Poisoned Paradise: J&K’s Horticulture Faces a Reckoning on Pesticides

Poisoned Paradise: J&K's Horticulture Faces a Reckoning on Pesticides

Jammu & Kashmir’s Fruits: A Bitter Harvest? – Pesticide Use Threatens Health

By: Zahid Ahmad Khan

Jammu and Kashmir is also celebrated for its flourishing horticulture industry. The region’s fertile terrain supports a rich diversity of crops including apples, apricots, cherries, pears, and walnuts, among others.

Over the decades, this sector has experienced exponential growth, with production skyrocketing from 10,000 metric tonnes in 1950 to an impressive 25 lakh metric tonnes in 2020. Today, approximately 332,704 hectares of land are dedicated to horticulture in Jammu and Kashmir, with a significant portion allocated to apple cultivation alone, highlighting its pivotal role in the region’s economy.

However, this agricultural success story is not without its challenges. The excessive use of pesticides, particularly in apple orchards, has emerged as a pressing concern. Reports indicate a disturbing correlation between pesticide exposure and rising instances of cancer among farmers in Jammu and Kashmir. Shockingly, major hospitals in the state now receive around 50 cancer patients daily, reflecting a troubling 35% increase in cancer cases overall. Notably, brain tumours, exacerbated by pesticide exposure, have become alarmingly prevalent in the Kashmir Valley.

Research published in the Indian Journal of Paediatric and Medical Oncology underscores the gravity of the situation. The study reveals a direct link between pesticide exposure and brain cancer among orchard workers and residents, with a staggering 90.04% of affected individuals having been exposed to neurotoxic and carcinogenic chemicals for extended periods.

Compounding the issue, the pesticides used—such as chlorpyriphos, dimethoate, mancozeb, and captan—are known to accumulate in the environment, affecting not only farmers but also consumers who inadvertently ingest residues through the food chain.

The widespread application of pesticides throughout the horticultural season—from pre-bloom stages to post-harvest—underscores the scale of exposure faced by agricultural communities. Despite recommended application schedules, anecdotal evidence suggests that many farmers exceed these guidelines, further amplifying the health risks associated with pesticide exposure.

Experts warn that chronic low-level exposure to pesticides can lead to a spectrum of neurological symptoms including headaches, fatigue, and impaired memory. Moreover, long-term exposure has been linked to more severe conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, highlighting the far-reaching health implications beyond immediate toxicity.

While Jammu and Kashmir’s horticulture sector continues to thrive, the unchecked use of pesticides poses significant health hazards to farmers, residents, and consumers alike. Efforts to mitigate these risks are imperative to safeguard public health and environmental sustainability in the region. As global awareness grows about the impact of agricultural practices on human health, addressing these challenges becomes paramount to ensure a safer and healthier future for all.

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