Rice - IRRI High Yield Producing Countries in River Plain faceing Arsenic Contamination

Dhan Khet"Green and yellow my paddy sways its shoots tenderly
It calls me every day as I stand by the roadside.

Its stalks touching and kissing and parting in the breeze,
.. As if rows of parrots caught in the field
Like the tumeric yellow sari of the farmers bride,
Gold green sunlight sprays the field yellow.
As if a green sari has been sent here for print.
The farmer's girl from far away
Has left her golden footprints in its bosom."
Jasim Uddin

This was written sixty years ago when the nature was intact.Now happy rice field songs have disappeared!

"We shall plough no more the earth for rice
But to see how far it is to the graves."

It is surprising to see now that beautiful villages surrounded by green rice fields are poisoned by deadly arsenic.


  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Nepal- 0.5 million people in Terai living at risk of     arsenic poisoning
  • 3. Sri Lanka: Arsenic Kills Thousands While Health Ministry Slumbers
  • 4. Burma is under Arsenic Map
  • 5. Vietnam Drinking Water Contains Dangerous     Arsenic Levels
  • 6. WHAT IS IRRI?
  • 8. India’s ‘second green revolution
  • 9. Agrochemical in Bangladesh
  • 10. Alternative to harmful pesticidse
  • 1. Introduction

    As affected countriesBefore the beginning of the century there were 15 countries in the world that had arsenic contamination in water.Four countries,Bangladesh, West Bengal —India, China,and Taiwan, had populations that were suffering seriously. In fact, in the time span of only two years (2000 –2002) six more nations have found significant ground- water arsenic contamination.These are Cambodia, Lao People Democratic Republic, Pakistan, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Nepal.

    In order of severity of occurrence , this includes Bangladesh, West Bengal-India, Inner Mongolia, Xin-Xiang Provinces of P.R. China and Taiwan. In recent years, new arsenic groundwater contamination incidents are being reported from other Asian countries including new sites in China, Lao People Democratic Republic, Cambodia, Myanmar and Pakistan.

    In 1988 we only knew about 22 arsenic affected villages from 12 blocks/ police stations and at present more than 3285 villages from 85 blocks of 9 districts are arsenic affected. From our generated data, we estimated around 6.5 million people in West Bengal are at present drinking water contaminated with arsenic above 50 µg/l and 300000 people may have visible arsenical skin lesions. In our preliminary study, 95,000 persons from 7 affected districts of West Bengal were clinically examined. Of them, 10,000 (10.5% including 1.8% children) people had been registered with arsenical skin lesions.
    Till to date, we have analyzed around 28,000 hair, nail, skin-scale and urine samples for arsenic (50-60% samples from people with arsenical skin lesions) and on an average 85% of the samples contain arsenic above the normal level. Thus a large no. of population in arsenic affected villages may be sub-clinically affected. In our field studies over the last 17 years in West Bengal and 8 years in Bangladesh, we have observed skin manifestations in exposed children younger than 11 years of age only under conditions of extreme exposure coupled with malnutrition (S.E.S .Jadevpur University, India, 2004).

    Severe groundwater arsenic contamination has been reported from Vietnam where several million people consuming untreated groundwater may run a considerable risk of chronic arsenic poisoning. It has been reported that Kurdistan province of western Iran is also arsenic affected and people were drinking arsenic contaminated water and suffering from arsenicosis since 1984. Groundwater arsenic contamination has also been reported from the Terai area of Nepal during 2001. In 2003, we reported arsenic groundwater contamination in Bihar state of India in Middle Ganga Plain.
    Recently we have discovered arsenic groundwater contamination in Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand states in Gangatic plain of India. Combining the first report of groundwater arsenic contamination reported in 1976 from Chandigarh and a few villages of Punjab, Patiala in northern India of upper Ganga plain with Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal states of India and that of Bangladesh, it appears that a good portion of Ganga-Meghna-Brahmaputra (GMB) plain of an area 569749 km2 and population 449 million may be at risk from groundwater arsenic contamination (S.E.S .Jadevpur University, India, 2004).

    3 .Nepal- 0.5 million people in Terai living at risk of arsenic poisoning

    Agriculture is an important part of the Nepalese economy, with over 80% of the population being employed in the agricultural sector and 34% of the land given over to arable or permanent pasture. Around 42% of the land area is forested, although deforestation is widespread and resultant soil erosion has become a major environmental issue. Nepal has suffered from rapid population growth and increasing urbanisation, particularly in the Kathmandu Valley (Khadka, 1993). Industrial activity, much of it concentrated in the Kathmandu Valley, involves mainly processing of agricultural produce including jute, tobacco, sugar cane, rice, corn and wheat and production of textiles and carpets (CIA, 2000).

    Groundwater Availability

    Groundwater is abundant in the aquifers of the terai and the Kathmandu Valley. About 50% of the water used in the city of Kathmandu is derived from groundwater.
    In the Kathmandu Valley (area around 500 square kilometres), groundwater is abstracted from two main aquifers within the thick alluvial sediment sequence. A shallow unconfined aquifer occurs at around 0-10 m depth and a deep confined aquifer occurs at around 310-370 m (Khadka, 1993). Exploitation of these aquifers, especially the shallow aquifer, has increased rapidly in recent years as a result of the increasing urbanisation of the region.
    Shallow and deep aquifers are also present in the young alluvial sediments throughout most of the terai region (e.g. Jacobson, 1996). The shallow aquifer appears to be unconfined and well-developed in most areas.

