jueves, julio 03, 2008

Saying NO to chemical farming in India


My conversion to chemical-free farming began about ten years ago”, said Malliah, a farmer from Yenabavi village in Warangal district in Andhra Pradesh. “I had an infestation of red-headed hairy caterpillars. I used all kinds of pesticides and couldn’t get rid of them. I was getting desperate, as the caterpillars were spreading all over my cotton crop and castor beans.” An agronomist from the Centre for World Solidarity (CWS), an Indian voluntary organisation, was visiting the village, and showed him how to set up solar-powered light traps. He put several of these traps on his land and they were “100 per cent effective”.

Buoyed by this success, Malliah gradually developed other natural ways of controlling pests. He and other villagers started to go out early in the morning and late at night to study the life cycle of the pests so that they would learn when was the best moment to deal with them. With the help of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), they began to use seeds from the neem tree, a native species used for centuries to control pests. They began to grind the neem seeds, put them in water to soak overnight and then spray the liquid on their crops. The neem treatment disrupts the development and reproduction of harmful insects without harming the birds and beneficial insects that provide natural pest control.1 Similar plant-based formulations were also developed.

They moved on to other techniques. They started planting “trap crops” of sorghum, marigold and castor around their fields to attract pests away from their crops. They applied a mixture of cow dung and urine to combat leafhoppers and aphids. They started summer ploughing to disrupt the life cycle of bollworms and other pests. To increase soil fertility, they began producing green manure, tank silt and vermicompost. Encouraged by what they were achieving, Malliah and some other farmers went a step further in 2003 and stopped spraying or using chemicals of any kind, including fertilisers, on their land. With the support of the CSA and other organisations, they adopted completely organic farming. More recently still, they declared their village both organic and GMO-free. There are now 50 organic and GMO-free villages in Andhra Pradesh. They form part of the GM-Free India coalition, which brings together farmers’ organisations, agricultural activists, NGOs, consumer groups and women’s federations from over 15 states in India. Since 2006 they have been working together as an informal network to hold an informed debate on GM and to create alternatives.

Malliah himself has become an advocate of organic farming and visits other villages to encourage them to follow his example. He doesn’t pretend that organic farming is easy. Making and applying natural fertilisers and managing pests is hard work, he says. Farmers can also face a drop in yields in the first year of non-chemical farming, either because the soil needs time to recover or because the farmers have not yet mastered the new techniques. But the compensations are huge. Putting an end to chemical farming frees the villagers from the grip of middlemen, who sell the villagers on credit a “package” of hybrid seeds, fertilisers and insecticides, supplied by corporations such as Bayer, Syngenta, Dupont and Monsanto. The villagers are then forced to sell their crop to the middlemen in order to pay back their loan.

As Malliah explains, credit is very risky for small-scale farmers. “A few years ago we had a severe hail storm”, he said. “It destroyed everyone’s crop. But all I lost was the work I had done. I just had to pick myself up and press on. Some neighbouring farmers had bought their chemical pesticides and fertilisers on credit. They lost their crop, just like me, but they had the added burden of debt, and no way to pay back the money.” All too often this initial unpayable debt is the first step in a process of debt entrapment that drives the farmers to despair.

READ THE REST: http://www.grain.org/seedling/?id=559

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