Punukula village in Andhra Pradesh recovers from pesticide addiction, NPM, and neem

Article Summary (with some direct quotes, clearly marked):

Punukula, a village in Andhra Pradesh, was sick from pesticides, had lots of farmer debt, and lots of suicide (the favorite method being by ingesting pesticides). SECURE (an NGO) was in Punukula working on a watershed project but listened to villagers stories of their debt and sickness. They, with the help of a local farmer, came to develop and teach Non-Pesticide Management (NPM) “a sort of Twleve-Step Programme for abstinence from agricultural chemicals” (51).

The first step was using a neem (a local plant) and water solution. “Because of its wide array of chemical defenses, its insect enemies cannot develop pesticide resistance through simple single mutation” (51). Also, neem is harmless to humans and birds. The neem solution is sprayed on crops every 10 days, disrupts feeding, reproduction, and development of pests without harming birds and beneficial insects that double as a natural pest control. Neem cakes are put in the soil and double as a soil pest killer and an organic fertilizer high in nitrogen. Neem grows locally, is cheap, and is easy to process. Women have been instrumental in Punukula becoming pesticide free. They are the ones who gather and process the neem and make chili-garlic solutions (another form of pest control). This has also worked to improve women’s economic status as their work provides them with extra income.

As for the village as a whole, “feedback loops began to lock in change – this time, for the better. Pesticide abstinence led to less pesticide resistance and greater resilience in the ecosystem. It allowed the birds and other pest predators (still in the ecological ‘memory’ outside the village) to return and exert natural control. Using fewer chemicals reduced medical expenses and the costs of bringing in a cotton crop, which meant less debt. Less debt meant less child labour, more families intact and more education for the next generation. More schooling led to improved incomes and better understanding of NPM” (53). Furthermore, “with the time, energy, cash, and health that returned when they stopped poisoning themselves with pesticides, villagers were able to launch new entrepreneurial and community projects, all of which led to an enhanced sense of village solidarity, autonomy, assertiveness, and self-confidence. Desperation gave way to optimism” (53).

In 2000, all of the villagers of Punukula used NPM for cotton and began using it for other crops. They found that NPM became even more effective once everyone used it as natural predator populations thrived, so even neem needed to be used less. Then, “in 2004, the panchayat (village government) formally declared Punukula to be a pesticide-free village” (53). With this, the pesticide dealers punished them by paying less for their cotton. But the whole process of “fighting against pesticides and winning [had] increased Punukula’s solidarity and confidence” (53) and lead the villagers to create a marketing cooperative that found fair prices outside the village.

Beyond local ‘punishment,’ “pesticide companies and dealers have tried to block the spread of NPM” (53). But “the state government has added it to their agricultural extension programme” (53) regardless of companies’ attempts. Punukula now serves as a model of NPM with 2,000 farmers visiting each year. SECURE and eight collaborating NGOs are also spreading NPM. They have helped around 200 farmers launch NPM and teach these practices in 27 village schools.

Gerry Marten and Donna Glee Williams, “Getting Clean: Recovering from Pesticide Addiction,” The Ecologist (December 2006/January2007): 50-53, accessed May 14, 2014, http://www.ecotippingpoints.org/resources/download-pdf/publication-the-e....

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