It is time we changed our perspective on agricultural practices, say experts at a symposium on the aftermath of the Green Revolution

Some decades ago, Punjab was feted as the food bowl of the country, where wheat, sugarcane and paddy grew in lush, fertilizer-rich farms. Today, the State stands as an example of what has gone wrong with the Green Revolution. “From a State of five rivers, activists say it has become be-aab (without any rivers). The groundwater levels have reached an alarming stage,” says Kavitha Kuruganti, convenor, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA).

“When a house is in flames, you will use any water, even sewage, to douse the flames. That’s how fertilisers came in when we faced food shortage. But, now we have enough stock of grains. Why do we continue to poison our fields?” asks organic farmer Madhu Ramakrishnan.

“You eat cornflakes thinking you’re doing your body a lot of good. Have you paused to wonder if the corn has been imported from the U.S. or Argentina? Most of that corn is genetically modified,” said R. Selvam, coordinator of the Tamil Nadu Organic Farmers Federation speaking about Genetically-Modified (GM) crops.

All three speakers, along with organic pioneer G. Nammalvar, president Vanagam, were present at a recent symposium organised by the Department of Geography, Nirmala College for Women, to commemorate the golden jubilee of Rachel Carson’s, Silent Spring. The book raised concerns about pesticides and environmental pollution.

The Green Revolution, initiated by Dr. Norman Borlaug, introduced high-yielding seeds and promoted fertiliser use to increase production. This resulted in farmers moving away from multi-cropping where they raised millets, cereals, pulses and vegetables to single-crop agriculture. Today, statistics show that the land suffered, pesticides triggered health issues and many debt-ridden farmers committed suicide.

Enjoy Nature

Madhu, who has been an organic farmer for 15 years, said the time is ripe to look at farming from a different perspective. Besides focussing only on harvest and growth, we should also learn to enjoy what Nature gives us voluntarily, he said. “Sadly, many farmers today don’t know farming.”

R. Selvam spoke about farmer suicides, failing crops, dependence on MNCs and the destruction of native seeds. Giving examples from the country and abroad, he said farmers must unite and stay firm on their decision to reject GM seeds.

“Did you know genes can jump crops?” he asked. The GM seeds of one company are tweaked to resist a group of weeds. But, if the genes from the crop jump to the weed, the weed becomes resistant to the recommended herbicide. In such cases, farmers have to use herbicide manufactured by a second company to tackle the problem. Ironically, the first company gives them a subsidy for the same. We’re back where we began,” he said.

Kavitha presented statistics to narrate the ill effects of the Green Revolution. She also spoke of suicides (250,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1995), the growing incidence of cancer among farmers and the average monthly income for farmers in Punjab that is just Rs. 4,960. She said how tested blood samples revealed the presence of six to 13 different pesticides.

She added, “By viewing the farm as a factory with inputs and outputs, we have done away with agriculture that was integrated with Nature.” She explained how gynaecologists found that in many villages of Punjab, an increasing number of women have had spontaneous abortions in the past 10 years.

Sustainable farming

Kavitha said it is time we shifted to a more sustainable agriculture — where millets are cultivated, stored and distributed locally. It is vital to speak to the youth, she said, because even if five per cent of them developed interest in this kind of farming, it would make a world of difference, at least in the next generation.

“We have produced more and perished,” she said. In Punjab, in the Malwa belt, kids have turned grey and girls reach menarche at the age of eight,” she pointed out.

What is agriculture?

Agriculture, she said, should serve many purposes, including issues such as farmers’ income, protection of resources and diversity, quality and safety of food. “It should be farming, where the focus is not productivity. And, agriculture that gives farmers a sense of confidence and social status.”

Book of Change

Silent Spring Written by Rachel Louise Carson, an American marine biologist and conservationist, this book triggered concerns about pesticides and environmental pollution. The book is said to have facilitated the ban on the pesticide DDT in the U.S.

It is said that she was prompted to write the book following a letter written by her friend Olga Owens Huckins describing the death of birds around her property after DDT was sprayed aerially. The title is meant to make you think of a spring season without birdsong.

(Source: The Internet)