Organic is a term used most often to describe food items that are produced and processed without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and preservatives. But why are more people looking for organic food, and why is it important for us to grow our food better? Our story begins with the so called green revolution: In the late 50’s pesticides were introduced to India as one of the measures to convert the existing agricultural economy to an industrial system in an effort to improve its efficiency. (Hardin, 2008) But the introduction of these measures was a plan put forward by the Americans to control our food production and convert it to a system similar to theirs, which relied heavily on short term gains without taking into account the health of the land and the people that worked on it.
The green revolution in India was part of a much larger socio-political movement taking place at the time to monetize agricultural production in the developing world. (Shiva, 2020). Even though it worked (in a way)- food grain production in India saw an almost four-fold increase from 50 million tons in 1948-49 to 198 million tons in 1996-97 (Aktar, et al. 2009) – we were no longer in control of our food production. Instead, we were forced to depend on exploitative farming practices, imported seeds and modern technology that reduced agricultural activity to a very unidimensional purpose, where the only part of the process that mattered was the commodity that left the farm. It brought in a very narrow-minded approach to agriculture and mechanized the entire process, without taking into account the needs of animals, plants and the land itself.
These practices also affected humans working on the farm as well as those consuming the produce, as research conducted over the past few decades indicates. When absorbed by the body, these substances can have both short-term and long-term effects: examples of short-term (or acute) effects are rashes, blisters, nausea and diarrhea, while examples of long-term (or chronic) effects are cancers, reproductive defects, neurological and developmental toxicity and damage to our endocrine system resulting in hormonal imbalances. (pesticidereform.org) Societies around the world are exposed to chemical pesticides and their serious health effects, but more so in developing countries and by the vulnerable populations that work on these farms because so many people’s livelihoods depend on their agricultural output. In 1999, the number of deaths and chronic diseases due to pesticide poisoning was estimated at 1 million. (Aktar, et al. 2009)
The use of these pesticides causes great disruptions to the environment by contaminating the soil, water and air around the farm and causing harm to various other living creatures like birds, fish, beneficial insects and non-target plants. These pesticides go on to pollute freshwater bodies farther afield and groundwater reserves due to run off from farms, which poses a major challenge as they remain contaminated for several years, and cleaning up is an expensive process. (Agrawal, et al. 2010) Additionally, the overuse of chemical pesticides can cause soil health to decline, affecting the nutritional levels of the food grown here and limit the quantity of future harvests on this land to less than 60!
Organic farming practices are not new- it is how we Indians grew food before the green revolution forced us to use practices like extractive irrigation, high yielding variety seeds, and commercial fertilizers and pesticides; all part of an elaborate plan to control our food production and therefore control us. People are now returning to organic food because they not only recognize the health and environmental benefits of growing their own food, but also the power in deciding what they want to grow and how they want to grow it. Locally sourced organic food allows us to eat better, take better care of our environment and most importantly, helps us reclaim our food sovereignty. The good news is that there are multiple ways to take charge of our health as well as our food production, stay tuned for the next post to read up on how!
- Aktar, Wasim, et al. “Impact of Pesticides Use in Agriculture: Their Benefits and Hazards.” Interdisciplinary Toxicology, vol. 2, no. 1, Mar. 2009, pp. 1–12. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.2478/v10102-009-0001-7.
- Agrawal, Anju, et al. “Water Pollution with Special Reference to Pesticide Contamination in India.” Journal of Water Resource and Protection, vol. 02, no. 05, 2010, pp. 432–48. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.4236/jwarp.2010.25050.
- Hardin, Lowell S. “Meetings That Changed the World: Bellagio 1969: The Green Revolution.” Nature, 2008, pp. 470-71.
- Pesticides & Human Health | Californians for Pesticide Reform. https://www.pesticidereform.org/pesticides-human-health/. Accessed 5 Jan. 2021.
- Shiva, Vandana. Dr. Vandana Shiva on Idea of Food Sovereignty, Why and How? | Masterclass | EPBC2020 | VIF – YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8bOWv5N0tI&feature=youtu.be. Accessed 7 Jan. 2021.