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  • Aug 12 / 2017
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Forward

A Crisis Called Farming by Suresh Ediga

When Suresh Ediga asked me to write forward to his new collection of stories ‘A Crisis Called Farming’ i was more than excited.  Suresh is not only a good friend of me but i feel one of the best human beings i met in my life.  Always with loads of energies to work for people, strengths to question any one any time and big heart to support any cause in any form.

here goes the forward!

When I was doing my Ph.D in Pusa Institute, New Delhi, we organised a ‘Joy of Learning’ through Delhi Science Forum, where kids from all over the rural India were brought to Delhi to create a learning system which they enjoy unlike the regular school and class room system.  Each of us volunteered with a group of kids to various institutions and get them exposed about what is happening there. I was asking each one of them what they feel about their teachers.  One girl, Charulatha said she feels teachers are not honest.  I asked what happend? She narrated her story.  The Hindi teacher explained how Sun is a god and Hanuman tried to eat it and Karna was born to him.  In the next Science class, the teacher was telling about how we are part of a solar system, earth revolving around Sun.  She asked the teacher, genuinely, what she should write in the exam if there is a question ‘who is sun?’ and told her confusion about what is told in Hindi class.  The teacher’s impromptu reply was to write as ‘God’ if the exam was Hindi and as ‘Planet’ if is a science exam.  This haunted me several years after that.  How our school system, media and market around us makes to believe in and live with very contradictory opinions.   This has become more rampant and prominent when it comes to issues of development.  The inquisitiveness in kids is gradually killed in by the schooling system.   The questions are not answered, imaginations are not promoted, contradictory view points are never accepted and encouraged.  We grow as dump conformist adults who cannot comprehend the reality based on the knowledge one has gained.

Demystifying the myths of development, particularly about rural livelihoods related issues is at this point of time when rural India particularly, farming sector is undergoing a deep crisis.  While there are number of reports and books written on the crisis, there is not enough literature available to explain issues in a simple language and put things in right perspective.

Story telling is recognised as the best way to communicate a message and now used as an art form or teaching tool for a variety of purposes.  Suresha Ediga, is known to master this art.  His passion is not only to understand and solve people problems but communicate and make others think and act.  In this process he brought out a compilation of the bed time stories he told to his daughter as a book ‘You, Me & A Story’ which was a instant hit.  Through story telling, complex developmental issues are communicated in a more simple way keeping up the inquisitiveness of the kids.

This time Suresh picked up much complex subject of farmers issues for his new book ‘A Crisis called Farming’.  This is a collection of 50 stories, each touching upon one dimension of the problem.  Each story giving an understanding of the problem and what can be done.  The stories also touched upon some individual farmers and farmer collectives which could find their way out and extended the helping hand for the fellow farmers.

I am sure this book will built right perspectives not only in adults but kids as well.  This will help them to know what food does to the environment where it is grown or to farmer who grew it before it came to your plate.    It also carries stories about what you can do as an individual and stand4farmers.

Suresh Ediga, has done commendable job and should be appreciated not only for the well written content, but also for the story telling format.  Hope he will bring in more books on these issues and more people will get inspired to do so.

Must recommended for not only kids but for everyone who want to understand the nuances of development and particularly about the agrarian crisis and way forward.

  • Aug 12 / 2017
  • 0
Interviews

‘We Are What We Eat’: An Interview With Agricultural Scientist And Activist Dr GV Ramanjaneyulu

https://thelogicalindian.com/exclusive/activist-dr-gv-ramanjaneyulu/

Pooja Chaudhuri

June 23rd, 2017

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“I owe my understanding of the Indian agricultural economy to all the months that I spent preparing for the Indian Civil Services. When I cleared the examination in 1994, I had two choices before me: either to work with the Indian Revenue Services or to pursue a career working with farmers. I chose to work as an agricultural research scientist and help the cause of Indian farmers.” – Dr GV Ramanjaneyulu.

