Friday, December 31, 2010

Women vowed to make their kitchen pesticide free and reintroduce millets in food

Report of Nav-Trinjan
At Chaina Village

By Amanjot Kaur

Trinjan, this word is much known to Punjabi women. When one talks about Trinjan with old women you can feel a glow on their faces and twinkle in their eyes. Trinjan used to be a part of our rich culture but unfortunately on the name of development and Green revolution this lovely part seized from Punjabi women and now new generation of Punjab not familiar with this.
Trinjan, a symbol of liberty and wisdom of women, provides a platform to women for sharing its skills like embroidery, weaving, knitting, spinning, cooking , health and as well as traditional knowledge related with agriculture like seeds, sowing, herbs etc. women also shared their sorrows and joys with each other in Trinjan. It also strengthened their relationship which totally missed in these times because they could perform these activities in any home of the village at any time, no one objected on it. Trinjan also provided opportunity to women for entertainment and passing-on of creative intelligence to younger generation by singing folk songs, dancing and jokes.
Women Action for Ecology, a part of Kheti Virasat Mission is making efforts to revive this precious thing of our culture by giving it a new name ‘Nav-Trinjan’. Nav-Trinjan, because it also encompasses women’s initiative to contemporary civilization, social and ecological challenges. Nav-Trinjan is an venture to provide a platform to women again with much wider canvas and women’s quest on broader horizons, it’s a unique effort of KVM. Nav-Trinjan are evolved to make sure the participation of women in any mitigation process to tackle present-day challenges to Punjab, by taking-up pesticide free kitchen and pesticide free farming. It’s our convection that without the participation of women it is not possible to make Punjab pesticide free.

Nav-Trinjan at Chaina

Nav-Trinjan at Chaina was organized on 26th December 2010 for the preparations of this eve, coordinator met women at individual level and in collective meetings also. Village women well known to this concept so it was not difficult to convince them for this. They looked very interested on organizing it. They offered themselves for any arrangements. A team was formed and they took responsibilities to make traditional foods themselves. Cultural part of Nav-Trinjan was also looked after by women themselves. Young girls Harmanjot Kaur and Rajwinder Kaur took the responsibility of Giddha and Sammi.
It was a foggy Sunday with chilling cold of 4 degree temperature, but women of Chaina village got up early to finish their household work so that they can join this eve. It was very memorable moments where everyone helped each other in her work.
Programme was started on 11o’clock. In spite of fog and cold people of village reached at high school ground. Programme started with introductory remarks by Umendra Dutt, Executive Director, KVM. He called upon the villagers and women in particular to make Punjab poison free, make food chain of Punjab safe again and to save future generations of Punjab from pesticides. He asked audience to join KVM’s initiative to bring Sarbat-Da-Bhala means wellbeing for all in real terms. He urged upon the women to take-up control of kitchens in their hands to introduce Millets to their platter and develop taste of millet based food among their children.
In his inaugurating lecture Dr. Sunil Arya on the ‘Kitchen kit- masaledani as medicine kit’. In his lecture, he told the women how they can treat many diseases without going to a doctor’s clinic. Jeera (cumin), ajwain, methi Dana, turmeric, adrak, and kali mirch were used by people for acidity, fever, joint pain and many other diseases and he also shared his views on the importance of millets like bajra, Jowar, ragi, kangani etc.
“Millets are the great source of fiber, iron, calcium which are good to health. it is very useful in case of obesity, diabetes. When you have already these nutritious things at your home then why don’t you use these things to remain healthy? “Asked by Dr. Sunil Arya
In this programme many new experiments did and for those we got very positive response from the public like talk on health issues and quiz competition on cultural and agricultural knowledge. Quiz competition was the unique part of this programme because from 6 years old child to 70-80 years old person participated in it. Everyone wanted to answer. It proved very helpful in creating interest of people and enhanced their knowledge. It was coordinated by Harmel Preet.
To make this programme knowledgeable as well as entertaining, Sammi – a kind of traditional dance created by a girl named Sammi , and Giddha performed by village girls. It was the first Trinjan programme in which boys also participated. They performed Bhangra. It was coordinated by Mr. Gurdeep Singh and Manpreet Singh. They also helped in supported activities.
Main components of Nav-Trinjan were Traditional millet based food and competitions of spinning and nala weaving. spinning competition was won by Gurmeet Kaur and Nala weaving competition won by Baljinder Kaur.
Villagers relished millet based traditional nutritious food like Bajre, Jowar,
Makki di roti, Sarso da saag, bajre, Jowar, makki, kanak de bhoot pinne, moth-Bajre di khichdi, Kheer etc. Children in large number are seems to be crazy for Bajra Bhoot pinaas. It was general feeling that children of Chaina village will demand more Bajra Bhoot-pinnas this year. The garlic and Chibber chatni is most hit thing.
In the experience sharing session by bibiyan which was included on the first time in this programme, Bebe Malkeet Kaur , 70 years old shared her experience of kitchen gardening and reintroduction of millets in kitchen. She told audience that how she is cultivating vegetables in a natural way which tastes better than chemical vegetables. She is doing all things by herself. Her daughter-in-laws helps her sometimes. She spelled out that people of village commented and underestimate her by making fun of her but she never give up. She does not only cultivate vegetables at her home but also spread this message to more and more people. In her address She inspired villagers and gave a rousing call to other women to adopt kitchen gardening and reintroduction of millets in their kitchens. By her enthusiasm Bebe Malkeet Kaur seems to be youngest soldier of entire team.
Amarjeet Sharma, Head of local Vatavaran Panchyat and a practicing natural farming farmer, also shared about her experiences. He stated that he gets high rates for his organic production which chemical farmers never get. He buys only tea and salt from the market, other things are produced by him in his field. He also described the ill effects of chemical farming not only on the health but also on the social and economical and on next generation. He indicated worries on upcoming challenges for next generation who will get everything poisoned. If it is water, air, land, milk or any eatable thing, everything will be poisoned for them. In those situations, how one can think about good and healthy life? So it is our generation’s duty to hand over healthy and poison free land, air, water to our next generation as our elders did.
Now Nav-Trinjan got a place in the hearts of village people. People offered themselves to be a part of this initiative. We found this when a shepred named Jeet Singh contacted us to be a part of this. He sang a song on his traditional instrument Tumbi. People appreciated and rewarded him.
Awards and certificates awarded to winners and participants. The uniqueness in it was that awards were not given by any known personality but by older village women who are the backbone of our movement. Chief Guest Dr. Sunil Arya, Jeet Singh, Bebe Malkeet Kaur and Bebe Lajwanti Sharma honored with Siropas.
Dr. Sunil Arya had a discussion with young girls in which he gave them tips to remain young and beautiful without spending any single penny by following some tips like avoiding tea, fat, chicken and sugar. He suggested them to bring out millets again in their platter because of its nutritious value. Dr. Arya also listen the health problems of women and prescribed them medicines which are easily available in their kitchens. He stressed on change their wrong food habits and took exercise and yoga daily to keep them healthy. He advised women not to go to doctors for those diseases which can be easily treated at home.
The last but not least traditional as well as nutritious food cooked by village women under the endeavor to reintroduce millets in food chain which are totally missed out even in villages. Food was served to audience by local people. The programme was ended with the hope and positive message to make Chaina village pesticide free.
KVM will organize around 15 Nav-Trinjan festivals this year.

Author Amanjot Kaur is working with Kheti Virasat Mission as Women Action Coordinator

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Punjab: An Environmental toxicity hotspot heading towards death ?

Punjab: An Environmental toxicity hotspot heading towards death ?

Punjab’s Ecosystem is full of Poisons!

By Dr Amar Singh Azad,
M.B.B.S, M.D. (Community Medicine), M.D. (Pediatrics)
Working President
Kheti Virasat Mission

It is increasingly becoming obvious that Punjab is turning into a hotspot of Environmental Toxicity. We have more than two hundred dangerous chemicals in our environment including our own bodies. Chemical Toxicity is the known story but recently added Radioactive Toxicity is relatively less talked about. This is quite obvious now that agricultural and industrial policies of the governments in Post Independence India have turned Punjab into hub of chemical toxicity. Highly toxic chemicals have been added into the soil, water, air and food chain of Punjab for the last many decades under the name of development. However the radio active toxicity is only one to two decades old. Toxicity of Genetically Modified Crops (Bt. Toxin) has also been added recently and has the potential of causing disaster in itself.
For the last few decades dangerously toxic agricultural inputs-Pesticides and Fertilizers are being used blindly, mindlessly and without any scientific evidence of their actual need. The Multinational Corporations which are the producers and their Governments have succeeded in making them indispensable for agriculture in Punjab. Most of these chemicals are persistent in nature (not easily biodegradable). They go on accumulating in the environment with the passage of time. Their levels go on increasing in the air, water, soil, food chain and bodies of animals and human beings. Unfortunately these toxic inputs are being used in spite of the fact that many of them are banned in Europe and America. As their levels increase beyond certain levels the health of all living beings is adversely affected. This stage has already reached in Punjab.
In Punjab we are being affected by mixed toxicity. The studies are few in number. We know what the level of research in our society is. We also know the level of the political will of our Governments to find out the root causes of ill health. We also know that how our government machinery is hand in glove with the criminals who are the cause of these root causes. In spite of all these severe handicaps we (those interested in the welfare of people) are able to gather certain observations/studies which are enough to reach certain minimum conclusions. Whatever information is available is enough to raise the questions. The observations/studies up to now are enough to say with confidence that Punjabis are a Toxicity Affected Community and our environment is full of dangerous toxins. The Toxins which are present in the environment of Punjab are much in excess of the safe limits:-
1. Fluorides: Fluoride levels of many regions in Punjab are high. This has been a known fact since half a century. It is most unfortunate that the Governments have never even tried to do the region wise mapping of Fluoride levels in the ground water. It is even more unfortunate that even after half a century of knowing the high levels in Malwa, no Government has ever made a serious effort to provide Fluoride Free Drinking water to the people of that region. Excessive Fluoride in water is not only natural in origin it is also added through the industrial waste water of some of the industries. Excessive Fluoride in the water is highly toxic. Earlier it was thought to damage bones and teeth. Brown and Brittle Teeth of Malwa Belt are a very familiar sign and identity of the people of this region. Joint and Bone Problems including the Spine Deformities are known even to the common man of High Fluoride Regions of Punjab. Lately the Scientific Understanding of High Fluoride Levels in drinking water has dramatically changed. Now it is well known that it is toxic not only for bones and teeth but all the systems of our body. Now it is being said that High Fluoride Levels in Drinking Water can ruin the whole body physiology. It should also be noted that Fluorides are not only natural but are very high the effluents from certain industries.
2. Agricultural Toxins: Highly toxic Agricultural Toxins are being used much in excess of the safe limits without any scientific rationale. We, in Punjab with 2% of country’s land are using 18% of these chemicals. Most of these chemicals are manufactured by foreign MNCs and their trade is done just like karyana items without any rule or regulation. Many of these chemicals are banned in the western countries but are being used openly in our country on a large scale. Their use has increased tremendously over the last four decades. No Government has ever tried to assess the damage being caused to human health and the ecosystem. No Government has ever tried to assess weather they are really indispensable. No Government has ever tried to find an effective and safe alternative to these chemicals. Our Agricultural Scientists have never worked to make our own model (non chemical) a success. They have blindly accepted a borrowed model from the people who had no sense of agriculture and very superficial understanding of nature. People are being poisoned en masse and whole eco system is dying under the severe toxicity created by these highly persistent poisons.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 60% of herbicides, 90 % of fungicides and 30%of insecticides are known to be carcinogenic. Alarmingly, pesticide residues have been detected in 50% - 95% of U.S. foods. Large number of studies point out that Cancer, Parkinson's disease, miscarriage, nerve damage, birth defects, blocking the absorption of food nutrients etc. are because of these toxins. Even a worse picture exists in Punjab.

