Cotton growers face health hazards, says study

New Delhi, Apr 8 | Updated: Apr 9 2007, 05:34am hrs
Cotton production in the country is heavily associated with the intensive use of hazardous pesticides. About 10 million cotton growers and farm labourers are working in a highly unsafe occupational environment where protective measures and equipment for safe handling are far from being adopted, said a study conducted jointly by two UK-based organisationsEnvironmental Justice Foundation and Pesticide Action Network.

The causes of Indias low yields are highly complex, but contemporary farming practices undoubtedly play a major role, said the study.

Traditional methods of pest control, such as manual removal of pests, intercropping, crop rotation and burning or removal of cotton residues from the soil have been largely abandoned and high-yielding crop varieties which are significantly more susceptible to plant pests and diseases have been introduced, it said. The study: The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton deals with pesticide hazards in West Africa, India and Uzbekistan in special chapters.

The emphasis on India is significant from the introductory remarks of the study. The study said in an attempt to limit the damage caused by pest infestations, Indian cotton growers now apply an estimated $344 million of chemical pesticides annually, out of which $235 million is spent for trying to control bollworm alone. The study lists a number of hazardous pesticides like organophosphorous compound, monocrotophos which account for 22% of the entire cotton insecticides market in India. Other hazardous pesticides in use are quinalphos, fenvalerate, chlorpyrifos, dimethoate and imidacloprid.

Hardly Green

About 10 million cotton growers and farm labourers work in a very unsafe environment
Indian cotton growers now apply an estimated $344 million of chemical pesticides annually
Labourers report symptoms like headache, excessive vomiting, nausea, blurred vision
Worldwide farmers spend $1,320 a year on chemical pesticides, far more than is applied to any other single crop

Referring to findings made in 2000 in three villages in Andhra Pradesh, the study said that cotton growers applied extremely hazardous pesticides like parathion, methyl parathion and phosphamidon, while farmers in neighbouring Karnataka are known to use ethion and carbaryl.

Further studies conducted in 2005 on 97 cotton growers in three villages in Andhra Pradesh revealed 323 separate incidents of ill health over a 5-month observation period.

Labourers reported symptoms including headache, excessive vomiting, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, staggering gait, muscle cramp, twitching eyelids, tremors, loss of consciousness and seizures. Of the total incidents reported, 39% were linked to symptoms of mild poisoning, 38% to moderate poisoning and 6% with severe poisoning and up to 10% of all spraying sessions were associated three or more neurotoxic or systemic symptoms.

In Punjab, blood samples from residents of four villages showed the presence of chlorpyrifos in 85% of the samples, monocrotophos in 75% and endosulfan in 25%. One analysis of cotton seeds collected from five locations in Punjab found detectable residues of ethion, cypermethrin, endosulfan and chlorpyrifos.

Describing cotton as a rich mans commodity and a poor mans crop, the study said the bulk of worlds cotton fibre products are exported to wealthy nations, while 99% of cotton growers live in unhealthy conditions. Terming it as the dirtiest crop, it said worldwide, farmers spend $1,320 a year on chemical pesticides, far more than is applied to any other single crop.