Tuesday, September 25

Chemical generation

Punjabis are poisoning themselves, according to a report in The Economist
If Indian newspaper reports are to be believed, the children of Punjab are in the throes of a grey
revolution. Even those as young as ten are sprouting tufts of white and grey hair. Some are going blind. In Punjabi villages, children and adults are afflicted by uncommon cancers.
The reason is massive and unregulated use of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals in India’s most intensively farmed state. According to an environmental report by Punjab’s government, the modest-sized state accounts for 17% of India’s total pesticide use. The state’s water, people, animals, milk and agricultural produce are all poisoned with the stuff.
Ignorance is part of the problem. The report includes details of a survey suggesting that nearly one-third of Punjabi farmers were unaware that pesticides come with instructions for use. Half of the farmers ignored these instructions. Three-quarters put empty pesticide containers to domestic uses.
Yet, over 250 dense pages, the report also reveals structural problems in the state’s agricultural sector that no mere education programme could address.
Punjab was the totemic success of India’s green revolution, a leap forward in agricultural productivity during the 1960s and 1970s that ended the subcontinent’s periodic famines. It was based on the introduction of a few simple technologies—including artificial fertilisers, pesticides and better seeds. In Punjab, especially, the benefits were massive.
Between 1960 and 2005 the state’s annual food-grain production increased from 3m tonnes to 25m tonnes. Punjab, one of India’s richest states on a per capita basis, supplies more than half the country’s central grain reserves.
But the successes of the green revolution are in retreat. Punjab’s agricultural growth rate has slowed from 5% in the 1980s to less than 2% since 2000. In the past five years production of food grains has increased by 2%, and the state's population has grown by 8.6%.
“Punjab, the most stunning example of the green revolution in India, is now at the crossroads,” the report states. “The present agricultural system in Punjab has become unsustainable and non-profitable... the state’s agriculture has reached the highest production levels possible under the available technologies.”
Indeed, the technologies available to farmers are part of the problem: “Over-intensification of agriculture over the years has led to overall degradation of the fragile agro-ecosystem of the state”
In particular, massive use of nitrogenous fertilisers—which draw multiple crops from Punjab’s rather poor soil—has reduced the soil’s overall fertility and led to widespread soil erosion.
Massive application of pesticides has meanwhile extinguished some pests and insects while letting others thrive, including the American bollworm, an unpleasant cotton blight, and rice-leaf folder. Many of these survivors have developed resistance to common pesticides.
Intensive irrigation—especially from tube-wells, of which there are over a million in Punjab—has depleted the water-table. It dropped by 55cm each year between 1993 and 2003. Partly as a result, the land irrigated by canals has decreased by 35% since 1990.
Use of sewage and industrially contaminated water for irrigation has drenched Punjab’s soils in heavy metals and other poisons.
The state’s government is not entirely passive before this catastrophe. It has banned the use of several agricultural chemicals. And it has taken steps to encourage organic farming. But there is much more it could do.
In particular, it needs to scrap its populist policy—reintroduced in 2005—of providing farmers with free electricity. Though a great vote-grabber, the policy encourages farmers to pump water up from their tube-wells both day and night.
Equally disastrous is a subsidy on agricultural fertilisers, for which India’s central government is responsible. There is little hope of turning Indian farmers greener until both subsidies are ended.
Meanwhile, the report by Punjab’s government encourages farmers to alleviate the twin crises of environmental degradation and falling productivity by returning to traditional practices.
It recommends they use rice and wheat straw for mulch instead of burning it, rotate their crops, use a range of different seeds, manure their fields, and so on. In short, it recommends many of the agricultural practices that the green revolution swept away.


Anonymous said...

Hello I am a Punjabi from Pakistan. .

Love & peace to u all

Anonymous said...

In my (Pakistani) Punjab there is a great leadership crises

Anonymous said...

In addition to the "chemical weapon", cigerette, i think ohter area where strict ban is needed is the access to porn sites and channels. . . This may also be causing ill-effects on the Mental and physical health of Punjabis. .

Long live PUNJAB