A Rotting Harvest?

In keeping with TLH’s agricultural theme, the BBC reported today on the environmental health fallout of the Green Revolution in Punjab (I). The Green Revolution introduced industrial mono-culture farming to small farms. The result was a short and sharp growth in grain production. However, over time this has also resulted in declining harvests. Why? Because many of the “best practices” from industrial farming are also unsustainable. Without crop rotation, most stock grains (corn, soy, wheat, rice, and cotton) leach nutrients from the soil. The industrial solution to this is an over-reliance on both manufactured fertilizer (to re-fix nitrogen) and pesticides (since mono-crops are notoriously more vulnerable to weather or pest devastation). Now declining crops are paired with another negative outgrowth from devastatingly unnatural farming practice: increasing rates of cancer, and possibly pesticide poisoning, among Punjabi farmers.

In agricultural economics, public health, and agrarian studies, the links between pesticide use and health have been clearly documented in the local and international context (1, 2, 3, 4). We know, now, that many of these methods do not post the high crop levels that seemed never-ending in the past. And in the context of — arguably trade-driven — food shortages world-wide, this article raises questions about the disproportionate burden of agrarian “success.” Is it truly successful if it’s unsustainable? Is it “success” if grower booms later severely limit the quality or duration of life? How about the permanent ecological damage? The loss of biodiversity? Punjab has fed the subcontinent for decades, but what will happen if growth continues to fail while the population surges?

Previous coverage: “Nanak Kheti”… and Natural Farming, The Rights of Punjabi Farmworkers, Asian Americans and Rural Development, Farmer suicides continue…

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4 Responses to “A Rotting Harvest?”

  1. […] rate of cancer stemming from excessive use of harmful pesticides since the Green Revolution (which other langarites have blogged about as well). A comprehensive study conducted in the area by the prestigious Post […]

  2. […] onto prior posts concerned about the environment, it’s interesting that the Transport Minister of Punjab made a statement […]

  3. […] role in promoting the Green Revolution (fellow Langa(w)r-iters have described the Green Revolution’s darker sides, another monograph is by Vandana Shiva), students from throughout East Asia came to Ludhiana to […]

  4. […] rubric of the Green Revolution [see previous posts on the Green Revolution here, here, and here] during the 1960s and 1970s. The introduction of high-yielding varieties of cereals saw a […]