The dreaded endosulfan has a long and tragic history in India. This story goes back to 1981 in Kasargod, the northern-most district of Kerala. The Plantation Corporation of India (PCI) had taken over 4,696 hectares of cashew plantations in the region in 1978 and in the 80s would spray these plantations with endosulfan, two or three times a year. Around 1997, a doctor from Padre village in Kasargod district noticed the alarming number of children with congenital defects and neurological disorders. Known for its cashew plantations, this hamlet witnessed the cruelest influence of the use of endosulfan. Endosulfan is an organochlorine pesticide which means it comes under a group of chlorinated hydrocarbons used as pesticides and for mosquito control since the 1940s. They are banned in most countries as they are neurotoxicants, i.e., they damage the central nervous system. Other examples in this group include DDT, dieldrin, and kepone. Studies have repeatedly termed endosulfan as a ‘persistent neurotoxin and endocrine disruptive pesticide’*.
People of nearly 11 panchayats in Kasargod have displayed health impacts such as congenital deformities, physical disabilities, mental retardation and gynaecological problems. The same health impacts were seen in neighbouring Dakshin Kanada district in Karnataka as well, where the Karnataka Cashew Development Corporation had aerially sprayed endosulfan over the cashew plantations for over 20 years.
The truth about toxins
The UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade is an international agreement controlling trade in hazardous chemicals and pesticides. At the fifth COP to the Rotterdam Convention in 2011, in Geneva, Switzerland, Nations agreed to add endosulfan to Annex III of the Convention, making trade in it subject to Prior Informed Consent from the receiver.
For more information: READ Children of Endosulfan, a special Down To Earth report, February 28, 2001; WATCH Kasargod: In God's Own Country, directed by Rajani Mani and Nina Subramani; SURF A comprehensive timeline of endosulfan in India:
In May 2011, after much political wrangling and maligning of reputations, the Supreme Court banned the manufacture, sale, use and export of endosulfan in India. India was the largest manufacturer of endosulfan, and its production was controlled by three companies. Hindustan Insecticides Ltd (HIL), a state owned enterprise and privately owned Excel Crop Care Limited and Coromandel International Limited. Pesticide lobby, represented by Pesticide Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India, attempted to thwart the ban with a vengeance.
Endosulfan at Stockholm
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) is a UNEP-governed international agreement looking to encourage alternatives to POPs and discourage development of new POPs. With 179 Parties including India, China, Russia and Australia, it came into force in 2004. In 2011, endosulfan made the list of POPs banned from use around the world.
Now, participating nations have approved 100 chemical and (for the first-time-ever) non-chemical alternatives to endosulfan at the sixth meeting of Parties to Stockholm Convention held in Geneva, Switzerland in May 2013. Benin, Uganda, Kenya, Morocco, Venezuela, and Togo reported that they have already shifted to alternatives. With the largest pesticide industry in Asia and the twelfth largest in the world, India is in a strategic position to play a lead role in moving towards toxin-free farming.
Can we afford to go back to those tragic times of suffering that the people of Kasargod have lived through for over two decades? The use of chemical pesticides in India is still very high. Endosulfan has been exposed as a dreaded neurotoxin, but what of the many others like it that go undiscovered? Who knows, maybe alternatives already exist among long-suffering farmers... Do you know of any? The world is eagerly waiting to hear about them.