From the Suicide Economy to Living Economies
From the Suicide Economy to Living Economies
Chemical agriculture and Genetic engineering are threatening public health and leading to nutrition decline. Costs of production, which includes hybrid and genetically engineered seeds, chemicals and irrigation etc., are increasing with every season pushing farmers into the debt trap and also to suicides. Thousands of farmers have given their life in India in last two decades because of the debt. As an insurance against such vulnerability Navdanya has pioneered the conservation of biodiversity in India and built a movement for the protection of small farmers through promotion of ecological farming and fair trade to ensure the healthy, diverse and safe food. The movement is now spread throughout India through our partner organizations and farmers networks.
Navdanya’s pioneering research on the hazards of chemical farming, the costs of industrial agriculture and the risks of genetic engineering have led to a paradigm shift. Our research has proved that contrary to the dominant assumptions; ecological agriculture is highly productive and is the only lasting solution to hunger and poverty.
Navdanya have so far trained above 400,000 men and women farmers, students, govt. officials, representatives of national as well as international NGO’s Voluntary Organizations on biodiversity conservation and organic farming. We have also trained several large groups like Yuvacharya of Art of Living, NGO led by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar .The group is presently working in about 5000 villages of India. Navdanya trained secretaries and Extension Officers of the Tibetan govt in exile and now their settlements across the country are in conversion to organic. Biodiversity based farming has changed the economic status of the member farmer across the country.
Organic agriculture is not just a source of safer, healthier, tastier food. It is an answer to rural poverty. Organic agriculture is not just a method of farming. It is saving the Earth and farmers’ lives.
High cost corporate agriculture is having adverse impact on the livelihood of farmers. The increasing cost of production and the falling prices combined with the decline in farm credit is putting great burden on farmers, which is pushing them to desperation. Since 1997, more than 250,000 farmers from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Punjab have taken their lives. Since then, RFSTE has been monitoring the impact of trade liberalization policies on Indian farmers and Indian agriculture since the new economic policy (1991) and WTO rules of the agreement on agriculture (1995) came into force.
In celebration of non-violent organic agriculture, every year Navdanya organizes Albert Howard memorial lecture on 2nd October, initiated in the year 2000 to pay tribute to the two messiahs of sustainability and non-violence; Mahatma Gandhi and sir Albert Howard. Past speakers have included Frances Moore Lappé, Masanobu Fukuoka, Marion Nestle and H.H. Prince Charles.
Why organic farming is gaining ground in India
PUNE: Jayawant Patil, 27, works in an information technology company in Pune four days a week. The rest of the time, thanks to his supportive employer, he’s an organic farmer. For the last two years, he’s been tending to his 2.5-acre farm about 80 km away from Pune. The only connection he had with farming before this stemmed from childhood visits to his uncle’s fields.
While exploring various business opportunities, 25-year-old business management graduate Sachin Tahmane hit upon organic farming as having promising growth potential. A recent Yes Bank report said the organic food sector is growing at about 20% in India, with more than 100 retail organic outlets in Mumbai and about 60 in Bangalore. That’s a big change from 18 years ago, when Sanjay Pawar and Sadubhau Shelake of Nashik were among the pioneers of organic farming. Their principle was: “We don’t want to eat poison and we don’t want to feed poison to others.” At that time, they couldn’t charge a premium for chemical-free food due to lack of awareness among consumers.
Things have changed since then. Their Kashyap group of about 350 organic growers has a loyal clientele, which includes celebrity customers, who queue up to buy the produce at the Sunday farmers’ market. “Kiran Rao is our regular customer,” said Shelake. The Kashyap group farmers use direct marketing, without any middlemen involved. “The awareness about organic food is now percolating to the taluka level,” Shelake said. Even Vidarbha, infamous for farmer suicides, is not behind in winning converts to organic farming. Agricultural graduate Ashish Shinde of Amaravati is one of the leading suppliers to leading organic retail brands in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and other big cities.