    Shallow and deep aquifers are also present in the young alluvial sediments throughout most of the terai region (e.g. Jacobson, 1996). The shallow aquifer appears to be unconfined and well-developed in most areas.Shallow groundwaters are also at risk from contamination: pathogenic bacteria, pesticides, nitrate and industrial effluents (urban and peri-urban areas) are likely to be the greatest problems encountered

    Groundwater Quality

    About 47% of Nepal's total population is living in Terai region and 90% of them are relying on groundwater as their major source of drinking water.
    About 200,000 shallow tubewells have been installed by different agencies in 20 Terai districts, serving 11 million people. Recently, arsenic contamination of groundwater has been recognized as a public health problem in Nepal.
    This has sensitized government, national and international nongovernment organizations working on water quality sector to carry out water quality assessment for arsenic in the affected communities. So far, 15,000 tubewells has been tested where 23% samples exceeded World Health Organization guideline value of 10 µg/L and 5% exceeded “Nepal Interim Arsenic Guideline” of 50 µg/L. one tubewell in Rupandehi district showed up the highest dose – 2600 ppb where the WHO recommended limit is 10 ppb and Nepal’s own drinking water standard is 50 ppb Highest concentrations were found in groundwater from the active floodplain of the River Koshi. .
    It is estimated that around 0.5 million people in Terai are living at risk of arsenic poisoning (>50 µg/L). Some recent studies have reported the prevalence of dermatosis related to arsenicosis from 1.3 to 5.1% and the accumulation of arsenic in biological samples like hair and nail much higher than the acceptable level. Though some steps are being taken by government and private organizations to combat the problem, it has not been able to cover all the affected communities. Nepal still needs more research work on arsenic occurrence and effects and mitigation programs simultaneously.

    Few cases of health complications caused by arsenic have been reported from the village.The highest amount of arsenic was reported in the tube wells of Rampur VDC. Five people have been reportedly affected by arsenic-related diseases in Gedadi Guthi. Meanwhile, locals blame the district headquaters for failing to address the problem to the people beforehand. "If preventive measures are not carried out by the concerned officials, we will be forced to react", said Dagarya Yadav, the VDC Chairman of Gedadi.
    According to one of the affected victims, despite medicines and regular visits to health posts, his condition is deteriorating day by day. He says, "My knees are swollen and at the same time I am also suffering from skin irritation."
    Nearly 85 percent people of the district are dependent on the undergroundwater for drinking and other household purposes.Health officials remark that the chances of arsenic contamination in the district is higher as tubewells are erected to a depth of 45-60m, the depth prone to arsenic contamination (The Kathmundu Post; 2003).

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    3. Arsenic Kills Thousands While Health Ministry Slumbers

    sri lankaBBC (18 September 2012) describes : housands of people in the Asian island nation of Sri Lanka have been struck by a mysterious and deadly form of kidney disease. A new study points to a likely cause - pesticides and fertilisers.

    The new study blames farm chemicals, which are cheap in Sri Lanka, thanks to government subsidies, and often overused. Cadmium is found in some fertilisers. Arsenic is an active ingredient in some pesticides.

    Companies that import and sell pesticides and herbicides contest the government's conclusion. They point out that the government and WHO have not yet released their full study.

    "We believe the evidence is not scientific enough to say that the pesticide is the main reason for this chronic kidney disease," says Senarath Kiriwaththuduwage, research and development manager at Crop Life Sri Lanka, an industry trade association.

    Tucked away in Sri Lanka's North Central Province is the village of Halmillawetiya. A pebbled path connects small houses of brick and mud set among coconut palms and other tropical trees.

    In recent years a significant increase in number of patients of Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) has been observed in some parts of Sri Lanka, especially in the North Central Province.

    A case control study has been performed with the intention of determining the prevalence of clinical features of Chronic Arsenic Toxicity (CAT) among CKDu patients in Padavi Sripura divisional secretarial area in Trincomalee District, Sri Lanka.

    Clinical assessment were done in diagnosed CKDu patients (n=125) and non-CKDu persons (n=180) as the control group. Hair and urine samples collected from both CKDu patients and controls were analyzed for presence of arsenic using Atomic Absorption Spectrometry equipped with Hydride generator (HG-AAS).

    The results revealed that 68% of CKDu patients and 28% of the controls had urine arsenic levels above 21 µg/g creatinine, which is considered the point of threshold for manifestation of early renal changes that can be developed in to chronic kidney disease.

    Among the CKDu patients, 48% and 17.4% of the subjects in the control group have fulfilled the criteria to be diagnosed CAT, indicating the potential link between CAT and CKDu. Agrochemicals could be the possible source for this contamination of arsenic since no reported work is available to indicate the presence of arsenic in the bedrocks of Sri Lanka (The Stone Age lifestyle at Batadomba-lena ,Chronic Kidney Disease: Arsenic the culprit? Rohan Pethiyagoda DateSaturday, April 20, 2013 at 11:00AM ).

    Although the Health Ministry denies that the Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) slowly killing thousands in the North Central, Eastern, Wayamba, Ruhuna and Uva Provinces is due to pesticides and fertilisers containing arsenic being used for agriculture, studies now confirm that the use of fertilizer has contaminated the tanks and ground water in the area with Arsenic and Cadmium.

    The study has found that at least two persons die daily due to kidney failure, while over 200,000 patients suffer from CKD, while thousands more are at risk.

    Secretary of the Patriotic National Front Dr. Wasantha Bandara accused the registrar of pesticides of defending the pesticide and fertiliser importers and denying that there was any link between CKD, pesticides and fertilisers.

    “The registrar in spite of being aware of the high levels of arsenic and cadmium found in samples of fertilizer and pesticides used in the Raja Rata area, which was proved to be the cause of the increasing number of patients with CKD, blatantly denied the report findings. These officials are in the pockets of these multi-national companies that import huge amounts of fertiliser and pesticides to the country,” he said adding that studies carried out in the areas clearly confirms the link between the pesticides and fertilisers and CKD.

    However, according to Bandara the fertiliser and pesticides that are imported to the country do not contain high levels of arsenic.

    “Tests have been conducted on the various types of pesticides and fertilisers that confirm this.

    However when the samples of the same brand of pesticides and fertilisers that were distributed to various areas were tested individually, it was found that these samples contained arsenic and cadmium in extremely high doses. This proves beyond doubt that these pesticides once brought into the country are adulterated with arsenic to make additional profits. These samples clearly indicated that the amount of arsenic found in the adulterated pesticides and fertilisers were thousand times higher than when it was imported.”

