Today’s episode basically dealt with the harmful and long-term effects of pesticides. Pesticides became part of our nation’s staple during the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution refers to phase when the country’s crop production increased exponentially with increased use of fertilisers and irrigation. Genetically modified crops were introduced in 1963 by Dr Norman Borlaug. However the flipside of such a high yield has been the harmful effects that pesticides and fertilizers cause to everything associated – humans, flora, fauna and the environment in general.
Harmful effects of pesticide
Dr Rashmi Sanghi, who has done a lot of research in this field, found that the pesticide levels in breast milk samples were 400-800% higher than allowed levels. The show then visited a district in Kerala called Kasargod which had been sprayed with 22 lakh tonnes of endosulphan between 1976 and 2000.
Dr Mohan Kumar recounted his tale of working in Kasargod. He noticed that an abnormally large number of people suffered from chronic illnesses from a long time. He said that about 5000 people must have been affected. Children suffered from grievous malformations, cancers, deformities, etc. He said that since the spraying stopped the number of cases have gone down.
The show then visited various areas in the country to show how rampant the use of pesticides. Farmers actually refused to eat their own yields and would grow separate crops for themselves.
Kavitha Kurugganti of the Alliance for Sustainable Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) said that the blame didn’t lie with farmers alone but the policy-makers. She said that 67 pesticides that were banned in other countries that were still used in India. She said that the pesticides sprayed only 1% reaches its intended target and the rest 99% remains the environment.
Dr S G Kabra pointed out that pesticides caused the destruction of folic acid especially during pregnancy leads to stunted growth, mental diseases, etc. in unborn children.
The talk then turned to the Green Revolution. Would the revolution have been possible without pesticides? Dr Vandana Shiva believed that the because of the pesticides, India has to import more crops because they ruin the symbiotic relationship between the soil and plants.
Not really harmful?
Mr Rajju Shroff, CMD United Phosphorus Ltd one of India’s biggest pesticide producers argued that without pesticides the country’s yield would go down. He added that the cases in Punjab had nothing to do with pesticides and also laughed off the suggestion that farmers don’t eat their own food. He added that pesticides helped thousands of farmers earn their livelihood and produce enough crops. Mr Shroff also pointed out that only about 1% of the entire food produced in the world was ‘organic’ and rest did need pesticides. Scarily there are no rules and regulations to check pesticide use in the country.
The show highlighted the efforts of the Sikkim government which is committed to organic farming. Sikkim’s CM Pawan Kumar Chamling said that they were planning to go organic by 2015 knowing full well the long term benefits of the process. The government has banned all chemicals and fertilizers and started educating farmers about organic farming.
The show then discussed how to get pesticides out of groceries. Soaking with water, rinsing and leeching, washing in brine, all help reduce chemicals.
Long term solutions
The long term solution however is the implementation of a policy that will subsidise organic farmers. There are organic outlets but there is a need to increase their numbers. He ended the show by asking people whether they wanted the Centre and other state governments to follow Sikkim’s example and aid farmers in adopting organic farming.