By Ankita Rao & Bibek Bhandari | May 31, 2015
CHAINA, India — For two decades, Mahender Singh grew his vegetables without chemicals on his 10-acre plot of land in Pipal Mangoli, a village in southeastern Punjab. Then in 1967, an official from India’s Agriculture Department arrived in the nearby city of Patiala with a bag of chemical fertilizer, and farming in Punjab changed radically.
With the introduction of chemicals such as urea, phosphate and pesticides as well as new farming technologies and irrigation systems, this fertile northern Indian state quickly became the seat of the country’s agricultural revolution in the 1970s and 1980s. And farmers like Singh, now a vibrant 69-year-old with a snow white beard, started to see their harvests multiply.
But alongside this burst of prosperity came the harrowing side effects of pouring chemicals into the ground: People’s health deteriorated rapidly, as did water and soil quality, and neither the government nor consumers took action. In the past decade, however, farmers like Singh have taken matters into their own hands and returned to the chemical-free, organic farming practices they used before fertilizers showed up.
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