    He accused the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) of maintaining silence in this issue while innocent people are dying of CKD due to arsenic poisoning. “The GMOA who strikes for the most trivial reasons has not spoken a word about the whole issue that is affecting thousands of people’s lives. Most people are afraid to address this issue as these are multinational companies and they all have benefits, or are anticipating benefits. Most of the higher-ups of the health sector are afraid to bring up this issue due to fear of losing their privileges, and are silently ignoring the catastrophe that is slowly killing our farmers,” he said. He pointed out that the authorities are hoodwinking the people by claiming to appoint committees to investigate the issue. “The president appointed a committee to investigate the arsenic issue, who in turn had appointed a subcommittee. However it is ironic that this sub committee comprised representatives of the very companies that import fertilisers and pesticides,” he added.

    Even Children As Young As 10 Affected

    CKD unidentified which has mainly affected the people of the North Central, Eastern province, Wayamba and Uva province, had been detected in these areas around 20 years ago, but it has spread progressively in the Ruhuna region as well and the situation has reached catastrophic proportions. Today, even children as young as 10 years have been found affected by the disease, while by the age of 40 they reach the critical conditions.

    Studies have found that in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Badulla districts around 15% of the total population (around 200,000) between the ages of 15 to 70 are suffering from CKD, while it is still rapidly spreading. According to Prof. Priyani Paranagama of the Kelaniya University, extensive research on this issue commenced in mid December 2010. “The danger of arsenic is that it has no smell, taste or colour, making it difficult for people to even know that they are consuming water and other substances contaminated with arsenic.”

    She added that she began her research at the Padaviya hospital where over 50% of the patients who had come for treatment had shown symptoms of arsenic poisoning. “The most distinct characteristic of chronic arsenic toxicity is the classical skin lesions including hyper pigmentation and kerotosis in the palms and soles of the patients. Even those who were found healthy in these affected areas were found to have doubled the amount of arsenic and cadmium in their urine samples, in comparison to people outside the affected areas. This increased levels of arsenic and cadmium not only puts them at risk of falling victim to CKD but there is also an increasing prevalence of cancer and diabetes with the biological gradient of arsenic, cadmium, mercury and uranium levels in drinking water,” she said.

    The study had also found that the majority of those diagnosed with CKD and are facing imminent death are males between the ages of 40 to 60 and they are the breadwinners of families. She added that in addition a large sum of money has to be spent on medication needed for the treatment of such patients. “Not only in the most vulnerable areas, the entire population of this country is believed to have higher levels of arsenic and cadmium in their bodies. We have also found higher than stipulated levels of arsenic and cadmium in vegetables, lotus yams, fresh water fish and tobacco. In addition vegetables were found to contain dangerous levels of led and mercury as well,” she added.

    According to the study it was revealed that the arsenic, cadmium and led levels in phosphate fertilisers for sale in the affected areas were higher than the fertiliser sold in non affected areas. “Therefore it has been clearly established that there is a direct link to the high rate of CKD, cancer, and diabetes with the fertilisers and pesticides being used in the Rajarata area. This is a bigger predicament than the 30 year long war that the people are facing today, as arsenic poisoning is slowly but surely killing our people,” she said.

    Urine and hair samples of people in these areas were used for the study, while body parts of those who had died due to CKD were also tested to gather information and confirm the link between fertilisers and pesticides, she said.

    The final report by the World Health Organization (WHO) titled Investigation and Evaluation of ‘Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Aetiology in Sri Lanka’ prepared for the Ministry of Health, which was released recently highlighted that Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Aetiology (CKDU) is being identified as slowly progressive, probably starting in the second decade of life, and asymptomatic until very advanced. The research scientists headed by Dr. Shanthi Mendis, Senior Advisor and Co-ordinator, Chronic Disease Prevention and Management, WHO in Switzerland and was supported by a group of reputed scientists concluded that there is a CKDU prevalence of 15.3% with a higher prevalence among females (16.8%) than males (13.3%) though more severe condition of CKDU were seen more frequently in males.

    The WHO permissible limit of Arsenic for drinking water is 0.01 mg/L and the FAO permissible limit of Arsenic for irrigation water is 0.10 µg/L. However in most of the water samples taken from the affected areas the detected level of arsenic was 20 – 100 ?g/L.

    North Central Province – ­­High Risk Region

    Meanwhile, in addition to the study conducted by the team from the Kelaniya University, a separate study has also been conducted by the Institute of Research of Indigenous Medicine.

    The research study covered high risk areas of the North Central Province.

    Speaking to The Sunday Leader Dr. Parakrama who was part of the team that conducted the research said that the group found most vulnerable to the disease is people who are between 45 to 69 years. He said that they had found that 87.8 % in Anuradhapura and 90% in Polonnaruwa had been those who had consumed water-based plants, freshwater fish and consumed either water from tanks or well water, which had recorded high levels of arsenic and cadmium. He added that 98.5% of the persons affected were farmers while only 11% of those with CKD were found to be persons not engaged in farming.

    He pointed out that due to the adverse effects of arsenic many countries had banned the use of pesticides and fertilisers containing arsenic. However he said that estimates indicated that more than 500,000 MT of arsenic containing pesticides were in stock at the time of it being banned. A previous study conducted by Dr. Channa Jayasumana revealed that 95% of patients complained of generalised body weakness, 91% headache, 84% burning eyes, 74% anaemia and 76% complained of nausea, while 55% showed mild to moderate hepatomegaly and spleinomegaly (Hepatomegaly is swelling of the liver beyond its normal size, while Splenomegaly is a larger-than-normal spleen.) and 63% had epigastric pain.

    According to Dr. Jayasumana’s study rice was found to be more susceptible to arsenic accumulation compared to other cereals. It was discovered that baseline levels of arsenic was 10 folds higher in rice than in other cereals. In a study conducted in 2010 by Tilak Abeysekera it was revealed that 90 – 260 micro g/kg of arsenic was found in rice.

    Meanwhile Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero of the JHU stated during a forum in Colombo recently that the authorities were reluctant to admit that these pesticides and fertilisers were the cause for CKD, due to financial gains.

    Highlighting one such incident he said “a container load of fertiliser that was imported was found to be containing high levels of arsenic by the customs. However although the customs seized this container for not conforming to stipulated standards, a directive was issued by the ministry of finance for the release of this container to its importer. The customs officer who made the detection had to leave the country for fear of losing his life,” he added.

