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Sreelatha Menon: 85 days of a cabbage's life

Blame the poor enforcement of the Integrated Pest Management policy for the toxins in your salad

Sreelatha Menon  |  New Delhi 

Blame the poor enforcement of the Integrated Pest Management policy for the toxins in your salad

Here is a scary story about pesticides from an enterprising farmer. — from Thalavady village in Erode, Tamil Nadu — blogs about his experiences with pesticides with respect to a single vegetable, cabbage.

Small and marginal farmers with less than two hectares of land are cultivating cabbages on about 3,000 acres here. According to the blogger, no technical support is provided to farmers. Who, in that case, advises them? Seeds and pesticides dealers, he says.

Now, the pesticide part of the story. On the 10th day of sowing, the first pesticides make their entry. About 200 ml of insecticide Hostathian from Bayer, along with 250 gm of Acephate, are sprayed per acre. Hostathian is a highly toxic insecticide, while Acephate is an insecticide of moderate persistence with residual systemic activity of about 10-15 days.

On the 20th day, 150 ml of insecticide Success 480 from is sprayed per acre. According to Dow, Success 480 sc (Sinosad) is a kind of natural pesticide and does not contain high toxicity, but it is still harmful to the environment. There is no independent study available to establish this pesticide is safe, writes Kannaiyan.

Next, on the 35th day enters the third pesticide, Fame 480 sc from Bayer. About 45 ml of this pesticide is sprayed per acre. This one contains Flubendiamide. No study is available on this either, he says.

On the 50th day, 50 gm of insecticide Proclaim and 1,750 gm of Pegaus 50 WP, both from Syngenta, are sprayed.

The blogger notes that according to a study by Syngenta, certain crops should not be harvested for eight weeks after application of this chemical and livestock should not be allowed to graze for 21 days. If this pesticide is sprayed on the 50th day or later, the cabbages could be harvested on the 85th day or within a week after. So, consumers can consume the active residue of Proclaim from Syngenta.

Pegaus 50 WP contains the hazardous components of diafenthiuron, poly (oxy-1,2-ethanediyl), alpha-isotridecyl-omega-hydroxy-, formaldehyde. This, like Proclaim, is very toxic for aquatic organisms. It is also toxic when exposed to skin, swallowed or inhaled.

On the 70th day comes 35 EC 500 ml[vi], a celebrity pesticide now after the recent global media glare, following the special treatment at the Stockholm convention. It is to be phased out in the coming 11 years. arrives accompanied by Profenophos 50 EC 500 ml. The cabbage is harvested on the 85th day.

Kannaiyan laments the absence of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in Thalavady and in the neighbouring state of Karnataka. India has an IPM policy since 1985. IPM includes multiple controls such as bio pesticides (which could be as simple as crushed leaves), identification of pests and collective action by farmers in an area, breeding new varieties with built-in resistance.

But, bio pesticides form just two per cent of the pesticides used and sold and are not subsidised.

The training of farmers and extension services to form farmer groups for collective IPM action are also missing. Just 0.2 per cent farmers have been reached for IPM training.

The United States, which is often flogged by activists for all the ills of the chemical-heavy agriculture in India, formulated IPM into a national policy in February 1972. So, US companies may sell pesticides but unlike Indians, US farmers are not necessarily using these indiscriminately.

Kannaiyan blows hot and cold at the money made by the multinational companies, but finally admits that rhetoric without action at the farm level is of no use.

Kannaiyan concludes that agro ecology as a farming strategy at the level of each farm will be the only solution. And, until that happens, he says, “I have stopped eating cabbage because it is nothing but pesticide.”

First Published: Sun, May 08 2011. 00:32 IST