Letters to the editor

Scroll.in readers share stories of living with pain

Readers respond to the 'Invisible Pain' series in the Pulse section.

Silent fight

The article by Kanika Sharma on pain touched a chord with me. I have been afflicted with Fibromyalgia and chronic Myofascal pain for three decades now (“Pain is the silent epidemic that India’s health systems are failing to handle”).

My headaches started when I was barely 11. I could not share my pain with anyone at home as there was no perception about it in society in general. Even though it is very common for such patients to be told that “it is all in their head”, I did not have to face such a situation. Doctors I went to did not question my pain but were not able to diagnose it either.

When they did diagnose it, about a decade after my symptoms set in fully, it was not much help to me, as they did not know how to tackle the condition. When the pain is chronic – I have not had a day without pain in 30 years – one cannot depend on painkillers. Moreover, I am not supposed to take painkillers because I also have kidney-related issue. This seems like an unfair situation.

There were many psychological issues I had to deal with due to constant pain. Letting go of my job was the hardest, as I valued my economic independence more than anything else. Having a sick child added to my burden, when I was dealing with pain issues, that confused me a great deal. Moreover, before I had my diagnosis, I really used to doubt myself and my pain, wondering if it was all just in my imagination. So I would push myself far beyond my boundaries to deal with housework and my job despite chronic sleeplessness, chronic headaches, terrible fatigue, and a sick child. I had other issues of migraine, sinusitis and the worst – endometriosis (this painful condition for 20 years).

So, the article very validating for me and it struck a chord. I can go on writing, but the many, many adjustments and compromises I had to make, as a mother, eldest daughter and a wife. Giving up my job and with a husband with unstable income and no financial discipline only added to the psychological load of dealing with an invisible illness.

The feeling of guilt of not being able to do “enough” like all other women and with my healthy, hard working mother as an example put even more pressure on me. All this pressure did not help at all. –Anuradha

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I started having migraines at the age of 18 (“No ordinary headache: ‘I wouldn’t even wish this upon my enemy’”). I would first have an aura — I would see flashing colours for about an hour. This would be followed by a severe migraine headache that would last for 12 hours and over 10 days. Alongside this, I also started suffering from vertigo.

Now, nine years later, I still suffer migraine attacks, especially in the summer, or before my period starts and if there is too much MSG in my food.

However, what I found is that taking contraceptive pills had exacerbated my headaches. My doctor told her that patients with migraine aura should not be take contraceptive pills as that can even lead to severe brain haemorrhage. – Devaki A

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I congratulate the editor of Scroll.in and the team for the excellent articles on chronic pain. I would like to see more such articles coming out and reaching the public as there is an epidemic that the medical community and people fail to understand. Keep up the good work. – Dr Madhur Chadha

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

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Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

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Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

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