Response from ASHA to the allegations made against Ms. Kavitha Kuruganti in the advertorial sponsored by Crop Care Federation of India (CCFI– An association of the pesticide industry) in Business Standard (BS) on the 29thJuly, 2020.
Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture or ASHA-Kisan Swaraj network is a volunteer-driven, large informal network of organisations and individuals that initially came together in 2010 to organise a Kisan Swaraj Yatra, a nation-wide mobilisation to draw attention to issues pertaining to our FOOD, FARMERS and FREEDOM.
The network consists offarmers’ organisations, consumer groups, women’s organisations, environmental organisations, individual citizens and experts who are committed to the cause of sustainable and viable farm livelihoods in rural India including by ensuring that productive resources are in the control of farming communities and thereby, safe, nutritious, diverse and adequate food is available for all Indians.
We, the members of the ASHA network reject the baseless allegations and false content with regard to Ms. Kavitha Kuruganti, carried in thefull-page advertorial published in BS sponsored by CCFI on 29thJuly, 2020. The advertorial baselessly and maliciously discredits the pioneering and critical work that ASHA and many organizations as well as individuals and scientific institutions do in the domain of sustainable agriculture, farmer livelihoods and issues relating to chemical usage in agriculture, by implying that they are receiving foreign funds for doing so and that they are doing this work for some sinister reasons. ASHA receives neither foreign nor Indian donations and is crowd funded by its supporters if and when required.Our responses to the advertorial are given in detail below:
Allegation 1:Ms. Kuruganti is a foreign-funded activist and working to malign Indian Agriculture.
Response and Facts:
First of all, in the advertorial, CCFI has tried to create an image that foreign funds are used only for wrong purposes and against public interest. It is a fact that various state Governments and Central Governments well as political parties and business houses receive foreign funds in terms of grants, loans, and bonds to the tune of billions of dollars. It is also a fact that green revolution itself was ushered into the country using foreign funds. It is also important to note that the members of Crop Care Federation of India areearning millions of rupees from foreign countriesby exporting their pesticides. What matters is the purpose of funds rather than source of funds. So, accusing an individual or a small NGO for accepting small amount of legally permissible foreign funds, within the purview of law for their work and painting their work as antithetical to national interests is clearly irrational.
Having said that, wechallenge the CCFI and BS to prove their allegation that Ms. Kuruganti is accepting foreign funds to do what she does.
Secondly, we urge CCFI and BS to define what they mean by the very phrase ‘malign Indian Agriculture’. Ms. Kuruganti, along with many of us, is working for promotion of agro-ecology based farming, which conserves nature &our precious resources, produces healthy and safe food and ensuressocio-economic justice to farmers (especially women farmers) and enables self-reliance(atmanirbharta) in the real sense. As a part of ASHA, we allwork to make Indian farming free fromthe treadmill of unsafe agricultural technologies like agrochemicals and transgenics. Companies making money out of agrochemicals and GM seeds do not like such atmanirbharta for obvious reasons. Any person or organization working against theuse of pesticides, introduction of GM crops, to protect the rights of farmers over seeds, and to secure remunerative markets and prices for farmers cannot be labelled as working to “malign Indian agriculture”. The slandering being done is all the more ludicrous given the factIndia’s Prime Minister himself has repeatedly made public appeals to reduce and phase outthe use of agro-chemicals in general and pesticides in specific including in his speech on Independence Day, 2019.Is PM of India working to malign Indian agriculture?
Allegation 2: Ms. Kuruganti had un-restricted access to a confidential document, given that she had uploaded the Pesticide Management Bill (PMB) 2020 four days before it was notified in the Gazette, and this shows the reach of foreign funded environmental NGOs whose only objective is to influence our policies to suit the interests of their donors abroad.
