09 September 2014

Pesticide Documentation in Tea estates © Vivek M. / Greenpeace


Every generation has seen the death of an idea and those ideas which do bear some intrinsic value to the advancement of mankind have reinvented themselves.

Communism and socialism were on their death knell in a previous era, but in the post globalization era these ideas have been resurrected in fresh moulds. The same can be said of industries which have accepted fait accompli that their business models cannot be sustained in the larger scheme of things and they need to redefine themselves. The examples straddle entire sectors be it in information technology where Apple and Microsoft were game changers, or the new line of disruptive start ups which have upped the ante against established players, it can be in the tobacco industry where diversification due to the obvious health concerns are taking place. It is even being seen in lobbying groups where climate change is being increasingly seen as a sticking point and where companies like Unilever, in their quest for sustainability, are breaking ranks with myopic companies and are throwing their weight behind greater climate reforms.

Amidst this change which seems inevitable stands the Indian agro chemicals industry which sticks to archaic 20th century business models and values which are increasingly being negated in the throes of the "sustainable" 21st century. We have the industry sharply divided between Indian manufacturers who make generic older pesticides and chemicals and the multinational companies which manufacture newer chemicals. They even have different lobbying organizations - the Crop Care Federation of India and Crop Life India. But what if all their differences are over a technology that feeds into agricultural techniques that might soon be antiquated?

The Green Revolution, as pioneered by Norman Borlaug, brought technology to the fore in the sphere of agriculture. But 40 years down the line, it has also brought to the fore the limitations and harmful effects of a revolution that completely discards the old, traditional methods of agriculture and adopts the new. Punjab, which was at the forefront, and soon became the grain basket of the nation, is currently witnessing declining soil fertility and productivity and the rampant use of pesticides has also given rise to many a healthcare crisis of which the cancer express train and the prevalence of cancer in the Malwa region is only one such example.

India is currently witnessing a new revolution, across India where farmers and even governments have realized the futility of a purely chemical driven model and are adopting much more inclusive models incorporating traditional farming methods and increasing organic manuring and biological and mechanical means of pest control. This can be seen in the encouragement and incentives given to organic farming and Non Pesticidal Management across several states.

But a recent spree of legal notices to Greenpeace India from the agro chemicals industry lobby organizations on our report on pesticide residues in tea raises the question - have the companies really realized the problems that these chemicals that they make pose to people and the environment? The questions they pose in the notices hardly seem to address these core questions which the rampant use of their products seem to raise. It speaks volumes of how only a profit driven model can wreak havoc on the health and well being of a nation. And also highlights the need for regulatory organizations, governments and corporations to be sensitized further on aspects relating to public health and environment. Greenpeace India's report which is based on sound scientific findings, with independent testing of samples through an accredited international laboratory, is being questioned - not for some greater good but merely so that pesticide manufacturers can avoid any potential culpability from the menace they have created. The Crop Care Federation of India, the Centre for Environment & Agrochemicals (talk about oxymorons!) and ASMECHEM Chamber of Commerce & Industry are even collectively asking for damages of Rs. 75 crores!

I visited Kasargod in Kerala recently which was the epicentre of the endosulfan crisis and was apprised of the dignity with which the survivors are taking their lives forward despite all their woes. Their status and suffering is still dismissed by the pesticides lobby, in fact one notice to us even refers to the Kasargod situation on how falsified information is being used to tar the pesticides lobby. I guess by their standards, the National Human Rights Commission, which ordered compensation to the survivors and the families of the deceased, too would be a suspect organization.

I think it would appropriate to clarify at this stage that Greenpeace India does not advocate overnight stoppage of pesticides. Nor do we believe fertilizer use should be stopped immediately. But we do believe that they should be gradually phased out with natural methods of fertilization and pest control. Chemical usage is at its peak in our current generation and the process of phase out should begin immediately so that our coming generations can reap the benefits of this revolution which seeks a return to nature and all things natural.

The agro chemicals industry should be applying their funds and resources to seeing how this can be achieved rather than engaging in petty litigation over a doomed technology.

My request to the agrochemicals industry is - stop trying to stay relevant in a sector that is not equipped for the future - the future is sustainability and ecological agriculture.

You can either stay the course and face irrelevance or you can take stock, rethink and work to make all our futures safer!

Click here to say yes to pesticide-free tea!

Siddharth Sreenivas is a campaigner with Greenpeace India.