    Ven. Rathana Thero accused the registrar of pesticides should be removed from his position for failing to implement the stipulated regulations, accusing him of being in the pocket of these pesticide and fertiliser companies. “He had the audacity to even mention in a program on a state radio station that arsenic was vital for the human body, which is such a foolish statement,” he charged.

    The Medical Health Officer (MOH) of the Kebithigollewa hospital told The Sunday Leader that they only do the follow-up treatment while the patients suspected of having CKD are sent to Anuradhapura for diagnosis. According to him, 63 patients diagnosed with CKD in the Kebithigollewa area were registered at his hospital while so far this year 21 patients have been diagnosed with CKD. “In total around 200 patients diagnosed with CKD in the Kebithigollewa area are receiving follow-up treatment. In most instances these patients have lost the function of both kidneys and are sure to die of the disease. Therefore it is pointless to perform transplants, or dialysis, and we generally only provide them follow-up treatment,” he said.

    CKD – Mysterious Disease

    He further added that having served in the area hospital for the past five years he has seen a rapid rise in the number of patients being diagnosed with CKD. However in spite of the numerous studies that have been conducted in these areas regarding CKD and the direct link to the use of pesticides and fertilisers, the health ministry still claims that there is no link between the two.

    Commenting on the issue the health ministry spokesman W.A.D. Wanninayake said that CKD still remains a mysterious disease, where the cause for it is yet unclear. “Even in Scandinavian countries over the past 15 years many CKD cases had been discovered. Using the information gathered from various areas that the disease is most prevalent, we drew up a map to study the pattern of the spread of the disease. From that information we gathered we found that even in vulnerable provinces, the disease was found only in certain areas,” he said pointing out that this disease could be due to the long term use of medication, consumption of alcohol and various other factors. However CKDU was only prevalent in certain areas.

    He said that although fertiliser is being used in many farming areas, the disease has been mostly widespread in just a few areas, adding that if the condition was due to the use of fertiliser, then the disease should have mainly affected areas such as Nuwara Eliya, - an area where the most amount of fertiliser is being used.

    He said however that people need to be educated on the proper safety measures to be adhered to when using pesticides. “In most instances farmers mix two to three different types of pesticides to enable easier spraying. The mixing of these pesticides could create adverse chemical reactions. Another observation was that since the fertiliser is given to the farmers free, they spray these fertilisers on their crops repeatedly with the hope of raking in a bumper harvest,” he pointed out. However while the health ministry attempts to put the blame on the farmers and safeguard the fertiliser and pesticide importers the WHO report is a clear indication that there is a link between the use of these chemicals and CKD. Hence, the Health Ministry should take up the matter seriously and set proper standards for the pesticides and fertilisers that are brought in to this country, to prevent the entire population of this country from suffering a slow and painful death due to CKD (The Sunday Leader, Sri Lanka, March 17, 2013 ).

    Arsenic in Sri Lanka

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    4. Burma is under Arsenic Map

    The Water Resources Utilization Department (WRUD) in the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation of Myanmar conducted arsenic testing in mid-1999. Samples drawn from Lower Myanmar showed traces of arsenic. A survey conducted by the Save the Children Fund, (UK) in Thabaung, Laymyethan and Hethada townships during March-May 2000 found that 35% of 125 sunken tubewells that were tested showed arsenic concentration in excess of 0.05 mg/L. Currently, the WRUD has conducted a thorough water quality monitoring programme in five selected townships, namely Magway, Sittway, Kawmu, Kyaungkone and Henthada. In these townships, localized random distribution arsenic concentration of varying magnitude was observed. The evidence so far reveals that sunken tubewells in delta and coastal areas are generally prone to arsenic contamination.

    4. Vietnam Drinking Water Contains Dangerous Arsenic Levels

    The occurrence of arsenic in drinking water sourced from groundwater is emerging as a problem in Vietnam, and other Mekong countries. In Bangladesh and West Bengal, arsenic has typically been found in tubewells at considerable depths. In Vietnam and other Mekong countries the arsenic occurs in both deep and shallow groundwater.

    River deltas with fine particles, deposited in Holocene and Pleistocene periods, are consideredpotential sources of arsenic. Besides, these are also the high agricultural production areas, wherechemical fertilizers, insecticides are widely appliedon the field, and where intensive industrial activitiesare undertaken. The arsenic content in phosphatefertilizer is about 2 ppm to 1,200 ppm; in nitratefertilizer, arsenic content is about 2 ppm to 120 ppm;in bio-organic fertilizer – arsenic is about 3 ppm to25 mg/l; in insecticide – arsenic is about 22 ppm to 60 ppm.

    Although no arsenic-related health problems have been reported there yet, more than 11 million people are potentially exposed to the tainted water, according to Michael Berg, a research team leader from the Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology and the Centre of Environmental Chemistry at the Hanoi University of Science. The report is the first scientific evidence identifying previously unknown and potentially hazardous arsenic levels in drinking water pulled from shallow wells in the country, he said

    The problem flows largely from "tubewells," which pull water from depths of between approximately 30 feet and 120 feet, according to the researchers. The wells, designed to provide safe drinking water by avoiding polluted surface waters, inadvertently tapped into arsenic-contaminated underground aquifers, Berg said.

    Measuring the ground (and, in this case, drinking) water in 69 wells over a nearly 500 square mile area in the Red River delta near Hanoi, researchers found average arsenic levels more than three times the nation's 50-microgram per liter health standard with peaks up to 3,000 micrograms per liter in groundwater. Nearly half of the well water samples contained arsenic levels above the standard and approximately 20 percent exceeded 150 micrograms per liter, he reported.
    Berg's group compares the arsenic levels in Vietnam with an area between India and Bangladesh where tainted groundwater contributed to what a World Health Organization report called the "largest poisoning of a population in history."

    "We would like to emphasize that the arsenic contamination levels in aquifers of Vietnam are of the same order of magnitude as in Bangladesh," he said. "In rural areas, the untreated groundwater is consumed directly as drinking water, hence several million totally unaware people are at immediate risk."

    The International Arsenic Conference at San Diego (July, 2002 ) brought out a new aspect of this debacle.

