In perspective

Suicide by thousands of farmers exposes the limits of pesticide-driven industrial agriculture.

Learning from Bhopal tragedy

It was on the night of December 2 and early morning of December 3, 1984 the world witnessed the dark side of the pesticides industry in Bhopal.

The disaster in Union Carbide unit led to death of over 4,000 people, and it had since impacted about 5,58,000 people. The survivors are still waiting for justice and the government is debating as to how to clean the poisoned surroundings of the plant.

Apart from these immediate concerns that stand unresolved for last three decades, the pertinent question is whether the country has learnt lessons from this tragedy.

Unfortunately after this disaster our agricultural policies have pushed the farmers into a deeper pesticides trap. We boast of record food grain production of over 250 million tons every year.

We also claim to be the second biggest producer of vegetables and fruits. However, we rarely question as how this record productions have been achieved. How much of pesticides and insecticides have been used to produce these crops?

The consumption of pesticides in India has seen a drastic increase from 154 tons in 1954 to 88,000 tons in 2001 and 56,000 tons in 2009-10. Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the food bowl of India are the highest consumers of pesticides in the country. The government has accepted in the Lok Sabha that it has allowed the import of 67 pesticides that are banned in other countries.

Obvious indications

There are obvious indications that the indiscriminate use of pesticides is leading to adverse impact on the farmers, farm labourers as well as the consumers.

It is estimated that almost 90 per cent of the pesticides fail to reach the targeted insect or pest and they eventually end up in our soil and water bodies. They also get into our food chain and  enter human bodies, leading to diseases like cancer.

According to FAO ( Food and Agricultural Organisation) the effects of pesticides has consequences for the entire food chain leading to causes of cancer, tumours, reproductive inhibition or failure, suppression of immune system, cellular DNA damage and adverse impact on aquatic life and birds.

A study conducted by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment found that the daily intake of pesticides presents “a horrific picture.” An average adult was consuming more pesticides than which is allowed.

It was about 376 per cent of DDT, 300 per cent of monocroptophes and in children it was still higher at 622 per cent!

These facts show that food and vegetables that we eat are not only unsafe but they are bound to cause health disorders in human bodies. Obviously, the politicians and policy makers have scarified the health of common citizens as well as those of the future generation at the cost of providing food security.

Ironically, the pesticide lobby has successfully invaded the farmer’s fields and minds. We have reached a situation in which a farmer practicing agriculture in irrigated Gangetic plain or in a remote hill village in the Himalayas is forced to use pesticides to grow staple rice, wheat or vegetables and fruits. The farmers think that it is impossible to grow any crop without using pesticides.

These developments indicate that rather than learning from Bhopal, the country is deeply entrenched itself into the clutches of pesticide giants. In recent years we have been witnessing the enactment of Bhopal at numerous places across the country. Suicide by thousands of farmers exposes the limits of pesticide-driven industrial agriculture.

Nevertheless, there are attempts to find alterative ways to produce food through organic farming. The states of Uttaranchal and Sikkim have declared themselves as ‘Organic States’ assuring to produce food without pesticides.

Similarly in Karnataka ‘Organic Farming Missions’ has been formed to propagate organic farming methods. Though proactive, these methods are symbolic in nature and have very minimal impact on the overall agricultural scenario. Most of the time the state and Central governments are closely linked to the powerful pesticides lobby, who are able to bribe officials and politicians to keeps their stronghold.

The push for record food production with over emphasis on quantity rather than quality has had adverse impact on the common people.

This has already created a large number of diabetic population earning us the dubious distinction of becoming the ‘diabetic capital of world’. May be, we will get an additional title of ‘cancer capital’ if we continue to grow our crops using pesticides indiscriminately. The high number of cancer patients reported in Punjab is a clear indicator of where our food bowls are heading for.

Before it is too late, it is essential that the government wakes up to the impact of pesticides on present and future generations. India needs to learn from the Bhopal tragedy and find ways to salvage the health of its people, and stop contamination of the basic capitals of mankind, the soil and water.    

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