“There is tremendous growth in demand for organic food in the last few years. The number of organic farmers in the two talukas in my district has increased from 230 six years ago to more than 1,000 today,” Shinde said. According to HB Bablad, head of Research Institute of Organic Farming, the reasons for the increase in organic farming are economical as well as ecological.
Amol Nirban, business development manager at Ecocert, the organic certifying agency, said the companies involved in organic farming are mostly exportoriented.
Individual farmers catering to the domestic market are of two types: “The first type is of the traditional farmer practising organic farming to earn their bread and butter. The second type is the increasing breed of urban farmers, who have turned to growing organic food as a passion or liking,” said Nirban. Most of the growth in organic farming has happened without much government support, entirely driven by market demand and the efforts of farmers, who learn from each other. Dilip Deshmukh, vice-president of Maharashtra Organic Farmers Federation (MOFF), an NGO working in the area of organic farming, said, “The Maharashtra government has done very little to implement its own policy on organic farming declared in January 2013.”
Marketing is the biggest challenge. A group of 67 farmers in Sangli formed by Srinivas Bangal grows almost all vegetables and cereals organically. “We restricted ourselves to marketing of grains and processed products only due to the difficulties in marketing fruits and vegetables,” said Bangal.
The most effective marketing channel is digital. Orders are processed through websites, voice SMSes and e-mails. Those not able to use online platforms struggle with reaching consumers. Of India’s total organic production, cotton has the highest share. The country is also emerging as a prominent global supplier of organic processed fruits.
Imported fruits, vegetables to come under pesticide watch following recommendations from Court panel
Are those beautifully packed and fresh looking exotic fruits displayed on the stands in posh markets really healthy? We’ll find it out very soon as for the first time, imported fruits and vegetables are set to come under pesticide watch following the recommendations from a court appointed committee.
In the wake of the reports of rampant contamination of vegetables and fruits in Delhi’s markets, the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court have initiated several steps to curb the use of pesticides and artificial colour for enhancing their size and appearance.
The amount of pesticides in fruits and vegetables in India, and especially those sold in Delhi markets, were as much as 750 times the European standards, NGOs Center for Public Interest Litigation and Consumer Voice claimed in the SC and HC, respectively. The NGOs claimed in their pleas that the fruits were a toxic cocktail of banned pesticides capable of causing headache, cancer, heart disease, infertility and pose a risk to the nervous system and liver.
The banned pesticides included chlordane, a rat poison that affects the nervous system and endrin, an insecticide that causes headache.
“Surprise checks will be conducted at major markets once in a month and there will not be any differentiation between local fruits and vegetables and those imported. The court panel’s report says an eye has to be kept on them also as they too are susceptible to contamination because of lucrative business,” Meera Bhatia, the lawyer for Delhi government said.
Terming the situation as “alarming”, the court said 1.7 crore Delhiites everyday consume fruits and vegetables unfit for human consumption. It had recently asked the Delhi government to publicise the short-term measures and Dos and Don’ts suggested by the expert committee to minimise the presence of pesticides residue. Ordering intensification of the crackdown against the contamination, the court has sought a status report on April 15.
“No such consignment should be allowed to enter the country without pre-dispatch pesticide testing report by the exporter. Samples of imported fruits and vegetables should be drawn by plant quarantine stations at international arrival points and monitored for the presence of pesticide residues,” said a report filed in the court by the panel headed by Sandhya Kulshreshta, additional deputy DG in the health ministry.
“Surprise inspections were conducted in many markets like Azadpur Mandi, Kotla, Mayur Vihar, Sarojini Nagar, INA, Defence Colony, Vasant Vihar and Lodhi Estate in the last three years. We found that pesticides, toxic colours and hormones are being used by farmers and traders to speed up growth, ripen and improve colour,” said Bhatia.
The expert committee said results of tests should be posted on the website of the Delhi government’s food department along with the name of the market.
The SC said: “Right to life and human dignity encompasses, within its ambit availability of articles of food without insecticides or pesticides residues. But the fact remains that food available in the market contain insecticides or pesticides residues, beyond the tolerable limits, causing serious health hazards. Fruit-based soft drinks also contain pesticides in alarming proportion, but no attention is made to examine its contents.
