A reporter from Amar Ujala, the producers of the Hindi Daily newspaper, interviewed me last Saturday about my research plans and the Fulbright-Nehru grant. The article came out in the Sunday edition of the paper which has quite widespread circulation in Northern India. My Hindi lessons, so far, do not enable me to read it, so I can’t tell you exactly what the article contains, but friends here say it came out well. A very interesting result of this article was a visit by the Chief Forest Conservator of Kumaon to speak with me at the Wildlife Institute of India on Monday. He read the news article about my research and wanted to discuss with me a particular pesticide; he wishes to know if farmers are employing this pesticide widely. Part of the Forest Officers’ purview is to interdict tiger poachers in the forests of Kumaon. A current focus of investigation is a link between the deadliest carbamate crop pesticide and tiger poaching.
The pesticide in question is carbofuran, sold under a few different trade names, with the intended use for extermination of insects on potatoes, corn, soybeans and other crops. According to the Forest Conservator who spoke with me, the delivery mechanism for carbofuran is to sprinkle it on the soil. Plants absorb the pesticide through their roots where it travels to all organs. The chemical comes in the form of small grains of poison that appear similar to grains of rice. People interviewed by the Forest Officers during poaching investigations report that tigers are being poached using baits laced with carbofuran. It is easy enough to stick grains of the pesticide into a slit in a fresh carcass or hunk of meat. Two tablespoons of this chemical is a lethal dose for an adult male tiger weighing 200 kilograms and a tiger dies within 45 minutes of receiving that dosage. The pesticide is for sale in the marketplace of local towns for 70 rupees for 1 kilogram, that is about one dollar and 10 cents for an amount that could kill a significant quantity of large animals. There are also widespread reports of hunting of birds and fishing in the Kumaon region by using carbofuran.
Carbofuran has been banned for use in the European Union and Canada. In the USA, the EPA enacted a rule preventing its use on food crops, as of 2009, a defacto ban. In Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, as of 2010, one major manufacturer was forced to implement a buy-back of the chemical after lions were killed with chemical-laced baits. A major manufacturer of the pesticide vigorously refutes the allegations of widespread misuse of their product, but they also agreed to buy back all existing certified stocks in some African countries. That corporation is also engaged in lawsuits against the EPA in the US over the de facto ban.
Certainly, I will ask farmers about their usage of carbofuran as part of my documentation of which synthetic chemicals are being employed on non-organic farms in Uttarakhand. Carbofuran’s high toxicity and history of misuse elsewhere make it an appropriate focus for thorough inquiry in India. This pesticide has one of the highest acute toxicities to humans of any now in widespread use. The irony of all pesticide use is that the target organisms are the ones most capable of fighting back! Insect populations, due to their short generation times and great numbers of individuals, are usually able to evolve resistance to a particular pesticide after only a few weeks of exposure. Tigers cannot respond to this chemical in that way. It will be interesting to see how the ants are faring on the farms…