I know the havoc that genetically modified crops can wreak

Indians are killing the future of the coming generations by welcoming GMOs in Indian food and environment

By Vivek Cariappa
Published: Tuesday 08 November 2022
The makers of Roundup are being forced to pay $10.9 billion towards compensation to settle cancer suits. Photo: iStock
The makers of Roundup are being forced to pay $10.9 billion towards compensation to settle cancer suits. Photo: iStock The makers of Roundup are being forced to pay $10.9 billion towards compensation to settle cancer suits. Photo: iStock

I have lived and farmed (organically) on the edge of a national park since 1986. I have had a front row seat watching the destruction of the forest nearby.

When I read about the possible introduction of Herbicide Tolerant (HT) cotton and mustard into our ecological system, I daydream about the horrors that might become a reality in the near future. I live in a demarcated Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) that is agriculturally a cotton-growing belt.

Sample this.

If I, as a conventional farmer, decide to plant HT cotton, I would need to spray my cotton fields at least once a month with generous amounts of Roundup (Glyphosate). I will have to spray the entire crop area, including the bunds and borders.

Read European Parliament opposes import of three herbicide-resistant GM crops

If an elephant comes at night and eats enough of the sprayed cotton plants, it will die. So will any herbivore that would have the audacity to graze in my poisoned fields.

Enter the forest department. There is a dead elephant in my field (or a dead deer/peafowl/one of my neighbors’ cattle or goats). The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 empowers the forest department to arrest me.

Have I done wrong as a farmer? No, not at all. The legalisation of HT cotton and the use of Glyphosate herbicide ensures that I have done nothing wrong. Even in this ESZ.

It is clear that it is the fault of the forest department that the elephant has strayed out of the forest into my field. They should so to it that the wild animals stay within  the forest. They are responsible. They know that HT cotton needs spraying of herbicide. Yet they allowed wild animals outside the demarcated, barricaded and fenced forest — where I am not allowed to enter.

Sometime down the line, I expand my agricultural activities. I take bank loans and use new state-of-the-art technology that is being pushed in the name of hi-tech agriculture.

I plant HT cotton on my agricultural land adjoining the forest and I mechanise the spraying of herbicide and pesticides on my crops using high volume power sprayers.  The poisons somehow enter the forest area and nearby water bodies.

The problem could get exacerbated if I go a step further and used drones to spray the poisons. But why should that bother me? I am not doing anything illegal. The law of the land allows me to do so.

Let us assume there is a lovely breeze blowing in the direction of the forest on that particular day. It makes the poison from the drone spray drift into the forest and animals die after grazing there.

Obviously, the forest department will be responsible for the death of those innocent creatures and I will hold the officials responsible, criminally responsible. There goes the forest, what is left of it.

I live on the northern edge of the Bandipur National Park in Mysuru district of Karnataka. We don’t grow mustard here — there are huge tracts of mustard-growing areas in North India that border various national parks. What will happen there is left to your imagination.

Read GM mustard will obliterate honey bees: Apiculturists protest Central decision in Bharatpur

I myself grow cotton in my fields, organically though, and have seen the rise and the subsequent (disastrous) fall of Bt Cotton over the years. In the last few years, pesticide use in the cultivation of Bt Cotton has risen beyond what was being used for non-Bt cotton a decade ago and the yields have dropped drastically.

The cotton belt in my area is the location of the KRS, Kabini and Nugu reservoirs. Runoff from all fields in the region settles in the rivers or water bodies. Glyphosate is water-soluble.

This water is pumped out to millions of homes in neighbouring cities, towns and villages — including Bengaluru. Glyphosate is being banned in many countries all over the world. The makers of Roundup are being forced to pay $10.9 billion as compensation to settle cancer suits as it has been proven that glyphosate causes a range of health issues.

What would the effects be of introducing genetically modified organisms (GMO) in the food system is another subject that needs an urgent and honest look at. There is so much information out there regarding the detrimental effects on health, sovereignty, sustainability, nutrition and biodiversity that it makes for depressive reading. Will our decision makers look at it? Please.

And what of all those stray cattle that we farmers have orphaned all over north India. Who will inform those innocent bovines that we farmers have been given the right to poison their grasses in the name of science, technology and profit.

Will we never learn?

Guess this would be a good time to prepare for the future — with true fatalistic and shortsighted crass mindlessness — I should plan to get a law degree, online of course. Make money suing everyone concerned. What else can I do?

I cling onto my ringside seat and watch as we as a country sing peans of praise to the Swachh Bharat programme. At the same time, we bring in and spread new poisons killing the future of the coming generations and welcoming GMOs in Indian food and environment.

By doing so, we insensible citizens deftly compose our own horror stories and revel in them.

Vivek Cariappa is owner of Krac-a-Dawna farms is Karnataka. He is a Krishi Pandit awardee 

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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