NPR has been running a series of remarkable reports by reporter Daniel Zwerdling on the course of the green revolution in India. His latest is on farmers who have gone organic, because they were exhausting their soils with fertilizers. He profiles one in the breadbasket of India, Punjab.
Green Revolution advocates have argued for decades that chemicals and intensive irrigation along with new seeds were needed to lift yields. But critics say that approach has meant more chemicals to keep yields up, the loss of biodiversity with concentrated seed supplies and dangerous depletion of water tables. Then there are troubling associations with higher cancer rates in areas where chemical use is rampant.
The approach by the organic farmer in Punjab is instructive. Following the Green Revolution dogma, he found he was depleting his soils and having to buy more and more chemicals. Since going organic, yields have been mixed; he is doing well with rice, less so with wheat. But he's only four years into it and it it often takes years to replenish depleted soils. Even more remarkable, 300,000 Indian farmers are with him, growing organically.
But the mantra of the green revolution is far from over -- indeed, it's as loud as ever as evidenced by the Monsanto rep quoted in the piece. Fertilizers, seed breeding and intensive production are also being applied to Africa, where soil fertility is especially low. But what we haven't been hearing about are alternatives -- which is why this NPR report was welcome.
Here are links to the previous NPR reports in the series:
- Samuel Fromartz