“I am an agricultural scientist and communication specialist by training. After my studies, I got a bureaucratic job in the government of India ‒ not my cup of tea. Then I did agricultural research, but I did not like that either.
Then, in 1996/1997, large numbers of farmers in India committed suicide, out of sheer despair. Several groups of experts did analyses, mostly related to development studies. We found out that one of the major failures is technology. We started an independent research institute, a small, experimental project to bring down the costs of cultivation, and striving for a ‘world without pesticides’. About 20-40% of the costs for farmers go into pesticides. We decided not to implement something new, but use locally available means. There is no uniform solution to every problem, considering the large variety in insects and crops. Technology cannot be scaled up, but the underlying principles can. That is what modern science should do: provide technology to help farmers sustain production. There is a lot of knowledge available, but it needs improvement.
Non-pesticidal management has become a big success. In Andhra Pradesh, the state we work in, one million farmers have adopted it in the past six years. It was extension from farmer to farmer.
We evolve technology for each situation and try to communicate this to the farmers. We show them examples and simplify the technological information, so they can understand. Everything I explain, I relate to something they know ‒ not to what I know. Take pesticides. I explain that 75% of the populations on earth are insects. There is an ecological balance in nature. If you kill the insects with pesticide, you increase the pest problem. There are vegetarian and non-vegetarian insects; they can be of your avail. If we talk about seeds, soil, pests, we try to formulate the information in such a way that everybody understands.
Once there is a success, we make it visible to others and convince them to adopt the same practice. We make a showcase for farmers’ unions, politicians and public servants.
In Andhra Pradesh, the government took organic agriculture up to a larger scale. When the industry wanted a binding policy on genetic modification, we showcased our analysis, and the government took a decision based on our documentation. We try to build evidence-based policies. Thus we have been able to stall legislation that prohibited farmers to re-use their seeds.
Every half an hour a farmer in India commits suicide. None has occurred in our villages in the past five years.”
Center for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA): www.csa-india.org