Greenpeace India launches Living Soils campaign in Bihar

Bihar farmers can save money, protect the environment and their health by shunning chemical fertilisers

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Feature story - March 20, 2013
Although farmers do one of the most important jobs on Earth, they are the biggest group of the poor and hungry in the world. About 40% of the world's population are small-scale farmers and they produce most of the food we eat. What an irony that those who feed the populace suffer from hunger and poverty themselves! This is especially true for small-scale farmers in India. Recently, Greenpeace India released a report on problems farmers face in one of the poorest regions in India - Bihar. The report especially highlights the economic hardships and the environmental impacts of the farmers' dependency on chemical fertilisers.

20 March 2013

Bihar farmer Pramod Singh uses only chemical fertilisers on his crop of wheat and maize.


The report titled 'Fertilizer, Fuel and Food: win-win options for Bihar' articulates that the state needs to shun chemical fertilisers to save money, livelihoods, health, ecology and to sustain future farming. Research for the report was carried out by Greenpeace India along with local organizations in five districts of Bihar - Khagaria, Madhepura, Muzaffarpur, Nalanda and Patna in 2012.

For the farmers here, expenses on chemical fertilisers comes to around 25% of the total cost of cultivation. The report reveals that from 2010-2011 to 2011-2012, the price that Bihar farmers had to pay for chemical fertilisers increased upto 45%. For poor farmers this is a major expense and a steep increase in a short period. Most chemical fertilisers are imported so cost fluctuations in the international markets adds to the farmer's woes.

Loss of fertilizer to the environment and its negative impacts is another issue. Let's take the example of nitrogen chemical fertilizer and see the environmental and financial impact it's had.

  • The study found that around 70% of nitrates used on farms might be lost leading to monetary and environmental fallouts.
  • About 71% and 64% of Nitrogen applied to rice and wheat respectively is estimated to be not recovered in the harvested crop. This means it is lost to the water or atmosphere and only a small proportion remains in the soil.
  • The Nitrogen then contaminates drinking water and can cause serious health impacts such as blue-baby syndrome and cancer.
  • In financial terms, the loss is Rs 1,462 per hectare, as per the recorded data from farmers of the five districts.

Dr Reyes Tirado, Sr. Scientist, Greenpeace Research laboratories, University of Exeter, UK and lead author of the report says, "Our study revealed that nitrate levels in groundwater wells on farms showed pollution from nitrogen fertilisers. In Nalanda 65% of wells showed some degree of nitrate contamination. Although at present nitrate pollution is not above levels currently considered unsafe for human consumption, continuing with this trend of applying heavy doses of nitrogen fertilisers can lead to serious drinking water pollution."

20 March 2013

Reyes Tirado from Greenpeace Research Laboratories collects water samples in Bigha village in Rajgir Block, Nalanda District, Bihar.


The solution to these environmental concerns and unwanted expenses lies in adopting ecological farming practices. Greenpeace India propagates a system of agriculture that is centred on people and not on chemicals. This approach must be based on ecological farming principles that aim towards increasing food security while working with nature and not against it. It is also imperative that human health is safeguarded and water resources are protected from polluting chemical fertilisers.

Ishteyaque Ahmed, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner, Greenpeace India says, "Bihar needs to adopt a more holistic approach to promote ecological fertilisation and farming practices with adequate funding to avoid an ecological disaster, as witnessed in the first Green Revolution belts of Punjab and Haryana. The report release also marks the launch of our Living Soils campaign in Bihar. The campaign aims to save soil, a basic natural resource that supports life on earth, from harmful impacts of chemicals."

Ecological farming can succeed in bringing more food, higher incomes, better energy sources and cleaner water for Bihar along with a safer environment. Like Pankaj Bhushan, National Co-convener of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) says, "Ecological fertilization and farming offers solutions for addressing issues related to cooking fuel, energy access, waste disposal and sanitation in rural areas. Hence it is important to move away from a chemical paradigm to ecological farming."

20 March 2013

Bihar farmer Vinay Yadav applies organic fertiliser on his wheat crop.


Here are some of Greenpeace India's recommendations to put Bihar on an ecological farming path. These measures can go a long way in helping farmers and protecting the environment while increasing food security.

Recommendations are as follows:

  • Launch a State Ecological Farming and Fertilisation mission that aims to find synergy with livelihoods, bio-energy and eco-sanitation in the state.
  • A school of Agro-ecological Systems Analysis can be set up in the two Agricultural Universities in the State with regional, block level holistic research and extension programmes.
  • District level planning must ensure that 25% of Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) funds are earmarked to promote ecological farming and fertilisation to start with an objective to progressively raise the amount to 50 % of the funds by the end of a five period.
  • Lastly targets must be set to systematically replace chemical fertilisers with ecological fertilization during the five year period.

-Ignatius Thekaekara