The bumpy ride from Sarlapally, a diminutive hamlet in the Amrabad Forest Reserve, up to Varvarlapally, located alongside the Srisailam Highway, is marked with acres and acres of cotton on both sides.— Photo: Swathi V.
Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) has apparently made inroads into the Chenchu heartland of Nallamala forests in Telangana, as evident from the frequency with which the white bolls appear against the verdant backdrop in the hamlets closer to the highway.
The bumpy ride from Sarlapally, a diminutive hamlet in the Amrabad Forest Reserve, up to Vatvarlapally located alongside the Srisailam Highway, is marked with acres and acres of cotton on both sides.
As per an estimate, the Amrabad region has about 3,000 acres of cotton. With cotton, entered the usurers, and Vatvarlapally has become the hub of private loans, seed and fertilizer.
Chenchus, the particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG) inhabiting these forests for ages, are becoming the reluctant cultivators of this ominous crop. Otherwise, they are into subsistence farming and grow maize and millets, which they exchange for similar crops. “We are forced to plant cotton. Many non-Chenchu farmers are cultivating cotton here. If I cultivate food crops, I will be the sole one to bear the brunt of marauding animals. Earlier, the attacks would be spread out evenly across vast area, equally distributing the losses too,” explains Chigurla Mallikarjun, a farmer.
Also the head of ‘Chenchu Rakshana Samithi’, a local organisation for protection of Chenchu tribe, Mr.Mallikarjun had sown black gram three years ago, only to incur losses.
“Literally, nothing was left for me to harvest. The deer just mopped it off,” he says.
However, cotton is not without its repercussions on the traditional livelihood options. A study conducted under the Samithi has found many dead honey-bees in the cotton fields owing to heightened use of pesticides. This is severely compromising Chenchus’ traditional occupation of collecting honey. In his own experience, Mr. Mallikarjun has seen that the yield of honey from each hive has come down from 10 to 15 bottles five to six years ago, to two to three bottles now.
“The Chenchus are only recent entrants into any kind of agriculture. Often, their lands are cultivated by Lambada, BC and SC migrants. The genuine Chenchu cultivators, though few in numbers, are forced by this collective choice of cotton,” N. Madhu, a member of Food Sovereignty Alliance says.
Even now, for most Chenchus, honey is more valuable than cotton currency, he vouches. Associate Professor from Palamuru University, G. Manoja, working for Chenchus for some time, cannot agree more.
“Their reasoning is quite sound. They have noticed that pesticides are causing health problems, and killing their bees. Further, they can also see that the expenditure on pesticides is eating into their profits,” she says.
However, cotton is not without its repercussions on the traditional livelihood options.