Emerging health risks associated with modern agriculture practices: a comprehensive study in India

Environ Res. 2012 May;115:37-50. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2012.03.005. Epub 2012 Apr 4.

Abstract

In order to enhance food production, India has adopted modern agriculture practices and achieved noteworthy success. This achievement was essentially the result of a paradigm shift in agriculture that included high inputs of agrochemicals, water, and widespread practice of monoculture, as well as bureaucratic changes that promoted these changes. There are very few comprehensive analyses of potential adverse health outcomes that may be related to these changes. The objective of this study is to identify health risks associated with modern agricultural practices in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. This study aims to compare high-input and low-input agricultural practices and the consequences for health of people in these communities. The fieldwork was conducted from May to August, 2009 and included a survey carried out in six villages. Data were collected by in-depth personal interviews among 240 households and key informants, field observations, laboratory analyses, and data from secondary sources. The study identified four major visible impacts: occupational hazards, vector borne diseases, changing nutritional status, and inequity in development. In the high-input area, mechanization has resulted in more occurrences of serious accidents and injuries. Ecological changes due to rice cultivation in this area have further augmented mosquito breeding, and there has been a surge in the incidence of Japanese encephalitis and malaria. The traditional coarse cereals (complex carbohydrates, high protein) have been replaced by mill-polished rice (simple carbohydrate, low protein). The prevalence of overweight (BMI>25) has emerged as a new public health challenge, and this is most evident in large-landholding households, especially in the high-input agriculture areas. In all agro-ecological areas, it was observed that women faced a greater risk of both extremes of under-nutrition and being overweight. Output-driven and market-oriented modern agricultural practices have changed the ecology and disease pattern in this area in India, and our survey indicated significant health effects associated with these changes. There is a need for more extensive epidemiological studies in order to know the full impact on diseases and to understand the complex causal relationships.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India
  • Male
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Public Health / methods*
  • Rural Population
  • Water / chemistry*

Substances

  • Water