Birds suffer ‘collateral damage’ as pesticide use booms in Kutch

Acres after acres of land, developed into fruit orchards of different kinds, break the wiry brown monotony of the Kutch landscape in Gujarat. This ‘transformation’ of the semi-arid land has been in the making for the last decade and has brought in much cheer to the farmer communities who have replaced their traditional crops with horticultural produce, thereby garnering a good margin of profit. What is almost going unnoticed, however, is the concurrent increase in the use of pesticides for these plantations that is affecting the local bird population, including the endangered Great Indian Bustard.

According to Falgun Modh, deputy director of the Gujarat horticulture department, in the period 2007-2017, the total fruit-growing area has increased from 59,000 acres to 100,000 acres in Kutch. “The total fruit production has trebled to 10 lakh (1 million) tonnes,” he said. With the government offering 70 percent subsidy on drip-irrigation that addresses the problems of water scarcity and saline groundwater, farmers are obviously happy at the profits garnered by making more space for fruit trees such as pomegranate, mango, papaya, even banana. While dates are a part of the local flora, there are more varieties introduced.

This growth in horticultural produce, however, has not spelt good news for the local bird population, according to Kutch-based ornithologist Jugal Tiwari. “The increase in the use of pesticides in fruit farms is depleting the overall insect and bug population, which is in turn affecting the bird population because that is their food source,” he said.  Kutch has nearly 375 species of birds, including raptors, waterfowl, waders and lark. It is also one of the last remaining abodes of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard (GIB). Most of these bird species are insectivorous.