Caught up in Cotton

In Gajiguda Village, Gudari Block, Cashew, Rice and Cotton cultivation are the main sources of income generation along with daily wage work in construction sites. All the 40 households in the village cultivate cotton starting from June and harvest by December and early February. It is important to understand that the cycle of cotton cultivation reduces the production of food crops. Most cotton cultivation is highly reliant on appropriate rainfall and chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Often heavy reliance on both these elements is bound to put the farmers in debt and force them to buy more and more food from the market as they are replacing food crops with cotton crops.

With increasing debt, the amount of land used for cotton cultivation also increases as farmers often try to increase cotton production in order to repay their debt due to previous loses. This reducing land under food crops cultivation and reliance on market for food without the availability of accessible and affordable health care, the food and nutrition security of these adivasi families is threatened. A small exploratory study done in Gajiguda village also shows us the growing trend of cotton cultivation in the past 8 years. In the below image the chalk blue line is the cotton crop, yellow line is Rice cultivation, green line is food crops on plain land and brown line is food crops grown on the hill. Each brick denotes a time gap and together all the bricks denote a total of 8 years with the lowest brick being the present year, the second brick being 2 years before and the third brick bring 8 years before.

cotton trend1

cotton trend 2

8 years back: Only 2-3 households in the village practiced cotton cultivation. Vegetable and pulses cultivation on plain land was practiced by everyone on all the plain land they owned. Rice cultivation was widely practiced, more than vegetable and pulses cultivation. Crops cultivated on the hills was more than the land used for rice cultivation.

2 years back: The amount of land used for vegetables and pulses cultivation on plain land was same as land used for cotton cultivation. Rice cultivation was still a lot more than other plain land cultivation. Hill cultivation exceeds rice cultivation.

Present: All 40 households in the village cultivate cotton. Vegetables and pulses cultivation has reduced to half as compared to cotton cultivation. Rice cultivation exceeds cotton cultivation by a little and hill cultivation is equal to the amount of land used for rice cultivation.

It observed that the number of households using land for cotton cultivation has been increasing, number of households using plain land for food crops has been reducing at a higher speed as compared to land used for rice cultivation and the number of households doing hill cultivation has also reduced over time. This is a rough trend estimation of Gajiguda village.

Below are some of the images of Gajiguda village during cotton harvest time-

In this group activity of drawing a rough trend for the amount of cotton being farmed by the households, Shibu, one of the men in the village explained how he and other villagers began doing cotton. He said, “I had borrowed some money from the money lender here because my child had fever for many days and I wanted to take him to Gunpur hospital because other local treatments and treatment in Gudari hospital was not helping. Later when I was trying to pay back, the money lender asked me to take cotton seeds, and fertilizers instead of repaying in cash. He convinced me to try it just once and assured that I will reap benefits. That is how I started and many of us did.” The villagers also pointed out how 2 years back their cotton fields got destroyed due to floods which put some of them in debt, as the farmers borrowed chemical fertilizers, pesticides and seeds from the ‘savkars’ and could not pay them back after the harvest with interest. Another young farmer Anant explained that “…on an average pesticides are sprayed 3 times while cultivating cotton. Once after sowing, then after flowering and finally when the cotton has grown. These pesticides are in liquid form which are mixed in tankers of water as advised by the savkar we buy from…we usually need approximately 8-10 such tankers for cultivating cotton in 1 acre of land.” The interest charged by money lender/’savkars’ is almost 24% as reported by the villagers.

Although we could not arrive at a rough quantity of pesticides used, the farmers involved in the discussion said that they used three kinds of chemical sprays, one being to kill weeds (Glysophate/Rulout/Grycel/Glyphogan), second are the chemicals used for pest and insects and the third one are hormone chemicals that accelerate growth of the plant. Farmers also buy 50kg of urea and NPK20-20-20 (Nitrogen-Phosphorous- Potassium fertilizer) each for one acre of cotton cultivation approximately. These chemicals are handled based on the instructions given by the ‘savkar’ they are buying it from. Since adolescent girls, boys, men and women all work in the fields, everyone in the family has been exposed to these chemicals at some point. Often pulses are sowed along with cotton crop because villagers think it helps the food crop grow better. Many studies show the dangerous effects of pesticides like Glysophate on health of the farmers. Vibha Varshney from Down To Earth tracks the toxic trail of Glysophate and how it has devastated may families in Maharashtra in India and other parts of the world. Click here to read: The Real Weed

Above given are pictures of some of the used herbicide and pesticide bottles in Gajiguda village.

The Food and Agroecological Approaches to Malnutrition project works in 6 blocks of Rayagada district- Muniguda, Bissamcuttak, Kalyansinghpur, Kashipur, Chandrapur and Gudari. Amongst these, Gudari block has the highest presence of BT Cotton cultivation. Even though traditional mixed cropping methods are more prevalent in Rayagada district and many farmers still practice agriculture that does not involve any chemicals, many farmers are also gradually moving or being forced to move towards chemical intensive agriculture for various reasons. In the context of development and adivasi rights, where forest and land rights play a huge role it is important that we understand the possible vulnerabilities such kind of an agriculture can put these families in. Securing forest and land rights or the threat of losing them, accessing  quality and affordable health services  or the lack of it and the penetrating of chemical intensive agriculture intersect in different ways to create dangerous possibilities.

In such a context nutrition gardens become an important short term intervention which secures the minimum vegetable requirements of the family as they can easily cultivate safe and diverse food crop near their houses with less labour and less space. This reduces their reliance on market where they may buy foods that are sprayed with chemicals and contribute to their under-nutrition. Increasing cotton cultivation poses challenge to improving dietary diversity of the community as the villagers also find difficult to allot time to prepare and look after Nutrition Gardens due to intensive labour required in cotton fields.

The entry of BT cotton in the fields of Rayagada might be recent but we must to learn lessons from the people caught up in chemical intensive cotton cultivation in other parts of the country before it is too late.


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