‘We are what we eat and plants give us what we feed’, says agriculture activist G.V. Ramanjenyulu who’s waging a war against the use of pesticide.

Today around 35 lakh acres of land is cultivated and managed in Andhra Pradesh by farmers without the use of pesticides. This move is not due to the growing environment consciousness but because it helps them save on the cost of pesticides; a scenario that was quite different a few years back.

Reports of farmers’ suicide from the State kept Andhra Pradesh in news. After having met with success with ‘no pesticide’ management in AP, agriculture activist G.V. Ramanjenyulu of Center for Sustainable Agriculture is ready to take up the cause in other states.

In a recent report by National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) it was stated that as many as 18 different pesticides were found to be used in the maximum residual limit in the various foods we consume. And when these various food items are cooked together the synergetic effect of the pesticides can well be imagined. How these pesticides affect us and the human body system depends on our nutritional limits.

With such health concerns and some grave ones like use of pesticide in our crops G.V. Ramanjenyulu was on TV talking to Aamir Khan on Satyameva Jayate last Sunday on their episode —Poison on our plate. G.V. Ramanjenyulu runs the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and along with his modest office in Tarnaka he also runs a Sahaja Ahaaram, a small outlet that stocks pest-free products from farmers. They stock various pulses, brown rice, jaggery, indigenous toothpowder, shampoo, bathing mixes and snacks.

The country must have seen or heard agricultural activist G.V. Ramanjenyulu for the first time voicing his concern on the use of pesticide in the various crops, but his battle has been a long one. His struggle fight, question, helplessness and worry dates back to the days when in 1986 the largest number of farmer suicide cases from the Prakasham and Guntur district hit the headlines of national and international media.

“I chose to study Aagriculture as medicine was more of a fad then and engineering didn’t interest me. What was looked interesting and the only choice left was Aagriculture. After my Ph.D in Agriculture I worked as an Agricultural Scientist. This was the time when the large number of suicides happened. That left me and my I and our colleagues were baffled and wondering how something which they used for maximum output could have failed the farmers so miserably that it drove them to suicides. Another theory which we had was ‘is the technology meant for the farmers not reaching them?’ During the same time I got a call for the Indian Civil Services but my interest in Aagriculture and the cause of farmers made me stick to what I was pursuing.”

Ten years after the first mass farmer suicides, the story repeated. And in 1996 there was change of thought. “Where we thought and assumed that technology was not available it was the other way round. The suicides were as a result of technology failure. We studied about the integrated pesticide study which is failing and a result of which farmers were caught in the vicious cycle of increasing pesticide quantity,” explains Ramanjenyulu.

At 37, years Ramanjenyulu, took premature retirement from his government job in Hyderabad. He felt that his government job wasn’t helping farmers in any way. He saw that he was doing better work in his spare time in association with non-profit organisation and “I didn’t want to wait till my retirement to do the right thing. Farmers who took their lives were cotton farmers and there were deaths reported from the weavers as well. I realised that the story of cotton was the story of Indian agriculture. Until this time I was working with an organisation which looked into the benefits of farmers indirectly. This is the time I also understood that while the farmers were suffering with losses that took their lives, organised sectors continued to make profits. Farmers suffered because they fell under the unorganised sector. The main cause for the failure being utilisation of technology in isolation,” explains Ramanjenyulu

In 2004 Ramanjenyulu managed to rope in farmers to adopt ‘no pesticide farming’. As many as 1000 acres in Punukula was cultivated without pesticide and the result was impressive. The following year, 5000 acres in Punukula went the non-pesticide management way. “Now Punukula is a pesticide-free village,” says Ramanjenyulu with pride. It didn’t stop there after that Enebavi village in Warangal district was the first completely organic and genetically modified free village. “After these two villages we have been able to reach the magic target of 35 lakh acres. This however has been possible because of the involvement of the women self help groups,” he says Ramanjenyulu.

Safe food for all

India for safe food was launched by Centre for Sustainable Agriculture along with other groups. This campaign is meant to create awareness amongst citizens about the ill-effects of pesticides to begin with, in the wake of numerous reports on India’s contaminated food. This campaign was spurred by negative impacts of chemical pesticides and other toxic inputs in our food and farming and advocating a shift towards ecological farming.

‘India For Safe Food’ is a movement for change amongst Indian farmers, consumers and the government to ensure that all Indians have access to safe food, devoid of toxic substances. Today, Indian agriculture uses hundreds of toxic chemicals in large volumes, which end up contaminating water, soil and food. Studies indicate that in India, vegetables, fruits, staple cereals and pulses, meat, milk, eggs and poultry, in addition to drinking water and processed foods/beverages are contaminated with poisonous residues to various degrees. Our export consignments being rejected for their toxic residues is another indicator of the state of affairs. Studies also show that pesticide exposure is correlated with serious health risks including cancer, endocrine disruption causing reproductive health disorders, organ damage, immune system impairment and so on.

“We hope to bring about a change collectively, through citizens’ involvement, with India For Safe Food campaign,” explains

G.V. Ramanjaneyulu

The campaign will have public outreach effort mainly through online mobilisation using the informative website (www.indiaforsafefood.in), missed calls action (022-3301 0031) and cyber-action through emails, in addition to many awareness events and activities across at least 20 cities/towns of India in addition to hundreds of villages.

Adopting the good

After AP, states like Punjab and Maharashtra too are turning to adopt the pesticide and GM free model. In Maharashtra, a village called Dorli had declared itself up for auction as the mounting debt of farming left no choice for them. Dorli was taken up by CSA and now farmers have gone back to farming and use of pesticide has come down to 80 percent.