Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

@

When your Food turns Junk

11 November, 2020 16:06:49
When your Food turns Junk

'Who said indigenous organic pesticide-free paddy and vegetables record less production compared to the chemical fertiliser and insecticide-laden high-yielding crops? Do you have any data to compare? Any survey done by your department or university?' The sharp shooting questions of Dr Debal Deb had unnerved me. Despite being an Agriculture Scientist myself, I had never asked such questions or heard any of our colleagues or researchers discussing such issues. For decades I had heard and believed that to feed the teeming millions of India, Green Revolution was brought in with high-yielding crop seeds, genetically modified varieties and also chemical fertilisers and pesticides. If production is not high, India would go through a food crisis! Well, that's the information we had always been fed with. Like Dr Deb, we never asked or even accumulated data to compare Bengal's lost organic paddy varieties and their yield rate and their specific mineral laden qualities.

I had gone to meet Dr Debal Deb in his Barrackpore home after being inspired by his book 'Looth hoye jaye Swadeshbhumi.’ I got hold of this book and was amazed to know of how Bengal's farmers had been for years cultivating high-yielding paddy crops without the use of any fertiliser or pesticide, what we call 'organic' in the modern world. 

Way back in 1997-99 when I was working in Falta in South 24 Parganas, Tapas Mandal of Calcutta Service Centre contacted me and said they were trying to grow organic vegetables and wanted me to be a speaker at a farmer’s meet. I was quite amused and somehow did not buy the idea that cultivation of organic vegetables can ever turn into a sustainable model with high yield. I even told him it would not be sustainable as organic vegetables cannot be reared in bulk and they get easily destroyed by pests. So if the production is low, how can organic vegetable cultivation feed everyone and meet the market demand?

'Who said indigenous organic pesticide-free paddy and vegetables record less production compared to the chemical fertiliser and insecticide-laden high-yielding crops? Do you have any data to compare? Any survey done by your department or university?'

Mandal humbly listened to what I had to say. He also like Dr Debal Deb asked me if I ever tried growing organic vegetables myself or I am only speaking from the theoritical angle. He then handed me some books on organic cultivation from their Centre’s library and asked me to read them. In one of those books I came across a very interesting tale of cultivation of indigenous paddy in Bengal. The source of the article was a newspaper clip written by Ratan Lal Brahmachari. Next, came Dr Deb's book written in 2000, where I got to know of the West Bengal State Seed Corporation, Diamond Harbour, and its manager, Arup Ratan Mukherjee. These books and the information shared in them completely changed my bookish knowledge and the data fed by Green Revolution in India. I even shared these books and the knowledge I acquired from them with my colleagues. 

While speaking one-to-one with Dr Deb I realised the yield of indigenous paddy, which he called as deshi dhan was quite high and varied from one region to another. The yield actually depended on the area where they were cultivated, and on the ecological condition. He clearly said: 'Cultivation of one variety might fail in an area or they may turn less yielding, depending on the ecological and climatic conditions. That does not mean that variety of organic paddy is low yielding. Rather that variety turns high yielding in some other area.' He even asked me if I understood the basic concepts of ecology and ecological economics. I shared what was written in agriculture books, but realised in all these years I had aquired least practical knowledge about organic cultivation. Like Dr Amartya Sen, Dr Deb also opined that famines and food crisis arise from political reasons and has nothing to do with low yield or high yield crop cultivation.

Today it has increased to almost 42 lakh hectares. If this continues, Bengal will successfully build high-yielding indigenous paddy, completely free of pesticides and fertilizers, that have been wreaking havoc down generations causing cancer and other diseases.

Dr Deb had been working with cluster farmers of Bankura since 1997 on indigenous paddy cultivation and had huge knowledge about GMO seeds, poisonous seeds, indigenous organic varieties and even about the various farming communities of India as well as environment, importance of indigenous practises, food economics etc. His knowledge was more practical unlike mine, that was based on theory. Quite naturally, his knowledge was anytime better than mine. Gradually I started visiting him, on and off, and we became good friends. 

The cluster farmering concept also attracted me as since 1997, I was already working in Falta to develop a self-help group of women working on water conservation. This was probably the first state government sponsored group as most were so long run by NGOs. This news was spread far and wide and reached till Tripura, from where teams came to understand our model. Today, I find similar ventures in the farming sector. A heaven and hell difference has come in the agriculture department of West Bengal with a very big achievement in organic farming of paddy and vegetables. Yield of organic paddy is also high. Previously there was around 80000 hectares land where desi dhaan or organic paddy was cultivated. Today it has increased to more than 1 lakh hectare. If this continues, Bengal will successfully build high-yielding indigenous paddy, completely free of pesticides and fertilizers, that have been wreaking havoc down generations causing cancer and other diseases. 

Story Tag:
  • Chemical free food, Agriculture in Bengal

Leave a Comments

Related Post

×