As a scientist who has transformed the landscape of Indian agriculture, Dr GV Ramanjaneyulu and his organisation Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) has worked with the Andhra Pradesh government in designing and implementing community managed sustainable agriculture from 2005-08, which spread to over 1500 villages covering 35 lakh hectares of land in 18 districts.

He has a PhD in Agricultural Extension from the Indian Agricultural Research Institution, New Delhi. After working with Indian Council of Agriculture Research for eight years, Dr Ramanjaneyulu started CSA which currently works in eight states across India.

The Logical Indian interviewed Dr Ramanjaneyulu about his journey and his inspiration behind taking Indian agriculture on the road to sustainability.


Is the food that we eat safe?

Food is as healthy as it is grown. Today, the indiscriminate use of chemicals in production leaves residues to come back into the food that we consume. A number of studies show that the food grown in India has high amounts of pesticide residues, even as many of the pesticides sold in India are banned in other countries.

Recently, a committee that was appointed by the government of India recommended at least 13 pesticides be removed from sale. But the recommendations were not paid heed to and the sale of pesticides continued. More than 60 pesticides sold in India are banned elsewhere.  Pesticides are promoted as if there is no alternative. One of the main reasons behind the increased use of chemicals in production is the failure of extension services. (Extension services are provided by state/central governments to advise farmers on agriculture technologies).

Similarly, if you look at the livestock – a lot of growth hormones and antibiotics are used in chicken, both in the dairy and the poultry sector. Growth hormones and antibiotics come back in the milk, eggs, and meat we consume. All of these practices are because of the high intensive monocultural agriculture models we are following. We keep chickens in a cramped up space in order to increase production, but as diseases spread, we use antibiotics. It’s a vicious circle.

So the problem begins with models of production. Furthermore, there are serious issues in processing as well. Highly polished rice to bleached sugar, refined solvent extracted oils – all pose serious problems. Food regulatory system in India is dysfunctional and often tries to regulate weaker leaving the stronger players. Many of the imported food sold in India are not properly labelled and are sold without disclosing how, where and when they are grown.

Consumers, as well as government, look for end-of-pipe solutions like labelling. Unless the backend production system is cleaned up, food safety is not going to increase and nothing is going to change.


Despite its advantages, why is sustainable agriculture not being promoted?

It’s all about priority in terms of the investments made and promoted by the governments. The chemical fertiliser lobby is stronger than the organic lobby. So it’s obvious who gets the say. Millions of rupees are spent on subsidising chemical fertilisers while farmers adopting organic/sustainable/natural farming models have to spend from their pockets. Similarly, more than 99% of the investments made in agriculture research only promote chemicals and hardly any investments are made on developing, refining or promoting more eco-friendly organic farming practices.

Agriculture scientists and extension staff gets into theoretical debates that food production will suffer without the use of chemical fertilisers/pesticides. Across the country, experiences show that pesticide use can be reduced by over 50% and fertiliser use over 60-70%. Even such efforts are not being made by the mainstream institutions. Andhra Pradesh has recorded 50% reduction in pesticide use between 2005-10, according to the government’s own data after the implementation of a program called ‘Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture’ (CMSA). All it needs is the support and handholding of the governments. Expecting that governments will continue to promote chemicals and individual farmers will learn and change on their own doesn’t happen. Farmers need proper support systems.


Why do consumers remain unaware of how unhealthy their food is?

Somehow, in this consumerist world, we get carried away by advertisements, packaging and by the place we buy our food. We feel that if the supermarket is clean, every product is clean, forgetting that food is only as safe as it is grown. But we never care about the kind of footprints the food has left before coming to our plate or what it carries into the plate.

As consumers we are neither worried about what happens to the product before it comes to the shelf nor after it is consumed.

How many of us know that every single polyethene cover used since its invention is still around us as a pollutant?  While we can easily cut down more than 60% of such single-use plastic, how many of us are really doing that? The casual approach towards environmental hazardous substances and apathy towards the problems they cause are serious issues which need to be addressed.

