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GM Mustard and the Chemical Imbalance of Our Farms: The Emerging Chemical ‘Locha’

By: K Yatish Rajawat

Last Updated: December 20, 2022, 14:02 IST

New Delhi, India

Every GM seed creates a unique chemical supply chain of pesticides and fertilizers. This monopoly of the chemical supply chain becomes a menace for the farmer’s bottom line as it increases his cost of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides from a single seller. (File Photo: Reuters)

Every GM seed creates a unique chemical supply chain of pesticides and fertilizers. This monopoly of the chemical supply chain becomes a menace for the farmer’s bottom line as it increases his cost of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides from a single seller. (File Photo: Reuters)

The free market liberals need to step away from their ideological grandstanding and understand the nuances before supporting the GM lobby

A recent newspaper report highlighted that the use of DAP fertilizer has risen by 16.9 percent in the country, while the sales of other fertilizers like MoP have fallen by 47.9 percent. This shift in fertilizers’ sale and usage is because of subsidies. The rise of chemicals in our farms is creating a perpetual cycle of erosion of topsoil, higher usage of fertilizers, more erosion and accumulation of chemicals in humans and animals. This cycle is further getting exacerbated by the choice of seeds like GM variants of mustard.

Because of subsidies, DAP is the cheapest fertilizer, as companies sell it for less than Rs 27,000 per tonne. Urea has also seen an increase in sales of 4.7 percent. The higher use of DAP would mean increasing salinity of the soil which leads to lower absorption of Nitrogen in the soil, a cycle that reduces growth of the crop and forces the farmer to use more fertilizers. This itself becomes a self-perpetuating and self-defeating exercise that harms not just the soil but leads to long-term erosion of the topsoil. And the topsoil, the first six inches of the soil layer, is the most important layer for agriculture, as that is where germination happens.

As the topsoil reduces the fertility and the ability of the seeds to germinate falls and this is an irreversible process. Farmers try to restore fertility by the addition of just more chemicals in the soil. But every time more and more fertilizers are required. This self-perpetuating cycle is a fundamental chemical not just in soil but with the health of all sentient beings.

The soil requires nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in a specific use ratio of 4:2:1. The amount of potassium in the soil is not being replenished as much. This is clear from the usage fall of Muriate of Potassium (MOP) by 47.9 percent.

GM Mustard

Now in the lopsided chemical mix, we are adding another component, which is the GM crops and now GM mustard. The GM lobby is again moving to impress upon the importance of this crop. Yes, the crop is important as India is the fourth largest producer of this crop in the world plus it contributes 28 percent to the edible oil production in the country behind groundnut. It is a winter crop, the residue or the oil cake left after taking out the oil, is fed to cattle or goats to increase their milk yield. Mustard grows in the northern plains and its oil is consumed in the north only.

Every GM seed creates a unique chemical supply chain of pesticides and fertilizers. This monopoly of the chemical supply chain becomes a menace for the farmer’s bottom line as it increases his cost of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides from a single seller. This erodes his net earning. The GM seed is just a sale bait for selling a string of chemicals to him.

In the long run, these chemicals erode the topsoil and also destroy the health of the consumer. As the chemical mix in the soil finally ends up in the stomach of consumers. The impact of the rise in the usage of chemicals because of pests becoming resistant to earlier pesticides or new pest arising is now extensively researched and data is available for 1996-2020. Research shows that Herbicide resistant weeds are a reality across farms growing GM crops and that they need a more corrosive chemical to eradicate. These GM crops are tolerant to glyphosate followed by glufosinate in maize, cotton, canola, soybean, and sugar beet. The GM herbicide tolerant technology allows for the over the top spraying of these crops with these specific herbicides that target both grass and broad leaves but do not harm the crop.

But guess what, humans have not developed tolerance to glufosinate and glyphosate. Glyphosate was the most widely used herbicide in the world. It can persist in the environment for days or months, and its intensive and large-scale use can create havoc, an environmental and health problem. Glyphosate also seems to exert a significant toxic effect on human neurotransmission and to induce oxidative stress, neuroinflammation that leads to dementia, depression and other neuro-disorders. A chemical locha in the brain.

It is instructive that the only organisation supporting GM mustard is a political party from western India where mustard is not grown. The oilseed crop of western India is groundnut, so if GM mustard comes in it will not affect them at all. The challenge of a for and against debate on GM is that we classify all opposing it as non-scientific or illiberal, while the free markets and liberal school supports it without understanding its economics or health impact. The free marketeers support it just because it is opposed by the environmentalists, not accepting that it is not good for the farmers or the consumers.

The only resource the farmer has is the land and land is worth only as good as its topsoil. If that topsoil deteriorates, he does not have any fall back. The farmer will become an economic migrant without a livelihood. As it is, the change in water table is causing agriculturists to migrate to towns and cities. The looming climate change is expected to change the seasonal rainfall on which much of the mustard crop is dependent.

While Indian scientists are asking farmers to shift towards no till farming so that they can build the water component in the soil better. And here comes a seed variety that wants to perpetuate use of chemicals. Minimum tillage with or without straws helps mustard production tremendously as it conserves moisture in the soil during the early growth period. Tillage without straws prevents the growth of weeds doing away with the need for using herbicide of any kind in the soil. The straw also disintegrates over a period and improves the nutrient component of the soil and prevents the heavy usage of fertilizers.

Technology is not a mindless creation and its purpose cannot be to perpetuate economic monopolies or create health and environmental damages. The free market liberals need to step away from their ideological grandstanding and understand the nuances before supporting the GM lobby.

K Yatish Rajawat is a policy researcher working at Centre for Innovation in Public Policy. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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first published:December 20, 2022, 14:00 IST
last updated:December 20, 2022, 14:02 IST
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