By David Hogg
The following article on Hanyuan in Sichuan Province of China is a useful lesson to us all. When development goals and activities are defined in strictly financial terms we observe how siloed and myopic all concerns for environment and human values become. In Hanyuan, agriculture and horticulture are the primary activity and concentration on a singular crop, pear, led to one-pointed optimization of yield. Mono-cropping leads to all sorts of complications and the temptation to resort to extreme measures in the face of inevitable insect menace. Psylla (Pear lice) is the outcome of creating ideal monocrop conditions for its proliferation. A variety of symbiotic pear varieties (and even better other fruit crops) would have culturally thwarted the fatal toxic trap to which farmers and government succumbed.
Resorting to non-specific chemical sprays in a bid to optimize yields, thereby decimating pollinators and toxifying soils and soil ecology is a pattern seen in most parts of the world where adoption of “modern” agri-methods prevails.
China has been particularly efficient at it with its command economy. We need to evolve a carefully thought out strategy and support structure in all our livelihoods programme to avoid these traps and come up with a successful Non-Pesticidal Management (NPM) regime that effectively deals with this issue.
The design and implementation in the Araku Horticulture programme in 6000 hectares aims at diversity of crop and LEISA practices that respect the local flora and fauna. In anticipation of efficient pollination of the millions of fruit and coffee plants that will be flowering in 2-3 years, the Araku team has begun a pilot to encourage farmers to nurture a local Indian pollinator - Apis cerana. Although A. cerana has less honey yield than its exotic sister Apis mellifera (now widely encouraged in India in the Agri-industry) it has several holistic advantages. It is a great pollinator, is non-aggressive and easily domesticated, and its honey and wax are renowned for their medicinal value. Additionally A. cerana is disease resistant – for example varroa mite is co-adapted in A. cerana while A. mellifera is non-adapted. [Biodiversity of Honeybees – Dr MR Srinivasan, TNAU 2004]
In encouraging and nurturing A. cerana into our Araku ecosystem with a focus on Livelihoods we are confident of sidestepping the problems that arise from a singular concentration on "optimal" yields and financial returns.