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This website provides resources on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) such as pesticides, dioxins, PCBs, and wastes. Valuable examples of community monitoring of health and environmental impacts of toxic chemicals are also furnished.

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Bangladesh: No bt cotton, no pests !

by Devinder Sharma, The New Nation

For the beleaguered cotton farmers, who consume an overdose of harmful pesticides every year, and are now being lured to adopt genetically modified cotton, there is finally a silver-lining on the dark and polluted horizon.

No pesticides, no Bt cotton and there are no pests !

A tiny village in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh has successfully charted an easy and simple escape route from the multiple rings of a chakravyuha or a trap that the agribusiness industry had very conveniently thrown around the neck of cotton farmers. Like the legendary warrior Abhimanyu in the great epic Mahabharta, cotton farmers were being pushed into a chakravyuha from which there was no way out. More the attack of insect pests and more was the use and abuse of potent chemicals. Thousands of cotton farmers, unable to loosen the tightening rope around their neck, had in the bargain taken the fatal route.

Punukula village, about 12 kms from Kothagudem town in Andhra Pradesh, and with a population of about 860, too was a victim of the vicious circle of poison. Indiscriminate application of pesticides on cotton and chilli had brought in a horde of problems, including deaths resulting from acute poisoning and suicides by debt-ridden farmers. While the sale of chemicals soared, raking in annually Rs 2 to 3 million for the pesticides traders from only about 500 acres of land holdings that exist in the village, farmers continued to slide into debt following the devastation inflicted on the natural resource base. If only the sale receipt from unwanted pesticides had remained within the village, the village economy would have been on an upswing.

It was in 1999 that a few farmers began experimenting with Non-Pesticidal Management (NPM) practices. A year later, in 2000-01, a local NGO Socio-Economic and Cultural Upliftment in Rural Environment (SECURE) with technical support from the Centre for World Solidarity, was able to convince 20 farmers to opt for NPM. The highly contaminated environment began to change for the better. Soil and plant health looked reassured, and the pests began to disappear. Such was the positive impact both environmentally and economically that by 2004 the entire village had stopped using chemical pesticides. Restoring the ecological balance brought back the natural pest control systems. Along with the pesticides, the pests too disappeared.

With no pests to worry, Punukula had no reason to go in for Bt cotton.

At a time when more than 55 per cent of the total pesticides used in the country are applied on cotton alone, the story of Punukula is a reminder of the dangers of a silent spring. First pesticides, and now Bt cotton, is being promoted to reduce crop losses from the dreaded bollworm pests. The idea being that pesticides being harmful to the environment any reduction in its usage is a saving from chemical contamination. What the industry as well as agricultural scientists however refuses to accept is that pest population multiplied only because of the unwanted application of chemical pesticides. In the early 1960s, only six to seven major pests were worrying the cotton farmer. Farmer today has to worry about 70 major pests on cotton. Therefore the solution is not to push the cotton farmer deeper by strengthening the multiple rings of poison (and now biological treadmill through Bt cotton) but to pull him out of the pesticides trap.

NPM practices have not only restored the ecological balance but also reduced the dependence of farmers on external inputs. This in turn minimized the debt trap and thereby the resulting spiral death dance.

Punukula today stands as an oasis in the highly pernicious and contaminated farming systems being promoted by agricultural research and the agribusiness industry.

Punukula however does not figure in the research agenda of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), the umbrella organization that controls farm research in India, as well as the National Academy for Agricultural Sciences and the Ministry of Fod and Agriculture. So much so that the Union Agriculture Minister, Mr Sharad Pawar, and his colleague, the Science and Technology Minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, too continue to blindly support GM technology. Like the mainline agricultural scientists, they too remain away from the realities of farmers fields but always have a ready ear for the agribusiness industry.

Mr Pawar had recently said: “GM crops are necessary for ensuring food and nutrition security and increasing farmers' income. Like the IT sector, India has to exploit its potential to emerge as a leader in agricultural biotechnology.”

Mr Pawar’s misplaced emphasis on a risky and faulty technology is essentially to help the commercial interests of the biotechnology industry. What Mr Pawar is not aware is that in 2003-04, the total acreage under NPM cotton went up to 1200 acres in Punukula and the neighbouring Pullaigudem villages. With an average yield of 7500 kgs per acre (against an average of 500 kg for Bt cotton), cotton farmers in Punukula have emerged free from the recurring cycle of debt and death.

Another NGO, the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), Hyderabad, has clearly demonstrated the economics of Bt cotton and hybrid cotton in some of the selected pockets of Andhra Pradesh. It has established that the cost of pest management in Bt cotton was 690 per cent more than the NPM farming systems.

This was over and above the seed cost, which was 355 per cent higher in case of Bt cotton seeds. Who gains from the promotion of Bt cotton seeds therefore is quite obvious. Unfortunately, the entire agricultural research infrastructure in India and for that matter globally is being used to ensure the viability of the seed and agribusiness companies. The farmer is just an incidental beneficiary in the reductionist economics that is worked out in support of such farming technologies and approaches..

©heal toxics, 2003
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Pesticide poisoned Bohol schoolchildren: RP health dep't (SunStar Daily)

US Federal court ruling comes under fire (VOV News)

Bangladesh: No bt cotton, no pests (The New Nation)