India for Safe Food Campaign responds to CIFA’s open letter to Aamir Khan on inevitability of Pesticides

Read CIFA Letter to Aamir Khan

 A letter from Chengal Reddy, Secretary General of Consortium of Indian Farmers’ Association (CIFA), dated 11/7/2012, supposedly an “open letter” to Aamir Khan and his “select group of environment activists” who appeared in an episode of Satyamev Jayate on 24th June (not on 12th June as mentioned in the letter) prompts us to write an open response, as part of the India For Safe Food Campaign.


While Chengal Reddy launches a scathing attack on the environmental activists who spoke out against chemical pesticides, and calls their perspectives, knowledge and experience as elite discourses, we should not forget that many so-called farmer leaders are actually not into farming, though they would like to equate themselves with millions of Indian farmers. Incidentally, this is one show that is being watched by millions, including from the farming communities and the message on ill-effects of pesticides has indeed reached millions of rural homes, as it rightly should – the discourse around synthetic pesticides which are essentially poisons has for too long been hijacked by vested interests which have promoted these poisons as “medicines” and projected them as indispensable and beneficial to all of us. The main philosophy churned out by the vested interests is that of the “greater common good” and the activism against pesticides is based on the fact that there is no greater common good here, only corporate profiteering, especially given that pesticides are not indispensable. The evidence brought into the show is based on the experience of lakhs of farmers, and also evaluated for its positive effects (of non-pesticidal management) by agriculture scientists.


While hitting out against activists and their “elite sermons on farming in India sitting before TV cameras”, Chengal Reddy should remember that he does a more elitist thing: of sitting and discussing about “emerging business opportunities in Indian agriculture” with industry friends in 5-star hotels in conferences after conferences.  At least these activists have sought to use the medium of a popular TV show, to put out a message of hope on alternatives to farmers of this country, who are reeling under a severe distress. The farmers who sought to produce the most, by increasing their yields at any cost, egged on by unaccountable players like the state agriculture apparatus and the industry, are in fact in the greatest distress as study after study shows from the farm suicide belts of India. Punjab’s farmers are a classic example for this.


In fact, CIFA is doing great disservice to farmers by ignoring and discounting the evidence in favor of giving up chemical pesticides.


The main points of this open letter centre around:


–          organic leading to lower yields, leading to hunger and starvation;

–          household pesticides being as dangerous or as safe as agricultural pesticides but not being attacked;

–          pesticides should be safe since our governments and scientists are permitting them!


Chengal Reddy has not progressed in his discourse, unfortunately and has brought up hackneyed arguments, as he has done in the past too, addressing press conferences organized by pesticides industry.


The most important thing that CIFA & Chengal Reddy don’t seem to have realized, while they have been watching only their chemicalised agriculture, IS THAT ORGANIC FARMING IS PRODUCTIVE, VIABLE AND EXTREMELY SCIENTIFIC. EQUATING TRADITIONAL INDIAN FARMING WITH ORGANIC FARMING IS REFLECTIVE OF A LACK OF UNDERSTANDING AND KNOWLEDGE ON BEHALF OF CIFA. While traditional farming is indeed organic, organic agriculture in today’s world is way beyond traditional farming (organic, natural, ecological, bio-dynamic etc., are the variants of appreciating nature’s way of functioning and emulating it without dependence on external inputs – organic agriculture which only seeks to replace on set of chemical inputs with another set of organic inputs is not desirable either though the organic industry might want it for various reasons). It is an application of modern science in understanding and appreciating nature’s complexities and re-creation of sustainable farm eco-systems that optimize yields even as it conserves and regenerates resources. There is much evidence to show the multi-faceted benefit of ecological farming at the international and national level, just as there is enough and more evidence of the ill-effects of chemicals in our agriculture and food.


CIFA is exhibiting that it lacks any medium and long-term vision for Indian farming and farmers by endorsing chemical pesticides and bringing in funny examples on rice and wheat yield comparisons in different states. Yield is a complex phenomenon and yield maximization is not the only reason why farming is done. The yield maximization paradigm has, after all these years, only resulted in Indian farmers on an average getting lower incomes than the minimum wages in farming as per official data. Therefore, aiming for optimal, sustainable and stable yields is a major perspective in organic or ecological approaches to farming.


WE should stop placing the burden of feeding the nation on individual farmers when the nation and the elected governments do not care enough about farmers and their real welfare and well-being. We urge CIFA not to place this unreasonable burden on farmers either in its advocacy of the “produce more and perish” mode of production.


When CIFA calls upon environmental NGOs to walk their talk – it should know that they have indeed done so. They have shown a variety of small scale to large scale examples that farming of a different kind is indeed possible and viable. Not just in hundred acres per district but on millions of acres. It is in fact this kind of farming which has not ended up in farmers becoming indebted or contemplating suicides. It is now the responsibility of the government and organizations like CIFA to take this forward, if they care about farmers.


There is no point in boasting about food surplus and food security in India if we cannot actually feed the starving, the hungry and the malnourished. It is a shame that a majority of the hungry in India are actually partaking in the food production process and are actually impoverished in the process! It is obvious that we have more than we need and it is high time the nation as a whole thought of addressing hunger and malnutrition in fundamental ways.


The argument around household pesticides vs. agricultural pesticides – surely both are harmful and no activist is arguing that household pesticides are harmless. The harm from agricultural pesticides is certainly higher however, in terms of the quantities used (it does not help to give the market worth in rupees, as Chengal Reddy has chosen to do), number of exposure routes for the poison that such large scale use opens up contaminating many life-sustaining resources, the effect it has directly on our farming community members etc. Activists are arguing for agri-workers and farmers to be saved from such poisons and no farmer leader in the right senses should have any objection to this?


Finally, about the great faith that Chengal Reddy is placing on government and scientists permitting pesticides only because they know that such pesticides will not cause any ill-health etc. – it is laughable and it is such an opportunistic rhetoric being put out that one feels like asking CIFA to close down shop since it has so much faith in the government and scientists doing only the right thing by Indian farmers! CIFA better stop its advocacy work since it believes that the government will only think of the good of our farmers and citizens in general. It is unbecoming of any farmers’ organization to forget the ignominous stories of Indian regulators being bribed by MNCs for registering their pesticides or that pesticides once allowed as “safe” being banned or restricted later on for their negative impacts. This does not even deserve a response!


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