India’s 50-year-old Insecticides Act, 1968, is expected to be replaced by the Pesticides Management Bill, 2017. The draft bill for regulating pesticides proposes to address agrochemicals use, quality monitoring, create awareness among farmers, minimize contamination of pesticide residue and give more power to state governments to impose penalties on violators. The bill has, however, drawn criticisms from many quarters that it still does not address serious regulatory concerns and for focusing more on pest control rather than food safety.
Regulations on the manufacture, procurement, storage, sale and use of pesticides, agrochemicals and even non-agricultural chemicals in Nagaland need closer inspection. There is no clear policy on monitoring of pesticides and chemical sale and use for food production at present in the State.
We have no data or monitoring systems on the types of chemicals sold in the market and what traders and farmers buy, how and where they use it on food items and crops. It should not be surprising that the State Food Safety department has recently detected several cases of non-permitted chemicals in the food items sold in our local bazaars.
In the past, Naga villagers have relied on labour sharing: all villages had multiple farm-labour groups rotating work in each other’s farm throughout the agricultural season thus effectively managing farming workload even on a treacherous mountainous terrain. However, in the present day, traditional farm-labour groups have disappeared except for few women self-help farmer groups in villages who still work on rotation in each group member’s farm. With more people, especially the younger population, migrating to towns for alternative employment options, farm labour has become scarce.
Given the labour-intensive terrain, the high cost of labour or practically no one to labour in the fields, it is easier for a grower to opt for the solution that removes weeds and diseases at an instant. While in plain areas like Dimapur, large-scale plantations and vegetable farms are usually tended only by a single family or two of non-Naga labour or a ‘subaltern’ farm care-taker. They too have no option but to rely on chemicals for growing their cabbages, tomatoes, cucurbits etc. to sell in the local markets.
In the absence of a regulatory framework for sale and use of chemicals, farmers, gardeners, hired farm care-takers can use any chemical available in the market and use it however he/she likes. The general assumption is that people would read the label of a pesticide bottle, follow written instructions and be safe but unfortunately, most of our farmers are not literate or do not possess that sort of reading and comprehension skills unless the instructions printed are in their own local language, which is quite unlikely.
Also, with the easy availability of agrochemicals retailers can play farm-doctors: farmers ask retailers about which product to use for what disease, how much to spray and so on. If a retailer is incentivised with high profit margin to promote a certain product, irrespective of whether the product is hazardous or not, a farmer could be influenced to buy it.
We require a regulatory authority and system that checks what chemicals are entering our markets, how and where it is sold and who uses it; and technical facilities for monitoring and timely inspection of pesticide residues in our food and water. Our policies need to be conscious of local issues and tailor solutions that tackle problems faced by the grassroots.
In our world today battling climate change, agriculture is one of the sectors that generate the highest amount of CO2 emissions. According to a World Bank report, “Almost half of South Asia’s population, including India, now lives in the vulnerable areas and will suffer from declining living standards that could be attributed to falling agricultural yields, lower labour productivity or related health impacts.” How we grow and consume food and treat our soil and environment are serious questions to consider.
It is important to prioritize on environmental policies that can “build local resilience to climate change.” Farming, food, health and climate are all interrelated. What we eat and how we produce food impact not just our health but the health of our environment and the future of our land and people.
Abokali Jimomi is a freelance writer. For comments, contact at firstname.lastname@example.org