Originally written by Pratyush Velicheti
It's no secret that there are a lot of improvements needed when it comes to the food industry as a whole in our country. Due to the main aim of most of the food production companies being earning higher profits, we as educated citizens must be aware of what goes into our food items.
The list of harmful chemicals and pesticides that are being used in food production are alarming to put it mildly. Examples of these chemicals would be artificial dyes, arsenic, pesticides such as dichloro diphenyl trichloroethane (DDT) and benzene hexachloride (BH) just to name a few. Artificial dyes which are added to enhance the appearance of all kinds of food items such as cakes, fruits, cereals, sports drinks and many more have been linked to causing cell damage as well as brain cancer.
These chemicals are essentially derived from petroleum and are banned in most countries but are still widely used in India. Arsenic is a natural component of the earth's crust however, it is extremely toxic in its inorganic form. This chemical is also banned in alot of countries but is found in basmati rice and has been linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, skin diseases, cardiovascular diseases.
Everything from chapatis, rice, dals, vegetables, fruits, meats and even milk have been found to contain all kinds of chemicals and other harmful substances. One may ask why the need for such staggering amounts of chemicals to be used for food production.
Well, the answer to that question is that these companies need to meet extremely huge demands all across the country since that will bring them the most profit. This system is harming not only the country's citizen’s health and wellbeing, but also our environment as a whole due to poison being pumped into our soil and factory fumes being let into our air.
It's a major problem that doesn't only affect us, but future generations as well, which is why it's an issue we must try and resolve. But inorder to resolve this problematic system, we must understand its origins and why it began in the first place.
This commercialization of the food industry began to come into fruition in 1996 when the green revolution commenced nationwide. This was the period when indian agriculture was converted into an industrial system through the adoption of modern techniques and technologies that were introduced to the country. These modern methods included the use of HYV (high yielding variety) seeds, tractors, fertilisers, pesticides as well as irrigation facilities.
It was MS Swaminathan who was the pioneer in the development of HYV seeds and therefore is known as "the father of green revolution".
HYV seeds are of various crops such as wheat, corn, soybean, rice, potato, rice and cotton. This historic period is of importance even to this day due to the fact that all of us are still being affected by the events that occurred. These seeds were grown mostly in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh due to it having various special requirements one of which being that it needed an adequate irrigation system.
Since these seeds were a new innovative effort, farmers were hesitant to take on their production, They were also quite expensive due to which a lot of farmers were not keen on shifting to their production.
Due to this the government promised them that they would provide the crops distribution as well as provide the farmers with the required fertilisers and pesticides. They also began to sell the seeds at subsidized rates, and began leveling heavy taxes on the other varieties. This move forced almost all the small farmers to shift to HYV crops and along with that, into commercialisation since they needed to survive. It was from this moment forward, that the country’s future began to change for both the better as well as the worse.
During the beginning stages of the revolution, there were a lot of advancements and benefits that proved it to be a useful measure. It achieved one of its many goals which was making India independent in its food grain production making sure that it didn't need to depend on foreign exports anymore. This independence made sure that other countries couldn't use their foreign export policies to exploit and blackmail India for their own political gain which was a huge win.
The green revolution also yielded great economic prosperity in its beginning stages due to a huge increase in agricultural output from states like Punjab (it was producing 70% of total food grains nationally). Punjab's prosperity led other states to follow in its footsteps as they too took on the HYV seeds production hoping to reach Punjab's level of prosperity.
The reduced production costs also resulted in cheaper prices for food in the market which made it more affordable than before. This prosperity also helped the farmers as they began to get a consistent steady income for their produce rather than the bargained value they used to get while selling directly to the market which also depended on the seasonal harvest.. The technological advancement also led to a spike in employment due to more new diverse jobs being created.
However, this seemingly successful shift into prosperity that everyone thought had happened was short lived. The flipside of all these advancements and changes became more and more visible as the years went by.
For example even though the farmers were earning a steady income consistently, the shift into commercial agriculture meant that they had become completely dependent on the market and the companies for the supply of inputs as well as demand for outputs.
They needed them for the fertilizers and pesticides as well as to be able to sell the crops making them powerless. Another example of the issues that farmers faced was that due to this commercial shift, there were all kinds of technologies that were needed and poor farmers couldn't afford it.
Even though they couldn't afford it, they had to take loans and borrow money from local money lenders even at very high interests so as to not go out of business. There are farmers that to this day are caught up in this cycle of debt just to be able to survive and it all started from the green revolution period.
This is also one of the major reasons that farmer suicides are at such a high rate today. Along with these troubles, the farmers all across the nation faced wide income disparities simply due to their locations being more or less suitable to the new crops. Farmers in Punjab and UP began to earth high amounts of income whereas the other state farmers earned meager amounts.
These income disparities are seen to this day as these problematic issues have been passed down generation to generation and is yet another reason for the high rates of farmer suicides.
There have also been huge amounts of negative effects on the environment due to the entirety of the green revolution. Loss of soil fertility, erosion of soil, increased soil toxicity, decrease in water resources, pollution of underground water reserves, salinity of underground water, salinity of soil, increase in multiple diseases affecting both livestock as well as human beings, and so much more.
These negative impacts are still prevalent to this day due to its affects being very very harmful. With 82% of agricultural land already being affected by the effects of the green revolution there isn't much land left for increased productivity in terms of agriculture in India.
There is no easy solution to a problem that's been faced across generations. One may think that simply banning pesticides or harmful chemicals will eliminate the problem. However that would also decrease the yield of all our crops by more than 50% and therefore is not feasible.
It's a very complex dilemma which unless and until we find a concrete solution to this historic plight, we are going to be facing tough times in context to our health and wellness. Therefore it is our duty as educated citizens of the country to bring this harmful cycle to an end, and do our part.