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Wednesday, 31 July, 2002, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Pesticide kills '500' Indian farmers
Indian farm-workers spraying pesticide
NGOs say many Indians have suffered from pesticides

Several Indian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) say at least 500 cotton farmers are estimated to have died in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh due to exposure to pesticides last year.

(Farmers) don't even wear shoes because they consider the soil sacred

Narasimha Reddy, NGO official

The NGOs which study agricultural and environmental issues, say at least 1,000 others have been exposed, but the government says it has no knowledge of so many deaths.

Experts say the use of pesticides in agriculture has been on the rise in India during the past decade or so.

Pesticides are used extensively in India for protecting crops such as cotton, paddy, chillies and tobacco from pests.

The report on a key cotton-growing area titled "The Killing Fields - cotton farmers in Warrangal district in Andhra Pradesh" says many farmers manually spray chemical pesticides on crops.

It says,"Spraying is either done with a piece of cloth covering mouth and nose or without any covering. No other protection or safety measures are used."

It says all the affected people have some experience in spraying pesticides but it still needs to be investigated whether any pesticide used were spurious or not.

Official denials

Narasimha Reddy, the chief of one of the NGOs, Centre for Resource Education, told the BBC that their researchers visited several villages in the district for the study between August and December last year.

Farmers celebrating India's independence day
Many poor farmers use no protective gear

They talked to the affected farmers, their families, doctors and lawyers.

He said, "The farmers should wear protective gear while spraying but they don't. They don't even wear shoes because they consider the soil sacred"

Mr Reddy said the farmers in Warrangal have been using different pesticides including Methyl Parathion, Cypermethrin and Endosulphan for years.

The report says early symptoms of exposure to pesticides include dizziness, fatigue, intestinal discomfort and chest pain.

It says in some cases, paralysis and seizures make the victim unconscious, leading to death. But pesticide manufacturers say there is no scientific basis to the claims.

The report also says similar incidents elsewhere in the country should be investigated and a comprehensive national policy be framed focusing on pesticide use and monitoring of access to dangerous chemicals.

But the government says the report is baseless.

A state agriculture ministry official, Purushottam Reddy, told the BBC only 13 deaths had been caused by pesticide poisoning last year. He said the government had already checked these claims.

Another senior state official, Ashutosh Misra, said the government always advised farmers who use pesticides to take necessary precautions.

Long-term impact

Cotton is grown on more than eight million hectares of land across India.

Farm-worker spraying
Southern states appear to be badly affected

More than 300 cotton farmers committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh a few years ago following crop failure and subsequent debts.

Residents of Padre village in another southern state - Kerala - say pesticides used in cashew nut plantations are causing physical and mental illness in hundreds of children and adults.

In another district in the state (Kasaragode), non-governmental organisations say pesticides used to protect crops there have affected more than 1,000 people over the past two years.

Experts say little attention is given by the authorities to the long term impact of pesticides on people and the environment.

See also:

30 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
08 Mar 02 | South Asia
06 Dec 01 | South Asia
21 May 01 | South Asia
06 Jun 02 | South Asia
24 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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