Thousands of farmers throughout India are reverting to traditional farming methods, as the consequences of Western agriculture have begun to negatively impact the region’s food and water supply, as well as the health of its people.
More than 40 years after the “Green Revolution,” a period in which India’s agriculture yields skyrocketed following the introduction of commercial agriculture techniques, farmers are returning to traditional, organic methods that date back centuries.
In a last ditch attempt to save the country’s resources and the health of its people, India has emerged as a global leader in organic farming, welcoming 600,000 certified producers.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the “Green Revolution” introduced farmers in the state of Punjab to synthetic fertilizers, high-yield seeds and irrigation, which transformed the country into an economic powerhouse, allowing it to produce enough wheat and rice to feed a once starving population.
The benefits of the ‘Green Revolution’ lasted less than two decades before threatening India’s food and water supply
Through the use of commercial agriculture, including synthetic fertilizers such as urea ad phosphate, Punjab produced nearly two-thirds of the country’s wheat and rice in the 1980s and 1990s, lining the pockets of farmers as gross incomes rose nearly 8 percent in just one year, according to Al Jazeera.
While offering a sense of hope to a country that was once in turmoil, it soon became clear that the West’s version of farming was not sustainable. Because the seeds were high-yield, they required a lot of water – more water than was naturally available through rainfall – causing farmers to begin drilling in fields, searching for water for irrigation.
The state’s water supply became threatened due to the constant drilling, as well as contamination caused by the large amounts of chemicals that were increasingly being poured into the soil.
State of Punjab, where commercial agriculture was first introduced, now has the country’s highest cancer rates
As the damage to the state’s water supply continued to threaten the region’s soil and waterways, a public health crisis was declared in Punjab in the 1990s, just 20 years after growers were essentially forced into commercial agriculture techniques that were backed by U.S. advisors and giant seed companies like Monsanto.
Research began to emerge linking the widely used chemicals to severe health issues, including “premature aging, skeletal issues and threats to children’s health,” reports Al Jazeera. Punjab now has the highest rate of cancer in the country, according to J.S. Thakur, a researcher at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh.
‘This is an issue of health, of environment, of future generations’
Unhealthy and unsustainable, commercial agriculture has begun to be replaced by many Punjab growers who say they don’t need chemicals anymore. Tired of the “vicious cycle of chemical-based farming,” some farmers in Punjab are using crop rotation methods, which balance the soil by planting crops that leave nitrogen for future crops to consume.
Organic farming can initially be much more difficult because farmers do not receive government subsidies for chemical fertilizers, but once their fields have grown naturally fruitful, their earnings are higher, as they can sell organic produce for much more.
Some organic farmers in Punjab have increased their income from $391 per acre to at least $469 per acre, in addition to saving money on pesticides. Today, thanks to the awakening of many farmers, Punjab has approximately 1,500 hectares of certified organic land.
In an effort to reverse the environmental damage caused by commercial farming, India’s government is beginning to encourage natural farming by lending its support to the Ministry of Agriculture’s organic farming plan, which is aimed at improving soil health.
Others are more skeptical about the government’s new attitude towards organic farming. “There is no subsidy, no shift,” said Devinder Sharma, an agricultural researcher, who says there aren’t any examples of the government subsidizing organic farming.
“No one is thinking on how to subsidize organic farming and move away from chemicals. There’s just no political will.”