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November 27, 2021

The toxic nightmare of corporatised agriculture

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A scene from The Worm Is Turning.
A scene from The Worm Is Turning.


Hilary Bain

I didn’t think I’d make it out alive, the night we went to film the ‘Cancer Train’ in Bathinda, Punjab. It was our last and most difficult filming in the area.

We’d driven into Bathinda a few days earlier, originally planning to spend eight days filming. But glancing out of the car windows as the car bounced along the dusty roads toward it, we quickly realised that we had better get the filming done in four days, as the air was literally thick with a toxic cocktail of pollution and smoke from burning crop residues in the fields. I knew my lungs would not survive it. The farmers were getting ready to fertilise and plant rice, after the wheat was harvested and sacked and taken to the godowns for storage.

Both humans and animals were moving at a slow pace, and, with no trees, and fields of dead soil as far as the eye could see, like a war zone, and dirty, milky air, it all seemed so surreal and nightmarish.

We were filming at ground zero of the Green Revolution – green, not because it was an ecological revolution. It was green, as opposed to red, red meaning communist China.

It was actually green, the colour of the greenback dollar for the big chemical corporations, as they are the only beneficiaries of this industrial agriculture.

The documentary film, The Worm Is Turning, which my partner Asa Mark and I produced, is about agriculture post World War II. Starting in America where chemical, commodity farming really took off after the war, we come to India today, and see the big plans to follow in America’s footsteps, even in the face of the Punjabi ­disaster.

We show how globalised agriculture works in destroying farmers around the world, pushing them off the land and into cities for cheap labour, and taking over the land for huge corporate ­plantations.

The toll this chemical agriculture is taking on wildlife and human health is quite alarming. Chronic illness is at epidemic levels globally. Between toxicity and deforestation, half the world’s animals, birds and insects have been killed off in the last 40 years. Two thirds of the planet is desert; there’s been a massive carnage in the world’s soils.

All is not gloom and doom, however, as the film shows that small and medium, biodiverse farms, from 91-year-old Bhaskar Save’s coconuts in India to vegetables in Australia, to cattle, pig and chicken farming in the USA, are more productive than big, monoculture farms. The film features such luminaries as Vandana Shiva, seedsaver and environmental activist, Joel Salatin, America’s best known sustainable farmer, Byron Bay’s own Helena Norberg-Hodge, champion of localism over globalism, Raj Patel and many others involved in food politics.

The film shows the interdependency of animals and land, and the ‘intricate ballet in the field’ as Joel Salatin describes it, that grows soil and feeds animals (including humans) through the miracle of photosynthesis.

Agroecology is a general name for agriculture that is done in harmony with the natural world, without pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, that is biodiverse and restorative, small rather than big, local rather than global. According to Olivier De Schutter, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, not only would the nutritional content in food increase, but agroecology could double food production in three years.

With this in mind, the west desperately needs young farmers trained in agroecological methods to take over farming from essentially a war machinery that has created a lot of the environmental problems in the world today.

The Worm Is Turning will be shown on Wednesday August 26 at 6pm at the Byron Community Centre. There will be a panel Q&A afterwards. Tickets are $20 and available at Santos stores or at the door. The event is sponsored by Santos Organics. For more visit thewormisturning.com.


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