WHY INDIANS SHOULD TALK ABOUT GLYPHOSATE

Tony Mitra, the Indo-Canadian Food Safety Campaigner talks about the dangers of Glyphosate

Indians are under great danger from the ill effects of Glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, manufactured largely by the agrochemical seed corporation Monsanto under the trade name Roundup – said Santanu (better known as Tony) Mitra at an event organised by Bhoomi Ka at Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi, on 10 th May. The speaker is the author of “Poison Foods of North America”, a pioneering book exposing the severe harmful aspects of glyphosate in our food systems. The talk was well attended by farmer groups, agricultural scientists, civil society members and policy practitioners working in areas of food and nutrition security and concerned consumers. In India alone, the consumption of glyphosate was 148 million tonnes as per some report in 2014-2015.

Santanu Mitra, an Indian born Canadian activist, has been fighting legal battles with the Canadian Government for the release of safety document and testing of Glyphosate in all food items. He suspects that a major source of toxicity in the Indian diet might come from imported pulses. “To know for sure, people need to force their Governments at all levels to start testing food for glyphosate and to reject foods that have it,” he said in Thursday’s meeting.

What is Glyphosate

Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum, non-selective herbicide that destroys plant tissue by inhibiting photosynthesis, cellular growth, and nucleic acid production and is the world’s largest selling herbicide. Monsanto, the world’s fourth-largest seller of agrochemicals and the largest seed corporation, is the major manufacturer of glyphosate, selling the product under the trade name Roundup. Glyphosate is considered highly toxic.
The most significant problem with Glyphosate is:

  • Its ability to mimic Glycine (an essential amino acid) present in most proteins. Replacement of Glycine in protein chains results in rogue proteins, which is the main reason behind the increase in diseases.
  • Its affinity to minerals which makes it steal mineral from food. Many proteins do not work without a metal ion. The absence of some minerals in the food can lead to vitamin deficiency.
  • Its antibiotic property of killing gut microbiome – triggers cascading series of diseases such as leukaemia and other cancers, skin diseases, and birth defects, gastrointestinal problems, and alterations to the central nervous system interrupting the hormone system and triggering Auto Immune Diseases.

Glyphosate – the invisible poison on your plate

Tony Mitra pointed out that in India too, Glyphosate is fast becoming one of the most widely used herbicides. Tests conducted by Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in 2017 on food samples sourced from India showed high levels of Glyphosate residues, especially in pulses. Samples of Bengal gram (Chickpea) flour, for instance, showed high Glyphosate presence. He also warned that 93% of Yellow Peas (Matar) and 75% of Red Lentils (Masur) from Canada had Glyphosate residues of 199 and 485 ppb. Green gram (Mung) from Australia had a sky-high Glyphosate residue of 1500 ppb. India is one of the largest importers of pulses principally from Canada, Australia and Myanmar. About half of all yellow peas and red lentils consumed in India originate from Canada.

After decades of denial of any safety concerns with glyphosate by numerous agencies all over the world, it was only in 2015 that the World Health Organisation’s IARC classified Glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen, subsequently leading to Sri Lanka, Denmark, France, Cambodia, Canada and UK banning it. In India, it appears that it is being used as a pre-harvest desiccant in several crops resulting in high residues in food. This is illegal and the pesticide regulators, as well as food safety regulators, have to address this urgently.

Tony’s recommendations for Indian citizens:

  • Force all levels of government, from central to state to municipal, to start testing foods being sold for glyphosate, and to make results available to the public
  • Force all levels of governments to either disclose safety test report and data on glyphosate, or
    disallow its use
  • Demand labelling of all imported pulses and separate testing of glyphosate levels in each
    imported variety, for public disclosure
  • Demand safety test data and right to independently check what levels are safe, irrespective of
    declared MRL set in exporting countries or by Codex Alimentarius, e.g. MRL for dry lentils for
    Canada = 4,000, Codex Alimentarius = 5,000 ppb

About Bhoomi Ka – India for Eco Food

A smallholder farmers food movement (www.bhoomika.com) is an initiative that seeks to link all people in the food supply chain to ensure Clean, Green and Fair food that iss responsibly grown and for which smallholder farmers get a fair price. Bhoomi Ka strives to bring like-minded citizens together for advocacy towards a common goal of safe ecological food as their right.
Contact: contactus@bhoomika.com
For more reference/info: www.tonu.org

JANPAHAL – THE PEOPLE’S INITIATIVE

Bhoomi Ka’s partner Janpahal is running a “Fresh Revolution – Good Food For All”. The campaign aims at empowering people and makes them active partners in the food supply chain by promoting vertical suppliers of consumers, producers and small food vendors.

It began with a simple initiative. As a group of university students, Dharmendra Kumar and his college fellows started teaching kids in the nearby slum in Gopalpur. There, the school drop out rate of children was significantly high. Ever since, they are committed to supporting and organizing low-income communities in informal sectors, on the name ‘Janpahal’ (translated into: The People’s Initiative). Their work focuses on street vendors since the beginning, and over years Janpahal has established itself as an expert in food value chains and food policy related aspects.

Policy Advocacy for Street Vendors

As a consequence of stagnant job opportunities in both farm and industrial in the 1990s, millions of displaced and hard-working rural and urban people are now working as street and roadside vendors who make a living by selling fruits, vegetables, food items, grocery and freshly-made street food. According to the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors 2009, street vendors comprise approximately two percent of the total population in urban cities, and a majority of them are women.