Apart from the ecological crisis, consumers are also not worried about the farmers who grow food for them. We feel as long as more supermarkets are growing, there is food security. But food security depends on the farmers and on the production processes; not the supermarkets.

Our country is amidst a deep farmers’ crisis. More than three lakh farmers have committed suicides, but as consumers, we are not agitated. Even if the producers are dying in the process of production or are becoming bankrupt to feed us, we remain apathetic.


As consumers what can we do to ensure that the food we are buying is healthy?

First, know your food – how it is grown, who have grown it, and where. You should know what your food did to the environment before coming into your plate and what it carries along with it. Food is only as safe as it is produced.

Secondly, we need to be more sympathetic toward the people who are producing the food – find out how much of the consumers’ price is going to the farmer. Today, conventional markets give less than 25% of the consumer price to the farmers. So I suggest that consumers buy directly from the farmers or farmer cooperatives.


Could you tell us a little about your work in sustainable agriculture?

I am an agricultural scientist and I also used to work with the government. Some of us who were worried about the rising farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh around the 2000s thought we should build an institution which works towards bringing in ecological sustainability in agriculture. Thus Centre for Sustainable Agriculture was initiated in 2004.

We explored best experiments and models across the country on alternatives in agriculture. We figured that we need significant changes in the production systems, market systems and policy support systems. We began working with farmers on promoting models which reduce their Costs of Production (COP) and risks of crop failure. Initially, we worked to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilisers, as they form about 30% the COP. We had good success on our Non-Pesticidal Management work with the government of AP and could scale up to a larger area. Then we started working on organic farming, open source seed system, food processing, farmers cooperatives and direct marketing. Our model was about proper problem diagnosis, exploring alternatives, experimenting and establishing a proof of concept and collaborating with the governments for scaling up.

Today, we are working across eight states (Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha). We are going to be part of another major initiative by Andhra Pradesh government on promoting natural farming across the state.

We work with small and marginal farmers on shifting them towards sustainable agriculture and organising them into cooperatives. Today, 30 such cooperatives which are into organic farming have formed a federation ‘Sahaja Aharam’ Producer Company and directly market to consumers through exclusive retail stores and an online portal. Today Sahaja Aharam stores are operational in Hyderabad, Vishakapatnam and direct deliveries are available in Mumbai and Nagpur. Soon we are starting in other cities too. The farmers’ price realisation has increased from less than 25% to more than 50% in the consumers’ price. Therefore, it is possible to build a profitable market system if proper support is provided.

We are also working with National Institute for Agricultural Marketing in running ‘Kisan Business School’ which systematically builds capacities of the farmers to deal with markets.

CSA works in collaboration with the farmers and the state governments as we feel that the government’s role is significant. The kind of investments that need to be brought in and the regulatory systems that need to be established – these decisions lie with the government.


What are your learnings in working with farmer cooperatives, farmer producer companies and food markets?  

While Farmers Producer Organisations, either as cooperatives of producer companies holds a promise and are the way to go forward, the current policy environment is not very conducive. There is a mad rush to establish Farmer Producer Organisations by various agencies proper support systems are not provided by the governments.

Even today, it is extremely difficult for the FPOs to access credit for working capital. Banks ask for 150% collateral that too non-agricultural assets. The government should come up with better loan models for FPOs and take the agricultural lands as collateral. A credit guarantee fund can be set up.

The producer companies are taxed on par with the industry right from the inception which highly dis-incentivise them. They attract 30% income tax. When individual farmers are exempted from income tax and their aggregations are taxed why should farmers come together? What is the incentive?

Taxation on sales is another major issue. Today, food attracts more tax than gold. There is no incentive for FPOs for getting into value addition. There should be tax holiday on both income tax and sales tax (GST) at least for 10 years for FPOs which have more than  80% of members and shareholding with small and marginal farmers.

