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Sunday, 22 March 2015

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Dangerous development

Excessive use of chemical fertilizers contaminate groundwater in Jaffna :

Fast paced agricultural development in the Jaffna District is evolving into a serious health hazards because of the unchecked use of chemical fertilizers. Already there has been a marked increase in the number of kidney patients in the district, attributed to the water being contaminated with chemicals.


An agro-well contaminated with fertilizer
A red onion farmer cultivating his plot

Researcher in Charge of the Jaffna Agriculture Department, Thirunavukkarasu Karunainathan, confirmed to the Sunday Observer that the ground water has been contaminated in the areas where chemical and fertilizer use is high.

Karunainathan warned that high levels of nitrogen in the water could lead to high incidence of birth defects, especially blue babies. Even though nitrogen levels in the water is high in certain parts of the Jaffna District such births have not been reported in the district so far.

However, he said the use of contaminated water should be minimised.

He said his department conducts soil sampling from time to time in areas deemed as having high nitrogen deposits.

He also pointed out that people who live in these areas can get this service on subsidy basis from the Agriculture Department. "The farmers in these areas are also instructed to reduce the use of fertilizer containing nitrogen," he added.According Karunainathan, a high percentage of people in the Jaffna District depend on ground water for drinking. "Arrangements should be made to give them pure drinking water in the future."

Parallel to the contamination of water, an acute water shortage is also being felt in Northern peninsula.

The increase in incidents of kidney disease in the Jaffna District in the recent past has been attributed to the increase in agricultural activities and the resultant use of agrochemicals.

High incidents of kidney diseases have been recorded in the district, Karunainathan confirmed, pointing that the use of chemical fertilizer usage is increasing markedly because a large sketch of abandoned cultivable land has come under plough. The cultivation of hybrid items are also increasing, he said.

When asked about the problems of the Jaffna farmers, Karunainathan said the

Agriculture Department introduces various varieties of seeds including hybrid varieties for the farmers in the district every year.


A grape farm


A carrot farmer

The Agriculture Department conducts researches to help the grape farmers and solutions are found to problems faced by them, he said, explaining that the farmers are instructed by the Agriculture Development Officers from time to time on what kind of chemicals to be used for fungus infected grape plants.A grape farmer who experienced heavy losses during the last rainy season, said if the climate is favourable 10,000 kilos of grapes can be harvested per season, and added that fungus infection also severely affected the cultivation.


Sinnappu Sivanesan

Pointing out that maintenance cost exceeds production value, he said farmers are finding it difficult to settle the bank loans. "Around Rs 3,000 is spent to spray chemicals to 2,000 plants every four days," he said.

The farmer who did not wish to be identified also cultivates brinjal, string beans and other crops suitable to the area, in addition to grapes.For the past two to three years, the income from the cultivation was low, he said urging the relevant authorities to extend a helping hand to farmers in the District.

He also said farmers must be encouraged to use composed fertilizers in the cultivation process instead of agrochemicals, pointing out that this was one way to prevent the contamination of ground water.

Sinnappu Sivanesan, another farmer who had been cultivating red onion, tomato and grapes for the past five years and earns sufficient income from the cultivation, also believes the use of agrochemicals must be reduced.

"The relevant authorities should come forward to introduce environment friendly fertilizers. If such a mechanism was introduced health hazards caused to people by the use of chemicals can be prevented," Sivanesan said adding the Agriculture Department has recommended certain insecticides during high rain fall season. From time to time we clean the plants by spraying water.

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