Back to the future

Published: Tuesday 15 July 2008

the verdict is finally out. Modern agricultural practices, espoused by the industrial farming model, and genetically modified crops are not good for the planet and its inhabitants, says the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development report. What lends weight to the conclusions of the report is the fact that these are not driven by greed; they do not stem from one nation's wish to impose its will on the community of nations. This report has evolved under the auspices of the un and out of a global consultative process that studied both formal agricultural science and technology and traditional knowledge.

The report is quite scathing of industrial farming and genetically manipulated crops. It states outright that gm crops will not address the challenges of climate change, loss of biodiversity, hunger and poverty. For that the world must engineer a shift towards multifunctional style of agriculture that recognizes the ecosystem services and their values. The report voted in favour of small farms and criticized big agribusiness models like Syngenta and Monsanto. It is no surprise, therefore, the us, Canada and Australia, patrons of industrial farming, have rejected this report. For, embracing the report would mean cutting into the thriving market for transgenic seeds, pesticides and fertilizers.

Though not yet looking at natural farming as an option, the Indian government has at least acknowledged soil fatigue, a problem that has been silently crushing Indian farmers. It worsens each year, requiring more and more fertilizers for less and less produce. Added to this is the rising cost of fertilizers. By announcing nutrient based pricing of fertilizers on June 12 the government has sought to correct the situation somewhat, but at best it is a case of too little, too late (see page 9). Solutions to degraded Indian soil will not come from the market or from big businesses. They are more likely to be found in our own backyard. At a time when farmers can barely make ends meet, three marginal agriculturists in the dry Malwa region raked in profits from wheat they sowed last rabi season. The particular wheat requires very little irrigation and some biofertilizers, just right for drought-prone areas. This particular strand of wheat was developed by our scientists, but was not reached to India's farmers. If we focus all our attention on pleasing big businesses, we will lose sight of the painless solutions available to us. These sustainable solutions require support and nurturing, big businesses do not.

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