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September 25, 2010

Environmental concerns in agriculture – a very old problem

Filed under: agriculture, common man, environment, gandhi, gandhian principles, global warming — Tags: — neosurya @ 17:21

I often used to think that the environment concerns in agriculture could not be very recent. Similar concerns should have been present earlier as well. After all, the human species has been cutting down trees and establishing itself as a mono cropper from sometime now. I used to wonder how early people would have reacted, especially the farmers in India.

I have been reading Ramchandra Guha’s “India After Gandhi” [Reviews: 1, 2]. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in contemporary India. Since we are talking about agriculture here, I will put a few relevant excerpts. Guha’s book contains the following discussion between a village lever worker (VLW) and a farmer (MS):

VLW: What do you think of the new seed?

MS: What can I think? If the Govt. thinks it is good, it must be good.

VLW: Do you think it is better than the local variety?

MS: Yes, It resits disease much better. It can stand frost and rain, and there is more demand for it in the market.

VLW: What about yield?

MS: I cannot say. Some people say it is more, others say it is not.

VLW: Some people say it is not as good in taste.

MS: They are right. It is not half as good. If the roti is served hot it is more or less the same, but if we keep it for an hour or so it gets tough as hide. No, it is not as good in taste. People say that we all get very weak if we eat this wheat.

VLW: What is your experience?

MS: Many more people suffer from digestive disorders these days. Our childern have coughs and colds. Perhapes it is becasue of the new seed and sugar cane. It may be that the air has been spoilt by the wars.

VLW: And what about the new fertilizer?

MS: They increase the yield; there is no doubt about it. But they probably destroy the vitality of the land and also of the grain.

There is another quote included by Guha, a letter by Gandhi’s disciple Mira Behn dated 1949:

The tragedy today is that educated and moneyed classes are altogether out of touch with the vital fundamentals of existence — our Mother Earth, and the animal and vegetable population which she sustains. This world of Nature’s planning is ruthlessly plundered, despoiled and disorganized by man whenever he gets the chance. By his science and machinery he may get huge returns for a time, but ultimately will come desolation. We have got to study Nature’s balance and develop our lives within her laws if we are to survive as a physically healthy and morally decent species.

The discussion between the VLW and villager was first published by S C Dube in 1958 [Links to book: 1, 2], and the letter above was written in 1949. One can imagine how far back people were thinking about the effects of chemical farming and the resultant socio-environmental issues.

For those who are new to environmental problems in agriculture, I had previously blogged about a few aspects: Bt Brinjal, Double standards in Organic food, One Straw Revolution.

India’s changing villages: human factors in community development

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