3. Industrial Toxins: For the last 3-4 decades the industry in Punjab is throwing its untreated toxic waste water into water streams. Earlier Buddha Nalah was notorious for this because of the Ludhiana based industry but now this picture is true about all the drains/rivers of Punjab. This highly toxic water is being used for irrigation because alternative source of clean water is not available. That is the way our foods are being grown in highly toxic water. The wheat and rice being supplied to whole of the country are irrigated by toxic water from the industries and chemical fertilizers and pesticides are being used on whole sale basis. You can well imagine the plight of those people who are eating the wheat and rice from Punjab. The toxic water; which is flowing in our streams and rivers, for the last so many years has poisoned our ground water grossly. This water has grossly polluted the upper aquifers up to 200 feet. It has happened many times that the industry was caught throwing its toxic water directly into the ground water by making a bore well. See the level of crime! No industrialist has ever been jailed for crime of poisoning natural resource water in spite of the law which was always there. The state, whose very name is for its waters; the Rishis, Munis, Gurus and poets composed and sang songs in praise of our waters, are grossly dirty, polluted, and poisonous. The water which is a basic source of life is a source of ill health and death now. What a shame?

4. Unregulated use of Fossil Fuels: the excessive and unregulated use of fossil fuels for vehicles, for electricity production and for domestic purposes is also adding highly poisonous chemicals to our environment. For example, Coal Based Thermal Power Plants are known to add dangerous toxins into our environment. The other major polluters through fossil fuels are industry, mechanized and chemical agriculture and vehicles
5. Radio Active Toxins: For the last few years it is being pointed out that Depleted Uranium, which was used in two Gulf Wars and Afghanistan War has spread to the surrounding regions. In India it was first pointed out by Retired. Naval Chief, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat in 2004. DU Mapping of the region around Kabul and Basra has been done by those who are following this issue since it came to light. Now it has spread to 1000 miles radius around Kabul and Basra. The mapping done for the presence of uranium is shown in the map below.

North West India which includes whole of Undivided Pre partition Punjab comes in this circle of 1000 miles from Kabul. The Studies done in Punjab prove it. The presence of Uranium in the hair of 87% of children of Baba Farid Centre, the water samples by Baba Farid Centre and by GNDU Amritsar and the studies of food chain go to establish that Uranium is definitely there in our environment, food chain and whole of ecosystem including our bodies in much higher concentration.
Whether source is Gulf /Afghanistan Wars? Most probably the source is this one. But we should keep our minds open. Some other source may also be contributing to the high levels of Uranium in this region.
6. BPA and Other Plastic Based Toxins: The irrational use of plastics, their production and unscientific disposal scatters plastic based toxins into the environment which are persistent in nature and are highly toxic. Large numbers of studies prove their toxic nature and scientists all over the world are asking for ban on the use of plastics for storing foods. They are also demanding a strict ban on use and throw type plastic containers and envelops which are playing havoc with the environment.
7. Unregulated and Unscientific Waste Disposal: Disposal of solid and liquid waste is done in highly polluting way. To cite only one example- go to any street in our cities you will find the sweepers are burning their collected waste. It is a mixed type of waste containing even plastic and rubber which is burning all around in our cities. The precious organic waste like fallen leaves (which should have been returned to the earth are also being burnt. Similarly highly toxic liquid waste from city sewers is being thrown into the fresh water streams without any treatment with disastrous consequences.
8. Heavy Metals: Metals like arsenic, mercury, lead, aluminum and cadmium, which are prevalent in many areas of our environment, can accumulate in soft tissues of the body. Cancer, neurological disorders, Alzheimer's disease, foggy head, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, decreased production of red and white blood cells, abnormal heart rhythm, damage to blood vessels are some of the ill health effects of excessive heavy metals in our environment.
Heavy Metals come from Drinking water, fish, vaccines, pesticides, preserved wood, antiperspirant, building materials, dental amalgams, chlorine plants and many Pharmaceuticals.
9. Pharmaceuticals: Thousands of tons of toxic pharmaceutical are being thrown into water streams or thrown in the soil. Why?? They have not been used timely and expiry date has reached. Chemists and Hospital throw tons of their expired drugs into water bodies or dump on the soil. Patient purchased but did not consume because of large number of reasons-thrown into dust bin or sewer. In the process of manufacturing of drugs, the industry may be throwing the pharmaceuticals in the environment.

10. GM Toxicity: Bt Cotton was brought to India under the deceitful version of cotton being not a food crop because in India there was clear cut ban of Bt technology for food crops. But now these foreign MNCs are making serious efforts to bring GM/Bt food crops in India. There are lots of studies/ observations which show that this technology has lots of adverse impacts on human and animal health and ecosystem. There is a large body of evidence which clearly shows that GM Technology has the potential to prove the biggest ecological disaster. But MNCs are pushing it for very narrow and selfish ends.
Manifestations of Toxicity:
We are now amply sure that we are a toxicity affected community. But how to suspect and diagnose it?
Manifestations of Human Health:
All the tissues/organs of human body function on the basis of very delicate chemicals (hormones and enzymes etc.). Presence of strong/toxic chemicals (particularly the ones which are man made/not natural) in the body disturbs the body functioning and give rise to diseases/malfunctioning. Any toxin in the environment quickly reaches food chain, water cycle and human body. Whenever it reaches in the body, it tries to throw it out. The speed/efficiency with which the body can detoxify the toxin varies from person to person and depends on large number of factors. If the body is not able to throw it out with the speed at which it is entering the body, it accumulates gradually to dangerous levels and produces disease state.
Once a toxin reaches a critical level in the body, it damages cell wall/ other cellular components including genes. Once the cell components are damaged, the body becomes highly prone to various types of infectious and non infectious diseases. Following are some of the manifestations in relation to human health: In addition to being neurotoxic, these compounds are profoundly immunotoxic and are often toxic to the endocrine system as well. The adverse health effects are not limited to those systems only, as these compounds can also cause a variety of dermatological, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, respiratory, musculoskeletal and craniological l problems. Heavy metals poison a diverse range of enzyme function, affecting virtually every system of the body.
The prevalence of all of the following has tremendously increased in Punjab as compared to 20-30 years back. Go to any village, you can get the observations of the men in the street. Don’t go by the statistics of our health department. These people are cut off from the people. They have no statistics or their figures are entirely wrong.
1.Gastro intestinal symptoms: Diminished appetite, urge to go to latrine as soon as we eat food, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, burning sensation in the stomach, bloated abdomen and gas formation etc. are very common in our rural community which is being affected by toxicity. The majority of our people are suffering from such signs and symptoms. In the villages on the banks of drains like Teja Ruhela and Duna Nanka of Fazilka Area (which have been extensively reported by the media), every body had these type of problems. The villagers challenged us-“Go to the village, you can’t find a single person who is not suffering from pet di bimaari”
2.Repeated episodes of Coryza: ‘Zucaam’ (Coryza), cough with fever, pus from ears and other upper respiratory (recurrent or chronic type) problems are very common in Punjab. Earlier our people used to have one episode of ‘zucam’ in the beginning of winter season. But now large number of Punjabis, more so the children suffer from as many as six episodes of ‘zucam’ in one year.
3.Lowered Immunity/ Immunotoxicity
Members of the community under toxicity will exhibit signs of lowered immunity. Punjabis are visibly showing signs of Lowered Immunity. They catch all diseases more easily than a community not under toxicity. The prevalence of many diseases have increased significantly and they are more serious and life threatening in nature. The evidence of lowered Immunity is very obvious in most of the Punjabis. Perpetually rising prevalence of Bacterial, Viral and Fungal Infections—Respiratory, Gut, Liver (Hepatitis-A, B, C, D and E etc.); Nervous System, GIT, Skin and other organs is obvious. Rising prevalence of Drug resistance in Bacterial and Fungal Diseases (TB, Typhoid, UTI, STIs Hospital Acquired Infections) etc. is also visible in our people. The most dangerous disease-Tuberculosis is increasingly becoming MDR (Multi Drug Resistant).
Environmental chemicals have a wide range of damaging effects on the function of the immune system. These range from decreased cell-mediated immunity (with a decrease in infection and tumor fighting capacity) to increased sensitivity (allergy) and increased autoimmunity.
4.Autoimmune Diseases and Immunotoxicity
The development of autoimmunity has been linked with chemical exposure as well. The notion of chemically-induced autoimmune states is not new; since many chemicals are known to induce the onset of Systemic Lupus Erethematosis (SLE). Some chemicals, like formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds, are thought to induce tissue-specific autoimmune reactions by acting as haptens. These low-molecular-weight molecules will bind to various tissues in the body, making a new antigenic combination. The immune system then makes an antibody to this new combination which can attack the parent tissue with or without the chemicals being present. Chemically exposed individuals will often present with elevated antibodies to certain body tissues, including anti-myelin, anti-parietal, anti-brush border. The prevalence of diseases falling in this category have tremendously risen in Punjab.
5.Vague Symptoms: Vague symptoms like aches and pains, headache, irritability, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Sick Building Syndrome,Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), diminished memory, feeling of not being well, lack of confidence, feeling of unhappiness, lowered anger threshold, lack of enthusiasm, lack of vigor and decreased libido etc are found very frequently in a community under toxicity. This has led to the increased prevalence of Addictions (Drug Abuse/Substance Abuse) to overcome this feeling and for having a feeling of VAHO, which should have been natural in a healthy person. In Punjab most of the people are suffering from such symptoms.
6.Musculo-Skeletal Disorders: Bone and Joint problems are highly prevalent in our villages. It is well established now that chronic toxicity is the major culprit. In Punjab there is flood of this category of ill health.
7.Anemia: Anemia is very common manifestation of toxicity. Anemia in our people is so universal that it is rare to find a child or a woman with normal hemoglobin. Now it is common even in adult males, which never used to be earlier. It is established fact now that chronic toxicity hinders in the synthesis of hemoglobin.
8.Growth and Development: All grades of adverse effects on growth and development will be seen. The number of stunted / under weight people has increased tremendously. We find quite a number of people with stunted growth. Similarly the people with delayed development are quite common.
9. Neurological /Psychological Manifestations /Neurotoxicity: The evidence of damage to the nervous system is in plenty. The children with learning disabilities, ADHD, ADD, Autism and gross mental retardation with or without Cerebral Palsy and large number of other neurological / psychological disorders including drug/substance abuse have increased remarkably.
Every village of Punjab is having 5-20 severely affected individuals. It is well known that for every severely affected person there will be ten moderately or mildly affected ones which will not be visible to the ordinary person. Such people are usually brushed aside as –duffers-dull-naughty-hyper active-disobedient-slow-sluggish-angry etc. etc. They are always being rebuked by parents and teachers for no fault of theirs.
The nervous system is a particularly sensitive target for toxic agents for several reasons. Besides the nervous system being such a good target, there are powerful neurotoxic agents available to attack it. Most of the major classes of pesticides kill pests by attacking their nervous system. They are neurotoxins by design. The OCCs affect the nerve by disrupting the ion flow along the axon. The OPs, which came out of nerve gas research and carbamates, affect acetyl cholinesterase resulting in excessive acetylcholine levels in the synapses. Solvents, some of which were originally used as anesthetics, dampen the propagation and transmission of electrical impulses along the nerve axons. All of these agents produce various forms of toxic encephalopathy (acute or chronic, selective or diffuse toxic encephalopathy), as neuronopathies, axonopathies, myelinopathies or vasculopathies.

