“What are you spraying?” We just had a chat with Thulimaya Tamang about farming and now she was getting her pesticide kit ready. Time to dust the vegetables, she explained, or pest might get the better of them. She showed us the pesticide bottle: “Badal 76” it read. We had seen it many times in that area already – Panchkhal just east of Kathmandu – and in other parts of the country too. In fact, under different names, it’s been one of the most sprayed in the world. The active ingredient in Badal is a real killer. Meet: Dichlorvos!
Dichlorvos kills everything with six legs and wings that likes to suck or chew on things. The housefly drops dead within the hour. So do most beetles, larvae, and other “crop eaters”. Thulimaya still had the bottle insert to show it. The snippet read: “Badal instantly kills the sucking and chewing insects such as Plant hoppers, Semi-looper, Red pumpkin beetle, Painted bugs, Leaf folder, Cut worm, Army worm…” The list of insects went on and on! Badal is sprayed on anything from paddy and wheat to sugarcane and soybean – whereever all the bugs like to feed. Thulimaya took the cannister on her back and got started with it. “Obviously it’s very useful to us – and pretty safe too”, she explained.
Safe!? Well, that’s what Thulimaya had been told. But we still kept a distance as she started spraying – no mask, no gloves – and pesticide dust and fumes filled the air over her small field. How can something that strikes all sucking and chewing insects to the ground in a heartbeat be safe? It sure is if you ask those who produce and sell it. The bottle insert further reads: “Its residual effect lasts very short. So it can be sprayed on vegetable crops just two days ahead of picking/plucking the vegetable.” In short, just wait for a couple of days and you’ll be safe taking a bite of your veggies. But what about inhaling Badal 76 while spraying? Well, nothing mentioned about that on the insert!
Dichlorvos – the active ingredient or “killer agent” in Badal 76 – is much more hazardous than Thulimaya has been told. It belongs to a “family” of pesticides that was invented by nervegas engineers during World War II. Inhale or touch it and you’ll get dizzy at best and start vomiting and lose consciousness a worst. It’s a neuro toxin! Of course, if you take a lethal dose – well, then you’ll die a painful death, like the lab rats who have tried it. Dichlorvos is “carsinogenic” too – it causes cancer – and it can mess with your DNA. That’s why there is a campaign on to ban it in the US. Dichlorvos is already banned in the EU; and if you want to use it in Australia, you need a special permit. In fact, you must adhere to a list of strict safety rules. Here’s what a supplier says:
“There are some interesting restrictions to be aware of even though we no longer sell Dichlorvos: No hand held spraying is allowed. The insectigas can only be used through systems with pre-programmed time release. No spraying into air spaces. Ventilate premises for 30 minutes prior to re-entry. DO NOT re-enter treated facilities (other than glasshouses and similar plant production facilities) within four days of fumigation. If re-entry into a treated area is required prior to four days following treatment, workers must wear elbow-length PVC gloves, chemical resistant full-body clothing, full facepiece respirator with combined dust cartridge (canister).” Strict safety rules indeed!
Thulimaya is just one of thousands of farmers in Nepal who don’t take any of these precautions. She didn’t feel sick after spraying. But does that mean she’s in the clear? Unfortunately, as far as the many warnings about Dichlorvos on the Internet goes, probably not! One thing is the acute poisoning – your nerve system can get adversely affected in seconds – another thing is the sneaking, long-term effects. Cancer and genetic mutations in your body’s DNA are just some of them. Then there are long-term health hazards like mood swings, anxiety and depression and severe damage to your liver and other organs. What about your reproductive system? Well, it’s still a question mark. But whatever affects your DNA can mutate the genes of your offspring too!
Dichlorvos is on the verge of being completely banned in the Western world, but it remains widely sprayed in developing countries even though international organisations actually warn against it! Here is what one agency has put out: “Because of its high acute oral and dermal toxicity, its availability in developing countries is a cause for concern. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Bank, GTZ (Germany) and ODA (UK) generally discourage the local procurement of Dichlorvos. In general it can only be used by specially trained and certified applicators and should not be used by small farmers or untrained and unprotected workers in developing countries. Nevertheless research by the Pesticides Trust shows that dichlorvos is widely used in a number of countries where the conditions of use have raised concerns. Dichlorvos has caused poisonings in China, Costa Rica, Paraguay, India…”
…And Nepal? Well, we don’t know for sure. In either case, we’ll go back to Thulimaya and the other farmers in Panchkaal and ask them what they think. In fact, we’ll tell them that occassionally Diclorvos residue is found on fruits and veggies on the market after all! We’ll also tell them that honey bees are no fans of the pesticide either. Farmers need bees for pollinating their crops. But bees die at contact with Dichlorvos! That’s another reason why its being banned all over the western world. It’s also toxic to fish and other aquatic life: fish, crustaceans, and other animals in rivers and ponds are highly vulnerable to Dichlorvos. Earth worms suffer from it as well – which is bad for soil quality!
Thulimaya and all farmers of Nepal, at the very least: don’t open a bottle of Badal 76 without wearing mask and gloves! We know that many farmers are in a fix, long-since deprived of original Nepali seeds and now stuck with hybrids or GMO – seeds that just won’t yield well without the spray that comes along with it. But if spraying with Dichlorvos can damage the health of your family and everybody else in your community, is it worth it? In fact, what’s the future of agriculture if honey bees and earth worms are wiped out? Big questions and tough ones too. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg when you look at the bigger picture. Just check out Nepal’s official list of registered pesticides: Badal 76 is number 266 – listed as “hazardous” – out of 500! By coincidence, watching Thulimaya spraying, we began with that one.