    For the first time the serious situation of Bihar (another state of India in Middle Ganga Plain), was confirmed. This new discovery reveals that a good portion of the Ganges Plain,with an area of about 530,831,may be contaminated with arsenic.This area has a population of about 450 million (including Bangladesh) (Chakroborti, 2003) Arsenic Conference at San Diego (July, 2002 ) brought out a new aspect of this debacle.

    For the first time the serious situation of Bihar (another state of India in Middle Ganga Plain), was confirmed. This new discovery reveals that a good portion of the Ganges Plain, with an area of about 530,831,may be contaminated with arsenic.This area has a population of about 450 million (including Bangladesh) (Chakroborti, 2003)

    Vietnam Pesticides

    In many provinces of Vietnam, a variety of rice paddies speckle the landscape. Terraced paddies in the mountainous areas and flat paddies in the flood plains, the history of rice in Asia extends more than 7000 years and is reflected in lifestyle and culture. An integral part of life in Vietnam, rice is the staple food as well as an economic activity. The "average Vietnamese eats three quarters of a pound of rice a day...[and] rice covers 75 percent of the country's cultivated land" ( Rice is the main crop for many Vietnamese and the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture (MAFI)is planning a multi-million dollar farm diversification program designed to protect the country from possible domestic food shortages.

    The introduction of hearty rice varieties in the late 1960's marked an emerging trend in rice production as short-duration, high yield crops were incorporated into Vietnam's rice fields. With the short duration rice varieties, farmers could now plant and harvest rice 2 or 3 times a year, thus increasing total annual rice output. After the new varieties were introduced, however, the dominant pest control strategy towards insect infestation continued to favor chemical insecticides (Settle, et al. 1996). The combination of high yielding varieties of rice, in addition to pesticide use, has transformed Vietnam from an importer of rice in 1989 to one of the top three exporters of rice in 1995 (Schwartz, 1995).

    According to official estimates, in 1995, Vietnam food grain production was close to 26.1 million tons, of which 24.7 million tons were rice ( With such a large percentage of Vietnam's production being rice, rice insects and pests are a considerable concern to Vietnam's farmers (

    To combat pests, farmers worldwide annually spend close to $2.4 billion in pesticides for rice fields, of which approximately 80 per cent is used in Asia (Science News, 1994). The annual amount spent on pesticides for rice surpasses pesticide purchases for any other crop (IRRI). Unlike the less toxic herbicide, pesticides are the most toxic pest-control method (IRRI).

    The unavoidable problem regarding pesticide use is the development of pesticide resistant insects. "More than 900 species of insects, weed and plant pathogens, for example, are now resistant to at least one pesticide-up from 182 in 1965. At least 17 insect species have shown some resistance to all major insecticide classes. A decade ago, there were only a dozen herbicide resistant weeds; today there are 84" (Gardner 1996). Continued use of pesticides will result in the development of stronger and more harmful agrochemicals.

    Millions of farmers in Asia view pesticides as a product with medicinal qualities that cure the ailments of their crops, and because of the misconception farmers have been applying pesticides indiscriminately (Ecology 1996). In a survey of rice farmers in Southeast Asia, 31 per cent viewed all insects as pests, and 80 per cent apply pesticides when they saw any type of pests. Additionally, although many of the farmers introduced pest resistant rice strains into their fields, their spraying levels continued to remain constant (Science News, 1994).

    The improper use and handling of agrochemicals has had an adverse impact on Vietnam's ecosystem as well as field laborers. Farmers who use pesticides and herbicides have higher reported incidences of rashes, eye irritation, gastrointestinal disorders and headaches. In an attempt to reduce herbicide and pesticide use, large-scale re-education programs integrating natural pest management are being promoted, but obstacles obstruct full implementation of natural weed and pest programs. Increased pressures to produce surplus rice for export has led to greater reliance on agrochemicals that maximize yield. The long-term effect of the pesticides and herbicides has far reaching consequences for the environment, the people and trade.

    Recent studies have shown unsafe storage, handling, application and disposal of pesticides increases the risk of incidental exposure and contamination of water canals and ducts. The side effects of pesticides on humans are also linked to bronchial asthma, eye irritation, and pulmonary disorders (Naylor, 1994). Furthermore, toxic chemicals used in rice paddies are often not confined to them. During heavy rains, rice fields often overflow paddy boundaries contaminating surrounding soil and water. In pesticide-free rice fields, certain types of fish and shrimp can usually be farmed with rice. However, because of the high level of toxicity of the pesticides, farmers are limited solely to rice and lose the capability to produce additional food for consumption or sale. Prolonged misuse of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers over the years has affected the development of inland fisheries including pond culture, "cage and pen rearing and brackish water culture".

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    5. WHAT IS IRRI?

    IRRIThe International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), based in Los Bańos, Philippines, is one of 16 international agricultural research centres sponsored by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. IRRI was founded in 1960 and focuses on one crop: rice. Rice is the staple food for over half the world's population and more than 90% of it is produced and consumed in Asia. Over the last 35 years, IRRI has concentrated on raising the grain yield of the rice plant through Mendelian breeding strategies, mainly for the irrigated lowlands. In 1966, IRRI released its first so-called "high-yielding variety", IR8, which the press dubbed "miracle rice". Yields increased considerably, so long as IR8 was grown with its costly associated package of artificial fertilisers, pesticides and timely irrigation. But IR8 was tasteless and highly susceptible to pests and diseases, so IRRI soon released IR20 and IR24. The widespread adoption and extensive planting of the miracle rices created a new problem: an explosion of brown planthoppers transmitting grassy stunt virus, which decimated huge parts of Asia's rice fields. In response, IRRI then came up with IR36, which proved more resistant in the field. To this day, no single variety of any crop has been planted more widely.

    Farmers became hooked on the new logic of super seeds plus heavy chemicals to get maximum grain yields, and although average rice yields doubled in Asia between 1960-1990, there were downsides. Soils have degraded tremendously under the relentless onslaught of recommended chemical fertilisers. IRRI still does not know why. For the same yield as ten years ago, farmers now have to use as much as five times more fertiliser. Since the miracle rice packages were sold on credit, many farmers are heavily - and increasingly - in debt. Has IRRI learned from these backlashes? Not really.