Harmful for kids
“Children and infants are uniquely susceptible to the effects of pesticides because of their physiological immaturity and greater exposure to soft drinks”. The SC directed Food and Safety Standards Authority of India to coordinate with counterparts in all the states and conduct periodical inspections and monitoring of major fruits and vegetable markets.
Traces of pesticide in fruits, veggies
The vegetable samples were collected from local vendors and shops from different parts of Pune and were tested from April 2013 to January 2014. Some samples were found to have residues of banned pesticides such as Chlordane, Carbofuron, Captafol and DDT.
An official from the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) accredited Pesticide Residue Testing Laboratory, Pune (PRTL), which carried out the research, told TOI that pesticides were found in vegetables such as bitter gourd, bottle gourd, brinjal, capsicum, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber and tomatoes and raisins.
Raisins, cucumbers and tomatoes had the maximum amount of residue of 181 parts per billion (ppb). In one sample of cucumber, the residue was 230 ppb, 192 ppb of Deltamethrin was found in another sample of cucumber along with 108 ppb of Ethofenprox. The maximum residue limit (MRL) of these pesticides in cucumber has not been determined, said the officials.
In an analysis of vegetables and fruits from April 2013 to June 2013, the minimum quantity of Captafol fungicide in a sample of bitter gourd was 10 ppb, while the maximum was 48 ppb in another sample, when the maximum residue limit is 20 ppb as per the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
The fruits and vegetables that were analysed included apples, beans, carrots, brinjal, capsicum, mangoes, iceberg lettuce, plums, pears, peas, ‘oranges, potatoes, tomatoes, raisins and others. Seven samples of different vegetables and fruits were tested in April last year, 25 were tested in June, 73 in July, 63 in August, 38 in September, nine in October, 11 in November, 31 in December and 88 in January 2014.
Pesticide residue found in vegetables in Trivandrum
All the heavily contaminated vegetables showed the presence of multiple pesticides, indicating a dangerous trend among farmers.
Going vegetarian may not be a good idea yet if you buy your greens from the open market. Dangerous levels of pesticide residue have been detected in samples of five commonly used vegetables available at sales outlets in Thiruvananthapuram and Kasaragod.
Curry leaf, mint leaf, green chilly, big chilly, and long beans are the most contaminated (exceeding the maximum residue limit prescribed by the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India and the European Union), while the pesticide residue in red amaranthus, coriander leaves, beans, salad cucumber, and red capsicum is below the permissible limit.
The findings have been revealed in the third report of the Pesticide Residue Research and Analysis Laboratory under the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) which studied a total of 226 samples of 52 vegetables collected from retail shops and markets in the two districts during the period from July to September 2013. The periodic analysis of vegetable samples has been taken up under a project titled “Production and marketing of safe to eat vegetables for sale through government outlets.”
The study detected residues of several pesticides, including Profenophos, a neurotoxic pesticide banned in Kerala and restricted to tea and cotton in other States, and Chlorpyrifos, another neurotoxin. All the heavily contaminated vegetables showed the presence of multiple pesticides, indicating a dangerous trend among farmers.
Safe to eat
The good news for veggies is that 42 vegetables have classified as safe-to-eat. The analysis revealed that all the samples of these 42 vegetables were free of pesticide residue. The second report of the laboratory issued in October 2013 had categorised only 38 vegetables as safe-to-eat.
Interestingly, carrot, green capsicum, cucumber, okra, eggplant, radish, and drumstick which were listed as dangerously contaminated in the second report, have made it to the safe-to-eat category in the third report, while coriander leaf and red amaranthus have moved from the dangerously contaminated category to less contaminated.
