EXCERPT: while expensive and unwanted pesticides are being promoted and pushed by scientists and extension workers, farmers are looking for safe and ecological alternatives. Is it not a fact that the chemical industry, which gained commercially from the surge in widespread use, has very cleverly used agricultural scientists as its promoters?
No pesticides, higher crop yields
The Hindu, Jun 14, 2005
Villagers have demonstrated that pesticides are not only harmful but also unnecessary.
IT WAS in 1999 that a tiny village in Andhra Pradesh's Khammam district successfully began experimenting with non-pesticidal management practices. In the next few years it charted an easy escape route from the multiple rings of harmful pesticides. The contaminated environment began to change. Soil and plant health looked revitalised, and the pests began to disappear. Restoring the ecological balance brought back the natural pest control systems. The crop yields were still higher.
Punukula is not the only village to have escaped from the vicious cycle of poison. Thousands of villages in the country have clearly demonstrated that pesticides are not only harmful but also unnecessary.
Scientists proved wrong
In Bangladesh, 2,000 poor rice farmers with average farm incomes of Rs 4,000 a year have proved mainline agricultural scientists completely wrong. Gary John, senior scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Manila, was completely stumped by the change they brought about in just two years. "To my surprise when people stopped spraying, yields didn't drop - and this was across 600 fields in two different districts over four seasons. I'm convinced that the vast majority of insecticides that rice farmers use are a complete waste of time and money."
Bangladesh rice farmers conclusively demonstrated that insecticide can be eliminated and nitrogen fertilizer applications reduced without lowering yields. "We've reduced insecticide use among participating farmers by 99 per cent and by 90 per cent among non-participating farmers in the same villages," Dr. John added.
What is more, in less than a decade, most of Bangladesh's 11.8 million rice farmers will have eliminated the use of insecticides, the IRRI hopes.
The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), however, continues to move on the beaten path of agricultural production by intensive chemical use. Farm scientists and the agricultural extension machinery in the States continue to promote chemical pesticides.
Some agricultural scientists have begun to realise that chemical pesticides are not necessary. The tragedy is that this recognition has come much late - only after poisoning the lands, contaminating the groundwater, polluting the environment, putting millions to health risk and fatalities, and killing thousands of farmers and farm workers. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that some 20,000 people die every year from pesticides poisoning. By that reckoning, pesticides have killed more than 600,000 people worldwide over the past 30 years.
In the Philippines' Central Luzon province, the decline in insecticides use has been accompanied by an increase in productivity - from an average of 2.75 tonnes a hectare to 3.25 tonnes a hectare in 2002. It also resulted in savings on an average of up to 1,000 pesos a hectare for the farmers.
In Vietnam, almost two million rice growers in the Mekong Delta have been persuaded to cut back on using harmful and unnecessary farm chemicals.
Green Revolution's "mistakes"
The former IRRI Director-General, Robert Cantrell, had this to say: "It shows that the mistakes of the Green Revolution - where too much emphasis was sometimes put on the use of chemicals for pest control - have clearly been recognised and corrected."
In fact, he had all the praise for recognising the wisdom of the farming communities. "Because of their toxicity, insecticides really should be used by farmers as a last resort, and we are very pleased to see that farmers have realised this for many years, especially here in the Philippines." he had remarked.
Traditional and simple technologies unfortunately do not find any mention in agriculture textbooks. With the advent of modern science, which began to view everything traditional as backward and sub-standard, the collective wisdom of generations of farmers was lost. The result being that while expensive and unwanted pesticides are being promoted and pushed by scientists and extension workers, farmers are looking for safe and ecological alternatives. Is it not a fact that the chemical industry, which gained commercially from the surge in widespread use, has very cleverly used agricultural scientists as its promoters?
The chemical industry has meanwhile moved into life sciences. It now decries pesticides and sings the virtues of the new "promising technology" ”” genetic engineering. Pesticides are now being replaced with genetically modified crops, which perform the same functions. Agricultural scientists need to think whether they are once again being used as promoters of a technology, the negative impacts of which have not been fully studied.
(The writer is a New Delhi-based food policy analyst.)