The Impact of Agricultural Practices on Environmental Health: A Comparative Analysis in India

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Sarkar, Atanu
Agriculture , Environmental Health , India , Sustainable development
There is growing evidence of multiple links between human health and the practice and products of agriculture through a complex set of factors including environmental change, exposure to a variety of natural and human-origin stressors, social position, changing behavior, occupation, and access to services. However, in policy initiatives, agriculture and health are often pursued in an unconnected manner. In India’s context, this has immense significance as nearly seventy percent of the total population is involved directly or indirectly with agriculture. The need to be aware of the health implications is therefore especially important. The objective of the study was to examine the changing agricultural scenario in India and the consequences for health. A survey was carried out in 2009, in six villages in Karnataka state, India. The data were collected by in-depth interviews, focus groups discussion, participant observation, laboratory tests (mercury and pesticide residues in rice, and nitrate and fluoride in groundwater) and secondary materials. India has undergone a rapid transformation in agriculture and has achieved remarkable success in food production. The nation has followed the strategies of the popular ‘Green Revolution’, including promotion of high yielding seeds, monoculture, extensive use of agrochemicals and large scale management of land and water resources. Modern agriculture has improved the socioeconomic and nutritional status of the population. However, the traditional coarse cereals and pulses have been replaced by mill-polished less nutritious rice. Extensive mechanization of agriculture activities has meant reduced physical stress, but fatal accidents and injuries have increased considerably. Along with already existing malnutrition, overweight/obesity has emerged as a new public health challenge. The changing landscape with much standing water and extensive use of nitrogen and phosphate fertilizer has augmented the mosquito population, resulting in greater incidence of vector borne diseases such as malaria and Japanese encephalitis. Agrochemicals, fertilizers and pesticides, are applied in excess and often in an irrational manner, without following any norms. Drinking water is contaminated with nitrate and fluoride. Rice samples contain pesticide residues and mercury.
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