Professor and principal investigator of the project Thomas Biju Mathew said this indicated the increasing acceptance of pesticide safety among farmers, though some of the positive results could be attributed to the monsoon rain that helped to wash off the pesticide residue. The bad news, however, is that the samples collected from three premium organic vegetable outlets in Thiruvananthapuram revealed pesticide contamination. While samples of coriander leaf, snake gourd, curry leaf, long beans, okra, sambar chilly, and green chilly exceeded the permissible limit of pesticide residue, carrot, drumstick and beetroot were less contaminated. Samples of 18 vegetables collected from the three organic outlets have been listed as safe-to-eat.
Scientists attached to the project said the organic outlets were blaming suppliers for the pesticide residue found in their products. The report of the study have been posted on the government website http://www.kerala.gov.in.
High pesticide content found in vegetables across Kerala
10 of 44 lots of vegetables show organo chloro residue
There is fresh evidence of the undesirable extent of pesticide content in vegetables available across markets in Kerala. A report prepared by the Food Quality Monitoring Laboratory under the Council for Food Research and Development (CFRD) indicates presence of pesticides that has rendered several lots of vegetables unfit for human consumption.
Forty-four lots of vegetables collected from the markets in December were analysed for presence of organo chloro pesticides at the laboratory, the report accessed by The Hindu shows. Ten samples contained organo chloro residue. Of these, five samples had residue above permissible limits, which meant they were unfit for human consumption.
The samples were collected by designated officials of Supplyco from various markets, a senior official of the laboratory said. The market locations from where the samples were collected included Kollam, Kottarakara, Ernakulam, Paravoor, Perumbavoor, Thodupuzha, Kasaragod, Kottayam, Mananthavady, and Kozhikode. Five lots of vegetables collected from markets and trade outlets at Kottayam, Perumbavoor, and Neyyattinkara were those found to have excess presence of pesticides, making them unfit for consumption.
The analytical data showed that big onions collected from the open market at Neyyattinkara contained 0.055 ppm (parts per million) of Alpha BHC, 0.03 ppm of Delta BHC, and 0.225 ppm of Heptachlor. Cucumber collected from a trading outlet at Perumbavoor contained 0.045 ppm of Endrin Aldehyde and 0.07 ppm of endosulfan. Long beans taken from the same outlet at Perumbavoor had 0.005 ppm of Alpha BHC, 0.025 ppm of Gamma BHC, 0.015 ppm of Beta BHC, 0.035 ppm of PP DDE, 0.045 ppm of PP DDD, and 0.09 ppm of Endrin Aldehyde.
Curry leaves collected from open market at Kottayam contained 0.015 ppm of Gamma BHC, 0.27 ppm of Aldrin, and 0.035 ppm of HeptEpoxide. Carrot samples collected from the open market at Kottayam had 0.02 ppm of Beta BHC, 0.015 ppm of HeptEpoxide, and 0.06 ppm of b-Endosulfan.
All the above mentioned quantities of pesticide content were above permissible levels, the report said.
Banned pesticide residues found in vegetable samples
The Kerala Agricultural University has found “dangerous levels” of pesticide residue in key vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, vegetable cowpea (achinga), amaranthus red, small red onions, tomatoes, green chillies and curry leaves, among others.
The residue includes that of the banned Profenofos, which falls into the yellow category (second level of pesticides in the toxicity classification) and which has translaminar action (the toxin entering the plant system primarily by roots, and transported to locations throughout the plant, where it can affect those who consume the vegetables).
It has been banned in Kerala for nearly three years now. The pesticide is allowed in India only in cotton and tea and in other parts of the world, it is used only in cotton.
The results came from tests carried out by the Pesticide Residue Research and Analytical Laboratory, Vellayani near Thiruvananthapuram. The findings have been put up on the Kerala Agricultural University’s website http://www.kerala agriculture.gov.in
The banned pesticide residue was found mostly in gooseberries, green chilli, okra (bhindi), curry leaves, mint leaves and coriander leaves, said Thomas Biju Mathew, principal investigator for the project.
“Production and Marketing of Safe-to-Eat Vegetables for Sale through Government Outlets”.
He said that the results were being made public not to make the people panic but to look to safer alternatives. One of the highlights of the findings was that most of the pesticides belonged to the surface contact category and were not systemic.
