|University responsible for ag crisis / Soft drinks, pesticides and biotech (13/8/2006)|
1.University responsible for ag crisis
EXCERPTS: "Has the university ever tried to study the impact of Bt crops in the state? They just do not have the will to do so. Thus it is time that the farmers take matters into their own hands and force the university and government to toe their line. The farmers will have to stand up and say no to genetically modified crops, and the institutes will have to heed them" - Devinder Sharma (item 1)
"Why can't government promote the concept of non-pesticide management (NPM) developed by the former director of Central Tobacco Research Institute? This concept, which is almost organic farming, has worked well with cotton cultivation in Andhra Pradesh and the state government is planning to promote this concept through its Indira Kranti Pratham scheme." - Ashok B.Sharma (item 2)
1.'PAU responsible for agrarian crisis in state'
Punjab Agricultural University is solely responsible for the agrarian crisis in the state. This was expressed by well-known policy analyst and agriculture scientist Devender Sharma, who was in the city today to speak at a seminar organized by [the farmers' organisation] Bhartiya Kissan Union (BKU).
Sharma said, "No doubt PAU has helped usher in the green revolution. For doing so, the top scientists of the university were given coveted national and international awards. However now when we have a crisis, there is no scientist who is accountable for the failure."
Armed with arguments, Sharma said, "The scientists have long used the farmers for promoting the interests of the agri-business and pesticide lobby. Even today, PAU will hold seminar on Bt crops. But to date, the university has not held a single seminar or discussion on farmers' suicides. The basic problem is that post green revolution, the scientists never went in for mid-term correction."
In this regard, Sharma cited the example of diversification. "We have been harping on this term since 1984, and to date we have not been able to see any benefit of diversification. Contract farming has failed in the state, and so has corporate farming. PAU has been blindly promoting the policies of the West. But the West has surplus food stocks, and they want to sell them in India. The best way is to ask India to stop growing food and replace it with cut flowers and strawberries, export these products, make dollars and then buy food from the West with the same dollars," he stressed.
Coming down heavily on the bio-transgenic crops, Sharma said, "PAU has never raised its voice in the case of Bt crops. For Bt cotton, the university said that Punjab needs it the most, for our cotton crop had been failing year after year. But what about Bt brinjal. Are we short of brinjal too in Punjab? Has the university ever tried to study the impact of Bt crops in the state? They just do not have the will to do so. Thus it is time that the farmers take matters into their own hands and force the university and government to toe their line. The farmers will have to stand up and say no to genetically modified crops, and the institutes will have to heed them," asserted Sharma.
2.Why spare hidden villain pesticide?
The recent findings of high limits of pesticide residues in beverages like Pepsi and Coca Cola has initiated a debate in the country.
Kerala chief minister VS Achuthanandan went to the extent of banning the sale and production of the beverages in the state. Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab imposed bans on sales of these two beverages in educational institutions, hospitals and state government offices.
Ban on these two beverages, however, is not a solution to the problem. The issue is of the presence of hazardous pesticides. The Centre for Science and Environment, which conducted the study, found a cocktail of 3-5 different pesticides in 57 samples of 11 soft drink brands from 25 different manufacturing plants of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo spread over 12 states. In all the samples, pesticides limits were 24 times higher than the permissible norms formulated by the Bureau of Indian Standards.
The norms were formulated, but implementation needs to be done. Even implementation of the norms will not address the real issue. The soft drinks majors say that the problem is due to the presence of pesticide residues in water and sugar used as raw materials for the product. The government too agrees to this view. In a way the buck has been passed on to the pesticide industry.
The pesticide industry has already forewarned that the crop loss in the current kharif season could amount to Rs 55,000 crore if adequate doses of pesticides are not applied in time. Apex industry body Agrochemical Promotion Group (APG) has estimated that the annual crop loss due to incidence of pests in both kharif and rabi is about Rs 90,000 crore. APG said the collosal crop loss is due to low application of pesticides. Only one-fourth of the total 180 million hectare cropped area are treated with crop protection chemicals. APG chairman S Kumaraswamy said this year the industry is prepared to sell about Rs 3,100 crore worth of technical grade pesticides in the current summer season.
The biotech industry, with their Bt cotton, claimed there would be a reduced application of pesticides due to increased area coverage under GM cotton. Usually, cotton consumes the maximum amount of chemical pesticides.
Unlike at the global situation, where pesticide majors are the producers of transgenic seeds, the situation is different in India. Many domestic pesticide companies are yet to venture into biotech business. Hence there are claims and counter claims about reduction or increase in pesticide use.
A recent study titled 'Tarnishing Silver Bullets' by the Cornell University, US, has exploded the myth that Bt cotton leads to a drastic reduction in pesticide use. The study says, "We saw that the total pesticide expenditure for Bt cotton farmers in China is nearly equal to that of their conventional counterparts, about $101/hectare. Bt farmers in 2004, on the average, have to spray pesticides 18.22 times, which are more than 3 times higher compared with 6 times pesticide spray in 1999."
The study further says, "They (Bt farmers) spend 40% more on pesticides designed to kill an emerging secondary pest. The extra expenditure needed to control secondary pests nearly offsets the savings on primary pesticides frequently cited in the current literature." Such reports of increased pesticide use are also noted in different case studies on Bt cotton cultivation in India.
Thus the current situation has led to trading of charges, claims and counter claims between the three sectors of the industry - soft drinks, pesticides and biotech. But this sort of passing on the buck would not solve the problem.
The government, too, is playing safe in the situation by attempting to please all the three sectors of the industry. It is promoting integrated pests management (IPM) as a way out. But IPM has a component for use of chemical pesticides. Why can't government promote the concept of non-pesticide management (NPM) developed by the former director of Central Tobacco Research Institute? This concept, which is almost organic farming, has worked well with cotton cultivation in Andhra Pradesh and the state government is planning to promote this concept through its Indira Kranti Pratham scheme.