They don’t get any support from Startup India initiatives as well.  The government should establish incubation centres for FPOs and extend all the support to them.


What are the other things you do to support farmers?

We run a helpline for farmers called ‘Kisan Mitra’ and any farmer can call to get support on any issue from anywhere. To the extent possible we try to connect to the right source which can help them on production or market-related issues or with regards to support the government institutions in terms of land records, loans or subsidies.  We are running a pilot in partnership with Vikarabad district administration where the requests are immediately passed on to the concerned officials.  The last few months data shows that there is significant progress in solving the problems raised by the farmers.

We are running a campaign for raising 10 million rupees to establish an Academy which supports farmers by running courses on production, building FPOs, marketing and public policy related issue and running helplines. People can support this initiative on the CSA website.

eKrishi is our initiative on building ICT tools for supporting farmers.  We already released an application for problem diagnosis and advisory in English and it would be translated into various Indian languages. It can be accessed through an online portal.

We run an online web channel called Krishi tv to aggregate all video based learning material and documentaries on agriculture and other development issues.  CSA also brings out several publications and and runs a website to bring in various perspectives related to the development and particularly which effect on agriculture and rural development.

We also enrol large numbers of volunteers from across the world who work as ‘Rytu Swarajya Vedhika’.

We are also doing a crowdfunded film ‘Mitti – back to roots’ a film which captures the multidimensional analysis of the ongoing crisis in agriculture along with alternative experiences of dealing with it.

We are working with various agriculture scientists across the world working on agroecological approaches to building a Society for Agroecology.  Currently, we are running a course on agroecology which anchored by Calcutta University.

We are also working with farmers and breeders to build in an ‘Open Source Seed System’  across the country.  The idea is to create a system which ensues free and fair access to good quality seeds to farmers at affordable prices.  The access is through a non-exclusive Material and Knowledge transfer agreement with a benefit-sharing model.  We are working with various groups across the world on building similar thinking.


There is an ongoing debate about GM Mustard. What are your thoughts on it?

Firstly, as technology, GM Mustard is very outdated and completely useless one from farmers need. It starts with a wrong assumption that a hybrid mustard will increase yield and it will help farmers to get better returns and reduce dependency on imports.  Today the crisis oilseeds farmers and particularly mustard farmers are facing is the lack of remunerative prices. Seeing the resistance from farmers and consumers towards GM crops, the government trying to push GM Mustard as a public sector technology as if opposition to GM crops is only because of the multinational companies involved in the technology development and marketing, completely ignoring the biosafety concerns. If this can get approval, the path becomes clearer for the other private sector GM crops. My understanding is that the GM Mustard is being used as a surrogate. If you go by all the data submitted for the approval by the developer, it shows that GM Mustard is not viable. On top of that, there are biosafety issues as well. Herbicide Tolerance is used as part of the technology.  All the committees appointed by the government of the India said that the country should not opt for Herbicide Tolerant (HT) crops.

Secondly, there are a number of traditional and improved varieties of mustard which are doing better than the GM Mustard hybrid which is slated for approval.

In 2003, the similar mustard hybrid came for approval from ProAgro – a private company – and several objections were raised by the regulatory body the GEAC. But now, when the same technology with minor modifications is introduced by a government institution. The questions that were raised in 2003, should be answered now and how it suddenly became safer.

When Bt Brinjal was approved by GEAC in 2009, the Central Government opted for a Public Consultation and a moratorium was imposed by the then Minister for Environment Jairam Ramesh. Why is the current government not taking a similar path?  Another point to be noted here is that when Bt Brinjal was brought in, the government said that it is not only an issue of technology but of socio-economics and political factors are to be considered and there should be public participation in decision making. Where are the public hearings that were organised then? Already five state governments have said that  GM Mustard should not be permitted. Is government going to honour and listen to their opinion at least?

