Sapna Thottathil rethinks the politics of organic food by focusing on what it means for the people who grow and sell it.
Recorded November 20, 2014
Sapna Thottathil calls on us to rethink the politics of organic food by focusing on what it means for the people who grow and sell it—what it means for their health, the health of their environment, and also their economic and political well-being. Taking readers to the state of Kerala in southern India, she shows us a place where the so-called “Green Revolution” program of hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and rising pesticide use had failed to reduce hunger while it caused a cascade of economic, medical, and environmental problems. Farmers burdened with huge debts from buying the new seeds and chemicals were committing suicide in troubling numbers. Farm laborers suffered from pesticide poisoning and rising rates of birth defects. A sharp fall in biodiversity worried environmental activists, and everyone was anxious about declining yields of key export crops like black pepper and coffee.
In their debates about how to solve these problems, farmers, environmentalists, and policymakers drew on Kerala’s history of and continuing commitment to grassroots democracy. In 2010, they took the unprecedented step of enacting a policy that requires all Kerala growers to farm organically by 2020. How this policy came to be and its immediate economic, political, and physical effects on the state’s residents offer lessons for everyone interested in agriculture, the environment, and what to eat for dinner. Kerala’s example shows that when done right, this kind of agriculture can be good for everyone in our global food system.
An advocate of sustainable food systems, Sapna E. Thottathil is currently a senior program associate for Health Care Without Harm/Physicians for Social Responsibility, where she promotes sustainable food purchasing by health care institutions and organizes medical professionals around environmental policy. A member of the board of directors for the San Francisco Women’s Environmental Network, she earned her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.
Learn more: http://pge.uchicago.edu/thottathil