Response and Facts:
CCFI presumed without any basis and alleged that a confidential document has been given by someone in the Ministry of Agriculture. It also stated that such access is of paramount concern, and asserted that the only objective to have such access is to protect interests of donors abroad. It has already been clarified that ASHA is not an NGO and Ms Kuruganti does not represent any NGO, and ASHA is not foreign-funded. Ms. Kavitha Kuruganti accessed a copy of the PMB 2020 from a Parliamentarian. It is a routine procedure that bills are shared to MPs before they are tabled so that they come well-prepared for debate and that MPs do seek inputs from experts in the related field of work. One can see Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)’s response on the PMB2020 and the public can decide for itself whose interests are being upheld from the analysis presented by ASHA network. We leave it to the public to also decide if this response was “maligning Indian agriculture” in any way.
Allegation 3: Ms Kuruganti, being an Ex-Greenpeace staff,represents foreign funded NGOs, whose only objective is to influence our policies to suit the interests of their donors abroad.
Response and Facts:
Ms. Kuruganti worked with Greenpeace India for about 17 months, around 17 years ago. But how does that make her a representative of foreign funded NGOs today? ASHA respects the work and contribution of Greenpeace in India and elsewhere, and refutes the negative image that CCFI is trying to build about Greenpeace.
The “foreign funded” label has become a familiar trope for maligning and accusing individuals and organisations whose work is against the interest of profiteering corporations. This completely ignores the fact that an NGO, if eligible to receive foreign funds, does it legally, abiding by the laws of the country. The enormous positive contribution to India’s development by pioneering work done by many NGOs is recognised and respected by ASHA.
Allegation 4: Ms. Kuruganti is spreading half-truths to malign Indian Agriculture.
Response and Facts:
Ms. Kuruganti’s recent speech on this issue is available here(at Minute32.00 onwards).She cited the example of Indonesia to demonstrate that the ban on 57 pesticides at one go did not affect the yields in that country.
The truth about the pesticides ban in Indonesia is well described in many documents available in the public domain, including on the FAO website.Theseclearly show that after experiencing negativeimpact of the increased use of pesticides until 1984, the then Indonesian President realized the seriousness of the problem and banned 57 pesticides in 1986. This was accompanied by improved innovative extension through farmerfield schools (FFS) to promote IPM. This resulted in an increase in the productivity of rice. It is very important to note that Indonesia experienced increased productivity and saw a decrease inpublic funding of pesticide subsidies after banning 57 pesticides.
There is also material from different sources on the internet including published literature that shows that pesticide use has declined after the ban.
Considering these facts, we challenge CCFI to point out any half-truths related to the pesticide ban in Indonesia. At this point, we also emphasise that there are various experiences in India where restriction in pesticide usage has increased productivity, reduced the cost of production and increased profitability for the farmer.
We in fact challenge the validity and rigour of CCFI’s method of presenting cost per hectare in American dollars to compare intensity of pesticide usage between two countries.
The ASHA network stands in solidarity with Kavitha Kuruganti and the other activists and scientists who have been unfairly maligned by CCFI through the irresponsible facilitation of this by Business Standard. This advertorial has not only maligned Kavitha as an individual but also the collective work of many thousands of individuals and organizations that have been working towards establishing sustainable agriculture in the country for several decades now. Such tactics by the pesticide industry through its NGO front clearly shows that the industry has no valid counter to our findings, the increasing support from farmers and consumers for non-chemical farming, and can only play dirty games of scaring and maligning individuals with the power of money for advertorials, advertisements and SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation).
The CCFI whose stated mission is “to build a responsible image for the agrochemical industry” is not helping its own cause by maligning respected individuals and reputed institutions. Building a “responsible image” and “being responsible” as an industry are two different objectives. If CCFI wants to be really responsible it should counter opposition to agro-chemicals with scientific data, show openness to valid criticism, take into account real problems like pesticide poisoning of farm workers and farmers, negative impact of pesticides on consumers, pest resistance to formulations, impact on non-target organisms, contamination of our natural resources etc. etc..
We also request that a reputed news organisation like Business Standard does not fall prey to the tobacco industry syndrome and allow such maligning of social spirited individuals for a few lakhs of revenue and thereby bring down the level of public discourse, derail public debates on mattersof public interest and its own reputation.
The debate on agro-chemicals or any issue of public interest should be centred on the merits and demerits of the issue. It should not be hijacked by money power to discredit respected organizations and individuals and attempt to imperil the lives of genuine public-spirited individuals.