Himal Khabarpatrika, 20-26 July
At a time when pesticides found in vegetables imported from India are causing a ruckus in Nepal, several recent reports have revealed that Nepali vegetables are also heavily laced with pesticide residue.
One survey by Wageningen University in The Netherlands, with the NGOs Phase Nepal and Progressive Sustainable Developers Nepal, found that pesticides were used excessively in vegetables produced in Gaindahawa rural municipality of Rupandehi district.
Conducted in December 2017, the study found toxic residue in 86 samples of tomatoes, chilis, and eggplants. While all of the tomatoes and chilis were contaminated, 93% of eggplants had pesticide residues of 14 different kinds. The concentration was four times higher than the threshold permitted by the European Union (EU) in eggplants, 17 times higher in tomatoes and an incredible 49 times in chilis. The chemicals included organophosphate, organochlorine, triazophos, omethoate, chlorpyrifos, and carbendazim, most of which are banned in Europe.
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Govinda Bhandari of Wageningen University said farmers used the anti-fungal carbendazim 23 times on the same crop, which in Europe is allowed to be applied only twice. Triazophos and chlorpyrifos in vegetables damage humans’ skin, nervous system, reproductive organs, eyes and kidneys, may cause cancer, and affect the foetus. The two pesticides are banned in Europe and the US, and they have added profenofos, quinalphos and carbendazim to the list.
Nepal banned dichlorvos and triazophos five months ago, but they continue to be used freely. Bibek Acharya of the Oncology Department at Bir Hospital says: “Such chemicals affect our nervous system and can lead to malignancy.”
Out of 183 households surveyed in Gaindahawa, researchers found that 44.3% used chlorpyrifos on vegetables while 76% used cypermethrin. Excessive use of cypermethrin harms not just human health but also kills useful insects, fish and life.
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Even though the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development says Nepal’s pesticide use is 396g per hectare, the Wageningen University research shows that pesticide use is many times higher (2.9kg per hectare) in vegetable patches. Research by ICIMOD 10 years ago agrees with the latter finding, concluding that 2.37kg of anti-fungus chemicals and 1.96kg of pesticides were used per hectare in Lalitpur.
The government has not set limits for the use of pesticides on various crops. Some farmers have been trained in IPM (Integrated Pest Management) which controls pests and other plant diseases by deploying their natural enemies, but the practice has not spread.
The research also found that farmers did not know about safety gear required while spraying, the safe period required after spraying and dosage. The study revealed that 90% of farmers knew nothing about the colour code for toxicity on pesticide containers.
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Though Rapid Pesticide Residue Analysis Labs have been set up in seven places across the country, their data is inaccurate and not all of them are fully functional. Only the Food Technology and Quality Control Department has the equipment to test pesticide residue. But since the government has not set the maximum level, such tests are not done, says Keshav Naupane at the lab.
There are 132 types of pesticides registered for use in Nepal, most of which are among the 635 tons of active ingredients imported in 2018 alone.
On 17 June, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies ordered that vegetables and fruits imported from India should be tested at the border for pesticide residues, but the government withdrew the decision, claiming lack of infrastructure. Then on 10 July, the Supreme Court overturned that decision on a public interest litigation ruling, issuing a short-term interim order to not halt the testing of pesticide residues.
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