10.Reproductive System Effects: Our Reproductive System is the most sensitive system to be affected by the toxicity first of all other systems. Here multiplication of cells is the fastest of all other tissues. Our gonads and the developing child in the mother’s womb are very sensitive to toxins. That is perhaps the reason that whole spectrum of effects of toxicity are visible in Punjab. The effect of environmental chemicals, especially the estrogenic OCCs, is well documented. While many are estrogenic by themselves, when combined together, their estrogenicity can increase by a factor of 1,600. Some combinations can also cause previously non-estrogenic compounds to become estrogenic. However, there are also non-estrogenic toxic effects of the OCCs on both male and female reproduction. High levels of OCCs in the serum have been strongly linked to infertility, stillbirths and miscarriages. Urban air pollution has been associated with reduced male fertility. While there appears to be a worldwide decline in the sperm levels of males, males who are organic farmers have very high sperm density. This gives rise to the supposition that exposure to environmental chemicals lowers sperm levels, and that avoidance of such chemicals may help to bring the levels back up. There have been multiple studies on one OCC that is used agriculturally--dibromochloropropane (DBCP)--looking at its effect on sperm levels. These studies have demonstrated that exposure to DBCP leads to azospermia, and severe oligospermia. This may be only associated with DBCP or it may serve as a model of other OCC-induced spermatogenesis problems. Heavy metals such as lead and mercury, organic solvents, alcohol, and ionizing radiation are confirmed environmental teratogens, and exposure could contribute to pregnancy loss. Published data indicate that chemical exposures causes alterations in reproductive behavior and contribute to sub fecundity, infertility, pregnancy loss, growth retardation, intrauterine fetal demise, birth defect, and ovarian failure in laboratory animals and wildlife. Data on the association of chemical exposures and adverse reproductive outcomes in humans is available.. Studies indicate that chemical exposures are associated with infertility, spontaneous abortion, or reproductive cancer in women.
To count those which are glaringly visible in the Punjabis are--
(I) Decreased Sperm Count –there are studies which strongly prove that environmental toxins reduce the sperm count. From grand father to grand son sperm count has come down to half.
(II) Erectile Dysfunction—Erectile Dysfunction has become a common problem in the middle aged adults and even many young ones. The use of Sildenafil, Tidalafil and other Aphrodesiacs has tremendously increased. They sell like hot cakes. If you want to have a idea about the extent of their use-go to a chemist (who is friendly to you –otherwise he wouldn’t tell)
(III) Premature Menarche in Girls-Many of the girls are having pre mature menarche at 9-10 years of age in Punjab-earlier by 2-3 years.
(IV) Delayed Puberty in Boys-- Similarly the boys are having puberty 2-3 years later than earlier i.e. 30 years back.
(V) Rising Prevalence of Menstrual Disorders, Uterine Fibroids, And Ovarian Cysts: These diseases have increased markedly in Punjab. You will come across large number of women whose uterus and ovaries have been removed.
(VI) Spontaneous Abortions—large number (one fourth to half) of women of reproductive age group is having repeated Spontaneous Abortions. They have to take Hormonal Injections to complete their period of pregnancy (gestation). This phenomenon has become very common.
(VII) Premature Births, Still Births, Early Childhood Deaths have increased.—the children are getting born prematurely. They have to kept in Incubators in NICUs(Neonatal Intensive Care Units) to save them.
(VIII) Childless Couples. The number of Childless Couples has increased many folds as compared to 30 years back. We can easily find 5-20 Childless Couples in all our villages depending upon the size of the village. In addition we can find an equal number of couples who have conceived with assistance from the Fertility Clinic.
(IX) Congenital Abnormalities: The prevalence of congenital abnormalities have increased manifold. In males-the children are born without testes, with undescended testes, with hypospadias (an abnormality of the opening of the penis), with testicular cancer, with poor semen quality, or with abnormally small penises. In females- similar abnormities occur in females also. There are large number of other congenital abnormalities like Neural Tube Defects, T-O Fistulas, Talpes Equinovarus etc.which are also seen frequently in Punjab. Estrogen mimics and other type of toxins are widespread in the environment. Apart from Pesticides and Heavy Metals they are found in such commonly used products as paints, toiletries, and spermicides and as a breakdown product of the plastics used in some water jugs and baby bottles.
11.Kidney Diseases: Kidney problems are on the rise. Kidney Stones are very common in these areas. Other Kidney Diseases are also rising.
12.Skin and Hair Diseases: Fungal skin infections, Scabies, Bacterial and Viral Diseases of Skin, Skin Allergies, Excessive Falling of Hair, Pre-mature graying of Hair and large number of Skin Disorders have increased.
13.Liver Damage: liver problems are on the rise. Hepatitis B and C; Gall Bladder Disease etc have tremendously gone up.
14. Cancers / Toxin Associated Cancers: The Number of people developing Cancers is tremendously increasing. In USA, a study showed that men born in the 1940s had twice as many cancers as those born in 1888-1897, and more than twice as many cancers not linked to smoking. Women born in the 1940s had 50% more cancers, and 30% more cancers not linked to smoking One of the cancers that has a very clear association with environmental chemicals is breast cancer.
Childhood Cancers--Childhood cancers have also been evaluated for epidemiological association with chemical exposure. In one study, 45 childhood brain cancer patients were compared with 85 friend controls. It showed clear cut association with chemical toxicity. For adults, the use of chlorophenoxy acid herbicides (2,4-D) has been strongly associated with an increased incidence of lung cancer, stomach cancer, leukemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma (two studies found a five-fold increased risk), non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (NHL) (five-to six-fold increased risk), and soft tissue sarcomas (many studies have found five- to seven-fold increased risk, with one review study finding a 40-fold increased risk). One study showed Kansas farmers having a six-fold increased risk of lymphomas and soft tissue sarcomas in persons using it 20+ days/year compared with non-exposed individuals. Those who mixed and applied herbicides and were exposed 20+ days/year were eight times as likely to contract NHL. Several studies have associated exposure to solvents with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), multiple myeloma, and other forms of leukemia. Another study which looked at the cancer risk for painters showed increased cancer rates for multiple myeloma, bladder tumors, as well as kidney and other urothelial tumors. A study in Sweden of 275 confirmed diagnoses of multiple myeloma. This study revealed that exposures to chlorophenoxy acid herbicides (2, 4-D) and DDT were prime risk factors.
15.Genetic Mutaions: The study done by PGI Chandigarh, clearly showed that we, the Punjabis are getting our genes damaged because of environmental toxins. What is the meaning of it? This means that the person is not suffering from any disease at present but may suffer in later life or his coming generations will suffer from the ill effects of damaged genes.
Health Effects on Animals:
The effects of Environmental Toxins on wild animals and cattle are exactly alike to the effects on human beings. However as we do not deal with animals so closely and passionately as we deal with humans, we usually see only crude effects and miss the fine ones. Some of the effects which are visible in Punjab are ---
1. Large number of wild animals which were in plenty 20-30 years back are either not visible now or are too much reduced in number. A large number of birds-vulture, eagle family, crows, a large variety of sparrows and other birds are either totally gone or are in the process of being eliminated totally. Out of the 10000 species of sparrows, 7000 are already extinct while others are in the process of extinction. Earthworms are totally missing from the fields under chemical farming but are present where no chemicals are used. Fish, Frogs, Toads, Snakes and large number of Reptiles are drastically less in number as compared to three decades back. Termites, Ghumaars, Cheechak Vahauti, Jugnus and large number of friendly animals living in the fields are either missing or drastically reduced.
2. The Honey Bees are a barometer of the environment. Albert Einstein speculated that "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left."
Honey Bee which is considered to be a very sensitive index of Environmental Toxicity is almost gone. There were two varieties (one large one called Doomnan and small one) which were very common site in Punjab are rarely visible now.
3. Our cattle show a large spectrum of health effects because of Environmental Toxicity. The spectrum is similar to the one seen in human beings. The most prominent effects which affect us directly are noticed by our peasants—
I. The milk yield is less by 30% as compared to 20-30 years back.
II. The numbers of times the cattle get pregnant are also less by 30% e.g. a buffalo used to be pregnant about 15 times in her life span earlier. But they never cross 10 now.
III. Sterility amongst cattle has become very frequent. About 25 % don’t get pregnant at all. Another 25% abort the fetus. They have to be given Hormone Injections to save their pregnancy to full term.
IV. The rate of falling sick is very high in the cattle. The disease pattern is similar to humans exposed to toxicity.
V. Large numbers of cattle die prematurely.
If the bodies of our milk yielding, egg laying and meat giving animals are full of toxins and they are sick because of these toxins-what will happen to our health?
Effects on Plants /Crops /Agriculture/Farmers/Biodiversity:
Just like Animal Biodiversity, our Plant Biodiversity is being destroyed very fast. Large numbers of plant species are fast disappearing. With Wheat-Rice Cycle and because of the irrational and blind use of Herbicides, large numbers of plant species which had health imparting and medicinal values have disappeared. Those which are there, are full of toxins and because of the presence of these toxins their health imparting and medicinal value is no more the same as were before the use of agricultural poisons. On the contrary they may become cause of ill health because of these toxins.
The crops have become dependent on the use of these poisons. Farmer knows very clearly that the inputs he is using are poisonous. He knows that he is poisoning his own family and he is the sinner of poisoning other’s families. But he feels helpless because the decision making power has been snatched from him under a deep rooted and planned conspiracy. The whole process / techniques of Chemical Agriculture have shattered his faith on himself, on his religion /gurus and on the Nature /God. He has been made a partner in the mass murder of insects /plants /living beings and destruction of soil, water and nature. His profession which was divine in nature has been converted into a devil’s workshop. He suffers from a guilt complex and the consequences of feeling guilty are very grave. The prevalence of psychiatric disorders including suicides and addictions has attained epidemic proportions in the farmers’ families.

Out Ayurvedic System which is based on the medicinal qualities of plants is under attack. How can a plant full of toxins act as medicine? The people are falling sick en masse and in the absence of curing food and herbs, the people are being forced to take allopathic drugs which are themselves very dirty poisons.
The whole Food Chain in Punjab has been shattered. The poison moves from lower living beings to higher ones. In the process, the poison levels rise by the process of Bioconcentration and Biomagnification. Those are the reason, the animals higher in food chain, start falling ill and die prematurely. They are not able to reproduce. That is the way they get eliminated.
The plants have become weak. They need artificial support system (chemical fertilizers, pesticides and plenty of water) without which they don’t grow. Being biologically weak, the pests attack them to destroy them.
The constant use of chemical farming techniques and lack of biomass in the soil has depleted micro nutrients in the soil. So in addition to having lots of poisons, our foods are deficient in micronutrients. Plants need about 32 types of nutrients to grow properly/ naturally and give nourishing food to animals and humans. We add three in NPK and plants take Carbon from air. What about rest 28 nutrients. They have to come from the soil. They are not present in the soil firstly because of our chemical farming techniques and secondly even if they are there the microbes are not there which were to convert these nutrients to usable form.
The emergence of Super Weeds and Poisonous Plants is already happening because of the extensive use of herbicides and GM techniques.

