Tag Archives: chemical pesticides

The Warli tribals of Maharashtra: a progressive culture to be emulated – 1

Noting the number of visitors to the website who read Devinder Sharma’s account of a visit to the Kadar tribe in Kerala prompted a re-reading of some books and papers written by Winin Pereira, co-founder of the Centre for Holistic Studies in Bandra, Bombay.

Winin Pereira

In 1996 he recorded memories of his first stay near tribal people (adivasis) in Alonde. Over time he grew to realise the extent of their knowledge of plants, trees and farming.

He drew on this and other experiences of traditional sustainable agriculture in India collected and analysed over 25 years to write ‘Tending the Earth’.

Over time he had noticed that the Warlis’ agricultural land was in better condition than that of farmers who had practised ‘Green Revolution’-style agriculture from the 60s, using chemical pesticides and fertilizers which, over time degraded the soil.

One of Winin Pereira’s colleagues wrote about the contemporary practice of barter and included incidental information about Warli tribals, with whom he also had spent time. He wrote that they are thought to be descended from the original inhabitants of Thane in the Western Bombay suburbs. Their lands have been ‘developed’ and some now have a hard but healthier life in the Borivli National Park (below) while the tribal communities who still have some land live on the margins in the polluted Bombay suburbs.

The writer saw a hut like the one above which had the faint outlines of the traditional painting (below) on the walls carried out for celebrations and ceremonial occasions but in the 1970s. Government of India officials who were sent to document Warli art, were amazed by the drawings of Jivya Soma Mashe from Dahanu, who shows an immense understanding of the Warli culture.

A description of their content is quoted in Wikipedia: “Their drawings revolve around the traditions of their communities, the tools they use and their association with nature. Themes include community dances, the harvest as well as fields swaying with healthy crops, birds flying in the sky, group dancing around a person playing the music, dancing peacocks, women cooking or busy in their other house chores and children playing”.

The Warli forest community survives by gathering minor forest produce and selling firewood to the encroachers in the plains, then earning Rs25 for every pile of firewood they sell. Once every three months they enter into barter trade with the fishing community living 5-6kms away along the sea coast. The Warlis start with the piles on their heads at 3 am and manage to cover the distance by foot in 3 to 4 hours time. In return for every pile of wood that they sell they receive dry fish worth at least Rs75 to Rs100 in the local market from the fishing community. The benefit to both is two or three times what they would get in a monetary transaction. Exchange of dry fish for firewood takes place in the Western suburbs from Malad right into Thane district.

Dahanu taluka, 136 km from Mumbai by road, has a 66% Warli tribal population who own 33% of the agricultural land in Dahanu. When their rice growing season ends, the Warlis find employment on the chicoo farms. Two colleagues who have lived there wrote:

“We have so much to learn from the Warlis who take so little from the earth. They are the true environmentalists without even realising it”.

“We are all fighting to protect what we and Winin Pereira love so much. In the future – providing that the adivasi culture is allowed to survive – others will be able to continue his work in recording adivasi lore etc. His work and the knowledge he shares will provide an inspiration for many (as it did to me). It will be used in many ways for the Warlis, ‘selling’ to the rest of the world the idea that theirs is a progressive culture, not ‘backward’ and should not only be allowed to survive but be emulated”.

Part 2 follows.






Politicians & NGOs oppose calls for GM mustard, underpinned by WTO injunctions and vested interests


The Daily Star (Bangladesh) has reported that the Indian environment ministry on September 5 published the full report on food and environment safety of GM mustard, seeking public comments until October 5 before the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), India’s highest GM regulatory body, gives final approval. According to the report, the GM mustard, developed through public funding by a team of scientists at University of Delhi South Campus (UDSC), has 30% higher yield potentials than the varieties grown in Indian oilseed fields now.

Conflict of interest


The Hindustan Times reports that several officials who sit on India’s biotech regulator, which is preparing to take a decision on genetically modified mustard, are also associated with global organisations that lobby for GM crops. Such an arrangement represents potential conflicts of interest and critics argue that there must be an arm’s length distance. The HT adds that most of the scientists who serve as regulators are developing GM crops.

Devinder Sharma gives historical context: “Thirty years back, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi laid the foundation of what was later called as Yellow Revolution. The Oilseeds Technology Mission he launched in 1986 converted India from being a major importer to become almost self-sufficient in edible oil production by 1993-94, in less than ten years. A remarkable achievement, indeed.

And then began the downslide. India happily bowed to World Trade Organisation (WTO) pressures to kill its Yellow Revolution . . . Severe cuts in import tariffs brought in a flood of cheap imports pushing farmers out of cultivation. Import duties – from a bound level of 300% were slashed to almost zero – in a phased manner. As a result, farmers abandoned cultivation of oilseeds crops and the processing industry too pulled down the shutters. India today imports more than 67% of its edible oil requirement costing a whopping Rs 66,000-crore”.