    IRRIUnder pressure from its Northern donors, the Institute is now trying to cut down on pesticide use, but chemical fertiliser remains a must. Its researchers are also looking more widely at ecological management approaches alongside the technological fixes IRRI is famous for. But IRRI is more fixated than ever on raising yields to feed the hungry through genetic improvement of the rice plant. But farming systems research and participatory science with farmers gets little more than lip service as IRRI, which remains as cut off as ever from farmers and local realities. At IRRI, the problem of hunger is a problem of cutting edge science and sophisticated technology, and the answer is: more rice. Anything else is for other people to do

    2. Potential Hazards from Transgenic Crops
    3. Third World communities fight the "Blue Revolution"
    4. Small is dangerous: the threat of nano-technology
    5. Arsenic in Groundwater Research and Rhetoric
    7. Questioning the success of the Green Revolution

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    super irriIRRI's new rice has been christened "Super Rice" because it is predicted to increase rice yields by 25-50%. It is supposed to produce 15 metric tonnes per hectare. Targeted to hit farmers' fields in the irrigated lowlands by the turn of the 21st Century, the 15-tonner is planned to single-handedly bring about a second Green Revolution. For IRRI's supporters, it's the long-awaited miracle: populations are increasing rapidly and aid agencies are growing restless for a solution from the benevolent world of science. For IRRI's detractors, it's a super nightmare. Agricultural sustainability is already a problem at much lower yield levels and the urgent problem is not production but access to food.

    According to IRRI, 15-tonne rice will provide a 25% yield increase to feed growing populations on the same or less land, even if farmers "only" get 10 or 12 tonnes under real life conditions. It will do so, we're promised, without demanding greater amounts of chemical fertiliser. In addition, says IRRI's principal plant breeder Dr. Gurdev Khush, the hands-on creator of this second miracle rice, "The farmers who plant it won't have to use pesticides." In fact, Khush says, IRRI is conducting research "that will make the plant produce its own her bicide," presumably through genetic engineering. Expectations are high: some US$ 2.5 million has been spent on developing the Super rice.
    Beneath the hype, IRRI's 15-tonne rice is a transparent manifestation of the deep-set scientific biases and philosophical foundations of this powerful institution. This is likely to lead to trouble.

    Super simplified problems

    The problem IRRI sees is feeding more mouths, full stop. The way it chooses to address it is by extracting more grain from the rice plant more efficiently. That is the basis of the 15-tonne rice. As such, some people dismiss it as a top-down, technological approach to the complex structural inequities that underlie poverty and hunger in the first place. Farmers wonder why IRRI is racing after skyscraping yield frontiers without first adequately addressing existing problems. The 15-tonner begs all of us to believe that the problem is one of supply and that higher rice yields is the solution. Political issues are ignored, as IRRI reassures itself that it as a scientific institution, politics are comfortably beyond its mandate. This thinking is a resounding echo of the 1950s rationale that brought IRRI into being: fill bellies to stave off communism and create solvent markets for transnational capital. And, with IRRI's past record, we may be here forever, as it continues to claim to fight poverty with technology.

    To feed the world, IRRI is redesigning the entire rice plant through a genetic overhaul. It has not done this in thirty years since the first super rice, IR8. The effect is visually spectacular, but the science behind it quite simple.

    Before IRRI, rice was a source-limited plant. The leaves (= source) of the older varieties did not convert sunlight into filled grains very efficiently. So IRRI radically changed the architecture of the rice plant by shortening the stem and making the leaves stiff and erect. And it designed a package of practices to exploit that source to its maximum. Now the sink has become the problem — that is, where all the source energy ends up. Today's rice plants are on a non-stop binge: they take in too much for their structures to store as grain. So 30 years on, IRRI is creating rice plants which produce more and denser grains. In a sense, the source became overwhelming, causing the sink to overflow. So now they are building a bigger sink

    The onus of reaching IRRI's 15-tonne yield frontier will fall squarely on the irrigated lowlands, the target of the first Green Revolution. Conveniently, IRRI chooses to ignore that fact that farmers there don't reap the yields IRRI gets on its experimental farm. While IRRI reaps 10-12 t/ha with its best rices today, farmers get 6-8 tonnes under "optimum" conditions or 4-5 under normal ones. The gap, IRRI claims, is due to non-adoption of technology. Which doesn't mean farmers don't spray enough or apply enough fertiliser. It means they do it "inefficiently". IRRI's new technology is somehow supposed to resolve this problem

    Simplified solutions

    For IRRI, increasing production becomes a matter of delivering better seeds over and above improving farming systems (much less changing farm policies). This is IRRI's comparative advantage and stumbling block. As an international research agency, it thinks it has to isolate production constraints from complex socio-ecological environment and propose a few generic technologies. IRRI emphasises breeding as the route to high yields of rice. This is an ideological choice. For example, research conducted at IRRI shows that the main factor controlling tillering ability in rice — which is key to supporting the heavy grain heads — is spacing between plants. This is a form of cultural management. But IRRI inaccurately translates it into a problem of genetics because breeding is what IRRI does best.

    First scientists got the genes in the right place for their 15-tonne yield target, but the plant fell prey to every bug and disease around. So then they introduced some genes to ward off insects, but the short, round grains turned consumers off as well. Next came a few changes in grain quality, which made the plant top-heavy, so now they are lowering the canopy with hormones. And so on. Once they have stopped tinkering with the plant itself, they may search for a super farmer to grow it!

    Costs and benefits

    If the 15-tonne Super Rice sounds like "more of the same", that is because it could be. And it could be much more damaging than the rice that created IRRI's — not to mention Southeast Asia's — sustainability problem in the first place. It prompts three glaring questions:

    At what cost?

    The biggest controversy is whether soils can support 15-tonne rice. To achieve current yield levels of 4-6 t/ha, farmers are applying an unprecedented 120 kg of nitrogen per hectare. Even at that level, yields have stagnated and are even declining in some areas. IRRI does not know why, but it is probably due to a lack of micronutrients. If you want to get 10 t/ha, like on IRRI's experimental farm, the rice plants need 200 kg of nitrogen. Even if IRRI manages to improve the efficiency with which rice plants absorb nitrogen from fertiliser (at present only 30-50% ends up in the plant), the 15 tonner would need between 240 and 400 kg of nitrogen per hectare. This is double or triple current soil doping rates! How will soils cope? How will farmers afford it?

