Farmers' distress these days is too common and widespread. Every other day we come across stories of distress and debt-ridden farmers committing suicides thus, devastating their families. While initiatives are being taken towards sustainable agriculture, a new beginning can be made towards sustainable cotton farming.
Coming from a business family that deals with cotton spinning, the subject is extremely close to my heart. In order to have a feel of the ground and what the farmers actually go through, I participated in sustainable cotton activity in Punjab in the Malwa's Gidderbaha region.
About 11,000 farmers were associated through camps and meetings. We discussed in detail about cotton farming from soil preparation to seed selection, use of pesticides, bio-diversity, quality of cotton, picking, storage etc. The farmers evinced keen interest. It looked like that they were ready to adopt the new techniques, provided there was someone to guide them. Their participation in meetings was fairly good. A few of them were not ready to give up their traditional practices. But following continual exposure in awareness amps, including lectures from experts from the agriculture department, we could make them understand the benefits of modern techniques like soil testing, which gives the details of deficiency and according to that nutrients/fertilizers are to be used.
Similarly, they used to buy seed and pesticides from commission agents for a long time and most part of this business is pre-financed i.e. farmers borrow seed and fertilizers from commission agents, local traders who deduct the amount owned to the farmer at the time of selling of cotton and farmers are bound to sell cotton to these traders only.
So the farmers do not get fair price. This time, most of the farmers purchased seeds and pesticides that were government approved and they also took the bill/invoice of their purchase. We observed some changes in their purchasing habits also, which is a positive thing and is required to come out from the confines fixed by local traders.
Health awareness is really not good, especially among those dealing with pesticides. We distributed PPE (personnel protective equipments) e.g. apron, goggles, gloves and told them its importance. They used the same water mug for bathing, which was used in pesticide solution making. So, making their children aware was also important. We visited primary and high schools, made presentations on school premises and involved school going children in this mission of better health, better safety. From schools, we learned that the attendance of some high school boys and girls is low, especially in cotton picking season as they go to the fields along with their parents for cotton picking.
We along with th school managements, arranged joint meetings of parents with their wards t make them understand the importance of education and how education will help their future generation to have better skill and knowledge and they will be able to decide the right way of doing anything- even farming.
Our second objective was reduction in use of pesticide, which is a major cause of global warming as more than 50 per cent pesticide production is used only for cotton, which is only 5 per cent of all crop area. They practiced the use of pesticides without having detailed knowledge of pests. We encouraged them to use botanical homemade pesticide (neem pesticide), which is eco-friendly and almost free of cost.
(Dhruv Avasthi is a student of International School, Bangalore. This article is based on his experience while leading a farmers' awareness project in Gidderbaha/ Bathinda area in Malwa region of Punjab)