Do we give as much importance to overall plant health?

India, which was one of the major importers of food grains in the 1960’s and 1970’s, has turned it’s table and became an exporter, within a span of two decades. This is a remarkable achievement on the part of every contributor involved. High yielding varieties increase in irrigated area, fertilizers, pesticides, seeds, improved method of cultivation, agriculture exports and above all the farmers have contributed in increasing production.

Today we have surplus food in the country but unfortunately if some where few people are starving for want of food, it is purely the inadequate/ inappropriate distribution system.The other side of the situation is that, the farmer who is called as the “backbone of the nation” is getting crippled. Fortunately or unfortunately none can see his own backbone so also the back bone of the nations is no one’s real concern.
But let us not forget that the day the backbone gets injured all the limbs get paralysed. I feel that the farmer, the backbone of the country is on verge of breaking (economically) and if we do not take proper care at this stage the country’s agriculture economy may get paralysed.

Indian Farmer Human Health vs Plant Health

There is a saying –

“One who does not have food has only one problem, but one who has food has many problems”.

I think now we as a nation are in the second stage that is “one who has food has many problems”. Every common man in the society, whether educated or uneducated is raising his eyebrows and questioning himself whether the food he is getting is nutritious, healthy, safe enough, the way it used to be or the way it should be. Why only the common man, even the agriculture expert himself is having such a perception in the mind? Is it only a perception or is there any substantial truth in it?

“Plants provide more than 95 % of the total food to human beings”

If plant parts are healthy, human beings will get healthy food material. Today are we really taking care of the plant health adequately, so that the plants provide us the material as healthy as we want? For many, this question may look absurd. But if it were analysed critically most of the persons would agree with my views. For a while let us look at the process of plant health care of human beings, animals step by step.

Plants Provide Food Human Health vs Plant Health

When someone gets sick, what do we do?

We go to a medical doctor and explain to him the symptoms of the suffering. Then the doctor makes diagnosis of the problem and prescribes a medicine and suggests its usage method /dose or suggests some tests for further investigation depending on the problem. If not so elaborate, but similar system is followed in case of cattle health care. But, unfortunately, the process followed in plant health care is no way near or similar to the above process.
Knowing pretty well that plants are the main source of food, why are we not giving the requisite importance in the plant health care so that we get healthy food?

Let us look at the recommendation and usage of the products in the human beings health care and plant health care.
The products used for human health care are called “medicines” and in case of plant health the products used are called “ pesticides/ poisons”. The medicines are used under strict guidance of a medical doctor and in case of pesticides a farmer can just buy it without any prescription and use it the way he likes it.
Naturally every one would agree that the usage of poison should be under strict supervision and expert guidance, when compared to that of medicines. The policy/ lawmakers have not given due importance to plant health care as they have given to human health care.

Farmer India Human Health vs Plant Health

Let us have look at the process of use of health care products in case of human and plant in detail.

DIFFERENCE IN DESCRIPTION, SALE AND USE OF PHARMACEUTICALS  & PESTICIDES

Particulars Pharmaceuticals Pesticides
Description Described as ” Medicines” Described as ” Poisons”
Prescription Prescribed by Medical Doctor No prescription required
Sold through Sold through a qualified pharmacist No qualification required
Brand Name Medical Doctor prescribes a trusted/ Brand name should not be recommended
  tested brand name by Agri. Dept./ University officials
Role of No Medical Rep. Approaches a patient Manufacturing company’s Rep. is supposed
Sales Rep and advises him about his to use his advise farmers about his company’s
  company’s products. products.
License for The pharmacist is licensed to sell the Pesticide dealer is free to sell any
Sales medicine prescribed by the medical pesticide with out any prescription
  Doctor  
Role of In case if a particular pharmacist does If at all a farmer approaches an Agri.
 dealer / not have a brand prescribed by medical officer, he has to recommend a chemical
retailer doctor the pharmacist suggests an  name and not the brand name. Then the
  alternative brand and if the customer  dealer can sell any brand which ever gives
  accepts only then the pharmacist sells him the highest profit.
  the alternative brand.  
Advise Patient in general strictly follows his Farmers follow their own choice and
  medical doctors advise. method in most of the cases.
Role of Expert. The Medical Doctor takes all care in Since no one owns the responsibility of
  treating his patient by giving him clear wrong use / misuse, the farmer commits
  advise about the medication, food and suicide when his crop fails.
  other related issues, so that the  
  reputation is maintained.  
Accolade When the patient gets cured the In general the Agri. Professionals are not
  medical doctor gets credit, name and in the picture to take credit or discredit. 
  fame. The drug manufacturing company It is always the pesticide manufacturing
  is not significant as for as patient is company’s name that gets exposed.
concerned.