The main problem with the GM Mustard is that the technology used is the deployment of a herbicide Glufosinate tolerant gene. The Glufosinate is a non-selective herbicide and is a known carcinogenic the more the environment will suffer.   There would be a significant effect on the pollinators like honey bee too.

Moreover, the difference in the yield of this GM Mustard and regular Mustard varieties is small so why take the risk? There are better alternative agronomic practices like System of Mustard Intensification which can improve the yields significantly.

India is the home, centre of origin and centre of diversity of mustard. If you bring in Herbicide Tolerance and male sterility into mustard, it can outcross and contaminate several other varieties of mustard. The health issues with herbicide tolerant GM crops are well-documented, but the necessary steps for ensuring biosafety are not being taken.


What are your thoughts on the recent farmer protests?

This distress has been building up for the last 20 years. Small and marginal farmers were the first victims. If you look at the data from 1995 onwards, more than 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide. This is mainly because of the increasing costs of production while the prices for farmers hardly risen. So if you look at year by year price increase, there is not even a 5% rise.

In a situation where the COP is increasing by 15-20% per year and the cost of living is increasing by 10-15% a year, but the farmer prices don’t even go up by 5%, the farmers end up in losses and becoming indebted. That is what is happening in the last 20 years.

There is another significant socio-economic change happening in farming – Landowners have moved away from farming and those who cultivate are not owners. The tenant farmers are increasing. The support systems that the government provides – loans, insurance, crop compensation – all these go the land owners not to the actual cultivators, the tenant farmers. Today, across the country, 7 lakh crore is given as agricultural credit, but actual cultivators do not get even half of that. Moreover, only 20% of the farmers get access to institutional credit. Rest depend on the private moneylenders at high-interest rates. So when the government declares loan waivers, who benefits when only 20% of the farmers get institutional credit? The remaining 80% who take credit from private money lenders are the ones who are suffering and committing suicides, but the loan waivers are only beneficial to big and Benami farmers. What is the point of waiving loans when the farmers are not getting loans in the first place?

Out of the 80% of the small and marginal farmers, not even 10% of them get institutional credit. What needs to be done here is that the government should invest in a credit guarantee scheme as tenant farmers are denied loans because there is no collateral that they can offer.

Additionally, the government need to expand its focus from not only managing the consumption price, but also the production price. Whenever there is an increase the consumption price, the government purchases the product and sells it to the consumers at a lower cost. But the same method is not followed when the prices for farmers fall in the market. The government always intervenes when the consumer prices are up. Last year when the price of red gram (dal) went up, all the state governments started purchasing dal and selling it at a lower price. But when the same red gram price for farmers has fallen by more than half this year, the government didn’t intervene. When it comes to the commercial crops like tomatoes, chillies etc situation is much worse.

So the protests are a cumulative effect of all the negligence by the governments over years. And unfortunately, most of the farmer organisations are affiliated to the political parties and never addressed these concerns when their party is in power and use the issues for the advantage of their party when they are in opposition. All the promises made to farmers before coming to power are never implemented. We need more of independent farmer organisations which voice the concerns in terms of public policy change.


What is the way forward?

Around 1985, the share of the agricultural budget in the total budget was around 20%. Now, it is less than 3% even through more than half of the Indian population depend on agriculture for their livelihood. All that is done in the name of farmers is investment in private companies that provide the inputs. The government announces Minimum Purchase Prices (MSP) but they are never honoured. Today only 6% of the farmers get MSP.  Buying at a price below the MSP should be made a criminal offence,  there should be some protection to the farmers – either make MSP mandatory or the government itself buys from the farmers.  Subsidies and incentives for farmers should increase and these should drive a shift towards more sustainable models.

Today, significant numbers of women are into farming.  Governments have no focus on developing technologies which are women friendly to reduce their drudgery or provide any additional support to them.  Many of women farmers do not have land titles so on government records they don’t exist.  Governments should have a special policy and create support systems for women farmers.

