Tag Archives: chemical pesticides

Tribals Are Mankind’s Living Vault

CHS’ co-founder, Winin Pereira, would have been deeply interested in this account by Devinder Sharma, written after accepting an invitation to addressing thousands of tribal people at Banswara in southern Rajasthan in a Tribal Conclave:

This tribal region was earlier called “Bhooki”, a clearcut reflection of the extent of hunger that prevailed. I am told Acharya Vinoba Bhave had travelled through the region, and was instrumental in getting land transferred into the hands of quite a significant proportion the landless tribals.

I could see the transformation that has come about several decades later when I decided to visit some tribal families in Anandpuri block of Banswara district in southern Rajasthan. Along with the neighbouring districts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, Banswara is part of a predominant tribal triangle in central India.

I wanted to meet small and marginal farmers of the region. My first visit was to meet Shankar, 55, in village Bodiya Talau, some 58 kms from Banswara. He owns 2.15 acres of land, has three cows, 2 bulls and 1 goat. All animals are the desi breed. The cows hardly give 500 grams of milk per day. When asked why is he keeping them, his reply was that the cows are not kept for milk but for manure. He cultivates maize, tur, paddy, tomato, wheat, chilli, turmeric and remarked:

“I grow everything at home, except for salt and sugar.”

He was satisfied with what he was doing after having transformed his almost barren land into a green patch. Has planted a number of trees, including cashew. Shankar is certainly more enterprising than his fellow tribals. I then met Chetan Pargi, aged 35, from Ummed Pura village. He is into rope weaving besides doing farming in 4 bigha land.

He said he was able to make a decent living, and his land provided enough for his family throughout the year. I didn’t believe him looking at his frail health.

But he insisted that his land gave him enough. But is that enough, enough? That’s the question. But their undying spirit of hospitality is what amazes me. At a time when the people in cities have turned selfish and are not willing to offer even a cup of tea to visitors, Chetan Pargi, despite his visible level of subsistence, wanted me to have food with him. When I politely declined, he said: “bare Saheb log kahan hamare jaise logo ke haath ka khana khate hain’ (Why would the sahebs like to eat with us). I had to tell him that as per the schedule, I was already eating with another farmer in the next village.

Meeting Mani Lal in the same village confirmed how severely undernourished these tribals are. Reverting to farming, I was impressed the way he was trying to get into composting, amrit pani and understood why he wanted to keep chemical pesticides away.

“Sir, yeh to jehar hai (Sir, this is simply a poison) he told me.

What comes as a shock is to know how some of them are being deprived of their ration quota just because they have not completed constructing toilets in their houses.

Among various things that I learnt from them, I found Mani Lal’s wife Babli Bai’s effort to preserve the seeds of cucumber and lemon by gluing them on the Sagwan leaves and hanging the dry leaves to be an interesting way to keep seeds.

There were several other traditional ways that farmers were adopting which I found it worth documenting, and learning from.

All this became possible when I accepted the invitation to addressing thousands of Tribals at Banswara in southern Rajasthan in a Janjati Krishi Swaraj Sammelan (Tribal Conclave). As I said earlier, these tribals came from the tribal belt in the triangle of a region formed between Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Organised by the Banswara-based NGO, Vaagdhara, I must acknowledge that it was an amazing experience to speak before such a large audience of tribals, something close to 7,000 and 8,000. They came dressed in all colours, and in all their glory.

In my talk I urged them not to let go of their farming techniques and practices. They alone hold the future as far saving sustainable farming practices are concerned.

The farming practices they preserve hold the key to save the world from climate change. I sought their cooperation in protecting their agriculture from getting polluted and environmentally devastated. Three things they must do:

  1. Stop using chemical pesticides.
  2. Phase out the application of chemical fertilisers.
  3. Conserve and protect desi cattle breeds/seeds.

They took a pledge to follow the directions.

It will certainly be a grave tragedy if the Government tries to introduce modern farming techniques in these villages, and thereby destroy the synergy that tribal agriculture preserves.

Linking nature, environment and religion, the tribals have preserved what is truly a sustainable farming system for centuries.

It is high time, a separate plan is prepared for the tribal regions, wherein the effort should be to not only conserve but also improve upon their traditional practices, ensuring that tribals are paid a premium for monumental role they have played in preserving and conserving the natural resources.

This is a small price the society needs to incur for what could be the saviour of the mankind’s future. With global warming already pushing the world to a tripping point, these tribal regions may turn out to be society’s last refuge. Like the Doomsday vault in the Arctic, where the effort is to preserve crop seeds for posterity, this is a Living Vault that mankind needs to protect for its own future. # 

 

Posted by Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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

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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

field-trial-gm-mustard

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

Sources: 

http://www.abplive.in/blog/sikkim-becomes-organic-model-for-other-himalayan-states,

http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-sikkim-becomes-india-s-first-organic-state-2166492,

http://www.sikkimorganicmission.gov.in/about-us/