Effects on Air / Water / Soil:

The Human Health does not exist in isolation. Human Health is part of a bigger phenomenon which includes Animal Health and the Health of the Plants which the animals and humans consume as food. It is still it is not the complete truth. The complete truth is that the Health of all Living Beings is part of even a bigger phenomenon in which health of air, water and soil is part of this totality. The truth will be very clear if we try to understand the whole phenomenon in this Holistic Way.
In Punjab, our air, water, soil- are full of poisons. The poisons, we are manufacturing and using in our surroundings has made our air, water and soil (‘pawan-guru; paani-pita; maata-dharat mahat) thoroughly sick. They (guru, pita and maata) are dying. Their Life Giving Properties have been weakened. That is why their children-plants, animals and humans are falling sick and dying prematurely. The Plants and Animals have no awareness to stop it but what about us?
The forests have been destroyed en masse. Rain fall is decreasing and becoming unpredictable. We are over using the ground water. The Aquifers at about 30, 70 and 150 feet are already dry. This has happened in just two decades. The toxic surface water has polluted the underlying ground water also. The water of deeper Aquifers is heavy. It is not fit for human consumption. Most of the times, it is unfit for animal drinking and also for agriculture. More over it is fossil water-hundreds of years old. How far will it last? What after that??
Chemical Farming and method of Rice Cultivation has made the soil very hard. Rate of recharging of aquifers from the rain water has grossly decreased. So the dried up Aquifers at 30, 70 and 150 don’t fill up again.
The fertility of the soil is continuously decreasing. The chemical ways of Chemical Farming to keep up the soil fertility are getting exhausted. We have killed the microbes and bigger animals which were not only keeping up but were continuously increasing the fertility of soil. We are not adding any bio mass. We are not returning to the earth what we were supposed to return. We are burning the dry leaves and other types of plant waste. Burning Plant Waste is burning our future. If the natural law is allowed to operate, the soil becomes richer and richer with the production of crops. But we are not allowing the natural law to operate.
In nut shell this is a glimpse of the reality of life in Punjab. The reality is very ugly. We are heading slowly towards final death. All living beings die-that is a natural phenomenon. But this is a special death-we will not be replaced by our next generations. We are trying to kill insects. They are evolutionally much stronger than us. They are equipped much better to tide over the adversity. We will not be able to tolerate the poisons we are using for them.
Shall we be passive spectators to this game which people are calling ENVORONMENTAL GENOCIDE???
Contacts: ; 9872861321

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Punjab: Sindh valley civilization again ready to die

Punjab: Sindh valley civilization again ready to die

By Umendra Dutt

About two years back my friend the famous singer Rabbi Shergill in one of his Punjabi article says “There is no doubt that it was just because of a major environmental change that the great civilization of Indus valley had completely vanished. The same reasons, in the same form are today existed before us. The only difference between the both situations is this that in those times it was a natural disaster but this time it is of man made”. Rabbi equated present situation of Punjab with Sindh valley which destroyed because of water scarcity.
Rabbi concluded his article by saying ‘Sindh ghaatti aj fir maran nu tyaar hai’ which means Sindh valley is again prepared to die . “Will this really happen?” I asked my co-passengers.” Of course, it is a fading ecosystem, a dying civilization; a whole community was put on slow death” affirmed Dr Amar Singh Azad, my senior colleague in Kheti Virasat Mission. “It is crime against humanity and nature by our own governments that too on the name of development” I supported him by adding these words. We all are upset and full of anger after visiting villages near Dhakansu drain and Ghaghar River in Patiala and Sangrur districts.

This was our third visit to any river or drain area to educate ourselves on environmental toxicity and its multiple impacts. For me its second river I have tried to followed after Jayanti in Ropar district, where I did a padyatra about eight years back. I found several similarities between disappearance of Jayanti and Ghaghar. Both rivers have lost their “relevance”, when its people forgot what they stood for. Over the years, the river eco-system at both places has been ravaged and ruined by the developmental activities carried out in the name of modern thinking.

Let me share some more about our recent yatra which if simply transcribed was a field visit to learn of multiple crises of water, environmental toxicity, condition of agriculture, biodiversity, health crisis on vast spectrum and socio- economic stress around the Ghaghar River. In all what we say can be described as an ecological disaster.

Villages Up for Sale

The vision and riverscape is extremely frightening. In recent times, there has been much more talk about severe health and water tragedy going on in few districts of Malwa region. But we all need to stand corrected. The deadly devastation has spread to all of Punjab now. Even as this is happening, some of our well-wishers continue to ask us – “Why are you activists are creating much scare”. Let me respond in the words of Dr. Azad – “Yes we want to create a scare, because it is real and because situation far more destructive then our government can think of.”

To say the least, it is a question of life and death in Punjab; and it is becoming evident that Punjab is a dying civilization. Several people may find this offending, ugly and uncalled for. But the indications we are getting from across the Punjab are writing death sentence for Whole River and related ecosystem in this part of country and particularly for this brave community.

The very fact that villages up for sale symbolises of the deep distress and devastation spread across in Punjab. Let me illustrate with a real example. It was March 2002, and it was first of its kind of protest in India, around that time in Harkishanpura of Bathinda district. This was followed by Malsingh Wala in Mansa district in 2005. Both of these villages are situated in cotton belt of Malwa and have one thing in common: their acute water crisis. It is this situation that forced both villages to put their land on sale. It was a desperate step. But now such water-distress has engulfed the villages of ecologically more prosperous area of Puadh. A village in Patiala district near Chandigarh - Mirzapur Sandharsi is willing to put itself on sale too.

After reading about this in media reports when we visited this village we found that what was bluntly visible was that Punjab is fast turning into a waterless region. It can be Harkishanpura, Mandi Khurd or MalSingh Wala or Teja Rohella, Dona Nanka near Fazilka or Mirzapur Sandharsi - villages after villages are captured by severe water crisis.

There are several indicators to reaffirm of why Dr. Amar Singh Azad said that Punjab is a dying civilization. The symptoms of this slow death is common in the life situations that one can find in our journey from Mirzapur Sandharsi , Harpalpur to Shahpur Theri and Makrodr Sahib in Sangrur. We can classify these symptoms as: severe multiple environmental toxicity. After confirmation of presence of uranium traces in hair samples of children from Baba Farid Centre for Special Children and water and soil samples it is certain that Punjab is in midst of multiple environmental toxicity. This is an indicator that it is situation of extreme emergency in Punjab.

There is drinking water crisis due to drying-up of upper aquifers, water quality going drastically going down; destruction of river eco-system and vanishing aquatic life; and loss of biodiversity and crop diversity. This is along with increasing health problems particularly those related to reproductive health, falling immune capacity, early ageing and cancers. The same pattern is found in domestic animals their reproductive system which is also under serious threat. Falling agriculture productivity, increase in external inputs and rising debts, growing disconnects between farmer and his land are realities that run along. As a result farmers selling their farms and it have led to the emergence of loss of self confidence among affected people to tackle this formidable challenge and restore ecological health of their homes.

Acute Water Stress and its Impacts

I often say in Punjabi that Punj”aab” is fast turning into Be-aab and Punjabis of Be-aab Punjab are bound to become Be-abaad (displaced). The Mirzapur Sandharsi and near by villages are setting the fittest example for this idiom. Surinder Singh, Sarpanch of Mirzapur Sandharsi told us “There is no proper water and such water stress has forced us to sell our land. We are all ready to even sell our entire village.” As there is no water left in two upper aquifers – at 70 feet and 150 feet respectively, villagers are facing unprecedented hardship to meet basic needs.

Infect the aquifer at 70 feet had gone dry about 10years back and about five years back the second aquifer which was at 150 too went gone dry. “We are forced to dig 12 to 20 feet every year”; told Harbans Singh, Chairman of village cooperative society.
When the Ghaghar River was “alive” about 15 year back and its people full of zest, they never anticipated they would face with such acute depletion of water. Bu, as Ghaghar died slowly, the villagers were forced to draw water from third aquifer to be found at the depth of 400 to 450 feet. But unfortunately, this water unfit to even irrigate their farms, leave alone drinking purposes. So its discovery is of no use.

A question you may ask at this stage, is who is ready to buy these villages and agricultural land. The farmers of Mirzapur Sandharsi sold their land to establish a distillery company, which is set to draw water from 1200 feet deep aquifers. Villagers are hopeful that company will change their lives after getting water from 1200 feet deep bore-wells. What is ironic is that after exhausting all upper aquifers, the villagers are finding solution in a factory producing alcohol, as if they are the harbingers of hope. What they perhaps choose not to see is that it is a distillery which has primarily caused destruction of all water sources and contaminated Ghaghar River and its banks.

From the agriculture point of view, the water that a distillery will access is not the same as the upper aquifers. Although, farmers are able to cultivate wheat and paddy, there is no scope for vegetables as the water is extremely hard. It is no surprise then that no farmer is growing vegetables for the last ten years in Mirzapur Sandharsi village. As one farmer remarked,” We have forgetten the taste of our own grown vegetables”

Infect this is a common trend in all villages of this area who are not purchasing vegetables from as far as Ambala. Not to far back this area produced several kinds of vegetables for market as well for self consumption such realities are common even in several villages of Ghannour area of Patiala district. Farmers from Harpalpur situated in that area, says it all “Earlier we use to sell our vegetables in Rajpura and Chandigarh market, but now we are not able to cultivate vegetables anymore. As the water quality deteriorated significantly, it is just not possible.” Farmers of Shahpur Their, Mandavi, Chandu, Makrodr Sahib and Foold will all tell the same story. From growers of food, they are now consumers. The impacts are not just on land quality, family income and self confidence; such a situation has deeply affected household food and nutritional security. Farmers have lost their self reliance, and at the same time there is an additional economic burden to buy food from the market.

On an average wheat yield dropped drastically in last few years in almost all villages we visited. Few farmers are getting as low as 5 quintal per acre wheat. We were told by number of farmers that as ground water going deeper and deeper it is also loosing its quality. It often spoils the crop.” This is yet again a common perception amongst farmers from different villages. Such a situation has another significant and related impact which is a massive increase in the usage of Chemical fertilizer; which in turn works up the costs of agriculture inputs even more. Farming then becomes an even more costly affair. Now, this results in the economics of agriculture takes a serious beating leading farmers further into debt. Almost the entire agriculture land is being mortgaged. “We were happy and prosperous those days. Using Ghaghar water and getting higher yields in comparison of today. We use to grow Basmati about 15- 20 years back with very less water from Ghaghar getting 16 to 20 quintal per acre yield, 14 to 16 quintals of wheat and even 10 to 12 quintals of Grams. And this we are getting without using a drop of urea in our fields.” said Gyani Subeg Singh, a 70 year old farmer from village Shahpur Theri .

When is comes to the unstated related impacts, the loss of agro-biodiversity is another huge issue of concern. We have ascertained found that in last 20 years there is a drastic loss in diversity of species of both crops and livestock. A Till about 25-30 years back, most of farmers used to grow a variety of grams in their fields. Slowly they found grams loosing yield, as other crops were becoming dominant. So the farmers discontinued gram cultivation. What is ironic is that in the monoculture landscape of Punjab, not too far, biodiverse farming was a norm. Farmers were growing through combination inter-cropping of single crops like corn, Basmati rice, Cotton, Sugarcane, Wheat, Musterad; millets such as Pearl Millet, Barley and pulses such as Toria , Moong, Masar, Moth, Alsi, Til, Tara-Mira, Gwara, Arhar as well as Chilies.

Biodiversity and Riverscape Lost

Farmers and people living in those times will vouch for the fact that all these crops were grown without any chemical inputs simply by irrigating their farms with Ghaghar water. But as Ghaghar gone dry the biodiverse farming system which flourished here for hundred of years also shriveled -up. The real and life sustaining wealth of the farmers – water, earth and diversity stand plundered.

This has also eroded traditional knowledge system of farming and farming techniques which relied on low or no cost utilisation of natural materials around a household or fields. Now farmers are entirely dependent on externally purchased seeds, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and weedicides. They are now so captured with the idea of chemical farming that they have lost the confidence of thinking out of that box “We cannot grow any thing without chemicals. We know it is poison – but we have no other alternative” said Jaswant Singh of Shahpur Theri, while doing preparation to apply chemical fertilizers in this farm.

When we probed further the realities of farm related debt, Harvinder Singh, Youth Club President of Shahpur Theri spoke with grief “Death of Ghaghar has destroyed both our wealth and health. Now entire village is under debt. Not a single acre of land is free from loan. Several farmers forced to sell their farm land. About 35 to 40 people sold their village entire property and shifted out of village. That’s for those who have land, but there are many others who are just landless farm laborer.

This situation is very much similar to my earlier experience in Mirzapur Sandharsi and Harpalpur. In these villages quite large number of farmers had already sold their land. When I asked farmers at Harpalpur in Patiala on what their opinion is about the offer of Mirzapur Sandharsi villagers to put their village on sale; more then three farmers replied at once in a collective voice – “We are also ready to sell our village.” Then one farmer added with utmost anguish “Why are asking about these two villages, the whole belt of around 40 villages is ready for sell out, only we are not declaring it openly. If we got choice we all are ready to quit agriculture and move out of here”. Another farmer one sitting around there supported his views. These farmers are no more feel any attachment to their village. Surprisingly, the connection and affinity with their land no longer exists.

