Though another growing season has begun this week in Kerala’s mango city of Muthalamada, most orchards in the grama panchayat located close to Pollachi in Tamil Nadu remain toxic hubs due to indiscriminate spraying of hazardous pesticides. Earlier attempts by farmers to go in for organic cultivation of mangos failed largely owing to the lackadaisical attitude of the Agriculture Department.
Muthalamada orchards, known earlier for widespread use of the banned pesticide endosulfan, now use other pesticides, including Cymbush, Monocrosfate, Talstar, Malathion, Azoxistobin, Omethoate, Chlorpyrifos and Thiabaeazove. Shops selling such heavy doze pesticides are aplenty just outside the State border on the Tamil Nadu side.
Raids held on mango orchards and godowns in the region earlier had found evidence of excess use of pesticides, especially in farms leased out to people from outside. Though nearby Kollangode, Elavanchery and Pattanchery panchayats also have mango cultivation, Muthalamada accounts for about 80 per cent of the mango production in the State.
“Overuse of pesticides is not confined to Muthalamada. Health-related complications have been reported in Moochamkund. Adavumaram, Narippara Challa, Chulliyarmedu and Mechira. Most pesticides used here are highly poisonous. They are, in fact, substitutes of endosulfan,” said K.D. Kannadas, a local environmental activist.
Muthalamada is one of the largest mango production centres in the country. Its fruits are first to hit the market, by January-end. “Two years ago, containers with Muthalamada mangoes were sent back from the Gulf countries after the samples tested positive for high pesticide content,” said Arumugan Pathichira, a social worker and anti-endosulfan activist. “Here the pesticide is sprayed on trees with the nozzle of the pump directed upwards. The person engaged in spraying gets affected almost instantly,” he added.
“Mangoes estimated to cost Rs.200 crore are exported from Muthalamada every season. In spite of our campaign for organic farming, a number of farmers buy chemical pesticides in large quantities from Pollachi,” says Mr. Kannadas.
Muthalamada has mango orchards spread over 20,000 acres. H. Hanifa, a farmer, said Muthalamada produced almost all the best and most sought-after varieties of mangoes in India — Alphonso, Neelam, Mallika, Malgova, and Chenthooram.