One of our major demands is that a Farmer Income Commission should be set up which looks into all these issues – and suggest how governments can use various instruments to balance between the growing costs of cultivation and costs of living and the prices and subsidies received by the farmers.

I also feel that there should be a significant change in the consumer’s mindset.  Why should tomatoes be available at Rs 2-3 for the last 20 years while their incomes and costs of every other item they buy in the market have gone over 20 times? They should think of farmers too.  They should also worry of the ecological footprints of the food they consume.  Their purchasing behaviour will certainly change the farming models and farmers live. Shift towards organic food and directly buy from farmers.


Dr. Ramanjaneyulu can be accessed through email (ramoo@csa-india.org) for more information. To know more about CSA’s work visit here or call on 08500783300

  • Nov 11 / 2016
  • 0
Interviews

Farming needs to be community-managed’

An agricultural scientist spearheads a movement to non-pesticide farming with

remarkable results, and offers a way for the future.

BY GOVIND KRISHNAN

G V Ramanjaneyalu is an agricultural scientist and executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), a non-governmental organisation in Hyderabad that promotes green and sustainable agriculture. He was instrumental in creating a pioneering non-pesticide managed (NPM) agriculture programme in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana that substantially reduced pesticide use in these states. The programme, now run by the government, is credited with being a viable model of sustainable agriculture for small and marginal farmers.

It won the best rural innovation award from Maharashtra and Bihar in 2014 and was featured in the first season of “Satyameva Jayate”. Ramanjaneyalu is working to develop open source seed systems and scaling up sustainable agriculture in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Sikkim and Tripura. He is also trying to link farmers to consumers through a community-managed marketing system, “Sahaja Aharam”.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

Tell me about your work on non-pesticide and organic farming.

When we started, we tried to see what was the most serious distress the farmers were facing. So pesticide use was very high in Andhra Pradesh, and there were a lot of ill effects that were seen on the ground, with agricultural workers and farmers being hospitalised. Also increasing cost of cultivation. So to reduce the cost of cultivation and pesticide use, we tried non-pesticidal management. We got success in small areas in about 10 locations and then we worked with the Andhra Pradesh government and tried to build a kind of scaling-up strategy where a large number of people can adapt.

Our key learning has been that if farmers understand the problem and understand the solution, from their own knowledge base—and they can relate to what they see around them—it is easy to adapt.

From an information-based extension we tried to take the farmers to a knowledge-based extension, so that each can manage his ecosystem and control his pests. It was quite successful, but by 2008 we had realised that this itself was not sufficient. Pesticide use was reducing, but there were other serious problems. The price realisation for farmers was very low, so if my cost of cultivation was coming down by one or two thousand rupees, it may not be sufficient for me. So that was the kind of situation the farmers were in.

We proposed to the state government at that time that we need to move into complete organic, so that the quality of the produce can go up and the prices can increase. Secondly, we needed to organise farmers into cooperatives so that their bargaining power could go up. But unfortunately at that time the state government was not keen on these two aspects. So we moved out of the programme and we started working at about 14 locations and formed farmers’ cooperatives. Directly we tried to market them in Hyderabad to start with.

You say that the use of pesticides actually creates the pest problem.

In any ecosystem, there is an ecological balance. There are insects which are damaging crops, there are insects which are not damaging crops, so even between the insects there is a balance. We have seen that when bollworm comes down in cotton, the sucking pest goes up. There is a balance between pests and between their natural enemies also. Pesticides eliminate this balance. The moment you kill weaker insects—weaker insects get killed when you spray—the stronger insects remain. In a way, you are selecting insects for genetic resistance. The natural enemies that are killing the insects are also dying. These two things together create an imbalanced situation where the insect population grows. Pesticides should be used only to restore the ecological balance.

What was the scale of the programme that you ran with the government?