“Due to insufficient government support, street vendors are not licensed or officially registered. This easily makes them subject to harassment, exploitation and eviction by various government authorities on a regular basis”, says Dharmendra Kumar. To promote and protect their livelihood, Bhoomi Ka’s partner Janpahal has created 51 groups of street vendors that in total comprise 15.000 street vendors in Delhi. They have joined hands to form the Hawkers Joint Action committee in the city. They predominantly work to protect the rights of the street vendors.
The Delhi Street Vendors Act passed by the government in 2015 prohibited vendors to cook on the streets and regulated street vending to daytime. Janpahal and its local partners advocated fiercely for the amendments in the Act and asked for the institutional formation of a town vending community. On 9th September 2013, the  Supreme Court of India eventually ruled in their favour and ordered all municipal corporations to form Town Vending Committees. Kumar explains, “the implementation of an institutional town vending community is now in process. A total of 40% street vendors will be represented in the council, out of which 30-40% should be women”. Once established, the town vending community will primarily focus on registration, licensing, and documentation of street vendors in Delhi.

Linking Street Vendors to Smallholders & Low-Income Communities

At the same time, however, street vendors face constraints in terms of market access and supply chains of safe food. Bhoomi Ka’s partner Janpahal started the “Fresh Revolution Campaign” by establishing agroecological supply chains including smallholder farmers, street vendors and low-income communities.

As a first step, Janpahal is working together with smallholders who produce agroecological food, which is free from chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Already 40 farmers have become PGS certified . PGS is the preferred system of organic farm certification emerging out of the experience of the organic farming movement worldwide.

In addition, Janpahal attempts to train 150 farmers in organic farming and establish two Farmer Producer Organizations (FPO’s) in 2018. Various exposure visits for street vendors to organic farmers have been initiated to create awareness about organically produced food among street vendors, who, in turn, share this knowledge with consumers. Some street vendors are now sourcing products directly from farmers. One of those is Manni, who is serving fresh prepared Golgaappa made of organic finger millet (Ragi and wheat flour) at his stall. “Janpahal facilitated the contact to agroecological farmers in Uttarakhand from where I can now purchase these millets,” says Manni.

To complete the supply chain, Janpahal focuses on a twin-track approach that on the one hand links organic street vendors to low-income communities, and on the other hand provides an opportunity for some vendors to target middle-income communities. Janpahal has been a Bhoomi Ka partner since 2017. Since then its vendors have participated in several Bhoomi Ka events such as organic fairs and organic food festivals. “We are very happy to cooperate with Bhoomi Ka and are looking forward to further deepening our cooperation in the future, says Dharmendra Kumar.”

RELISHING THE GRAPES OF ORGANIC FARMING PRACTICES

Family Khat lives on a farm in Bodia Talai, a small village in the Anandpuri Block in Southern Rajasthan. They are one of the 40 farmer families in their village that has adopted sustainable integrated farming system (SIFS) introduced by Bhoomi Ka’s partner Vaagdhara.

Family’s 12 Bigha farm is located on a slope hill, deficient in fertile soil and water, and vulnerable to floods and soil erosion during the rainy season. The land encounters heavy rainfalls, floods and droughts that exacerbate their challenge to produce enough food throughout the year.

Before family Khat participated in the SIFS programme, they only owned a cow, two bulls for field cultivation, and a well that could not be used to irrigate fields without an electric pump.

Insufficient crop and financial burden

Besides a few mango and mahua trees, they cultivated corn, jawar (sorghum) and minor millets such as kuri, bati, and mal. However, the harvested crop was only enough for 2-3 months. The main income did not come from selling crops, but from collecting firewood in the forests. By selling a bundle of wood, they would buy 2-2,5kg jawar seeds for their fields.

Despite the efforts, their crop was insufficient. They often had to purchase food for the family to survive. Being ineligible for bank credits because of low income, Shankar had to borrow  money from local lenders in the village who demanded interests of 10% per month. Further, he took a loan from his fellow tribal community members through ‘Notra’, a tribal custom to lend money and used both loans to buy chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Yet his crop yield failed to improve. In order to square debts and ensure food supply over 12 months, the entire family periodically also migrated to the neighbouring state of Gujarat in search of work. But their condition remained unchanged.

Vaagdhara’s implementation of SIFS

When Vaagdhara introduced the BMZ and Welthungerhilfe supported self-reliant Sustainable Integrated Farming System methods in their village, family Khat was quite eager to learn about it. With a focus on providing training in organic farming, soil and water management, and long-term strategic farm planning, the programme aimed to improve livelihood opportunities for farmers through better household, farming and nutrition practices.

After the training, as a first step, family Khat decided to switch from chemical pesticides and fertilizers to organic manure (compost pit, vermi-compost) and pesticides (made of buttermilk, neem based dashparni extract, and a mixture of garlic, ginger, onion pest). Implementing the WADI method by structuring the farm into terraces, they strategically planted mango and cashew trees around the farm, ensuring higher protection from storm and floods. Then, they integrated various techniques such as soil water conservation, energy security, rainwater harvesting, and cropping sequence management and interlinked all elements, ensuring both food quantity and quality.

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