Nepal has no proper control over pesticide usagePesticides and other chemicals used during the production of vegetables and fruits often do more harm than good.
Nepal has been importing pesticides since the 1950s. Chemicals such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, Gammexene and nicotine sulfates were initially used to control malaria; but today, almost 70 years later, the use of pesticides has dominated our agricultural practices. Instead of nipping it in the bud, we have let the use of pesticides become central to our farming, even though it poses multiple health risks.
Pesticides and other chemicals used during the production of vegetables and fruits often do more harm than good. Amidst the rising issue of pesticide usage, I remember one Indian advertisement stating, ‘Either you are eating food or [the] food is eating you’. This level of consciousness must be developed among consumers. Given the rising demand for food and non-increasing land, the use of pesticides to increase agricultural productivity is high. Agriculture intensification is the process of increasing production per unit of input, which may include labour, land, time, or seed, among others. Technologies could be labour-intensive or chemical inputs-intensive. Nepali agriculture is chemical-intensive, and the use of chemicals in the sector is an ever-growing trend.
Simply put, pesticides are chemicals used for killing or repelling unwanted pests, plants or insect. The term pesticide is an overarching term used for chemicals such as fungicide, herbicide, rodenticide, molluscicide, and so on. There is a high potential that these might harm non-target species and circulate in the environment. Whatever their properties may be, pesticides have the ability to accumulate over time and produce a toxic effect that surpasses the safe limit.
A 2014 study by the Nepal Health Research Council found that 90 percent of the pesticides are used in vegetable farming. Many studies in the country related to pesticides reveal that farmers are aware of the health impacts of pesticides but continue to use it because it generates a higher yield—therefore a higher income.
Eating pesticide-laced food is the cause of a wide variety of diseases in humans. The most recognised ones are cancer, disruption in endocrine organs and neurological disorders. Similarly, the number of patients suffering from diabetes is on the rise, too, and consuming foods that contain pesticide residue is often considered one of the primary reasons for it. On a deeper level, pesticide residue could even lead to the damage of cellular DNA, creating mutagenic effects. What’s more, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases are aggravated with repeated exposure to pesticides in the diet.
In the journal article titled Use of Pesticides in Nepal and Impacts on Human Health and Environment, DR Sharma et al reveal that 99 percent of pesticides applied gets unused in the applied area. They either leach into the ground and mix with surface or groundwater, or they evaporate inducing it into the air.
Pesticides ending up in water get dissolved and are consumed by aquatic organisms. These organisms amass pesticides within them. When consumed, such tainted organisms create many disorders.
The ever-growing use of pesticides has caused alarm the world over. Nepal is already a high-risk country due to the lack of control procedures. While other countries adopt the practice of quarantining and conducting pesticide residue tests for farm products, we have been unable to do so. Thanks to the negligence of the concerned authorities in investing in proper labs and updating it with new equipment, the food that enters our kitchen is almost never chemical-free.
Nepal passed the Pesticide Act in 1991, and it forbids the use of banned pesticides and also makes licensing and registering of pesticides mandatory. The act also has the provision of appointing a pesticide inspector, when necessary. Given the massive use of pesticides, the government has initiated Integrated Pesticide Management training for farmers. However, the trainings are being conducted slowly and have not been producing effective results.
Shifting to organic farming is the best option when it comes to avoiding the subtle poison that is pesticide residue. Instead of planting the same crops every year, alternating them year by year could be a more viable option to decrease crop-specific pests. The introduction of bio-pesticides is also a viable option and should be encouraged. More importantly, indigenous knowledge on managing pests should be rediscovered and applied to the agricultural system.
Pathak is a knowledge management and research officer at the Nepal Water Conservation Foundation (NWCF).