Neem oil can replace chemical pesticides
Recently India's national newspaper The Hindu
and the magazines 'Down to Earth' and India Today reported on the toxic
effects of chemical pesticides in agriculture. Aurovilians too suffer
from pesticide spraying. But they can effectively change their
environment by giving a leaflet and a bottle of neem oil to their
employees, argues Emilie.
Too many things are
happening just too fast and this isn't even a new phenomenon anymore.
The West is struggling with mad cows, genetically modified foods, the
radioactive fallout from Chernobyl, pollution, the ozone hole,
unfettered greed for profit, youthful serial killers, obesity, tobacco
addiction, cancer, Aids, the list just goes on and on, and it is all
accelerating and simultaneous. India too is going through an
unprecedented acceleration at such a speed that it could derail with
awful consequences. Can we do something, anything, a word, a gesture, so
that things may improve?
In February 2001 two Indian
magazines and a newspaper published special reports on the toxic effects
of the chemical pesticides in the agriculture of Kerala. These
pesticides (primarily Endosulfan) are sprayed by aircraft and affect the
inhabitants of the villages, causing severe malformation of children and
illness to adults. Thanks to the action of Sri Padre, a farmer and
journalist, and Mohana Kumar YS, a doctor practising in the area, the
villagers have become aware of what is happening to them and have
started to protest. While Endosulfan has been banned for a long time in
many countries, its use is still legal in India.
Auroville is also affected
as an overwhelming quantity of pesticides (primarily Endosulfan) are
manually sprayed on a large number of cashew fields that surround and
are interspersed with the lands of the city and greenbelt areas. From
early February onwards one can smell a very particular odour. It gives a
burning sensation to the eyes, the throats swell, bronchitis appears, as
do coughs, fevers, muscular pains, unexplained fatigue, even bouts of
depression, and all this in people who are not in direct contact with
the products being sprayed. The immediate and long-term effects on those
spraying the chemicals from open barrels or handling them with bare
hands, will be much worse.
The battle against the use
of chemical pesticides around Auroville goes back a long way. This year
Rita and Njal of Center Field, in co-operation with Boris and Village
Action, have taken a different approach. Their strategy is based on
establishing a direct line of communication with the cashew farmers, and
on spreading relevant information in the villages in order to create an
awareness of the noxious effects of the chemical pesticides. Rita and
Njal not only distribute Tamil and English leaflets but also organise
meetings with the villagers, always bearing in mind the advice of the
Secretary of the Auroville Foundation, Mr Bala Baskar: "Speak with
the villagers, not to them."
They also meet with many
Auroville employees. The experiences of the farmers as expressed in
these meetings are disturbing. To name a few:
After spraying, my body
became dark, I had pain in the belly and felt I had lost half of my
I applied pesticide on
my cow to kill lice. The cow died 4 hours after.
I have seen dead snakes
and squirrels in the sprayed topes.
The incidence of suicide
and death is very high in my village, almost one every 16 days!
Could the poison have something to do with it?
These examples show that the
villagers through bitter experience realise that chemical pesticides are
Is there an alternative? The
question is often asked. In fact there is a traditional pesticide, which
was almost forgotten in the drive towards modernisation. Neem oil, a
product from the berries of the neem tree has been used as a pesticide
since centuries. Neem oil has now been re-discovered - multinational
companies, by the way, have applied for patents on neem oil as
pesticides!- and is now promoted by the Departments of Agriculture of
the states of Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu. These department, for the last
five years, are no longer encouraging the use of chemical products and
are willing to support training workshops for farmers in the use of neem.
Laboratories all over India are producing increasing quantities of neem
pesticides and the pest-control distributing agency of Pondicherry is
ready to offer interesting wholesale rates.
Is this a ray of hope in the
miasma? Indeed it is! So why aren't things moving faster? Simply because
two people are not enough to change established attitudes. But if all
Aurovilians would put their energy behind the elimination of chemical
pesticides by giving a leaflet and a bottle of neem oil to their
employees and other villagers they know, they would effectively change