Sharma’s recommendation: raise the import duties on edible oil and provide farmers with a higher procurement price

He relates that Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave said India is keen to cut down the huge import bill of edible oils and Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh thinks that this can be done by allowing the commercial cultivation of the controversial genetically modified mustard (GM Mustard) in the name of increasing productivity. But cultivation of genetically modified Bt cotton has brought about an increase in the application of chemical pesticides in India and elsewhere (see Sharma) and in whitefly and bollworm attacks. There are said to be five non-GM mustard varieties which yield significantly higher than the transgenic variety DMH-11.

NGO and political opposition

  • NGOs actively opposing GM in agriculture include, Kavitha Kuruganti (representing an anti-GM advocacy group), Vandana Shiva (Navdanya), the Coalition for a GM-Free India Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements and a farmers’ organisation, Kisan Mahapanchayat.
  • The chief minister of Patna in Bihar, Nitish Kumar, recently wrote to the Centre criticising its “clandestine” approach.
  • Several ministers and bureaucrats from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab have also opposed GM crops.
  • In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said the AAP government would not support commercialization of genetically modified mustard. He alleged that Delhi University had been conducting field trials of GM crops without a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Delhi government – an illegal action.
  • He also questioned the “secrecy and hushing-up” of the application process for commercialization before the genetic engineering appraisal committee of the environment and forests ministry (MoEF).
  • India Today reports that the AAP is to make opposition to GM mustard a feature of their campaign for the 2017 Punjab Assembly Elections, holding public meetings in towns and villages.

New Delhi TV refers to several steps to be taken before a GM mustard crop can be released for use in farmer fields but only two are specified:

‘A political call’ to be taken by the environment minister and by the agriculture minister. A report which has been posted online and seeks the public’s feedback within a month.

People can use this link to post their comments. The comments can also be emailed to mustard.mef@gov.in till October 5, 2016.

Some Indian states and central government moving to support organic agriculture

Devinder Sharma writes: “This is fabulous news. Perhaps the best we heard in recent times. The tiny, land-locked Himalayan State of Sikkim has become fully organic. All credit goes to Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling for making that possible”. He continues: “It took almost 12 years to realize that dream.

sikkim organic mission2 header

“When Pawan Kumar Chamling made a declaration in the State assembly way back in 2003 to go completely organic, I doubt if many experts and policy makers would have taken that seriously. But it was his firm resolve and commitment that gradually converted 75,000 hectares of cultivable farm land into certified organic. (Read more here).

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to formally announce this at a glittering ceremony followed by a sustainable agriculture conference at Gangtok on Monday, Jan 18.

“I am told the Prime Minister intends to announce a series of steps to promote organic agriculture in the country . . . This is a welcome initiative and needs to be extended to the entire Himalayan range.

“The Himalayas have a unique ecosystem. In such a salubrious environment, where people come to enjoy the beauty of nature, it is a rude shock to see farmers spraying chemical pesticides on standing crops. Travelling into the lower hills of Uttarakhand sometimes back I was aghast to find farmers spraying a heavy dose of chemicals on the tomato crop. I was told that more than a dozen pesticides sprays are conducted routinely on the tomato crop. In Himachal Pradesh, the scene is no different. Apple cultivation for instance is perhaps the worst when it comes to pesticides use and abuse. Besides contaminating the food chain, pesticides do get into the soil, the environment, and get washed down into streams.

“But over the years, the emergence of lifestyle diseases has slowly but steadily turned people towards organic foods. Incidentally, the growth in organic foods in India is amongst the highest in the world, almost exceeding 22% . . .

“If you think this is not possible, you need to rethink. In Andhra Pradesh, which has faced the brunt of intensive chemical farming practices over the years, the State Government has decided to train 1.5 lakh farmers in organic farming. Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has already announced that the entire farming population will be trained in organic farming practices in the next three years. This is not a small target. The approach Andhra Pradesh has adopted is to train the best among the organic farmers as trainers. These trainers are then fanning out into different parts to teach the other farmers . . . 36 lakh acres in Andhra Pradesh (half of this area is now in the newly created Telengana) got converted to non-pesticides farming . . .

It has now been found that with the withdrawal of chemical pesticides, the insect attack has greatly reduced, the environment has become much clean as a result of which the health costs for the farming families has also fallen by about 40%. In essence, while the household food security has improved, farm incomes too have gone up.

“If non-pesticides management can be adopted by farmers in 36 lakh acres, I see no reason why such practices cannot be adopted by farmers in ten times more area — 360 lakh acres. All it needs is proper training, skill development, and of course adequate backing from the State Governments”.

sikkim organic crops

Sharma ends by asserting that what has been attained in Andhra Pradesh and the hilly State of Sikkim (above) is a model for the rest of the Himalayan States where biodiversity is under threat. Elsewhere it is reported that other states in the region are considering following the same path. He  stresses the importance of preserving and conserving what has survived the onslaught and hopes that Sikkim will emerge as “a trendsetter, a harbinger of sustainable agriculture, which is the only plausible way to achieve climate resilience”.

Read the whole article by Devinder Sharma in Ground Reality at http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/sikkim-becomes-organic-model-for-other.html