Even as the Organic Farming School (OFS) at Jaitu in Faridkot district has been set up in the current year. This school has so far organised six organic farming workshops in last three months. About 145 farmers attended these workshops from cotton belt. Organic cotton experts from Vidhrabha Organic Farmers Association [VOFA], Yavatmal and Center for Sustainable Agriculture [CSA], Hyderabad participated in the workshop as resource persons, said the convenor of Kheti Virasat Mission, Umendra Dutt.
He said that the Kheti Virasat Mission has so far organised 35 village level awareness meetings in six districts of Malwa with participation of more then 500 farmers. It is also an important indicator that near 110 farmers had joined organic farming movement from this kharif season, said Mr Dutt. He alleged that the Punjab government is using the state machinery in promoting Bt Cotton. The state government should encourage organic farming which is eco-friendly and cost-effective. Transgenic crops may cause genetic pollution and be hazardous to health and environment. Comparatively organic farming is safe, he said.
Cotton crop is predominantly grown in Malwa region of Punjab, producing nearly 2000 to 2100 bales of lint every year in around 500 hectare land out of total 4200 hectare cropped area. This amounts to nearly 5% of total cropped area in terms of crop intensity of 186% in Punjab. But this 500 hectare cropped area consumes near 70% of total pesticides and chemical inputs used in Punjab every year. An average farmer of cotton belt spends near Rs 4000 per acre on agro-chemicals that means in total 12,50,000 acres of land under cotton farmers spends more than Rs 5000 million.
Malwas cotton belt is facing one of the most unfortunate situation emerging from debt, death, destruction and displacement. As many as 3000 farmers have committed suicide only in the Malwa region and most of the farmers who committed suicide were cotton growers. The White-Gold becomes death trap; the pesticides which were meant to kill pests are taking the lives of cotton farmers. Cotton crop had witnessed severe pest attacks, which devastated the cotton crop, shattered the economics of cotton belt and pushed the cotton farmers in to huge debts resulting large number of farmers suicides. As several farmers were unable to pay the loan their farms were either attacked or they were forced to sell it off to get rid of huge debts, making several farmers landless laborers.
The chemical intensive agriculture makes small farmers the marginal farmers and made marginal farmers landless. The pesticide oriented cotton cultivation has not only ruined the entire eco-system and contaminated the environment, but it also cripples the environmental health equilibrium of Malwa area. Another problem that the Malwa region of Punjab faced was the rapid failure of cotton crop in nineties, when hundreds of farmers shifted to paddy cultivation pushing already water scarce Malwa in crisis of ground water over-exploitation.
This problem further aggravated due to some geological disaster, when large part of Malwa plunged into contamination of ground water with chloride and fluoride seeping into deep aquifers making the water problem more complicated. Almost the entire Malwa falls under critical dark zone category where ground water level has gone down to dangerous-depth. It is a very peculiar situation that either Malwa has dark and grey zones or white zones with salinity, fluoride, chloride and traces of pesticide. This makes clear that there is a famine in the making here.
Mr Dutt feels that the growing acceptability of organic farming in the state can solve all the problems now being faced by the farmers.