On Pests, Weeds And Terrorists: Weaving Harmony Through Diversity
Lack of harmony characterizes our times -- There is disharmony between humans and nature, between religions, between cultures, between genders. Non-sustainability, injustice, war are different expressions of disharmony which has its roots in a world view that blocks out relationships and essentialises characteristics and properties that are relational properties.
Insects become pests in agriculture when monocultures encourage an increase in their populations, and chemical farming and industrial breeding produce plants vulnerable to pests. Pests are a product of a disharmony within plants and in ecosystems. Weaving harmony in agriculture implies bringing back the diversity which creates pest - predator balance and organic methods of breeding and production which produce resilient plants.
However, in the dominant paradigm of agriculture, pests are not seen a product of disharmony but as reductionist, essentialised, absolutised undesirable entities which must be exterminated with the most potent and toxic methods. This non-relational absolutised approach aggravates the problem instead of solving it because it deepens the disharmony which creates pests instead of recovering harmony, the only lasting solution for preventing insects from becoming `pests'.
The violence of the inappropriate methods is justified by essentialsing "pestiness", creating images of fear of attack. Fear of attack calls for a counterattack, even if the pesticides kill people instead of bringing down pest problems.
While pests are not a problem in ecologically balanced agriculture, in an unstable agricultural system, they pose a serious challenge to agronomy. The metaphor for pesticide use in agriculture then becomes war, as an introduction to a textbook on pest-management illustrates:
The war against pests is a continuing one that man must fight to ensure his survival. Pests (in particular insects) are our major competitors on each and for the hundreds of thousands of years of our existence they have kept our numbers low and, on occasions, have threatened extinction.
Throughout the ages man has lived at a bare subsistence level because of the onslaught of pests and the diseases they carry. It is only in comparatively recent times that this picture has begun to alter as, in certain parts of the world, we have gradually gained the upper hand over pests.
The war story described some of the battles that have been fought and the continuing guerilla warfare, the type of enemies we are facing and some of their manoeuvres for survival; the weapons we have at our command ranging from the rather crude ones of the "bow and arrow" age of pest control to the sophisticated weapons of the present day, including a look into the future of some "secret weapons" that are in the trial stages, the gains that have been made; and some of the devastation which is a concomitant of war.1
But the `war' with pests is unnecessary. The most effective pest control mechanism is built into the ecology of crops, partly by ensuring balanced pest-predator relationships, through crop diversity and partly by building up resistance in plants. Organic manuring is now being shown to be critical to such a building up of resistance.
The Green Revolution strategy fails to see the ecology of pests as well as that of pesticides because it is based on subtle balances within the plant and invisible relationships of the plant to its environment. It therefore simplistically reduces the management of pests to the violent use of poisons. It also fails to recognize that pests have natural enemies with the unique property of regulating pest populations.
In de Bach's view,
The philosophy of pest control by chemicals has been to achieve the highest kill possible, and per cent mortality has been the main yardstick in the early screening of new chemicals in the lab. Such an objective, the highest kill possible, combined with ignorance of or disregard for, nontarget insects and mites is guaranteed to be the quickest road to upset resurgences and the development of resistance to pesticides.2
De Bach's research on DDT-induced pest increase showed that these increases could be anywhere from thirty-six fold to over twelve hundred-fold. The aggravation of the problem is directly related to the violence unleashed on the natural enemies of pests. Reductionist science which fails to perceive the natural balance, also fails to anticipate and predict what will happen when that balance is disturbed.
While pesticides are creating more pests by increasing disharmony, they are killing people who were to be protected by pesticides. Three thousand people died in one night in Bhopal, thirty thousand people have died since then because of a leak of a toxic gas from the plant of Union Carbide now owned by Dow.3
Thirty thousand people were killed in Punjab due to terrorism resulting from the non-sustainability of chemical agriculture, named the Green Revolution.4, twenty thousand farmers have committed suicide by drinking the pesticides that got them into debt 5
As our generation of pesticides based on a war mentality fail, a new generation is being offered in the same reductionist approach, with the new techniques of genetic engineering. Putting Bt. toxins into plants to control the Bollworm is one of the two dominant products of genetic engineering in agriculture.
However, Bt. crops create pests, they do not control them. The experience of Bt. cotton in the first year of its commercial planting in India confirms that an approach that deepens disharmony instead of recovering harmony will deepen the pest problems arising from disharmony.
In three major states Bt. cotton has been wiped out completely leaving farmers in great economic and livelihood crises. Not only have new pests and diseases emerged, the Bt. cotton has failed to even prevent bollworm attack for which it has been designed. While Bt. cotton is sold as pest resistant seed in India, it has proved to be more vulnerable to pest and diseases than the traditional and conventional varieties.
Madhya Pradesh, the heart of the cotton-growing belt in India, witnessed total failure of genetically engineered Bt. cotton. The farmers of Khargoan district where Bt. is a 100% failure are up in arms against Monsanto-Mahyco that supplied these GM seeds and are demanding compensation from the company for the failure of their crop. The failure of the Bt. cotton has devastated the farmers since they have spent five to six times to buy seeds of Bt. than the normal seed. The economics that was worked out by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Genetic Engineering Approval Committee and Monsanto-Mahyco to promote this unsustainable technology has turned out to be untrue.
Bt. cotton has been afflicted with the 'leaf curl virus' in the whole of northern states of India. Dr Venugopal, ex-project coordinator of the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), Coimbatore told Business Line that while some of the private hybrids and varieties released earlier were resistant to LCV, Bt cotton was found susceptible to LCV.
