In September 2020, the Parliament of India passed three agricultural acts, or “farm bills,” that sparked massive and sustained demonstrations across the country. Since then, tens of thousands of protestors have gathered along Delhi border roads to urge the immediate repeal of these bills, alongside other demands put forth by farmer unions.
In late November, Indian trade unions claim that 250 million people in India joined a 24-hour general strike to support the farmers’ demands, and over the past six months, people throughout India and around the world have held rallies in solidarity. Such widespread and consistent participation makes this the largest ongoing demonstration in the world, and, many sources say, likely the largest in human history.
The three bills together, according to the Government of India’s Press Information Bureau, would allow for intra- and interstate trading and online trading; enable farmers and buyers to enter exclusive contractual agreements; and restrict the government’s ability to regulate the production, supply, and distribution of certain commodities. With those restrictions in place, markets and prices for certain commodities would no longer be regulated. In their response to the protests, government officials claim the bills will give farmers expanded market access and greater flexibility, but the farmers say these bills will pave the way for a more privatized system that leaves them less protected from corporate exploitation and hoarding, and left with no alternatives. In the Deccan Herald, food sovereignty activist Vandana Shiva writes that the bills “could dismantle India’s centuries-old biodiversity-based, small farmer-centered tradition of Atma Nirbhar [self-reliance] of small farmers, and 70 years of a regulatory system to protect small farms, small farmer livelihoods, livelihoods of millions of workers and small traders in [agricultural markets], the right to food, and the food sovereignty of the country.”
Farmers make up a large portion of India’s population and are foundational to its economy; according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, about 70 percent of India’s rural population relies on agriculture for their livelihood, and a majority of those farmers operate small farms. Further, The New York Times reports that the pandemic has intensified the strains placed on India’s agricultural workforce. Plus, Indian farmers have already faced decades of famine, climate disruption, and debts.
The farmer unions have met with Parliament for 11 rounds of talks at the time of this writing, and remain in a stalemate.
Though the farmers’ demonstrations have been largely nonviolent, the protest has occasionally escalated. A parade on Republic Day, an Indian national holiday, included a thousands-strong convoy of tractors that diverted from the sanctioned route, according to The Associated Press, and drove into the New Delhi city center, where some of the protestors confronted police forces, eventually breaking through the barricades and entering the Red Fort of Delhi. Afterward, additional barricades were constructed to limit the farmers’ movement, but the farmers have said they’ll continue to nonviolently protest and refuse to compromise.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby
For years, Kyle Chandler-Isacksen and his family have lived a life mostly free of fossil fuels and full of farmstead projects. They also developed the nonprofit Be the Change Project, an urban homestead and learning space dedicated to service and sustainability. These hyperlocal actions have inspired his friends to adjust their own lifestyles, and those friends in turn have invited him to participate in their nationally focused organizing. So, in early 2021, Chandler-Isacksen joined a local chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a nonpartisan nonprofit focused on national policies to address climate change. CCL chapters grow support for climate solutions through lobbying Congress, offering trainings on media relations, providing local educational outreach, and building relationships with community leaders.
Nationwide, CCL is primarily advocating for a type of carbon tax called a “carbon fee and dividend,” which is currently before Congress as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. This act would place a price on carbon that would rise over time, and the money collected from fossil fuel companies would return to Americans as a dividend. CCL says this “carbon cashback” would ensure that low-income and working-class communities could weather the cost of the energy transition.
CCL claims a price on carbon could reduce U.S. carbon pollution in the first five years, and is one tool for achieving net-zero by 2050. And Chandler-Isacksen says that with growing bipartisan support behind it, the solution this act proposes is timely. “It’s progressive, simple, straightforward, and politically durable,” he says. “I’m impressed by the professionalism, intelligence, and the passion of all the people I’ve worked with in Nevada at CCL. I feel like I can actually make a difference here … I can give my energy to something that’s streamlined and effective and has a track record across the country.”
To learn more about CCL and the carbon tax it’s advocating for, you can go to Citizens' Climate Lobby.
Emerging Pesticide Research
Systemic pesticides, such as neonicotinoids (or “neonics”), are absorbed by plants and transferred into their tissues to poison the insects that feed on them. These widespread chemicals have been linked to detrimental sublethal effects on bees and other beneficial insects, and further evidence of unintended impacts is continually emerging. Research published in Scientific Reports in January 2021 shows that neonics disrupt the memory and sleep patterns of bees and butterflies, limiting their ability to forage, pollinate, and reproduce. Treated seeds can also find their way into other creatures’ diets, and recent studies have shown that neonic insecticides can negatively impact mammals, birds, and fish.
Photo by Adobe Stock/Stephanie Bidouze
Because of these extensive impacts, neonics have been restricted in some places — but bans give rise to new formulas that may be no safer. In an analysis published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B in September 2020, researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, reviewed the impacts of flupyradifurone (sold as Sivanto) and sulfoxaflor (sold as Transform WG), two increasingly popular pesticides. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency banned sulfoxaflor for use on plants that attract bees, but backtracked in 2019, approving its use in most cases.
Though these newer insecticides are in a different chemical class than neonicotinoids, they’re similarly systemic, so the researchers wondered whether they’d have the same impact. Their results demonstrated that both of these new insecticides pose a sublethal threat to beneficial insects, confirming that neonicotinoid bans will only work alongside adjustments to agrochemical regulations. Examining an insecticide’s outright toxicity may not tell the entire story — the researchers say more subtle long-term effects must also be considered for beneficial insect survival, concluding, “A failure to modify the regulatory process will result in a continued decline of beneficial insects and the ecosystem services on which global food production relies.”
Nocturnal Pollen Transport Network
Bees are well-known pollination agents, but recent research published in Biology Letters in May 2019 points to nocturnal moths also playing an important, though less well-known, role in pollination.
These moths are part of what the study calls a “nocturnal pollen transport network,” containing more than 100 moth species that carry pollen to dozens of plant types. According to the study, the moths transfer pollen on the fronts of their bodies rather than with their mouthparts (or “proboscises”), which is why their dissemination might’ve been overlooked, as scientists commonly swab an insect’s proboscis for traces of pollen. The study suggests that these moths’ services are essential for several wild plant families in agricultural landscapes, especially those that aren’t visited by bees, butterflies, and hoverflies during the day.
Photo by Adobe Stock/Marritch
Because of the moths’ contribution, and a decline in their populations, the researchers say the moths should be included in conservation strategies within agricultural ecosystems, to protect the vital pollination services they provide after the sun sets. Plus, this nocturnal pollination network might extend beyond what this study uncovered.
You can read the study online by searching for “nocturnal pollinators” at Royal Society Publishing.