Indiscriminate Use of Pesticides Is Threatening Our Ecology

A fruit grower in Shopian sprays pesticides at his orchid. KO File Photo

Bilal Bashir Bhat

NATURE provides a multitude of benefits to humans such as control of crop pests by their natural enemies or crop pollination by animals. These functions are known as ecosystem services and are of crucial importance for agricultural and horticultural production. Since the agricultural intensification has successfully increased food production, following the steadily increasing demand due to population growth.  However, the intensification of agricultural production in recent decades has led to a decline and loss of biodiversity due to increasing use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides & fungicides.

Jammu and Kashmir is well known for its agriculture and horticultural produce both in India and abroad. The state offers good scope for cultivation of horticultural crops, covering a variety of temperate fruits like apple, pear, peach, plum, apricot, almond, cherry etc. Apart from this, well known spices like saffron and black cumin (zeera) are also cultivated in some pockets of Kashmir. There are around 7 lakh families comprising of about 33 lakh people which are directly or indirectly associated with horticulture. All these crops are dependent on pollination by insects for good fruit quality and production.

Indiscriminate use of pesticides in modern agriculture has disturbed the ecological inter-relationship by large scale killing of farmer friendly insects along with detrimental insects.

Apple is highly dependent on bee pollination like other fruit crops. Throughout the world there is a serious deficit of pollinators and its impact is also being felt in our Valley. Low percentage of farming community in Kashmir understand the process of pollination and its importance. It is essential to upscale the capacity of various stakeholders concerned with crop production in Kashmir.

Pesticide is a general term used for a chemical designed to kill target pests such as insects (insecticide), mites (miticide), weeds (herbicide) and organisms which cause plant diseases such as bacteria (bactericide) and fungi (fungicide). To reduce loss due to pest attacks and diseases, the fruit growers use almost every types of pesticides namely; synthetic Pyrethroids, Endosulphan, Chloropyrephos, Carbaryl, Demicron, Quinalphos, Monocrotophos etc and fungicides namely; Dithane, Mencozeb, Carboxin, Captan etc often these are sprayed without proper care. Pesticides and fungicides have unintended fall out on the natural insect and birds population which plays an important role in pollination process.

Over the years the use of pesticides in Jammu and Kashmir is increasing tremendously. People are using these pesticides to kill the pests and increase their production. Indiscriminate use of pesticides in modern agriculture has disturbed the ecological inter-relationship by massive killing of farmer friendly insects along with detrimental insects. The culling of the pollinizer varieties and monoculturing of only Red Delicious cultivators further adds to the pollination problem in Kashmir. In a season a single farmer uses 8-9 pesticide/fungicide sprays in his orchid and there are thousands of such farmers in J&K, so think how many pesticide sprays are used by these farmers. During cultivation and after spending lakhs of rupees, the production and quality is not so much as expected. The reason is only that proper pollination does not occur during blossom period due to the lack of pollinators.

The economic survey report of 2015-16 notes that the consumption of pesticides and fungicides has increased manifold. In J&K, pesticides coupled with other input technologies have resulted in enormous increase in the agricultural productivity over the years.  However, indiscriminate use of these chemical pesticides has increased not only the cost of production but also many human health hazards and environmental contaminations.

Jammu & Kashmir tops in the intensity of pesticides application with an average level of 2.337 kg/ha, followed by Punjab (1.377kg/ha) and Haryana (1.151 kg/ha) (2013). For the year 2016 around 146.59 mt per year of pesticides were used in J&K.

The excessive use of pesticides in apple orchards is posing a serious threat to the lives of people. Human beings are not only suffering from various ailments due to use of pesticides but the animals too are at risk. The fodder obtained from apple orchards has lot of pesticides in it as the chemical sprays  done on trees falls on the ground thus contaminating the green fodder. Even the milk produced from cows is infected with pesticides. Earlier apple growers used to spray chemical pesticides twice or thrice a year, now 12 to 13 such sprays are being done on the apple trees.

Unfortunately, many agricultural pesticides may be toxic to pollinators like bees, insects, wasps etc besides humans. Each year many honey bee colonies and other insect populations are damaged or destroyed by pesticides, primarily insecticides. Such losses have a devastating impact on the pollination process and in-turn the fruit production which automatically impacts the lives of people who are directly or indirectly involved with this sector. Growers of most insect-pollinated crops (apples, pear, almonds and many others) experience lower yields, and ultimately the consumer ends up paying higher food prices. During the past two decades, there has been a substantial increase in the use of pesticides in terms both of volume and value. Most pollinators killing occurs when pesticides are applied or allowed to drift on to flowering crops or weeds.

Pollination is an essential ecosystem service which involves symbiosis between cultivar, pollinizer and the pollinator. Effective pollination results in increased quality fruit production. Pollinators are animals that mediate the exchange of pollen between flowers, facilitating fruit and seed production in roughly 88% of flowering plants. While a broad range of animal taxa can function as pollinators, bees, wasps, and other insects  are uniquely specialized for pollen transport and account for the bulk of pollination services in both wild and cultivated plants, complemented principally by other insect pollinators.

Approximately 90 percent of all flowering plants require pollinators to survive. The Rs 4,000 crore apple industry in Kashmir is the worst hit. Contact pesticides are usually sprayed on plants and can kill bees and other insects when they crawl over sprayed surfaces of plants or other areas around it. Some years back whenever I visited apple orchids during blossom period I would see thousands of house bees and other insects in these orchids and now I hardly see any insect in these orchids during blossom period. The result of decreasing of these colonies are only due to the indiscriminate use of pesticides especially the insecticides used for increasing crop production.

Now people are spending thousands of rupees on artificial pollination process like using of plant growth hormones during blossom periods for better yields but the results are devastating. To safeguard the apple industry and other fruits crops in J&K the role of these pollinators are very crucial and conservation of these is of utmost importance.

Researchers, scientists, planners, etc should join their hands with farmers regarding how to tackle these problems. They should make an effort collectively with farmers how to reduce environmental pollution and how to minimise the use of chemicals in their farming system. The indiscriminate use of pesticides in our orchards are warning signals that we should reduce the chemical use and adopt biological and organic methods for controlling agricultural enemies, which are not only safe for these pollinators, the environment but for humans too.

Author is associated with the Climate Change Center J&K. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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