compromised.

According to health experts, pesticides can prove fatal if consumed for a prolonged period. Pesticides are neurotoxins and can affect vital organs like the kidney and liver as well as the endocrine system. Some can cause food poisoning or allergic reactions. They’re even more dangerous for pregnant women and cause genetic alterations. Inappropriate use of pesticides can result in adverse effects on the environment and people, said Bhupendra Bahadur Basnet, general physician at Bir Hospital.

Another report stated that widespread use of pesticides had led to the decimation of wild bee colonies. The pesticides used in commercial agriculture have resulted in a significant decline in the population of wild bees in Kaski.

According to the Department of Agriculture (DoA), the average use of pesticides in Nepal is 142 gm per hectare. The use of pesticides on vegetable farms is 1,400 gm per hectare. The average use of pesticides in India is 400 gm per hectare while countries like Japan, Korea and Italy use 12-15 kg per hectare.

“The level of pesticide use in Nepal is not so alarming, but the way of handling such harmful chemicals poses a grave hazard to consumers and the environment,” said Yubak Dhoj GC, director general of the DoA.

More than 85 percent of Nepali farmers do not follow instructions when applying pesticides. For example, the waiting period observed by most growers after applying pesticides is less than four to five days when it should be at least two weeks depending on the chemical used. There is also lack of responsibility among producers. GC said that farmers produce vegetables, traders sell them and consumers eat them. Under this cycle, producers feel no responsibility to assure the quality of the products to the third party, the consumers. “Besides, lack of a proper monitoring mechanism has encouraged producers to shirk their responsibility,” GC added.

However, the report of the Rapid Pesticides Residue Analysis Laboratory has struck fear into the hearts of many producers. Among the 36 vegetables examined, those grown in Kavre, Bhaktapur, Dhading and Kathmandu were found to contain high organophosphate and carbamate pesticide residues.

GC said that sales of vegetables with such a high pesticide content had decreased since the directorate started its monitoring on June 18.  He, however, added that consumers also needed to be alert when consuming fruits and vegetables. Cleaning and washing vegetables thoroughly before cooking can remove a lot of the chemical coating.

Demand for pesticides has been soaring with more and more farmers turning to growing vegetables as it gives quick and handsome returns compared to other crops. Nepal imported 345 tonnes of pest-killing chemicals worth Rs 380 million in the previous fiscal year, and 85 percent of them were applied in vegetable production, said a report of the Plant Protection Directorate under the Ministry of Agricultural Development. In the last two years, imports of harmful chemicals used in pesticides have jumped 63 percent. Due to the porous border with India, officials said that the actual amount of pesticides imported through illegal channels might be much higher.

Use of harmful chemicals is very high in the Central Development Region due to the increasing number of commercial vegetable farms. Farms in Bara, Chitwan, Dhading and Kavre spray pesticides five to six times a year and also use extremely hazardous chemicals, said officials.

Nepal started using pesticides in 1952 when it was introduced to control malaria.

Imports of harmful chemicals amounted to 50 tonnes in 1997. There are 1,331 pesticide trade names and 121 pesticides registered in Nepal as of the present. Around 90 percent of the pesticides used in Nepal are imported from India.

Published: 22-07-2014 08:47

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