This week saw a lot of talk on safe food, clean environment, pesticides and fertilisers emanating from two events — a conference on food safety and environmental toxins and the release of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) global report “Our Nutrient World”.
The conference — organised by New Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) — noted that bio-safety of pesticides was a serious issue for India. It called for policy level intervention to give regulatory powers to either the health or the environment ministries (not the agriculture ministry, which presently regulates).“There is a need to review all registered pesticides taking into account comparative risk assessment and deregister toxic and obsolete pesticides,” said Chandra Bhushan, head of CSE’s food safety programme, in a press release. Organic and non-pesticide farming has been showing encouraging results across the country and the government should encourage them, he noted.
The conference called for publication of an annual report on the status of pesticide contamination in the country.
The UNEP global Report “Our Nutrient World” co-authored by eminent Indian biotechnologist N. Raghuram took note of India’s constraints in phosphorous mining and urged for a mechanism to recycle human wastes for agriculture through innovative steps like urine-separating toilets.
Raghuram, also the Director of New Delhi-based South Asian Nitrogen Centre, said most of the phosphorous in India is mined from sedimentary rocks with the country accounting for only 0.19 per cent of the world’s resources. It is mostly low-grade phosphorous not suitable for fertilizer manufacture. That makes India heavily dependent on imports.
Also, large tracts of croplands in India suffer from physico-chemical and nutrient imbalances resulting in low efficiency of applied fertilizer phosphorous. An estimated 4-15 per cent of phosphorous consumed by livestock becomes available for human consumption in the end.
With a population of close to 1.3 billion, India is estimated to release between 0.38-1.02 Tg of phosphorous per annum. Raghuram says the country needs an effective mechanism to recycle human wastes to plough back this phosphorous into agriculture use. It would ensure two things, he says — capturing nutrients and returning them to the soil as well as improved sanitation in the developing world.