The current farmer agitation is a major event in contemporary India and it would be inappropriate to ignore it. This agitation is being analysed from many angles and a debate is underway on the government's new agricultural policy and the farm laws. But, nobody reached the roots of the agitation. Behind the extreme discontent, agitations and suicides of Indian farmers, there is a five decade-old black chapter in the history of agriculture which is discussed only with a macroscopic viewpoint. Neither the central government nor the Punjab government nor the Punjab farmers made it an issue. This dark chapter of Indian agriculture is the so-called Green Revolution which originated in the mid-1960s and our governments and farmers have been in confusion that the country has created an impenetrable shield of food security by creating a revolution in agricultural development. And don't ask about agricultural scientists, agricultural universities and agricultural research institutes! Their ‘dance’ of Green Revolution never stopped. In the name of the Green Revolution, they just keep patting their backs.
The most surprising aspect of the present farmers’ movement is that most of the participation is that of the farmers of the states who are the pioneers of the Green Revolution. Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh have written the “glory” of the Green Revolution in India. And today, a wave of utter dissatisfaction among farmers is visible mainly in these states. If someone made India self-reliant in the food production and put the chest on the food security front, they were also the farmers from these areas of India. But the farmers who made India shine have become victim of the Green Revolution. On the food security front, the country holds its flag of pride high. If these farmers were brought to the streets by the Green Revolution, what did it give to this country? Greenery of the Green Revolution is worse than autumn!
Punjab is on top of the Green Revolution and its final product- cancer. Due to the Covid-19 epidemic and lockdown, the Abohar-Jodhpur Express, popular as the 'Cancer Train', was suspended for months and cancer patients haplessly suffered because they could not be able to go to Bikaner for medical treatment. The characteristic of ‘Cancer Train’ is that 60 per cent of the passengers are cancer patients who go to Acharya Tulsi Regional Cancer Hospital and Research Centre at Bikaner for their treatment. On an average, 100 cancer-affected and 200 co-passengers go to Bikaner every day by the ‘Cancer Train’. And most of these all age-group passengers are the Punjab farmers. Most of the farmers are small farmers of Punjab's cotton belts – Mansa, Faridkot, Bathinda, Sangrur, Muktsar, Ferozepur, Moga and Fazilka. In Punjab, advanced Cancer Institute and Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital have also been opened to provide medical facilities to growing cancer patients, but Bikaner remains the first choice of the patients.
Punjab represents only 1.5 per cent of India's geography, but the share of pesticide and herbicide chemical consumption by the state is as high as 20 per cent. Indiscriminate use of agri-chemicals on seeds, crops, vegetables and fruits and ‘earning’ incurable diseases is not a hobby of the Punjab farmers; it is an essential pre-condition of the Green Revolution. Not only by inland companies that manufacture agrochemicals, scientists, doctors or government planners, now it is well known even by common men that the agri-chemicals are extremely hazardous for health.
For about five decades, the soil has been so poisoned with a variety of pesticides – insecticides, fungicides, weedicides, herbicides etc. – that the land of the Green Revolution now has turned into an island of poisons. There is poison in the soil- there are also traces of poisons in cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables, oilseeds and spices produced from on the poisoned soil. Chemical poisons are dissolved in the winds and the waters. Then how can animals and human beings living in poisonous ‘utopia’ be healthy and happy! Poor in organic matter and micronutrients, the soil has become ‘addicted’ to chemical fertilisers and deadly chemicals.
According to a report published by the state government a few years ago, 18 people suffer from cancer every day in this land of the Green Revolution – also known as the country's breadbasket. Punjab is the state in the country with the highest cancer rate. In Punjab, 90 per one lakh people suffer from cancer, while the national average is 80 (although another government report also claims that the number of cancer patients per one lakh population in Punjab is below the country's average). And due to the highest incidence of this disease, Malwa region is known as the "cancer belt" of the state. An environment report of the Punjab State Science and Technology Council reveals that 75% of the agri-chemicals that the Punjab agriculture uses are used in Malwa region alone. Does this figure not speak for itself that the same agrochemicals are responsible for making Malwa a "cancer belt" of Punjab? In the month of March last year, pleasant news poured in that the government would promote organic farming in the cancer-affected Malwa region. But how much progress has been made, it is still equivocal.
In an article titled "A State in India where farmers sow seeds of death" focused on the state of Punjab published in The Guardian on July 1, 2019, the life-annihilating chemicals that are being sprinkled into crops are classified into class one by the World Health Organisation, which are the most toxic and banned in most of the countries. All chemicals used in agricultural operations are mostly carcinogenic. To cause cancer in the body, these chemicals adopt a variety of biochemical tactics, such as by disrupting hormones, creating chemical sensations in tissues, damaging DNA and turning genes on or off. While all consumers of agricultural products may be victims, the danger to the farmers is the most widespread. At the time of use of deadly agri-chemicals in agricultural operations, the farmers keep in direct contact with them and even while spraying with great care, a fraction of the chemicals enters their bodies in some way or the other.
Some studies conducted by scientists in the medical field have established the pesticide-cancer links. The cancer of brain, lungs, kidneys, breasts, blood, prostate glands and ovary caused by dreaded pesticides is common. According to the Pesticide Action Network, male farmers are more prone to prostate cancer and female farmers to ovarian and skin cancer. The pesticide-borne diseases are not confined only to cancer, many diseases ranging from kidneys and liver to those in newborns are spreading badly on this land of the Green Revolution. In fact, the ‘epidemic’ created by the Green Revolution is bigger than the Covid pandemic. The vaccine of Covid-19 has been prepared, who will make the vaccine against diseases spread by the Green Revolution?
The Governments of Punjab have occasionally been compromising on farms that create the means that make agriculture sick, but never considered alternative agriculture– such as ecological agriculture, natural agriculture, organic farming, regenerative agriculture, agro-forestry etc. And the farmers of Punjab also never thought of the option of a Green Revolution type farming that is poisoning our soils, waters, air and society.
(The author is a former professor of Environmental Science in GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology. Views expressed are personal)