Pesticide exposure in Punjab and Haryana is out of control. When I was growing up, the Green Revolution was idolized and idealized to degree that in hindsight seems a little excessive. But back then, this octupling of wheat and rice yields in Punjab and Haryana catalyzed the transformation of India from a country mired in famine and food shortages to one that occasionally runs out of room to store excess food. So, this story (courtesy of 3QD) caught my attention.
IF INDIAN newspaper reports are to be believed, the children of Punjab are in the throes of a grey revolution. Even those as young as ten are sprouting tufts of white and grey hair. Some are going blind. In Punjabi villages, children and adults rare afflicted by uncommon cancers.
The reason is massive and unregulated use of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals in India’s most intensively farmed state. According to an environmental report by Punjab’s government, the modest-sized state accounts for 17% of India’s total pesticide use. The state’s water, people, animals, milk and agricultural produce are all poisoned with the stuff.
Ignorance is part of the problem. The report includes details of a survey suggesting that nearly one-third of Punjabi farmers were unaware that pesticides come with instructions for use. Half of the farmers ignored these instructions. Three-quarters put empty pesticide containers to domestic uses.
The article concludes by saying that the government is encouraging the use of techniques including organic farming, more crop rotation, etc, and how this is ironically “reversing” the green revolution. But two separate issues are getting mixed up here. The green revolution was not won on excessive use of fertilizers, monoculture, excessive water use, and so on. Instead, the development of new hybrid, high yielding varieties of rice and wheat kick started the revolution. The wholesale adoption of water and input intensive agricultural techniques came along for for the ride with the rest of the revolution.
Hopefully, the Punjab government will not stop at writing reports, but start grassroots education projects with the farmers to encourage sensible farming techniques that take the good parts of the green revolution and leave the bad parts out.