Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Tribute to My First Endosulfan Guru

A slim and aging frame belied an iron will and sinews of steel.

The late Shri Ratanlal Ji Goenka was an agricultural technologist par excellence. He graduated from Pune when it was the only city in newly independent India with an agricultural college. The inheritor of a vast industrial empire, he also had business acumen in his genes. His mother created history by refusing to disembark from a first class railway compartment barred by European rulers for Indian subjects.

Ratanlal Ji was my first distributor. I was fresh from the elegant portals of the IIM in Ahmedabad, but the difference between our generations made me quickly his disciple rather than a representative of a principal.

It was a strange learning experience. My company brief was to promote a brand of Endrin with a proprietary systemic pesticide. Ratanlal Ji made me trudge through fields for days on end, only to ask farmers to spray Endosulfan. Yawatmal and Akola were our focus districts, because the most cotton, and the lands of a Maharashtra Chief Minister, were in these neighboring parts of Vidharbha.

I should clarify that the year was 1972. Vidharbha was a leading agricultural zone of the world. There were no farmer suicides. Genetically manipulated cotton was unknown. Ratanlal Ji used to say

" Even dogs cannot finish the grain of Vidharbha if it rains just once".

The farmers were content. The soil was glorious. The Maharashtra Apex Marketing Federation was a dynamic body dedicated to the cause of farmers.

I could not understand why Ratanlal Ji kept recommending Endosulfan, when I had something else to sell. Ratanlal Ji also represented Shell apart from my employers, so he too had no gain from Endosulfan promotion and use.

Pesticide consumption in Vidharbha was as seasonal then as it is now. You had to look for business elsewhere after Deepavali. Cold nights drive pests away. Besides, indigenous cotton yields on first flush. The point is that Vidharbha pesticide sales people can work in the area from March to October only.

I found out that Ratanlal Ji did indeed recommend Endrin, but he always started all spray schedules with Endosulfan. He also prescribed it whenever a farmer complained that over-lapping generations and simultaneous attacks made pest management difficult.

We became friends. I gathered the courage to challenge his spray choices and pesticide scheduling. Ratanlal Ji responded:

"I will show you three answers tomorrow".

I was intrigued. I got up earlier than usual (we often slept in his Jeep when government rest houses were full). We were in the first field of the day, as was his wont, just before dawn.

He kept his word. The decades have not dimmed my vivid images of the three differences between Endosulfan fields and others:


Lady Bird Beetles


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