Is India's Agriculture Causing Cancer?

A report in the Washington Post describes the tragic journey of farmers in India on “cancer trains.” These trains travel from India’s northern state of Punjab – a farming region that reports a startlingly high use of pesticides – to the nearest cancer hospital 220 miles away. The overnight train carries passengers of all ages, genders and stages of cancer. Almost everyone on the train agrees that there is little doubt that pesticides are the cause of this increase in cancer occurrences, although they are also in agreement that they cannot afford to stop using them.

According to the Post, a 2008 study found a possible connection between pesticide use and reports of high cancer rates in Punjab’s rural agricultural communities. Now, as the public hospital to which the train carries patients reports an average of 1,000 more cancer patients a year, another large-scale medical study is in progress to confirm the cause of the upsurge.

In the 1960s and 1970s, India, with the help of the United States, experienced a “Green Revolution” with respect to its agriculture. Methods were introduced that used high-yield varieties of seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, with the intention of fighting hunger and increasing productivity. Unfortunately, the methods have become outdated, unsustainable, and harmful to the environment and the farmers.

The time has come for a second green revolution in India, one that does not put the lives of its residents at risk. With this objective in mind, Planet Aid’s sister organization, HPP-India, is working to empower small farmers in India to grow crops without risking their health. Participants are organized into Farmers’ Clubs and are trained in conservation agriculture. This method helps increase yields while protecting the environment. From building simple irrigation systems to sharing tools, seeds, machinery and other resources, Farmers’ Clubs are working to improve sustainable agriculture and achieve long-term economic growth. The program has taught farmers bee keeping, tree propagation, and crop diversification which can offer higher yields with fewer chemicals and greater use of organic fertilizers.

Planet Aid supports Farmers’ Clubs projects in Malawi, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and China. For more information click here.

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