◊ By Bharat Mansata & others
Padma Shri awardee Subhash Palekar, who conceived the zero budget natural Farming method, Zero Budget Natural Farming (now known as Subhash Palekar Natural Farming), dropped a bombshell on the organic farming community, when on July 22, in an interview published in a leading national daily, he declared, “Organic farming is worse than atom bomb.”
The salvo came as a shock to the organic community as Palekar and his methods have, up to now, been lauded as noteworthy. As Natural Farming and organic farming share several commonalities, this lambasting of organic farming has confounded ecologists and organic farmers alike.
Bharat Mansata—ecological farming researcher, writer and activist and author of The Vision of Natural Farming—along with 11 other veterans from the arena of ecology/natural farming, has co-authored an open letter to Palekar in response to his contentious statements.
Identifying Palekar as “a pragmatic man” for rechristening Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) as Subhash Palekar Natural Farming (SPNF), Mansata criticises the former’s unfounded running down of organic farming—India’s ancient traditional farming method—as “grotesque” (alluded: and perhaps self-serving).
The authors of the open letter request Palekar to publicly withdraw his erroneous statement that “Organic farming is worse than atom bomb” as well as retract his approval of GM seeds in ZBNF/SPNF. Alternatively, they invite him to engage in a public debate on the issue.
The salvo came as a shock to the organic community as natural farming and organic farming share several commonalities. The authors of the open letter request Palekar to publicly withdraw his erroneous statement that “Organic farming is worse than atom bomb”
OPEN LETTER TO SUBHASH PALEKAR
Dear Shri Subhash Palekarji,
We, the undersigned, include both experienced practitioners and long-time supporters of various ecological ways of farming in harmony with nature and fellow humans, irrespective of their names.
At the outset, we appreciate your contribution in reaching out to many farmers, government authorities, media, and others, regarding natural farming; and your zeal in promoting non-chemical methods. However, your statement that “Organic farming is worse than atom bomb” (published in The Times of India on July 22) is shocking and incredible.
The atom bomb dropped over Hiroshima (Japan) in 1945, instantaneously killed over 100,000 people, and many more later through burns and persistent radioactivity. Modern nuclear bombs are far more devastating. Thus, please explain how organic farming is worse than an atom bomb!
India has a 10,000-year-old history of farming. More than 9,900 years—before agro chemicals were introduced—it was completely chemical free or organic by default. India was even an inspiration and guide to the Western and English-speaking world through the seminal book, An Agricultural Testament, written in 1940 by Sir Albert Howard, who lived for many years in India, and confessed that he regarded Indian farmers as his professors!
In case your objection is only to organic farming practised with purchased market inputs, and foreign, unsuitable species of cows/animals/earthworms/plants/micro-organisms, unnatural to our Indian conditions, please clarify.
Given below is the definition of organic farming as widely accepted all over the world:
“Organic agriculture is defined as a holistic food production management system, which promises and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It emphasises the use of management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs, taking into account that regional conditions require locally adapted systems. This is accomplished by using, where possible, agronomic, biological and mechanical methods, as opposed to using synthetic materials to fulfil any specific function within the system.” – FAO/WHO, Codex Alimentarius Commission.
The World Agriculture Report (IAASTD Report) by 400 agricultural experts and 1,000 multi-disciplinary reviewers from FAO, World Bank, WHO, UNDP, UNEP, and representatives of 60 countries, including India, clearly stated that the chemical-intensive, modern-industrial way of farming has no future. It recommended that small scale farmers and agro- ecological/ organic/ natural methods are the way forward, with indigenous knowledge playing an important role. It added that genetically modified (GM) crops are not the answer to hunger, poverty or climate change.
We may further point out that:
(i) GM crops/seeds are primarily lab created/generated, mainly by huge multinational companies that sell both genetically manipulated seeds and highly toxic pesticides and herbicides. Such seeds are neither natural nor needed. They increase market dependence and the cost of farming, which ZBNF opposes.
(ii) GM crops/seeds pose serious hazards to agro-ecosystem health, human health, and to the seed sovereignty of farmers.
(iii) The danger of releasing/sowing GM crops/seeds is irreversible. They can never be recalled, nor can their spread ever be stopped. The GM seeds would unavoidably and increasingly contaminate our rich diversity of traditional seeds through cross-pollination and admixtures.