The results are for 40 types of vegetables, samples of which were drawn from the Thiruvananthapuram markets between January 1 and March 1, 2013.
The KAU website also suggests methods to get rid of the residue. For example, one suggestion is to separate cauliflower leaves and keep the separated flowers dipped in salt or vinegar solution for 10 minutes and to pass them through repeated washing. The vinegar solution can be made of 20 ml of vinegar in a litre of water or 20 grams of salt in a litre of water.
Vegetables have been placed in three categories according to the level of pesticide residue in them. The most dangerous category has been detected in vegetables like bhindi, drumsticks, little gourd, red and yellow capsicum, gooseberries and coriander leaves.
The less dangerous category of pesticides has been found in beetroot, brinjal, carrot and garlic.
The farm produce that has been found not to carry pesticide residue comprises tapioca, mangoes, cucumber, colocasia, beans, ginger, big onion, capsicum (green), nendran bananas, ash gourd, pumpkins, pineapples, and green peas.
The website does not specify the level of pesticide residue in the individual items but the director of the laboratory, which is under KAU, S. Nazeema Beevi, said that the samples had been drawn over the first quarter of the year and the situation may not remain the same for the next quarter.
She said that the vegetables had been categorised as having dangerous levels of pesticide because they exceeded the maximum residue limit fixed by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India.
Overall around 54 types of pesticides/fungicides were detected from different samples.
An official from PRTL said that these vegetables were collected from different markets of Pune, some samples were also provided by individual farmers for testing. “Around 90% of the 345 samples are from the city markets. We have a target of testing around 600 such samples per year. Each pesticide used on each vegetable, fruit and food grain has a different maximum residue limit
,” the official said. He added that these pesticides are sprayed directly on the crops to control pests.
The monthly report compiled by PRTL is sent to senior agriculture officers, after which steps are taken to sensitize farmers about minimizing the use of these fungicides and pesticides. “We asked them to maintain a gap of at least 10 to 15 days between spraying pesticides on vegetables/fruits and selling them in markets,” the official added.
PRTL officials added that though the pesticide residue levels were found to be higher than the maximum limits in some of the samples, most pesticides are easily leached out of the human body. “However, care should be taken by farmers to minimise the use of pesticides and fungicides. They should regularly send samples of their crops, fruits/vegetables to PRTL for testing. The consumers should thoroughly wash the vegetable, fruit or food grain with water twice or thrice before use,” officials said.
Experts in the field of toxicology were cautious about commenting on the possible health impacts of pesticide residues in foods, citing lack of studies on humans on the subject. However, scientists at the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR), Lucknow, said that the amount of pesticide intake from different food products – such as vegetables, fruits, cereals, milk, water – should not exceed the acceptable daily intake or ADI, which is the amount of a substance that can be ingested daily over a lifetime without any significant health risk. “Whatever food commodities are eaten, the total pesticide load in the body should not exceed this acceptable intake. However, some pesticides are carcinogenic and should not be present in the food even in minimal amounts,” said a scientist from IITR.
He added that based on the current status of animal studies, every pesticide can have a health impact. “Pesticides can cause neurotoxicity, damage the brain, can be toxic to the liver, kidney and may even cause hormonal disturbances in humans in cases of long-term consumption in significant amounts,” he said.
Amit Khurana, programme manager, food safety and toxins, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Delhi, said, “Pesticide levels found below maximum limit are acceptable to the extent of current level of toxicity studies. Even a single pesticide molecule is capable of causing mutation and may lead to cancer. Pesticides are linked to several disease conditions of the immune system, hormonal system and cancers.”
Explaining the term ‘biomonitoring,’ Mathur said, “The concept of capping limits from all food sources is possibly limited in its design in a country like India with several food habits and dietary choices. Biomonitoring measures environmental toxins including pesticides and heavy metals in the human tissues. It takes care of all possible sources. Implementation is an issue. However, it still helps in regulating individual source of unwanted pesticide ingestion.”