Chhattisgarh will not allow GM crops

Monday 31 October 2011

Chandrasekhar Sahu, agriculture minister of Chhattisgarh, is passionate about making farming a viable proposition for farmers. He has written several books on the subject and is a frequent contributor to environmental journals. Talking to Jyotika Sood, he says the challenges in a state where 80 per cent of the population depends on agriculture are tremendous. He plans a separate agriculture budget and wants organic farming to be a cornerstone of the policy he is formulating

There is a demand to shift agriculture from the State List to the Concurrent List. Is this a good move?

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Photo: Sayantoni Palchoudhuri

There is no harm in including agriculture in the Concurrent List. By doing so, it becomes the joint responsibility of the Centre and states to help farmers and save farming. Agriculture is the foundation of India’s economy and it is necessary that while formulating policies Centre and states should be involved.

You said Chhattisgarh is not looking for need-based, but production-based technology. Please explain.

Today research and development are mainly with industry. Be it seed or chemicals, private companies have the technology and they are deciding what farmers should use; they spread it indiscriminately across the country. This approach has to change. For example, hybrid seeds are not applicable and successful everywhere but farmers are falling prey to it. The need of the hour is different approach for sustainable agriculture in different regions. One solution is not applicable all over India.

What is your view on GM crops?

Chhattisgarh has said no to GM (genetically modified) crops. A lot of research is still required on its safety and we oppose the way GM crops are being rushed through. In August we wrote to the environment ministry rejecting GM crops trials and clearing our stand. Such trials will not be accepted by farmers because of adverse effects on ecology and human health. It also raises issues of seed monopolies and trade security. We are formulating an organic policy, so it will not allow such trials in the state.

Why do you oppose this technology? Farmers are happily growing Bt cotton.

Economics is a big issue. Take the example of brinjal. There is no shortage of it. Then what is the need for a new technology? It comes at a price and the farmer is already reeling under debt. Today farmers are not getting adequate prices for their produce. They even have to fight for minimum support price. At the time when agriculture is becoming unviable, instead of decreasing input costs, we are increasing it by bringing in GM technology. We are having bumper crops and our cereals are rotting. At such a time focus should not be on GM crops, but on economically viable inputs.

What are the challenges for agriculture in Chhattisgarh?

We have a lot of surface water but are unable to use it for irrigation. We can exploit around 45 per cent of water but it requires planning and funds. In the 12th Five Year Plan, we have asked for Rs 10,000 crore for increasing the irrigated area by 10 per cent. The biggest challenge, however, is the Naxalite movement. That makes it difficult for tribal farmers to continue cultivation.

Tell us about your plans for agriculture development.

From 2012-13, we are going to have a separate agriculture budget as 80 per cent of the population depends on agriculture. We plan to introduce an organic farming policy. We offer a lot of subsidies but farmers fail to get it due to difficult procedures and red tape. We wish to introduce a single-window system so that they can get subsidies directly. Developing market chains and a post-harvest marketing cell are on our agenda.

Several states are promoting maize. Is Chhattisgarh following suit?

Maize production in our state has increased by 66 per cent. But we are not buying seeds from multinational companies. Most seeds being distributed come from the state seed corporation. Maize is replacing uneconomic and non-marketable crops in the uplands.

Chandrasekhar Sahu

Chandrasekhar Sahu

Agriculture minister of Chhattisgarh

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