A recent soil test has found concerning levels of chemical substances on 62 percent of the land in three upazilas of Pabna. The substances – toxic arsenic, phosphorus and zinc – are polluting the arable land and harvested crops.
This has put both public health and safe food production in grave danger in Pabna, which is known as the onion capital of Bangladesh.
Chief Scientific Officer of Pabna Soil Resource Development Institute Dr Faruk Hossen told The Business Standard that they tested several types of soil at Ishurdi, Sujanagar and Atghoria upazilas.
"Those chemical substances were found at an alarming level, which is polluting the soil and crops," said Dr Faruk.
Pabna Soil Resource Development Institute collected 386 soil samples from the upazilas. The samples showed that 90 percent arable land of the upazilas is gradually losing fertility.
"Almost 100 percent of the commercial land did not show sufficient levels of organisms. Besides, 50 percent of the land had low levels of organisms," Dr Faruk said.
Moreover, nutrients and other compounds including hydrogen, phosphorus, nitrogen and zinc were disproportionate in the samples.
Health expert Prof Dr Iftekhar Mahmud believes the toxic chemicals are entering into the human food chain and damaging public health. "Those chemicals are certainly contributing to numerous diseases, including high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiac illnesses and brain haemorrhage."
Azahar Ali, deputy director of Pabna DAE, said misuse and overuse of pesticides and insecticides are polluting the soil.
"Yield of crops are also being affected because of this," he commented and stressed on using fertilizer according to the soil type to boost safe food production.
One-third of the total onion supply comes from Pabna. According to Pabna agriculture office, the district has 1.86 lakh hectares of arable land with five types of soil.
Most farmers of the district including Sujanagar, Sathia, Chatmohar and Bera upazila are dependent on onion cultivation. The district also grows garlic, black cumin, paddy and jute.
Pabna Agricultural Research Institute Chief Scientific Officer Dr Robiul Alam observed farmers are either overusing or misusing fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides due to a lack of knowledge.
Comparing land to human bodies, he explained, "As overuse of antibiotics loses its effectiveness, overuse of fertilizer could permanently make the lands infertile."
Apart from onion, Pabna is one of the top vegetable growing districts of Bangladesh. The district is also well-known for its high quality lychees during summer.