It is evident that the use of pesticides is left in the hands of farmers who do not know the correct use of pesticides or after effects of the wrong use. Due to this reason there are quite a good number of reports about the pesticide residues in the food products. Pesticides are used to manage the pest problems on the crops during growth or during storage of produce. At the time of using pesticides if proper care is not exercised, it might effect the user and or residues may be left over in the plant or in the produce. Whether the residues are within tolerance level or in excess can only be known when produce is tested.

For this kind of situation who is responsible?
– the farmer who has used pesticide to protect his crop?
– the dealer who has sold the pesticide without having required knowledge?
– the manufacturer who has manufactured pesticide?
– the agriculture extension agency which has not prescribed the pesticide?
– The Insecticide Act, which has basically confined itself to regulate the manufacture and partly sales related issues but not the use, related issues?

Pesticide India Human Health vs Plant Health

It is reported that the average consumption of pesticides in Japan is 11 kg /ha, in U.S.A. it is 9 kg/ha, in Europe it is 3kg/ha and in India it is only 575 gms/ha average consumption. Yet the residue problem in those countries is not a serious concern. But in India the residue problems are continuously increasing in various produces. Why does it happen? One side we say the consumption in India is meager compared to that of many countries. In India we have vast agriculture crop area, where no/very little pesticides are used and on the other side we also have intensive agriculture areas where pesticides consumption is as high as Japan and U.S.A. With out looking at the ground realities, experts and people at large go by the average consumption, which is a misleading fact.

For example we keep a person’s head in icebox whereas the temperature is -0c. and legs in oven where the temperature is 60c+ and say the average temperature in the middle is 30c and ask the person – are you comfortable. We all know the answer. Hence let us not go by the averages. Hence we need to understand thoroughly, about the use rather than the averages. Even though the average use of pesticides per hectare is very low but we have very high residues in our food samples, mainly because of lack of proper understanding of the use of pesticides in our country.

ROLE OF PESTICIDES

• Pesticides if properly used not only help to produce and save the food but also are contributing to better healthy food.
• Pesticides prevent the food grains and oil seeds, from becoming contaminated with bacteria or fungi, which produce toxins and mycotoxins, which can cause cancer. One forth of the world’s cereals and oil seeds are contaminated with such toxins. Crops carry much lower risks, because of pesticides use.
• Even more important, pesticides permit us to provide an abundance of low cost, attractive fruits and vegetables, which are humanity’s best defense against both cancer and heart disease.
• Every pesticide has a PHI ( Pre Harvest Interval). It means that there is specific number of days interval required in between the last spray of the pesticide and harvest of the crop. If the information furnished is strictly afheared to the residues in the crops will come down drastically.
• Unfortunately the there is no proper updating of information system in the extension department, hence the information remained in the product leaflets only.
• Pesticides which are meant for protecting the plant health, like human medicines should also brought under prescribed so that indiscriminate usage can be checked.
• Further as a statutary requirement with every pesticide it is a must to print all the major Indian languages in the leaflet enclosed with product irrespective of its size., with which the leaflet enclosed with the product is not properly legible.( if it has to be made legible the leaflet can be bigger than a news paper page) If leaf let is meant to provide the information to the prescribing professional one or two languages could be ediquate.
• Where as for human medicines the leaflet, if enclosed is in one or two languages which is more legible.