(iv) More than 90% of all GM crops/seeds either carry genes from Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) bacteria, or are HT (herbicide tolerant) in character. Bt plants internally generate poison within their tissue. HT plants draw farmers to externally spray highly toxic, cancer-causing herbicides. Wherever such crops have been used, the spiral of increasing toxicity worsens each year. Evidence shows that with Bt crops, the targeted crop pests develop resistance, becoming ‘super pests’, while new ‘secondary’ pests also multiply, requiring increased spraying of more toxic pesticides. This has been the experience in many countries, including India. With HT crops—which are still not legal in India, despite massive unrelenting pressure from vested interests—there has been a well documented epidemic of invasive ‘super weeds’, as witnessed in Argentina, Brazil, Canada and USA. The adverse impacts of growing HT crops on human, animal and plant health is also well established.
We thus request you to please answer the following important questions:
1) In what significant way/s is ZBNF or SPNF different from the above-quoted definition of organic farming? And since ZBNF/SPNF has adopted many principles/practices followed in traditional/organic farming, why do you feel the name is more important than actual principles/practices? Is this not arbitrarily causing divisions/splits among farmers by herding them under narrow, authoritarian directives, rather than holistic, self-reasoned choice?
2) Why does ZBNF approve the use of GM crops/seeds, widely known to be unnatural, unnecessary, hazardous and irreversible/unstoppable, once released? Are these not the real, highly destructive threat from vested corporate and political interests to wipe out India’s rich biodiversity, and to pauperise her farmers? Do you agree or disagree that India’s fabulous heritage of many thousands of traditional/natural seed varieties are far more appropriate for natural farming?
3) If the aim and effect of a locally adapted system of organic or natural farming (irrespective of name) is the enhancement of agro-ecosystem health, what is objectionable? Why are you indiscriminately ‘bombing’ the entire family of organic farmers, whose practices provide safe food and better ecosystem health? Is it not the big GM industry—deeply inbred with the big chemical industry—that is the main threat to Indian farmers, nature, and the health of all creatures who consume its toxic food?
The outstanding veteran natural farmer, the late Shri Bhaskar Save, whom you acknowledged as your guru, and who inspired many of us since the past 3-4 decades, never claimed perfection or even superiority over other farming approaches, but continued to be a life-long learner through observing nature while working on his farm. His humility presented valuable lessons for all of us in appreciating the diversity of approaches and techniques on the path of eco-friendly agriculture.
We appreciate that several farming techniques promoted by you under ZBNF/SPNF are good agronomic practices rooted in our farming traditions, and in the innovations of outstanding farmers, following organic/natural/agro-ecological practices. While you understandably oppose hazardous agro-technologies promoted by multinational corporates, we hope you do not reject science, or the reasoned pursuit of truth.
We thus request you to publicly withdraw your statement that “Organic farming is worse than atom bomb” as well as, your approval of GM seeds in ZBNF/SPNF.
Alternatively, we would gladly engage you in an open public debate, either in writing, or through oral speech; and we hope you will not shy away from this.
Looking forward to your early reply.
- Bhaskar Save Natural Farming Learning Centre (at Kalpavruksha)
- Naresh Save and Suresh Save (sons of Bhaskar Save, both with several decades of natural farming and organic farming experience)
- Dhirendra and Smita Soneji (several decades of natural farming and organic farming experience)
- Vasant and Karuna Futane (several decades of natural farming and organic farming experience)
- Subhash Sharma (several decades of natural and organic farming experience)
- Prof Sultan Ismail (senior scientist, researcher and professor in soil biology since several decades)
- Kapil Shah (writer, educator and campaigner for natural/organic farming since over 3 decades)
- Ardhendu Chatterjee (ecological farming trainer, practitioner and researcher since over 3 decades)
- Jacob Nellithanam (ecological farming researcher, trainer and seed heritage activist since 35 years)
- Babu (ecological farming activist with ICRA-Karnataka, working with small rainfed farmers since 3 decades)
- Bharat Mansata (ecological farming researcher-writer-activist since 3 decades; author of The Vision of Natural Farming – on Bhaskar Save)
- Soumik Banerjee (seed conservator and ecological farming researcher-campaigner since 15 years)