    Another controversy is pest management strategies. IRRI's aim is to engineer "durable" resistance in the rice and do away with pesticides. Such a result would be welcome but is unlikely. Genetic engineering simply cannot provide long-term resistance, because pests will always mutate to overcome the resistance.Farmers would still be dependent on breeders and chemicals. It is not by accident that IRRI has recently renewed its long-silenced collaborative activities with major pesticide manufacturers like Ciba-Geigy.

    The pest and disease problem is not just caused by pathogens adapting to the narrow genetic base of modern cultivars. IRRI's data clearly show that all of the current problems of rice cultivation (sheath blight, red stripe, stem borer, tungro, nematodes, brown planthopper and so on) have either been induced or directly exacerbated by chemical fertilisers and intensive cropping patterns — which IRRI has not-so-inadvertently promoted. Given that 15 tonne yields are impossible without unabated nitrogen pumping, it seems likely that Super Rice will actually create Super Pests.

    In addition, the 15-tonner will be sown directly into the soil rather than transplanted. Direct-seeded rice is already linked to dramatic increases in herbicide use in Southeast Asia, because it makes mechanical weeding difficult. Besides, herbicides are cheaper than labour in the short-term. IRRI's new plant type could exacerbate this trend and make governments the peons of transnational corporations seeking greater agrochemical sales at the expense of more sustainable practices

    Who will benefit?

    Little analysis has been made of the social impacts of the impending 15-tonne rice deluge. The Super Rice plant is aimed at irrigated farms, which represent 40% of Southeast Asia's ricelands in area, 75% of grain output and represent the higher echelons of agricultural income. These are the "better off" farmers, though their intensively cropped lands may be worse off in the long term. The technology is being built for this clientele and will probably enhance their status relative to poorer farmer. IRRI is also developing other radical technologies for the uplands, rainfed lowlands and flood prone rice ecosystems

    The environmental stress caused by a continued and increasing focus on chemical farming will affect the lands of all farmers, and poorer farmers will have fewer recourses to address the problems that ensue (Grain, October 1996)..

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    7. India’s ‘second green revolution

    India’s ‘second green revolution’

    Suman Sahai argues that India’s new agricultural biotechnology deal with the United States will take power away from farmers and endanger a rich genetic heritage.

    When US president George W. Bush visited India in March, he announced the coming of a ‘Second Green Revolution’. This was a reference to India’s 1970s Green Revolution, a publicly funded push to improve food production. But the comparison simply does not hold up. The two are radically different. The proposed ‘revolution’ is a joint US-India initiative aimed at promoting agricultural biotechnology and the interests of private corporations. It has been cleverly packaged under the name of an agro-economic phenomenon still held in esteem by India’s political leadership. The first Green Revolution produced technologies that belonged to the people. Improved crop varieties were bred with public money to fulfil a public need — increasing food production — and create public goods to which everyone had access.

    There were no intellectual property rights or patents. If anyone ‘owned’ the Green Revolution, it was the farmer. They chose where to plant the seeds produced by public research institutions. So despite some faults such as increasing soil salinity and water logging, the Green Revolution addressed farmers’ needs, and India’s food production began to rise. By contrast, the Second Green Revolution initiative centres on privately owned technologies — genetically modified (GM) plants. Six multinationals — BASF Plant Science, Bayer CropScience, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta — control almost all research in this field, and their products and research methods are shackled in patents.

    The technology creates private goods that can only be accessed at significant cost: a bag of ‘Bt’ GM cotton seeds produced by the Monsanto-Mahyco joint venture, costs 1,850 rupees (US$41) in India, compared to US$6.60-8.80 for superior local varieties.

    The seeds belong to the company, which strictly controls their movement. ‘Terminator’ seeds, which produce sterile adult plants, would further reduce farmers to being even more helpless consumers — not partners, as they were during the Green Revolution. Back then, scientists bred high-yield varieties in research stations and worked with farmers to produce enough high quality seeds for widespread distribution.

    Over the past two decades, GM technology has failed to produce a crop variety with any direct impact on hunger and nutritional needs. The Green Revolution in India, on the other hand, produced the country’s first dwarf, high-yielding, wheat varieties within a few years. High-yielding rice followed, and India has been able to maintain a surplus stock of grain ever since. The Green Revolution was an open, transparent, collaborative effort. But the contours of this newer revolution — formally called the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agricultural Research and Education — have been kept so secret that neither senior Indian politicians nor the scientific community know its details.

    Yet the initiative’s board will set the agenda for collaborative farm research with Indian laboratories and agricultural universities. Two board members, Wal-Mart — the world’s largest retailer — and Monsanto, have according to sources within the companies, indicated that they propose using their position to enter into retailing in agriculture and agricultural trade in India. Currently, farmers can sell their produce at special markets set up by the government but a retail giant such as Wal-Mart would be able to sell food for much lower prices, and so threaten the farmers’ livelihoods.

    Gene bank break-in?

    What is known about the new Indo-US deal is that it will focus on developing agricultural biotechnology, accessing biological resources in Indian gene banks, and discussing India’s intellectual property rights regime — all of which are of crucial interest to the United States. To develop the GM crops (and fish and livestock) that will dominate the collaborative research, the US bioscience corporations involved want access to the rich biodiversity in Indian gene banks, research stations and university collections.

    Such corporations know that high-quality local varieties are vital for the success of GM varieties. The failure of Mahyco-Monsanto’s Bt cotton will have taught them this important lesson: the cotton varieties that the companies used to make Bt cotton were at best modest performers that failed to compete well with other varieties. The results were crop failure and severe losses to farmers. But many in India are uneasy about providing the United States with access to its genetic resources. Will, for example, the requirements of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which the United States has not ratified, be met?