The most painful experience is yet to come. It is witnessing in real time the murder of a river and her bounties. It was such a chilling truth that made me more worrisome that how an entire society, otherwise known to have evolved around the hydrology of the area has been broken from its water heritage. Everyone whom we met during our visit told us “When Ghaghar River was full of life 15 years back, we use to drink the water directly. It was clear, sweet and tasty.” Vaid Piyara Singh, 55 years of Makrodr Sahib said with glitter in his eyes “Ghaghar was clean and whole village is use to drink Ghaghar water, I used to drink Ghaghar water almost daily while returning from fields – I never felt any problem, but that was about 20 years back.” In village Phoolad which is just 300 meters from Ghaghar we were surprised to see that except two young men all persons sitting in front of us had even consumed Ghaghar water. They told us that ‘Entire population of above 30 has tasted Ghaghar water at some time of their life. It was very tasty.’

More losses, I share with you. At one time the fish from Ghaghar River was very famous. People traveled from near and far to purchase it. Infact, several farmers told us that they had seen fish of 25 to 30 kg. Thousands of fish of different species, tortoise small and bigger were once in large numbers in Ghaghar. Apart from this several wild and domesticated animals freely roamed around the are just twenty years back. Said Kulwant Singh of, 52 years from Makrod Sahib village grief-stricken, “We have let Ghaghar is died in front of our eyes”.
Once Albert Einstein has said “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live." We really feels this happening right here. In every village we visited, we asked about honeybees and earthworms and sadly we got the negative answer every where ‘Now honeybees and earthworms are almost gone, hives are almost disappeared.’ indicating more vast destruction of life. Every time when we got depressing answer about presence of honeybees, Dr Azad reminds me of Albert Einstein’s prediction.
Like earthworms and honeybees several other insects were thrown out of web of life. And the younger generation of farmers even does not know the names of several friendly-insects

In adjoining Chandu village, all the households used to irrigate their farms from Ghaghar water, but now they are forced to scout for other options. “Earlier our animals went there for grazing, bathing and drink Ghaghar water, but now we cannot even think of it. There is only acid there.” Said Vaid Subhash,37 years.

It is not an exaggeration to state that the entire belt of villages on the bank of Ghaghar in Sangrur district was using Ghaghar water not only for irrigation; but also for other domestic usages. Some people also pointed out that River bed has several perennial springs like Nadiya Taal from where they used to get water for the entire year. There were large numbers of Dhaak and Dhaki trees, Jand, Kiker, and bushes of Duaansa in local language. Their loss only indicates that along with destruction of Ghaghar, the existence native plants and trees has also been ruined.

“In those days several species of birds were found around our villages, but now we hardly see even the most common ones like the crow or sparrow. All are gone.” are synonymous observations almost everyplace we traveled. Hearing this familiar expression, Dr Azad murmured – “It is our Silent Spring happening in Punjab.” I stood speechless and thought to myself whether we are heading towards doom or are in it already. What has happened and continues unabated is an extreme form of violence against the nature, and perhaps in time nature will avenge itself.

There was a time when despite of floods every year, Ghaghar was generous enough with life and prosperity. But now it is, to say the least hell, which we are all forced to live with. Perhaps it is only reflective of the hell that have nurtured within us. . Ghaghar's pollution began 15 to 20 back with toxic effluent from a wine factory at Main, near Patiala and Chambowali drain which joins Ghaghar at Chandu village. It is black, with bad smell. There is no life at all in water. Touching leads to irritation, itching, skin rashes. It is nothing more than acid flowing in a drain,

“Punjab is going to be a state of sick people highly dependent on medicines”, these were the words of Dr Amar Singh Azad. He has been repeating this untirelessly for last few years. His words were reinforced during this tour as we witnessed the ongoing massacre of health. What we have seen during this study visit has reaffirmed our earlier hypothesis: Punjab is passing through multiple levels of environmental toxicity. Every village we had visited speaks about the same tragedy. As Dr Azad often says that “The whole ecosystem of the earth is interwoven in a web of highly sensitive interdependence, any toxin in the environment –air, water and soil affects all the forms of life right from microbes to human beings. Almost all the observations conclude that wherever the toxicity is high; humans, cattle, wild animals, other animals including microbes and plants are gravely affected. The whole spectrum of ill effects on human health which various studies have shown is visible in Punjab. The Immunity of the Punjabis is being ruthlessly damaged.”

Disease on the Rise for Humans and Animals alike

In each village we got high number of cancer deaths, with every village having a number of cancer patients under medication. What we get from villagers is stunning statistics on instances of cancers, rising infertility and other reproductive health disorders. This is along with increasing number of neurological disorders, allergies and a severely injured immunity. The farmers gave this information of their memory during our face to face interactions, so possibly there might be some numerical errors. But the spread and widespread occurrence is an indicator that not only cancer, but reproductive health problems are also on the rise at an alarming pace and too in all parts of Punjab. We found quite large number of childless couples, cases of miscarriages, spontaneous abortions and premature deliveries. In each village we also found cases of neurological disorders, children with mental retardation and congenital abnormalities, cerebalpalsy, autism, learning and behavioral disabilities. It is hard to believe that the list of illness is much longer then we thought.

Skin diseases are very common in all villages; to which Dr Azad reacts by saying that this is first signal of diminishing immune system in people of Punjab. Then we also found large number of patients with kidney problems, stones in kidney and gall bladder. Digestive system disorders are another common ailment we came across in our tour. This is tremendously visible disease pattern that can be correlated with body toxicity load caused by environmental toxicity and prevalence of toxins in our eco-system and food chain. During group discussion it was also noticed that number of young deaths in last ten years is also on rise.

Poisoning of ecology has deep impact on animal health as well; This is more severe and destructive. It is not rhetoric that what we have given to nature, is bound to come back to us with more velocity. When we poisoned Ghaghar with toxics, it returns to us in the form of both human and animal health being marred. The status of animal health indicates that toxicity has reached its threshold level. We are fast moving towards total collapse of reproductive system. Apart from human beings, cows and buffalos are also losing their reproductive capacity. Now they have a lesser lactation period, lesser reproduction cycles. From 15, it has now come down to 5 reproduction cycles. More and more cow and buffalos are becoming sterile. With, toxicity on all time high as these animals are also facing extreme miscarriages and abortions. At least 70% animals are become unproductive and sterile. Their milk productivity is also going down. Moreover even Mare – female horses are becoming sterile. Indigenous hens are also not producing eggs as they used to . When pasturelands in and around villages thrived, so did the cattle there. The loss of Ghaghar has also added to the financial burden of water. Said one farmer, “earlier our animal use to go Ghaghar, now we have to run a pump to fetch water. Water from 150 feet is contaminated, its taste is not appropriate. We are ruined due to poisonous water was allowed to flow in Ghaghar”.

Question of Accountability

But question is - who is responsible for this ecological destruction. How we are going to give justice to river Ghaghar, her inhabitants and the nature. Who has to blame for putting this whole area into severe environmental health crisis? What has made river Ghaghar dead and vanished life of thousands of animals, fishes, tortoise, birds and other creatures, It has very simple answer - The Development with the focus on increasing GDP .

The factories of liquor and wine at Banaur, Patiala, Patran had caused death of Ghaghar. The owners of these factories , there management , the departments which gave No objection certificates (NOCs) to establish and run these factories , the officers with whose signatures these factories came into existence, the Punjab Pollution Control Board which is primarily responsible for monitoring pollution and effluent , the Revenue department and Directorate of excise and taxation , the finance ministry of Punjab which is filling its pockets from taxes on these factories thus giving them legal status and lastly the people who purchase and drink wine made at these factories are all responsible. They have all contributed to the death of a river and her ecosystem , all the impacts of health, water toxicity and displacement of farmers . These are environmental criminals who need to be punished.
Today, Punjab needs a true and honest people’s movement to take up the issue of environmental toxicity, high use of pesticides, life of water resources - rivers and life of Punjabi civilization. By giving a strong call to the public Sant Balbir Singh Seenchewal has already taken initiative in this direction. The situation demands that we have to go much further. We need to start talking the political ecology and political economy of decision making. People have to start thinking politically to punish the environmental culprits of Punjab. We have to evolve newer ways to punish those who are responsible for this devastation. I include myself in the list as one who had also in my earlier days contributed to irresponsible acts, and sometimes even now too. But all guilty, must be punished

The killers are of the same genre as those who drew to death Kali Bein, East Bein, Budha driya, Satluj and other rivulets of Punjab. One can find almost similar water crisis in districts of Faridkot, Muktsar, Bathinda and Mansa. I recall my visit to Burj Bhalaike, Nandgarh and Malsingh Wala villages of Mansa where water crisis is ruining the villages and I found same was the situation at over dozens of villages adjoining the world famous Ramsan Site, the Harike Wetland.
My friend in understanding and thought understands the connection with ecological issues. Prof Shubh Prem Brar from Bathinda has rightly said “The Southern Punjab is surrounded by toxic water ways; It is like garland of poisonous water encircling the large area of Punjab.” If you see the map of Punjab you see poisonous water is encircling entire south, south-eastern and south-western region of Punjab. It is absolutely terrifying. My heaven Punjab is on slow death.”
So, I ask one and all, is it possible to bring back the land and river scapes of Punjab from the clutches of death. Is their any life saving philosophies and techniques? Is it possible for a drawing Punjab to seek help through a life jacket? , Even as I wait for the answer, 63 year young revolutionary Dr Amar Singh Azad is more eager to step on a strategy in real time. He always says “Punjab is dying civilization and time is running out hands.” None of us want Punjab to die, do we?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Citizens oppose state government’s favourable stand on GM Maize in Punjab

Press Release
Badal pushing poison to favour multinational and foreign interest: Activists
Citizens oppose state government’s favourable stand on GM Maize in Punjab

June 18, 2010

Eminent citizens, Farmers’ Unions’ representatives and environmental activists from Punjab today questioned the reported government stand in favour of GM crops, reflected in the support sought for Bt Maize by the Chief Minister's delegation to Planning Commission a few days ago. They demanded that the CM explain on what basis/scientific evidence and through what process of decision-making did the government take this stand for the state of Punjab which is already reeling under a severe environmental health crisis and paying a heavy price for its short-sighted vision for farming in the state.

Umendra Dutt of Kheti Virasat Mission said that “GM Maize, as latest scientific studies show, results in adverse health effects including ones associated with the kidney and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs; other effects were noticed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system. He quoted the 2009 study by Spiroux et al to support his contention and highlighted that in another study by Dr. Zollac involving GM Maize, transgenic seeds responded differentially to the same environment as compared to their respective isogenic controls, as a result of the genome rearrangement derived from gene insertion, pointing to unintended changes”. Dutt also mentioned that in an official study done by the Austrian government, it was found that GM maize was linked to infertility and reproductive health effects.
He further stated that “The state government, especially the BJP constituents of the government, have to explain their role and stand in this decision of the government to seek support for GM crops. How do they explain this when many BJP-ruled states are clearly directing their state agriculture towards sustainable farming? If the BJP constituents in the government have not been consulted in this process, the CM has to explain how this decision was possible and how does this reflect the stand of the coalition government. It is surprising that even in states where Congress or UPA constituent parties are ruling, the governments, in consultation with farmers' organisations, scientists and civil society groups have taken a cautious stand against this controversial and unproven technology, while the Punjab government (in a state where agricultural technologies have left their adverse effects) is clearly going against common people.”

Questioning the intention of the Punjab CM, social activist Hemant Goswami said that it was apparent that the CM and his family were favoring the industry for reasons best known to them, and they are not at all bothered about the welfare of the people and the farmers in specific. “The Punjab Government is pushing poison down the throat of people of Punjab. I also challenge the partner in Punjab Government, BJP, to clarify its stand on genetically modified crops. We want to know what the Punjab BJP thinks on the issue since other BJP-ruled states are clearly taking a stand against GM technology and we have a coalition government with BJP here. The whole world knows about the harms of Genetically Modified crops, there are reams of scientific documents on this. Still, the Badals are trying to push foreign interest over farmers’ welfare. Punjab farmers are suffering high rates of cancer and other diseases due to unsustainable and unscientific perspectives of the Government. In such a scenario, when Punjab should be pushing for organic and bio-fertilisers, it is inviting an even-bigger disaster in the name of Bt and genetically modified (GM) crops. Punjab should even withdraw Bt Cotton but it appears that Punjab is still to learn from its past mistakes. Such a short-sighted approach will surely put the Punjab farmers and people on an irreversible suicidal path.” Hemant added.

Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, General Secretary, Bhartiya Kisan Union Ekta Ugrahan lamented this move and said, "Farmers have been looted and plundered by the MNCs in the name of modern technologies like hybrids and agri-chemicals; now, the Genetically Modified (GM) nexus is further trying to entrap us on the basis of many false claims. Bhartiya Kisan Union opposes the move vehemently".

Neeraj Atri of Bharat Swabhiman Trust mentioned that “Bt is promoted with the claim that it offers resistance against some pests. It does not reduce water consumption or offer better yield than our natural maize. In terms of environmental effects, Bt Maize is shown to simply swap one pest with another as a study from the USA shows. Further, some Bt Maize varieties have been shown to be susceptible to aphid infestation. GM Maize, including herbicide tolerant maize as with other GM crops, is shown to increase overall chemical use in farming and this is leading to resistant weeds in countries like the USA. This will pose more problems for Punjabi farmers than the solution it is purported to be.”

Balkar Singh Dakunda, President, Bhartiya Kisan Union Ekta Punjab said, “It is clear that the government is being run with a short-sighted vision with regard to agriculture and agricultural livelihoods in the state. The Bt in Cotton and Maize could in fact worsen the water situation in Punjab. Citing a few scientific studies Balkar Singh mentioned that leaves or grain from Bt maize have proved to be toxic to aquatic life if it enters streams, by way of dead leaves or grain. So instead of helping people, it can actually spoil the existing water sources too.”

Hemant Goswami further demanded that Manpreet Badal should explain his role in the siphoning off of about 80 crores in the name of experimenting with organic farming. Instead of seriously trying the option of organic farming, it has been reported that crores were spent on the farms of politicians and bureaucrats in the name of organic farming and the rest was siphoned off. “We should understand that the Punjab Government is deliberately making these schemes related to organic farming fail so that there is no option left other than purchasing patented seeds, insecticides and fertilisers from big MNCs. Corruption in the name of organic farming also has a long term effect of weakening the agriculture sector and provide a justification for helping the seed and chemical companies.” Hemant emphasised.
We ask the following questions to the Punjab Chief minister—
1. Is this decision his personal decision or a decision of the Cabinet?
2. Is this decision based on the recommendations of any broad-based body which has representation of scientists, medical experts, farmers’ unions, civil society representatives and consumer groups? If no-why not? If yes which one?
3. Has any committee of scientists given any report on which his decision is based? Such a decision has to be based on the recommendations of Experts including from the fields of Agriculture, Health, Veterinary science, Environment and Peoples Organisations like Peasants, Consumers and NGOs.
4. Has the government studied the whole controversy which is going on in the whole world regarding GM Crops, including trade security implications, the scientific debates etc.?
5. Is this issue (bringing in GM Food Crops) a state matter or a national matter?
6. Does Mr. Badal know that the final agenda of the corporations bringing GM seeds is for MNCs to take total control over Indian agriculture, throwing the peasantry out of the agriculture?
Eminent social activist Dr Gaurav Chhabra and Onkar Chand , R K Kaplash Chairman , Consumer Coordination Council also aired their views.

For Further Information, Please Contact:

Neeraj Atri
Tel: +91-9417111427

Umendra Dutt
Tel: +91-9872682161

Hemant Goswami
Tel: + 91-9779261733

For Alliance for GM Free and Safe Foods

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ecological Farming in Punjab: Issues, Strategies and the way forward

Picture Punjab is sitting on a volcano of environmental health disaster, waiting to erupt. The serious social, ecological and livelihood impacts have already started manifesting. Rather Punjab is already amidst this crisis.This is the clear message from the report of epidemiological study by School of Public Health, PGIMER and sponsored by PPCB on the effects of effluents on water quality and human health recently submitted to government of Punjab.

Agrochemical-centric agriculture has taken centre stage in the country's planning and perception and Punjab has become most vital component of this chemical-based agriculture system. Since then, Punjab was projected as the model state for the success of green revolution; it has become the centre of intensive agriculture practices since the 50's. During last five decades, India has increased the consumption of pesticides from 154 MT in 1953-54 to 73,000 MT in 1994-95. Similar patterns were followed in Punjab, which become biggest consumer of technical grade pesticides in country. Punjab has highest per hectare usage of pesticides 923 grammes and chemical fertilizers 192.5 kg, in India. 1 State of Environment 2007, Published by PSCS&T

This also indicates thatPunjab has the highest pesticide body load among the Indian states. Moreover the cotton belt of Malwa has the highest pesticide consumption density in the country. Punjab is just 2.5% area of the total agricultural land in India and it consumes nearly 18% of the pesticides in the country, where as the cotton belt comprises nearly 15% of the area of Punjab and it consumes nearly 70% of the pesticides in the state, thus making the equation more dangerous.

Economics of agrochemical based highly mechanized agriculture:

The agrochemicals and particularly pesticides are not only impacting the ecology and environmental health of Punjab, but these are also taking away economic self-reliance of Punjab farmers. On an average in Punjab farmers are spending Rs. 5000 on chemical inputs per acre annually where as Malwa's cotton belt farmers are spending Rs. 7000 in normal conditions. If there are more pest attacks, then there may be no limit to this amount. There is a rough estimate that every village is spending a large sum of money -- from Rs. 40 lakhs to Rs. 6 crores -- purchasing agrochemicals, depending upon area of cultivation and cropping pattern.

If we calculate this figure from last four decades it may last into hundreds of crores from a single village. This is a clear plunder of village wealth.

According to PAU study done by Prof. Sukhpal Singh and others, Punjab farmers are spending 44.1% of total loans on agri-inputs and 12% on farm machinery. This is clear indication that the chemicalisation and mechanization of agriculture pushed most of the farmers into a debt trap, which leads to the exodus and displacement of farmers and ultimately creates the situation of suicides.

Chemical-centric agriculture is not sustainable at all, it prescribes a kind of extortion in the name of modern agriculture practices, and it is drains money from villages to make agro-chemical manufacturers more and more rich. The present technological regime persuaded by PAU and State Agriculture Department and backed by agribusiness corporations is exploitative for farmers and abusive to the Nature and ecology.

In the last few years after witnessing thousands of farmer suicides, our worthy experts started talking about the agrarian crisis. We all are witnessing a deep crisis in the agrarian sector all around us, in all states of the country. We are seeing farmers commit suicides in thousands all around. Though we call this 'Agrarian Distress', we are yet to come across any cases of the owner/senior manager of an agribusiness enterprise committing suicide because of the unviablity of their enterprise. We are yet to see which industry - seed, pesticides, agricultural machinery etc. - is not witnessing growth trends. If it is agrarian distress, why is it not reflected in agribusiness economics? Why is it reflected only in farmers? Therein lays the crux of the role of agri-business in starting and compounding the agrarian distress around us.

We have to evolve a different paradigm of agriculture that can liberate our farmers from exploitation. Defiantly, the ecological agriculture has answer to this.

Why should Ecological Farming be promoted in Punjab[1]?

  • To restore the culture and dignity of our farmers – those who have been traditionally doing natural farming need to be given back their confidence; the many customary agricultural practices of the people of Punjab prior to the “green revolution” which has made it a rich society need to be revived.
  • To revive soil health – this is a dire need in Punjab if Punjab is to continue to be the food bowl of India and if the technology fatigue related to stagnation in production/productivity is to be overcome.
  • To protect and revive the health of farming community members and consumers – the impact of pesticides after the heavy pesticide load in Punjab farming is apparent and getting out of the trap of chemical pesticides is an urgent need.
  • To revive the livelihoods and reduce the debt burden of Punjabi farmers, by reducing the cost of cultivation dramatically. This ensures better net incomes for farmers and practiced well, this also ensures self-reliance of farmers when it comes to inputs needed for farming. The internalisation of inputs into the farming systems incrementally reduces the cost of cultivation for farmers. Organic farming that serves corporate interests of newer markets for organic products will not serve the purpose.
  • To allow for premium prices for high-quality produce by tapping into the “enlightened self interest” of Punjabi consumers, wherever possible, so that the livelihoods of farmers are improved.
  • Wherever possible, to address the water crisis in farming through methods like System of Rice Intensification.
  • To ensure that there is no threat to the trade security of the state – by default as well as design, since GM crops are disallowed in organic farming. This ensures trade security of the state, which right now exports various agriculture products including the famous Basmati rice.
Ecological security and environmental sustainability are directly linked to agriculture and economic sustainability. The agriculture model and lopsided development has already taken a huge toll on the environment. It is growth at the cost of ecology, economy and livelihoods. Punjab needs an immediate intensive action for overall change in the planning, thinking and perspective specifically for ecological and agricultural sustainability.

An immediate shift to ecological and natural farming can bring Punjab out of impending ecological, agricultural and environmental health crisis.


  1. By supporting small peasants in their OWN agriculture with their OWN seeds, this would require assistance in the shape of re-introducing lost traditional varieties from the National Agriculture Research System and even repatriating seeds from any state or private seed collections
  2. Set up a Punjab Institute for Natural and Ecological Agriculture, fully equipped with human and financial resources to promote organic farming with farmers of the state. This Institution should have agriculture scientists as well as other renowned resource persons (including practicing farmers from Punjab and other states) so that a mandate related to awareness building; capacity building and extension can be fulfilled. The Institution should have clear targets over a time line of converting a specific number of farmers each year to natural/sustainable farming. Financial allocations for awareness materials, training materials, kisan melas, workshops, demonstrations, monitoring, some scientific studies, farmers’ exposure visits etc., should be clearly earmarked for effective functioning of this Institution. If needed, district resource centres of this Institution should be created, to start with in the ‘cancer belt’ of Punjab. This should be an autonomous body which can report directly to the Agriculture Minister.
  3. This Institute should have funds to take up specific research studies including studies on pesticide residues, pesticide health impacts, and the impacts of organic/natural farming, etc,
  1. Train agriculture department officials in Natural/Sustainable Farming and convert the IEC material of the department into messages related to organic farming. To begin with, in select districts of the state, agriculture department officials can adopt a village each and start converting them to organic/natural farming. For this, proper institutional structures and processes are needed at the village level so that knowledge related to organic/natural farming spreads faster and the process scales out.
  1. Organize farmers into collectives, if needed with the help of NGOs wherever present or where not possible, through lead banks in each location, so that establishing the alternative on the ground becomes easier. It is usually found from experiences elsewhere that groups of about 15-20 farmers will be ideal for democratic institutional processes, knowledge sharing and collective work. Even issues like agricultural credit for those farmers/tenants who are unable to access institutional credit, can be based on peer collateral that will emerge from such institutions.
  1. Extension support is critical for ecological farming, which is a knowledge-intensive model. Let the existing natural and organic farmers of Punjab be the lead extension workers at the village level to motivate and train other farmers around them.
  1. Facilitating a community-driven certification scheme – there are several examples & ongoing experiences from different parts of India & the world to learn from
  1. Making “NO to GE” a reality in Punjab – as there an be no co-existence of organic & GM agriculture
It might also be good to give a functional definition to ecological farming as an “alternative” method of farming that emulates nature's processes as closely as possible and relies on natural products and practices (especially of intercropping and designing one's farm properly) rather than synthetic and toxic products. Ecological farming rests heavily on agro-diversity being conserved and promoted and an integral part of such farming is the revival of indigenous seed varieties and germplasm, rather than promotion of hybrid or GM seed.