Saving the Planet Book Human Health vs Plant Health

The famous author Dennis T . Avery of Hudson Institute wrote in his book – “Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Plastics” that Sir Richard Doll and Dr. Robert Peto of Oxford University in their findings to evaluate U.S. environmental cancer risks reported –

“The occurrence of pesticides as dietary pollutants seems unimportant. There has been no increase in the incidence of liver tumours in developed countries since the long lasting pesticides were introduced. Yet liver tumours are the most common form of cancer found in animal based toxicological studies. If pesticides residues are highly toxic to humans, they should also attack our stomachs as well as our livers. But stomach cancer rates in the countries that use the highest rates of pesticides have been dropping sharply through out the pesticide era”

The pesticide consumption per ha (11kg) in Japan which is highest in the world and the maximum quantity used is on their staple food Rice crop. Life expectancy has increased beyond 75 years in last few decades. If pesticides cause health hazards the situation should be other way round. Indian farmers who do not know the consequences or after effects of the pesticides which he is using on the crops for the control of the pests is free to buy any pesticide and use which ever way he likes (cocktail/ under dose/ over dose/ just before the harvest, so on and so forth). Unfortunately the agri experts are not giving the required guidance and advises in plant health care expect in selected crops like grapes, tea etc. For example if we take Rice yields, Indian average production per ha is around 2.85mt/ha as against Japan 6.4 mt/ha, Korea 6.9mt/ha, China 6.3 mt/ha, Indonesia 4.3mt/ha and Vietnam 4.0mt/ha.
There are many areas in our country, the production per ha is more than 8.0 mt/ha and at the same time there is huge area where the production is much less than 2.0mt/ha bringing down the national average to very low level.

Crop Management India Human Health vs Plant Health

THE CHALLENGES IN FRONT OF US IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM

• Increase production of healthy food to feed the increasing population.
• Save acres by higher crop yield in unit area and protect more forest area to improve ecological balance.
• Protect mother earth from further degradation.
• Strengthen the economy of the backbone of the nation (farmer).

To meet the above challenges we must take up “Integrated Farm and Crop Management”. Instead of only “Integrated Pest Management”.

Integrated Farm and Crop Management

• To improve every farmer’s economy, proper assessment should be made for ideal cropping pattern. (to reduce excess cereals like Rice and wheat and shortage of oil seeds and pulses etc.)
• Plan in such a way so as to avoid excess production of any crop, which leads to desperate sale of the produce ( blind cultivation based on previous crop returns).
• To make every farm holding gives optimum remuneration.
• Adopt proper mix of plant protection products for plant health.
• Protect Mother Earth (soil health) from further depletion.
• Agricultural professionals should become effective advisors with responsibility.

For example in human health care Allopathic, Homeopathic, Aurvedic, Unani medicines have become integral part, similarly Chemical, Bio logical, pesticides and Mechanical methods, Crop rotation etc. can become effective means in plant health care.

Farmers India Human Health vs Plant Health

APPEAL

• I earnestly appeal to all the concerned with agriculture to deliberate and evolve a suitable strategy to make agriculture a viable profession to the farmers.
• Re-define the role of agriculture professionals in our country, in the interest of every one’s health to provide healthy food for the nation and also ensuring that India exports the safest agriculture produce.
• Re- write the Insecticide Act, incorporate the Plant Protection Products and also fertilizers sale against the prescription of Agriculture professionals only.
• Agriculture professionals should own the responsibility of plant health like medical doctors.
• Minimum qualification for all agro. input dealers should be fixed.
• All agricultural research should be focussed with a single aim of

“Integrated Farm and Crop Management to make farmer to survive respectably in the farming”.

What if Appeal is not properly addressed?

• The agriculture economy will continue to limp.
• Farmers will continue to fallow the cropping pattern with out considering external factors.
• Excess production of cereal crops and deficit production of other crops will continue.
• The farmers will continue to use pesticides as they wish.
• Dealers will continue to sell the products which ever gives them highest profit.
• Fly by night pesticide manufacturers will continue to flourish.
• Substandard / spurious pesticides availability will continue to increase.
• The agricultural professionals will continue to be silent spectators with out any responsibility/owner ship.
• Farmers will continue to commit suicides.
• Food products will continue to have higher residue levels.
• Indian food products will continue to be rejected.
• Society at large will continue to look down at plant protection products as “poisons” spoiling the food.

Think: “Is providing healthy food to nation and making people healthy should be a priority or making people sick and effectively treating them is more important.”

If you like this article please circulate among your friends and colleagues.

By Ch.Narasimha Rao

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