Other side of pesticides contamination

Published: Sunday 15 July 2007

for 18 years now, scientists have discussed the reasons for the global decimation of amphibian populations. The cause list has been expanding from pesticides, to new diseases, to climate change that exacerbates both. But there is little confusion on what's driving nature's hardiest, most adaptive creatures to the brink. Mounting evidence points at environmental contamination and changes in climate regimes (see Features Can amphibians tackle climate change?). Those who don't much care for what happens to toads and frogs need to remember that this is nature's way of indicating what may be in store for larger invertebrates, such as human beings.

The trouble with environmental management is that a lot of evidence is required for people to sit up and take notice of what's wrong with our living space. Climate change, for instance, has now gone mainstream. For years, environmentalists have been labelled doomsayers and pessimists--in India, they've often been called anti-national. Now, creatures as thick-skinned as George W Bush want to discuss plans to deal with it. Business and political publications feature climate change stories prominently.

How long before pesticide contamination--and what it does to amphibians and humans--begins to be taken seriously? Before regulators feel public pressure to take ameliorative and preventive measures? The timing might be up for question, but not the certainty of this happening. The evidence on the dangers of pesticides will only mount. Take a look at a recent study (perhaps the first of its kind) proving that pesticides actually inhibit growth of plants by disrupting the nitrogen fixing ability of root nodules of leguminous plants (see News Pesticides lower crop yields). In doing so, pesticides actually increase the amount of fertiliser required for promoting plant growth. It is already known that application of chemical fertilisers makes plants more susceptible to pest attacks, thereby increasing the need for plant protection (read pesticides). This vicious cycle is very expensive for small farmers in developing countries--for their soil and agricultural ecology.

When India's agrarian crisis is discussed, government planners--even the Knowledge Commission--say the problem is that there is not enough institutional credit available for farmers to buy inputs. But the vicious cycle of inputs that require more inputs is never given serious thought. Small farmers, like amphibians, are hardy and live close to nature. Their future depends on ecological health.

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