    Unless the CBD terms are met, India cannot allow US corporations access to its genetic wealth. US failure to meet the CBD provisions would leave India in default of its own convention commitments and violate the provisions of its national law, the Biological Diversity Act. As for India’s intellectual property regime, the new initiative’s board has discussed rights to products that the planned research programmes will develop. Many fear that this means that India’s Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act — the only law in the world granting legal rights specifically to farmers — could come under threat from US pressure.

    Along with multinationals such as Monsanto, the United States has been lobbying for a change in India’s intellectual property laws to introduce patents on seeds and genes, and dilute the provisions protecting farmers’ rights. A combination of physical access to India’s gene banks and a possible new intellectual property law that allows seed patents will in essence deliver India’s genetic wealth into US hands. This would be a severe blow to India’s food security and self-sufficiency.

    And this is not all. The US negotiators have asked for restrictions on imports of US farm products into India to be removed. This amounts to asking for the right to export GM crops and foods to India. India must avoid becoming the dumping ground for controversial products that have been rejected in many parts of the world because of questions about their safety and usefulness. Suman Sahai is director of Gene Campaign, an Indian research and advocacy organisation,(SciDev.Net Source: New Age, August 09, 2006)

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    8 Agrochemical in Bangladesh

    The main suspected sources of agricultural runoff pollution are from the use of fertilizers and agrochemicals, including herbicides and pesticides. Urea, Triple Super Phosphate (TSP), Muriate of Potash (MP) and Gypsum are the major chemical fertilizers used in Bangladesh. The total amount of fertilizers used annually is about 2 million tons.With the increase of irrigated areas and cultivation of HYV rice, there was an increase of about 20 per cent fertilizer use in 1990. But the present growth in use has decreased and fluctuates from plus minus 5 to 10 per cent. In 1995, the use of nitrogenous fertilizer accounted for about 88 per cent of the total fertilizer use, which was about 67 per cent in 1991. The share of the market held by domestic production of Urea, TSP and Gypsum is currently about 90 per cent (BBS, 1979, 1985, 1990, 1994, 1998).

    The use of chemical fertilizers is directly linked to farming in irrigated lands. Three types of fertilizers such as Urea, Triple Supper Phosphate (TSP) and Muriate of Potash (MP) and four types of pesticides are commonly use in Bangladesh, which are insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and rodenticides. Figure 3.1.1 presents trends of irrigated land and use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides from 1991 to 1995. In 1991, the use of nitrogenous fertilizer alone accounted for about 67 per cent of the total fertilizer use, which rose to 88 per cent in 1995. Although there was no significant increase of total chemical fertilizer application. However, significant increase has been observed in use of pesticides, which has serious implication to quality of land and ecosystem. vegetative cover from this withdrawal of biomass

    Pesticide use was introduced in Bangladesh in 1957. Since 1981, the area covered by plant protection measures has actually decreased, though the trends have been erratic. Insecticide is commonly used for pest control, which accounts for about 90 per cent of the total consumed pesticide (BBS, 1985, 1998).

    At present on an average of 12-15 thousand tons of pesticides is used every year. Insecticide accounts for about 90 per cent of the total consumed pesticide, and is used most for cultivating vegetables and Rabi crops (BBS, 1984 and 1998).Research findings show that pesticides applied at the rate of about one kilogram per hectare contaminates the topsoil to a depth of about 30 cm. The pesticides not only destroy harmful insects, but also destroy useful topsoil microbes, which eventually reduce the biological nutrient replenishment of the soil.

    The Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) has developed a 'Super High Yielding Variety (S-HYV)' of rice with a growth potential of 12 to 14 metric tons per hectare, BRRI Director General Dr Nurul Islam Bhuiyan announced yesterday. He said the new variety, developed through hybridisation of a HYV with a foreign variety, would be in the hands of farmers after two to three seasons of field trials. This thick and sturdy Super HYV has no lodging problem and each panicle holds more grains than any HYV (The Daily Star 29.05.01).
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    9. Alternative to harmful pesticidse

    "To the best of my knowledge, no plant material with greater activity against abroader spectrum of pest insect species, has yet been found." Dr Martin Jacobson of United States Dept. of Agriculture -Agricultural Research Center in Beltsiville, Madison, USA.

    Neem plants, as do all other plants, contain several thousands of chemical constituents.Of special interest are the terpenoids are known from different parts of the neem plant. Of its biological constituents the most active and well studied compound is Azadirachtin. However, in most traditional preparations of neem as pesticide or medicine a mixture of neem chemicals are present and provide the active principles.

    Neem Azadirachta indica The Wonder Plant

    Farmers in Sikandarpur village in Jessore are being doubly benefited. They are earning more money by producing vegetables at lesser costs while protecting the environment also. They use Ferromon Trap, a simple device innovated by Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), to kill insects instead of applying insecticides, harmful for the environment. Dr Nurul Alam, co-ordinator of BARI's Entomology Department, supervises of the great efforts of the farmers.

    According to FAO (UN Food and Agricultural Organisation), Jessore was one of the three regions in Bangladesh where pesticides were used excessively earlier. Pesticides were used in brinjal fields up to 80 times in a season, according to officials of Bagherpara upazila Agriculture Extension Department (AED). But the scene is different now. They do not use pesticide. "It is a revolution", said Mohammad Alauddin, a Block Supervisor of AED while talking to this correspondent last week.

    "This (use of Ferromon Trap) increases yield as the trap also kills pesticide-resistant insects," Alauddin said. The tool is very much user-friendly and involves virtually no cost compared to that for pesticide. The trap is made with a plastic pot. A medicine named 'Sex-Ferromon' is kept inside it.

    "The smell of the medicine attracts pests and insects. They fly into it and die within seconds," said Laxman Chandra, president of Krishi Prajukti Bastabayan Kendra (KPBK), a centre for application of agriculture technology. Union Parishad member and farmer Anisul Islam said pesticides worth at least Tk 400 were needed to control pest attack on brinjals on one bigha land, he said. Farmers are now saving the amount. BARI distributed one thousand Ferromon Traps this year among brinjal cultivators free of cost to popularise the unique method. KPBK members said the method is being used on all vegetable fields at Sikandarpur village (Daily Star, May 29, 2004).

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    Last Modified: June 12, 2013)