January 27, 2017
Declining farm yields and incomes are not the only problems the distressed farmers in Coimbatore are facing. After slogging in the fields, using chemical fertilizers and pesticide for a long duration, they are also turning impotent.
This alarming phenomenon was detected by a study conducted by city based Andrology Centre and Womens Centre that examined 155 farmers over a period of time and found that they had suffered DNA fragmentation (DNA damage) in the sperm due to exposure to chemical fertilizers. This has rendered them infertile – or become unable to father children.
The centre has worked with the farmers for the past three years and found that there was an increase in the number of farmers who suffered damaged DNA in the sperm. As compared to persons from other occupations like IT, where the DNA fragmentations stood at 16 per cent to 20 per cent, it was as high as 78 per cent when it came to the farming community
The Centres had in a span of three years evaluated 115 farmers and the evaluation showed an increase in the number of farmers who come with damaged DNA in the sperm. In comparison to an occupation like IT where the DNA fragmentation stood at 16 per cent to 20 percent, in the case of a farmer (in one particular case) was as high as 78 per cent.
The reason, according to doctors at the centre, was not far to seek.
Sixty six per cent of the farmers use chemical fertilizers/ pesticides, working the fields for long hours and often without safety masks or gloves. They inhaled ammonium based chemicals that affect fertility in men. Those patients under evaluation were using pesticides and chemical fertilizers for over a decade now.
Several of them came to the clinic for consultations when they hit 40 years of age after their wives were unable to conceive. In most cases, it was a case of primary infertility – they did not father even a single child.
“This indicates that the awareness levels were very low. The older the farmer is, the longer the use of fertilizers and higher the DNA damage”, noted Dr Shah Dupesh, Lead Consultant, Male Fertility and Sexual Health, Womens Centre.
“Of the 115 farmers who were evaluated, 20 per cent had sperm DNA damage of less than 15 per cent, which was hindering the process of fathering a child normally. Usually the female egg or oozyte is capable of repairing the damaged DNA upon fusion, provided the damage to the DNA is less than 20 per cent,” Dr Dupesh said.
The evaluations also showed that 43 per cent of the 115 farmers had DNA damage of over 25 per cent and 37 per cent of them had DNA in their sperms damaged in the range of 15 per cent to 25 per cent. While most of these farmers faced fertility issues, screening of their spouses indicated that a few of them had fallopian tube infections and blockage.
These farmers had to then undergo the Intra Uterine Insemination (IUI) procedure wherein the good sperms are isolated. If IUI fails, the farmers underwent IVF – ICSI procedure where the least damaged sperm is isolated and injected into the egg directly.
According to the WHO, the normal sperm count to father a child is 15million/ml. As per this study, 21 per cent of the 115 farmers had a concentration of less than 6 million/ml on an average and their DNA fragmentation (DNA damage) index was over 30 per cent. These farmers used fertilizers for a span of three months to six months in a year and some used it throughout the year for different crop produce, Dr Shah pointed out.
An increase in infertility among farmers only highlights the importance of dumping chemical fertilizers and shifting to organic farming. The study has brought to light the inevitable link between the use of fertilizers and pesticides and its impact on male fertility affecting the DNA integrity in the sperm and many a time, the very sperm count.
Marudamuthu . M (name changed) from Sirmugai, 40 kms from Coimbatore, was 43 years when he sought clinical intervention for not being able to become a father.
He hailed from a family of farmers and cultivated millets and sorghum in his 4 acre land.