Opinion

Anna Swaraj: The only way we can rescue Indian farmers from debt and suicide

Punjab's experiment with Bt cotton failed, as the recent whitefly attack shows. It's time we return to regenerative agricultural practices that are ecologically sound.

Fifteen farmers in the fertile belt of Punjab have committed suicide in recent days after whitefly pest devoured two-thirds of the state’s cotton crop, almost all of which is reportedly Bt cotton.

Bt cotton, a genetically modified variety, was supposed to be a substitute for pesticides when it was introduced, first informally in 1998 and then with the approval of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee in 2002. Since its advent, though, there have been ever-newer epidemics of pests. In this and many other ways, what was to be the redeemer of the cotton farmer became his oppressor.

Monsanto, the American multinational corporation that produces Bt cotton, has collected royalties from our small farmers, leaving them trapped in debt. The cost of cotton seed, which was once Rs 5- Rs 10 per kilo, ballooned to Rs 4,000 a kilo after Monsanto’s entry. This was why, years ago, a case was brought against Monsanto under the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act.

Further, since Monsanto’s Bt cotton is a genetically modified hybrid, it needs more water for irrigation. In drought-prone rain-fed areas, the crop often fails, forcing the farmer to buy the seeds twice-thrice in a planting season.

All this is a recipe for a debt trap. It is for this reason that many states, such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, have filed cases against Monsanto to regulate seed prices and royalties. But this won’t be enough: it is time for India to re-evaluate its experiment with genetically modified varieties to extract its farmers from the quagmire of debt, vulnerability and suicides.

Ineffective at pest control

The despondency pervading rural Punjab today reminds me of the 1980s, when rich and poor farmers alike were feeling the pinch of ecological erosion, debt and declining profits margins. That was the first reaction to the cultural erosion that resulted from the spread of commercial agriculture and the Green Revolution.

The Green Revolution, like the Gene Revolution, which is the application of biotechnology to food production, had promised higher yields and abundance. Instead, it led to rural poverty, debt and mass migrations. Its propaganda misguided farmers into leaving their traditional ways of agriculture and into relying on external inputs for higher yield. Within years, it was clear that the bargain was unfair. The destruction of biodiversity and introduction of monocultures in Punjab’s farms effected a tragedy from which the state still hasn’t recovered.

After the crash of the Green Revolution dream, the loss of this season’s cotton is the second big blow to Punjab’s farmers. Stemming from the failure of genetically modified cotton crops, it makes clear again that genetically modified organisms and chemical pesticides are ineffective at pest control. Scientific studies worldwide prove that their use has birthed super weeds and pests – and yet state governments in India continue to promote their excessive use and subsidise them.

Anna Swaraj

India needs to realise that pest control through biodiversity is the only sustainable solution. The pursuit to control nature is mindless – nature will always win and industrial science will always be a step behind. Each year, pests grow more resilient, rendering pesticides redundant. Even after the introduction of hybrid seeds in Punjab during the Green Revolution, crops were threatened by new pests and diseases every year. Whether it was the brown planthopper, white-backed plant hopper or sheath rot and hispa, nature’s vagaries always outmanoeuvred the ineffectual remedies offered by agricultural scientists. The symptom-based approach adopted by agro-chemical companies can never be a permanent solution.

If we look closely, the recent tragedy in Punjab also provides us the solution. The non-GM seeds and bio-pesticides warded off the whitefly pest and suffered less crop damage. This is the direction other farmers in Punjab and around the world should take. We must adopt regenerative practices that are ecologically sound. We must look at ways that have sustained India for over 5,000 years and make Indian villages agriculturally independent of external inputs.

If we want to end the cycle of exploitation, we must transform locally saved seeds as the spinning wheel of modern times. Only by reviving traditional methods of ecological and organic agriculture can we bring about a new Anna Swaraj – a food and agriculture revolution that brings about a food democracy. This can be done if citizens and government at all levels work in a synchronised manner towards food sovereignty. We must stop treating food as a commodity, to be wasted, contaminated and profited from. Our culture teaches us “Annam Brahman” – food is divinity. It may be the only ethical weapon we posses to free the Indian farmer from debt, suicide and starvation.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and Logitech X300 Bluetooth Speaker at 58% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.