Pesticide use in the rice bowl of Kerala: health costs and policy options
This report examines pesticide use in Kuttanad, India, an economically sensitive area often referred to as the rice bowl of Kerala. Using primary data collected from pesticide applicators and farm labor, the report assesses short-term health costs associated with pesticide exposure. The report finds that the toxicity level and dose of pesticides can exert a significant effect on the health of pesticide applicators. The average expected health costs from pesticide exposure are Rs. 38 (US $ 0.86) per day or 24% approximately a quarter of the average daily earnings of the applicator. The report finds that health costs can be mitigated considerably by reducing the dose of pesticides used. For examples, a 25% reduction in either the dose of the most toxic chemical used, or in all pesticide doses, results in a 16% and 24% reduction in health costs respectively. A 24% reduction in costs can be realized if all pesticide doses are reduced by 25%. Dose reduction is a desirable and feasible strategy that can be achieved either by restricting the quantity of pesticide used or by diluting the amount sprayed with the recommended levels of water. Less than 2% of the applicators understood the toxicity levels of the pesticides they used. Thus, there is ample scope for reducing pesticide exposure through training and agricultural extension services.