Ungreening the revolution

A programme initiated with much drum-beating, the green revolution has not just backfired but even eroded traditional systems of farming. Farmers from Madhya Pradesh are trying hard to recover from its disastrous effects

By Rahul
Published: Sunday 07 June 2015

Ungreening the revolution

Seeds of a new revolution: som FIVE years ago, I was cultivating a local variety of cotton and produced 1.8 tormes (t). The cost incurred was Rs 2,000 and one could earn a profit of Rs 8,000. But soon after I chose to use a hybrid variety, the yields and profits began sliding down and costs shot up.

This year, I have sown the kashinath hybrid at a cost of Rs 13,000 and I will he lucky if I harvest even 0.6 t, despite a fairly good monsoon," grumbled Gajanand Yadav of Sjndalpur in Dewas district, Madhya Pradesh (MP). Yadav and others like him had assembled at Machla village near Incdore to participate in a post-harvest meeting of farmers, concerned about the failure of the high yielding variety (HYV) seed- based green revolution.

A number of farmers expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of soyabean, besides cotton. "Our land was very fertile and we used to grow a variety of crops including rice, pulses and grouncinut. Then came the water from the Tawa dam in 1976 and all our bunds were levelled and natural drainage obstructed to facilitate, the construction of the canals. And we were lured into growing soyabean. Today, our lands are waterlogged and, salinated and we harvest only about 0.4 t of soyabean per hecthre," complaints Lakshman Singh from Rohna in Hoshangabad district.

Jacob Netlithanan, a farmer-activist analysing these experiences explained that the farmers in Malwa and Nimad regions of west-central MP, had traditionally practised a form of agriculture that got the most out of their land in ecological terms, without destroying its properties. In the late '70s, when the construction of dams and the laying of electric lines brought irrigation facilities to the area, the government spurred on by international donor agencies like the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development, aggressively promoted the cultivation of soyabean, hybrid cotton and wheat. As in Punjab, techniques encouraged by the green revolution have not just ravaged rich alluvial soil, but interfered with and upset agricultural diversity in terms of both crops and farming systems. The farmers are bearing the costs and burden of the movement's failure while profits are being garnered by firm producing agricultural machinery, chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The most dangerous consequence is that agricultural research which had been practised in situ by farmers for centuries has been closeted and monopolised by research centres and laboratories. Now, with the introduction of bio-engineered seeds and patents, farmers have become helpless spectators to the practices of multinational seed companies.

Laurie Benjamin, another farmer-activist, adopted a much more radical approach by advocating the total withdrawal of farmers from the market if they sought to counter the market-oriented biotechnological onslaught. Subsistence farming could be practised either traditionally (as tribals still do) or naturally as Benjamin herself does.

An interesting interlude at the meeting was provided when H B Bual, the retired director of the government agricultural farm in Sehore blamed farmers for receiving poor returns from HYV seeds, saying that they were using improper farming techniques. He contended that at the 607-ha government farm, he had been earning a profit of Rs 12 lakh annually. But further investigation revealed that the costs of infrastructure and the salaries of staff members had not been included in the calculation. After the recalculation of the farm's profits it was found that the annual returns just approximately Rs 2,500 per ha.

The discussion at the meet also critically examined the industrial orientation that had been given to agriculture in the region over the past 20 years: a policy that had spelt doom for farmers. Concerns were expressed over the industrial bias of the national agricul- tural policy under discussion in Parliament. The policy lays stress on areas such as agroprocessing and biotechnology. It was Pointed out that while soyabean production had impoverished farmers, soyabean-based products had earned fat profits mainly through the export of soya oil cake used as cattle feed in USA and Europe. Ever since productivity of soyabean nose-dived in Hoshangabad -the first soya area in the country -farmers there have been encouraged to convert their lands into tanks for pisciculture because soya extraction units can be converted into fish processing ones with very little expenditure. Even though there were few advocates of the total delinking policy as suggested by Laurie, there evolved a consensus that farmers ought to revive traditional practices.

Over the past decade or so, a num- ber of organisations have become active in west-central MP like the Kisan Adivasi Sangathan, Adivasi Mukti Sangathan Ekta Parishad and Narmada Bachao Andolan, to mention a few. Members from these various bodies have realised -during the course of their struggle against the deleterious effects of modern development- that a viable alternative to development is the need of the hour. An important area where urgent intervention is needed is the preservation of traditional agricultural practices and indigenous seeds, both of which are facing extinction.

To promote the same, various centres have been set up. These centres have collected over 300 varieties of some 60 different kinds of crops. The experience of growing these crops in suitable locations, shared at the meeting, revealed that there are varieties which give a much higher yield than the average yield of HYVs. Especially noteworthy was the Naina Kajal variety of rice from Jhabua district which yields seven t/ha. Various seeds were put on display and there was an active exchange of seeds between participants. Also on display were some varieties of rice from the Chattisgarh region of MP brought by Suresh of the Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM). Suresh pointed out that the "Farmers from Chattisgarh had earlier withstood the onslaught of cross-fertilised seeds but the newer bio-engineered seeds had revealed the farmers' vulnerability. The CMM was therefore embarking on a con- servation programme".

Participants who had come from Betul, Hoshangabad, Dewas, Indore, Dhar, Khargone, Khandua and Jhabua districts -greatly encouraged by the results of the experiments at the various centres decided to take up indigenous unirrigated wheat cultivation for the rabiseason on a large scale. A programme for collection of indigenous seeds all over MP for the coming season was also chalked out. Rajesh Bishnoi, a farmer-activist from Sandalpur, took on the important responsibility of publishing literature in simple Hindi on the various issues discussed at the meeting.

Although the movement is still in its infancy in MP -and suffers from a lack of cohesion -it was indeed remarkable that nearly 50 farmers participated, travelling to Machla at their own costs. And most of them were exposed to these issues for the first time. The mood of the meeting was aptly summed up by Prakash Vijay Muni, a veteran sarvodayi (an adherent of the sarvodaya movement), who had spent more than 30 years popularising gobar gas in rural areas: "Gandhiji had chosen khadi in the fight for a selfreliant swaraj and now we have chosen our own seeds to save the country from becoming ghulam again."

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