In Maharashtra, the adjoining state of Madhya Pradesh, the same story has been repeated. In Vidarbha, primarily cotton growing area in Maharashtra, Bt. cotton crop has failed miserably. The first GE crop has been failed in 30,000 hectares in this district alone, completely devastating the already poor farming community. The farmers of the area are demanding a compensation of Rs. 5000 million (500 crores rupees) to meet their economic loss lest they would take a legal action against the Government of Maharashtra and Monsanto-Mahyco for allowing sale of inadequately tested GM seeds.
The Bt. cotton crop in Vidarbha has been badly affected by the root-rot disease, a disease of roots. It is believed that this disease is caused due to wrong selection of Bt genes developed in America and brought to India. Many farmers have recorded only upto 50% germination of seeds and many others had poor germination, which is suspected to be caused by both, drought and poor seed quality. While other cotton varieties have also been adversely affected by the drought, they report a failure rate of only around 20%.
President of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, Mr. Kishore Tiwari, gave a legal notice to Ministry of Agriculture demanding the recovery of loss of Rs. 500 (5000 million rupees) crore incurred by the farmers due to sowing of Bt. cotton seeds.
The main idea behind approving genetically engineered Bt. cotton as a commercial crop was that this would increase farmers' income by reducing expenditure on chemical pesticides, which accounts for 70-80% of the total expenditure on hybrid cotton due to the heavy infestation of pest, mainly American Bollworm in last 3-4 years and the increased evolution of resistance to the chemical pesticides.
However, in Gujarat there is a heavy infestation of bollworm on the Bt. cotton in the districts of Bhavanagar, Surendranagar and Rajkot. Initially Bt. Cotton was found resistant to Bollworms in the early phase of plant growth, but as soon as the formation of boll has started, the worms started attacking them. The Department of Agriculture, Government of Gujarat has written to the Gujarat Agricultural University to submit a status report providing detailed information about the kind and intensity of the damage.
Instead of yields going up they hae come down. Instead of farmers incomes increasing by Rs. 10,000/per acre, farmers are running losses of Rs. 6000-7000/per acre.
GMOs are creating superpests instead of controlling pests.
Just as pests are products of disharmony, plants become weeds which threaten crops in a context of imbalance. Planting mixtures, rotating crops in effect, preserving biodiversity is the most effective approach in preventing plants from becoming "weeds". Instead, the reductionist, essentialised approach declares useful plants as essentially weeds and creates a toxic arsenal for the extermination of biodiversity. Instead of approaching weed control in the context of creating harmony, a war is declared against "weeds" -- often plants which are used by Third World women for food, medicine, fodder.
The most widespread application of genetic engineering in agriculture is herbicide resistance i.e. the breeding of crops to be resistant to herbicides. Monsanto's Round up Ready Soya and Cotton are examples of this application. When introduced to Third World farming systems, this will lead to increased use of agri-chemicals thus increasing environmental problems. It will also destroy the biodiversity that is the sustenance and livelihood base of rural women. What are weeds for Monsanto are food, fodder and medicine for Third World Women.
In Indian agriculture women use 150 different species of plants for vegetables, fodder and health care. In West Bengal 124 'weed" species collected from rice fields have economic importance for farmers. In the Expana region of Veracruz, Mexico, peasants utilize about 435 wild plant and animal species of which 229 are eaten.
Monocultures and monopolies symbolize a masculinization of agriculture. The war mentality underlying military-industrial agriculture is evident from the names given to herbicides which destroy the economic basis of the survival of the poorest women in the rural areas of the Third World. Monsanto's herbicides are called "Round up", "Machete", "Lasso" American Home Products which has merged with Monsanto calls its herbicides `Pentagon', `Prowl', `Scepter', `Squadron', `Cadre', `Lightening', `Assert', `Avenge'. This is the language of war, not sustainability. Sustainability is based on peace with the earth.
After monocultures created weeds, and weedicides increased their resilience, genetic engineering of "herbicide resistant crops" is being offered as the new miracle of weed control. However, GMOs are creating super weeds instead of reducing weeds.
What is happening in nature is happening in society. Economic globalization is creating economic inequality and exclusion. It is increasing inequality, disharmony and conflicts in society. Just as insects and plants are not essentially pests and weeds (under all conditions) but are transformed into pests and weeds because of ecological imbalance, people are not essentially terrorists and extremists. Terrorists are made, not born. Terrorists are the symptoms of societies in imbalance due to injustice, exclusion and inequality.
Creating sustainability and justice is the only effective strategy for controlling the emergence of terrorism. The war mentality has failed to reduce pests and weeds in agriculture. The war mentality will fail in preventing youth from becoming extremists and terrorists. It will in fact create more resilient super terrorists just as pesticides, herbicides and genetic engineering have created super pests and super weeds.
It is time to learn from the mistakes of monocultures of the mind and the essentialising violence of reductionist thought. It is time to turn to diversity for healing.
Diversity creates harmony, and harmony creates beauty, balance, bounty and peace in nature and society, in agriculture and culture, in science and in politics.
The violence and disharmony in our world today that threatens both the ecological and social web of life is arising from the destruction of diversity - and diversity is being destroyed because the dominant worldview based on "monocultures of the mind" sees diversity as a threat, and its eradication as the pre-condition for peace and security. However, the destruction of diversity creates disharmony and instead of creating peace and security, it deepens violence, discordance and insecurity.
1. W. W. Fletcher, "The Pest War", Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974, p1
2. De Bach, "Biological Control by Natural Enemies", London: Cambridge University Press, 1974
3. Dominique Lepierre, "5 minutes after midnight in Bhopal"
4. Vandana Shiva, "The Violence of Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology and Politics", Zed Books, London and The Other India Book Store, Goa, 1991
5. Vandana Shiva, Afsar H. Jafri, Ashok Emani, Manish Pande, "Seeds of Suicide: The Ecological and Human Costs of Globalizatin of Agriculture", Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, New Delhi, 2000