The Strategies

Some of the very important strategies that are needed to be incorporated into any large scale programme of organic farming include:

a. Large scale and effective campaigns to convince all stakeholders about the ill-effects of chemical farming and the possibilities and opportunities of non-chemical farming; the government should employ a variety of means and media to put out messages to farmers urging them to give up chemical farming and opt for non-chemical approaches

b. Capacity building of farmers who are coming forward to take up organic farming: a variety of modules and structures to be created for the capacity building of farmers related to pest and disease management without synthetic pesticides, soil fertility management without chemical fertilizers (especially in terms of promoting soil biological activity and thereby addressing soil chemical and physical properties), agro-diversity and the need to conserve it etc. Such capacity building efforts should include bringing in resource persons from all over the country as well as taking farmers on exposure visits to places where organic farming is being practiced successfully. There should also be opportunities created for farmer to farmer extension on organic farming. Further, Punjabi material meant for farmers' use should be created and disseminated as part of capacity building.

c. Creating farmers' institutions from village upwards including farmers' field schools. Such institutions with hand-holding by external support agencies initially in creating systems for farmers' own management of these institutions will act as the sustainable fora to carry the work forward later on with or without external support.

d. Set up constant extension services on organic farming, with the extension structures beginning at the village level; this is a very critical component. When farmers shift to organic farming, a knowledge intensive process, they look towards someone to support them with advice at all stages. Extension personnel in a programme like this are practicing farmers themselves in the case of Andhra Pradesh and are paid a nominal honorarium for facilitating the farmer field schools and for visiting all fields regularly so that proper advice can be extended to individual farmers.

e. Creating other support systems for credit for organic farming and for marketing support for organic produce. Village level enterprises can be set up for processing and value addition for organic produce.

f. Setting up village & household level seed banks which offer diversity of crops and varieties of seeds to farmers in the village. As mentioned earlier, agro-diversity and the revival of traditional landraces constitute a critical part of ecological farming. When each farm exhibits mixed cropping, pest and disease management as well as soil productivity management are left more to natural processes than to chemicals as is the case now.

g. Further, in the case of Punjab, it is important that all departments concerned, including the Health Department, Agriculture Department, Rural Development Department, S&T and Environment Departments to come together to form the State Level Secretariat and to allocate resources from all the departments for this large scale organic farming to be taken up.

h. A comprehensive water policy should be evolved with specific attention on water management (local water management as opposed to grandiose water solutions like linking the rivers); detoxification of all rivers, rain-fed nullahs; and strict monitoring of all industrial discharge into the state's rivers and drains.

i. The soil and water resources in Punjab have been severely degraded over the last several decades. Facilities for toxicity testing, specifically for pesticide residues, of soil and water should be made available at nominal costs to farmers at the district level with specific suggestions on how to reduce/ counter the ill-effects of chemical farming on these resources by use of organic practices/ inputs.

j. At a later stage, right after launching the programme straightaway (the environmental health crisis is so acute that there is no time to be lost), a state level policy on organic farming should be evolved and adopted in Punjab as is happening with many other states. Apart from Central Government, five states have their state policies on organic farming. This includes Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttaranchal, while Andhra Pradesh is in the midst of the drafting process. Moreover, Himachal Pradesh has initiated a state level project on organic farming. The Northeastern states have also prepared an elaborative plan for the promotion of organic farming. Every policy has a few indispensable components- the vision, the ultimate objective and the inbuilt capacity to fulfill peoples' aspirations. The policy should address its core issue holistically. Its guiding principal lies in the well-being of community and the nation at large. It reflects the tradition, the heritage and socio-economic and civilization thought process, perceptions and progressive unfolding of the society. For this, policy has to be evolved by the involvement of community and its inputs. These are the fundamental of participatory democracy - a key word for sustainable development in true sense.

k. Develop a Strategy and Action Plan for Sustainable Agriculture:The agriculture of Punjab needs a fresh vision for its sustainability, as well as the sustainability of its natural resources. Currently, agriculture has not only destroyed the household nutritional security of farmers but has also made them dependent on the market for daily needs.

Such an approach will need a paradigm shift in approach and thinking. To take up this issue with urgent priority, the Government should formulate a policy and action plan with a fixed time frame to promote sustainable agricultural practices and eco-friendly methods of farming like organic and natural farming. Special budget allocations shall be made available for the purpose. The major focus of this strategy should be:

  1. To draw a balance sheet of the collapse of Green Revolution. We need to know what went wrong with agriculture, so that we don't repeat the same mistakes. A post-mortem of the Green Revolution is absolutely necessary.
  2. To draw a map of the soil health of Punjab. In the future, all crop introductions should be based on soil health. If a crop (including cash crops) has the possibility of destroying the soil fertility and thereby accentuating the ecological crisis, that cropping system should not be allowed.
  3. A biodiversity-based system of agriculture should be promoted, with support for indigenous varieties of cattle, other animals, and seeds. Awards, incentives and recognition should be offered to those farmers who practice biodiverse farming.
  4. Attracting youth through awareness building, and making agriculture economically viable, and hence attractive as a livelihood option. This means there must be support for the youth to take up agriculture and related activities.
  5. A cultural revival focused on reviving the farming culture of the state and upholding its heritage and pride as an agrarian state and food supplier to the nation.
  6. A farm-based approach rather than a crop-based approach in agriculture planning and supports.
  7. Support to form framers’ collectives in production, farm management and marketing, and ensuring procurement by government agencies, to avoid price fluctuations.
  8. Awareness-building about the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and the phasing-out of chemical pesticides through capacity-building among farmers, women’s groups and local entrepreneurs to produce organic inputs locally. All these have already been successfully developed and tried in many states without reducing the outputs.
  9. Changing the syllabus of Agriculture University to suit to this approach, meaning building the capacity of agriculture students to understand the local ecology and needs for an ecological revival of Punjab. This can include forestry and fisheries students also.
  10. The phasing-out of investments and increased outlays for agricultural research based on external chemical inputs like fertiliser and pesticides. Instead, financial allocations should be made for reviving low-input agriculture, which uses cheap and locally available technology and, in turn, improves production, reduces the cost of production and protects the environment.
  11. Agricultural research must reorient itself to learn from the existing sustainable farming models. The focus of genetically modified crops must immediately stop as it is risky and expensive for the farmer. This has been amply demonstrated in several parts of the world. Water productivity and efficiency has to be the hallmark of agricultural research based on the local conditions.
  12. Involvement of Women: Women are playing a very significant role in restoring nature and making organic farming a success in several places throughout the country. As organic farming can be termed as family enterprise, the involvement of women can provide organic farming the requisite motherly care. Women-power has immense scope and strength for scientific mass-production of compost, bio-fertilizers, bio-control agents, antagonists and other benevolent organisms through a structured entrepreneurship along with post-harvest handling of crops including value-added product production. This shall also provide the enhanced opportunity for women to take part in this endeavor of transforming the agro-cultural scenario. Civilization and its spontaneous evolution cannot be imagined without the active participation of a major part of the population, which is a woman.
  13. Incentive and subsidies: The subsidies and other incentives shall play a crucial role for the promotion of organic farming and it becomes more relevant in the present WTO regime. In fact, the subsidies paid by the American and European governments are indeed very high and form the backbone of their farmers. Government schemes for promotion of organic farming should consider this aspect. Appropriate schemes and policies for the development of organic farming in the state are needed. These must be farmer oriented and may require rising of special funds. Rising incidents of suicides by the Punjabi farmers is another pointer of their woes. The cost of inputs is increasing day by day, the pests attacking the crops are becoming resistant to even the most lethal chemicals insecticide, pesticides and other synthetic pyreathroids agents, thus creating huge losses to already struggling Punjabi farmer.
Examples set by other States

1. The Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture programme [CMSA] in Andhra Pradesh, taken up by the Rural Development department of the state government is a large programme setting up non-chemical, self-reliant farming for the improvement of farmers’ livelihoods in around 25 lakh acres of the state, covering all crops and districts. This is a programme being implemented by women’s self help groups. The institutional set up consists of one village level activist [who is a practicing farmer, who will also receive additional capacity building inputs and training aids], a cluster coordinator for a cluster of five villages and a district level coordinator of the programme. Further, there is a state level secretariat which plans, reviews and monitors the entire programme and leads the capacity building effort. Probably a small team of agriculture department officials and other concerned people from Punjab, including ones who could potentially be part of the proposed Institute for Natural and Sustainable Farming can be sent to Andhra Pradesh to look at this programme.

2. Inputs are provided by the state government through the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty [a GO-NGO] mainly for capacity building of the human resources mentioned above, for constant extension support to farmers, for campaigns and exposure trips, for trainings and training material production, for collective enterprises to be set up at the village level for input production, for collective marketing support etc.

3. States like Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttaranchal, Maharastra, Kerala, Nagaland and Sikkam have all ready formulated organic farming polices and programmes. Several other states have also initiated the process. This has moved beyond the debate over the need for organic farming and has begun with a stated stand that organic farming is indeed needed and profitable. Large scale programmes have been initiated without the need for the conventional approach of agricultural universities first having to endorse such programmes.

4. It is not an option between NPM or organic or natural farming but a mix of all of these and if needed, an incremental movement from one to the other (as in the case of Andhra Pradesh where the Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture programme, or CMSA, evolved from NPM or No-Pesticides Management of crops). Even in "natural farming," though the concept is understood as "do-nothing," many practitioners use some natural resource-based products initially. Similarly, "organic farming" is not to be understood only in one rigid sense of externally-certified production system – there are models of "declared organic" too, which run on corporatisation between consumers and producers.

Recommendations of Task Force on Organic Farming: From last five years there are number of documents brought up by various government agencies and institutions. In 2001 Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperation, Government of India had formed a Task Force on Organic Farming headed by Dr. Kunwarji Bhai Jadav that brought out its report in November 2001. In September 2001, the Working Group on Organic and Biodynamic Farming, constituted by Planning Commission submitted another report.

The Task Force on Organic Farming had made several recommendations, few are very important, as:

    • The economic value of chemical fertilizers and organic manures may be equated in terms of their overall effect on soil productivity and crop production, and the Government may provide support accordingly.
    • The technology packages on organic farming as developed by farmers, NGOs and others may be evaluated and the successful technology may be expanded in larger areas.
    • Bullock-drawn implements should be encouraged.
    • Each of the agricultural universities in the country may start a course at the Post-Graduation level on organic farming.
    • Each Krishi Vigyan Kendra may set up a vermin-compost unit and a biological control unit for demonstration and dissemination of the techniques. These centres may also provide bioagents / antagonist and earthworms to the farmers after their training.
    • Each state may set up a state level cell or create a suitable unit at the Headquarter of Directorate of Agriculture to oversee the promotion of organic farming in the State.
Punjab government can look into some of these recommendations for adoption.

Ecological Agriculture: The International scenario

The role of technology, too, needs to be ascertained. Pesticides were promoted blindly on rice, for instance. The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines now says that pesticides on rice were a waste of time and effort in Asia. But meanwhile, pesticides usage has already taken a huge toll, and pushed farmers in a debt trap.

Studies done by ICRISAT and IRRI clearly demonstrate the sustainability, viability and successful economics of Non-Pesticide Management practices. Farmers in Bangladesh, Philippines and Vietnam have successfully opted for pesticide free rice cultivation. Cuba has also shown the way. Former Director General of IRRI, Dr. 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 recognized and corrected".

The FAO also in its report on International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security held at Rome on 3 to 5 July 2007 clearly says that Organic Can feed the World. The report states that the use of chemical agriculture inputs has been increasing in the last two decades but grain productivity keeps declining. Report also says more knowledge is readily available through fast information technologies but nutrition related diseases are increasing; industrialized food systems have environmental and social costs that threaten food security (e.g. occupational deaths through pesticides poisoning, farmers’ suicides due to debts, and loss of million jobs in rural areas).

The example of Cuba is known to every one. The Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea are the most progressive countries in terms of perusing ecological agriculture.

In 1986 Indonesia banned 28 pesticides on rice by a Presidential decree. Making it the first country in the world where pesticides were banned under a Presidential decree. Further more, these pesticides were then completely banned and phased out in Indonesia in 1996. In 1986 The South Korean Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry announced national targets for reducing pesticide use by 50% and fertilizer use by 40% by the year 2004.

