By Uma Sudhir
The first person I called after I got the news that India has agreed at Geneva to phase out endosulfan, was Sivanna. This farmer from rural Karnataka cheerfully approved of the Indian government’s decision.
“Let them ban it amma. They will be doing us some good.’’
I had met Sivanna when we were driving back from Puttaparthy to Bangalore airport. He was working on his four-acre vegetable field along with two other young men, trying to dig little trenches in the mud, so water could reach the rosette-like cabbage plants in every nook and corner.
Sivanna told me with a grin that he was a “tenth class-fail’’, unlike the two young men with him, his nephews. Ramesh, an engineering student and Seenappa, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in science.
“They hopefully won’t have to live with eternal uncertainty, and dirty clothes and hands for working on the muddy field, under the sun,” he said, not bitterly, but almost cheerfully. The 38-year-old said when he started, he inherited nothing. He is proud that with his hardwork, he now owns four acres.
“There is not a single vegetable that I don’t grow. Horticulture is a high-risk, high return crop but I take risks and work hard, that is why I have all this today and we are sending our children to school.’’
I asked him if he used endosulfan on the cabbage, beetroot, knoll-khol, tomatoes that I could see on his field.
“No. I use other pesticides. I stopped using endosulfan more than two years ago. No one in this area uses it. There are massive problems with it, madam. Even if someone else is spraying, the person standing on the other side can inhale and faint. You end up with headache, so many problems, that we don’t use. We have had to take so many people to hospital because of it.’’
Are you aware that there is a debate on whether or not it should be banned, I asked. What about Kasaragode? Have you heard what happened there?
“No, madam, but please go ahead and ban it. We don’t need endosulfan. It only causes more problems for us.”
“Even the flowers drop if there is a slightly excess dosage. So it is best if the government bans it,’’ he replied.
You can ask anyone in this area and this is what they will say, Sivanna said. I spoke to Ramesh in a nearby field. “We have stopped using it a few years ago. In fact, even the labour doesn’t come in if we are spraying endosulfan, because of the effects,’’ Ramesh said.
What about the cost? The pesticide industry, the Indian government and even some farmers organizations say alternatives will cost some some 10-15 times more. Isn’t that true, I asked.
“That may be true but they are not thinking of the longterm cost on their own health.’’
The next evening, when I got a call from Sivanna, I could sense he was agitated, disturbed. “Madam, I was telling you yesterday. I came for a wedding to Chikballapur. My cousin sprayed endosulfan this afternoon because he didn’t know and the shopkeeper sold him endosulfan and he fainted and we had to rush him to hospital. The government must think of the health of the people, madam.”
Words of wisdom that comes from experience. Glad the Indian government was forced to listen to that wisdom of a `tenth-class fail’, for whatever reasons.