Other Steps must be taken by Punjab Government

Research Project on Pesticide Consumption and Residue:As Punjab has one of highest levels of pesticide consumption in India, it subsequently has the highest pesticide load on its people and ecosystem. Punjab is already facing severe adverse impacts of agro-chemicals used in last four decades. Now at this crucial juncture, the Punjab Government should take bold steps to ensure a safe environment and ecosystem to the future of generations of Punjab. For this the Punjab Government should take these steps:

1. Complete a detailed study on pesticide consumption patterns in Punjab.

2. The government should immediately ban the aggressive marketing of pesticides including all forms of advertisements, publicity and promotion schemes for pesticides and other agro-chemicals along with all incentives given to the pesticide and agro-chemical dealers’ network.

3. Raise awareness about the dangers of pesticide use through well-financed education campaigns. These must ensure the dissemination of information on the ill effects of pesticides on all users.

4. The government should evolve an action plan for the immediate and time-bound phasing out of the most deadly pesticides: class I a, I b and II.

5. The vital task of properly compiling residue data, already generated by the agriculture universities.

Issues of Concern in Organic:

Develop an alternative local (domestic) marketing strategy, especially for Organic Produce:The government must take steps to ensure the right price for the produce, without the exploitation of middlemen, including the big retail companies, (the shopping malls and supermarkets) that are now monopolizing the markets. It is possible to develop an alternative domestic market for food produce, especially organic through the concepts like an Organic Bazaar (running in five cities in India) and the Participatory Guarantee System of Organic Standards Certification (accepted by IFOAM), which is not costly and exploitative and is based on a faith, accountability and an integrity based system. The idea is to grow organic for the health of our own soils and own people not for export.

It has to be noted here that those ecological farming models which are created to provide business opportunities in the form of bio-inputs once again for agri-business companies or for services like expensive certification, will once again take away from the potential benefits for farmers. The whole effort should be farmer-centric and led by them with as many employment/enterprise opportunities as possible created for them and managed by them.

GE Crops and Ecological Agriculture:

Punjab is the probably the only state in India which has promoted Bt cotton with Chief Minister’s photograph. The entire agriculture establishment in Punjab has taken a pro-GM stance forgetting its other falls outs.

Genetic Engineering in agriculture is being imported as the solution (BT Cotton for example) whereas it has the potential to further worsen the situation through its severe environmental and health consequences. No one should be misled by the propaganda of GE seed companies taking Bt.crops as pesticide-free organic crops, where as Bt crops have also a pesticides, preotein (delta endotoxin) that have a disputed effect on human health. So, at no point can Genetically Engineered or Bt. Crops be considered as organic under any circumstances.

It is alarming that the agriculture establishments of Punjab are seeking alternatives to pesticides for GM crops. In the last two years the state government has made several statements on their interest in GM crops as well as organic crops.. This reflects the government’s confusion on the issue. It seems that the government has neither understood the basic differences between Ecological / Organic and Transgenic agriculture, nor has it understood the similarity between pesticides and BT crops.

The similarities of transgenic agriculture, especially GM crops developed for insect resistance, with pesticides are uncanny. The same companies are involved, with similar kinds of dangers inherent in the technologies – they are also promoted with the same claims! It has to be remembered that they are both irreversible technologies with a high likelihood of “ending up everywhere.”

Co-existence of GM crops with organic agriculture, given the reality of our growing and post-harvest conditions, this is impossible. Both biological and physical contamination of other crops is a distinct possibility. Segregation of GM and non-GM crops is not possible even at the farmer household level. Isolation distances required for such segregation cannot be maintained at the field level, because this is not a choice that pertains to a single farmer but is something that is impacted by choices exercised by neighboring farmers too. While this is not possible for non-GM, it should be remembered that organic standards are pretty rigid and set very high, mainly to protect the trust and interests of consumers. After harvest too, at various stages like storage, transportation, at the local market yards, at the ginning and spinning mills and so on, it is impossible to maintain segregation. Implementation of a rigorous system of “identity preservation” [IP] and “traceability” would be virtually impossible in India, Punjab included. No amount of labeling requirements and legislations (an end of the pipe solution, rather than a clean production solution, to draw an analogy from other sectors of production) can control the situation that we would land ourselves in.

As other analysts have argued earlier, even if it is assumed for the sake of argument that Identity Preservation was possible to implement in India, the excessive operational costs involved would make agriculture a very expensive and unaffordable activity. As it is, spiraling costs of cultivation with dismantled public support are pushing many farmers to the brink of suicides every day.

Contamination of GM produce with non-GM produce is unavoidable and this would endanger the trade prospects of an entire nation, in addition to exposing its population to a variety of risks.

Is this what Punjab should show to the rest of the country as a leader in farming innovations? Is this how Punjab should evolve future directions for Indian agriculture?

It would do well for Punjab to remember that it is for a very good reason that the entire world, barring a handful of countries, is taking a precautionary approach to GM crops. It is particularly foolish to promote Bt crops given that alternative pest management models in the form of IPM, NPM, Organic etc., has been successfully established all over the country and across the world. These farmer-centric alternatives have proven themselves time and again to be economically, environmentally and socially beneficial. It is indeed unfortunate that Punjab, which has always been in the forefront of agricultural development, has not yet learnt any lessons from such positive experiences.

To conclude, we would like to inform the state government that there is one more similarity between GM crops and pesticides – both are completely dispensable in agriculture and it has been shown to be so by many farmers in Punjab!

PAU and Ecological Agriculture:

The PAU has also come up with a project on organic farming in the Department of Agronomy, though it is still in its infant stage. However, we must understand PAU’s perspective and approach towards organic farming. PAU scientists openly show their apprehensions regard potentials of organic farming. They even put limitations of organic farming in their official presentation on organic farming. It is ironic that while PAU scientists knows that very much about residues of pesticides in food chain etc but they always conclude with the one liner – Pesticides are indispensable. It seems that political factor -There is No Alternative TINA is ruling the PAU vision.

Secondly, they are even equating Bt cotton with organic cotton. Senior officials from the Agriculture Department have shown their doubts for the productivity and yield of organic cotton. PAU and the Agriculture department both are working half-heartedly and there is clear misunderstanding of the yield potentials of organic. Moreover, agriculture scientists are not so open to learn from the experiences of farmers from other Indian states. However, if it the United States proposes something, then they readily follow it. There is a false self-pride in Punjab that we have to feed rest of the country, that we have to grow more and more, and that this is only possible with chemicalised agriculture.

Punjab must take note of example of Cuba becoming self-sufficient in food and vegetables by organic farming and that too with in three to four years of time. Cuba has opted for organic in 1990-91 and by mid-1995; the food shortage had been overcome. It is general opinion that a nation cannot feed its people without synthetic agro-chemicals, yet today Cuba is self-reliant in food security without using these deadly agro-chemicals. This is a result of a change in mindset and agricultural vision, and Punjab needs the same.

Punjab State Policy on Natural and Ecological Agriculture:Lastly, about two years ago the last government announced that it will form an Organic Farming Policy for the state. But this policy has not materialized and as of yet, there is no such policy for the state. As ecologically sustainable agriculture is the need of the hour for Punjab, Punjab should have a proper organic farming policy. It is time to take the initiative to formulate a policy framework for the promotion of natural and organic farming.. Punjab government should invite suggestions and inputs from all the stakeholders and partners for sustainable development before formulating any policy. Public hearings and dialogue must be initiated to make the policy people-oriented and realistic. Moreover, the policy formulation process should be farmer-centric and must be with a bottom-up approach. Again this task can not be entrusted to Green Revolution mindset experts; it has been entrusted to individuals who want to see the new paradigm implemented.

This is the appropriate time to raise the public debate on state policy for organic farming in Punjab. Punjab State Farmers’ Commission intends to formulate a state policy, therefore one can hope that a Punjab state policy on organic farming will soon become a reality. Nevertheless, we musk ask the important question of what our priorities should be in Punjab. What is the meaning and relevance of organic farming for Punjab?

As eminent agriculture scientist and policy expert Dr. Devinder Sharma rightly says, “Emphasis on commodities approach during the Green Revolution has encouraged monocultures, loss of biodiversity, encouraged food trade in some commodities, distorted domestic markets, and disrupted the micro-nutrient availability in soil, plant, animals and for humans. Thrust on farm commodities has also pushed in trade activities, encouraged food miles, adding to greenhouse emissions, water-mining, and destruction of farm incomes. The need is to revert back to the time-tested farming systems that relied on mixed cropping and its integration with farm animals, thereby meeting the household and community nutrition needs from the available farm holdings. “

Such an approach will need a paradigm shift in approach and thinking.

Natural Farming in Punjab

KVM feels that there is an urgent need of Swadeshi agriculture movement to decolonize Indian agriculture and to liberate Indian farmer from clutches of westernized agriculture and developmental paradigm being convinced by ICAR and State Agriculture Universities. This prototype is philosophically alien to our cultural roots and stranger to ecological ethos and believes of our society.

The KVM’s natural farming movement has also brings another significant change in mindset of farmers. Now they are not looking towards Agriculture University or departmental experts for expert advice any more. every farmer of this movement is an expert in himself, he practice this science of natural farming, he lives natural farming every day, he is totally engulfed with the philosophy of natural farming. The modern agriculture paradigm has limited all expertise to Agriculture Universities only. The chemicalised agriculture model has made farmers scientifically illiterate – who presumed to be ignorant in every aspect of science and agri-technology. This is a conspiracy which has made farmers dependent on universities, departments, companies and even pesticide retailers. It is a cruel joke that those who get a three or five year degree in agriculture with a alien kind of agriculture knowledge are known as experts, who are practicing a agriculture knowledge of only 40 years old, where as farmers who inherent the agriculture wisdom of at least 10,000 years are made commoners. We are not going to accept this nonsense any more. We are working to build self-confidence of our farmers on their own agriculture heritage and wisdom. We are the nation with abundance in farm produces, agro-biodiversity and prosperity.

There are scores of ecological [natural/organic] farmers in Punjab today, who have successfully demonstrated that a shift to ecological approaches will mean better economics, including on the yields’ front after a small initial transition period. It is also seen from the experience of organisations like Kheti Virasat Mission that farmers of Punjab are really keen on alternatives because the current agricultural models have turned out to be very unfavorable to them. Therefore, the experience from the ground shows that the debate really is not about whether organic farming will help farmers and whether there are scientific studies around it (which can also be shown, of course), but about how to establish organic farming on the ground.

New agricultural paradigm for Punjab: Nanak Kheti

The farmers practicing Natural farming are neither environmentalists, nor economists nor religious preachers nor trained agriculture experts nor a health professionals, but they still posses and practice the wisdom of all these. They practice Guru Nanak’s precept of Sarbat da Bhala meaning the wellbeing of all, in their farming –Nanak Kheti.

Their farms are laboratories of happiness for all and encompass every living creature on earth, every life form. It is farming with passion for the wellbeing of all; one can call it spiritual farming, natural farming, non-violent agriculture or simply Nanak Kheti. These farmers are even taking care of a large verity of birds, earthworms, honey bees, butterflies and fireflies and many more magnificent life forms. For these farmers all living creatures are part of a family and - it is their family.

KVM preaches to adopt famous verses of Guru Granth Sahib in farming practices: “Pavnu Guru, Panni Pita Matta Dharat Mahat”, Air is Guru, Water is father and Earth is mother. This holy guiding principal should be part of the life, practice and mission of farmers who want to do natural farming- Nanak Kheti.

Future lies in the natural farming also known as sustainable, organic and ecological agriculture and in Punjab call it agriculture embodied with the philosophy of Guru Nanak Dev - The Nanak Kheti only. It is native paradigm of Punjab; it comes out of our cultural, social and ecological roots and heritage [1] Organic farming is a term used here to mean natural and sustainable farming which is not just certified organic as is conventionally understood