The programme which we ran with the government was between 2005 and 2008, and we were covering some 7 lakh acres. After 2008, the government took over on its own, took over the community resource persons and started spreading. Till 2010, the data shows that pesticide use could come down by over 50 per cent. It proved the concept that community-managed extensions and alternative sustainable agricultural practices could be put together to solve livelihood problems.

Did the high suicide rates among farmers in Andhra Pradesh at that time play a part in the government wanting to try out non-pesticide and organic agriculture?

Of course. One of the criteria we took for identifying villages was the level of distress. And from 2005 to 2010, if you see the data, not a single suicide was reported from these villages. And even today, I can say, in the last 20 years, where our co-operatives are located and our farmers are there, not a single suicide has been reported because of distress. Creating a community of farmers at the grassroots is very, very critical.

What you are advocating is not just Non-Pesticide Management (NPM) or organic, it has an important component called community management. What exactly is community management?

We called the programme itself community-sustainable management. This is because, in every case, just because organic is there, it will not solve the farmer’s problems. The whole starting point is the farmer’s distress. People can get out of distress only if it (agriculture) is community managed and community owned, as well as following sustainable agricultural practices. Both are critical. The third dimension to the problem is price realisation. So it is about what we can do at the farmers’ level, what we can do at the community level and what we can do at the market level.

Can you explain these components in detail?

See, one is the farmer’s level. In every situation, what we have seen is, there is scope for reducing input cost. We are one of the high-cost production systems in the world. By any means you take. What happens in that situation is that you become very uncompetitive in the market. Even if the price goes up, it will not benefit you because the cost of cultivation is already very high. So you need to cut down on the cost of production and become very efficient.

And the second important issue is that since the cropping pattern is not based on the situation and the risks involved, the cropping patterns are purely decided by the market, advertisements and all involved, there is an increase in risk of crop failure. Reducing risk in agriculture is very important.

We have also realised that there is scope for increasing unit productivity. It is not just about the yield, it is about unit productivity. Integrating more crops or integrating with animals or growing two crops instead of one, in sequence. Inter-cropping or mixed cropping are all integrated farming. All these models can be used and we can increase the total productivity of the land.

The next is price realisation; if farmers can aggregate themselves, they can get 10 to 15 per cent better price. The farmer can do some things at the individual level, like implement certain practices, but there has to be a plan. And this can be done only at the group level by community management. It can happen also only with the correct public policy. This is what we need to think of. What kind of public policy will reduce input cost, reduce risk, increase price and increase land productivity.

For example, if you take… I will show you a slide… See, this is in 2004, 35 per cent of cost of production goes to seeds, pesticides and fertilisers. And labour forms about 24 per cent, land rent is about 12 per cent. At the time we intervened, our attempt was to reduce this 35 per cent cost. But today, (shows another slide), this is the current cost. In this, the significant portion goes to land rent and labour. And a very small percent, around 12 per cent, goes to pesticides, fertilisers and seeds. [In the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices 2015, the land rent is 38 per cent and labour cost is 33 per cent]

Are these statistics for Andhra Pradesh?

These I have taken for Andhra Pradesh, but it is more or less the same across the country.

But pesticide prices have not gone down?

No. These figures are not in absolute numbers. The price of land rent and labour has gone up. So a saving in fertiliser or pesticide is not seen as a significant thing. Farmers don’t perceive it as a big saving. This is one critical factor driving farming today.

The other one, if you see this graph (shows graph), this is the price recovery by the farmer. If rice is sold for `50 in the market, farmers get about `12 in that. Which is only 24 per cent and this is the maximum, for rice. In other crops it will be much lower.

The major cost is taken away by… if we are talking about packing, transport, middling, these are some essential costs. Whereas this wholesaler who takes 15 per cent, the retailer who takes 28 per cent, it is huge. Eight per cent tax. Everybody takes their cut and finally it is the farmer who is being penalised. So what intervention can take this share to 50 per cent?

A big part of the rationale for introducing NPM/organic in Andhra Pradesh/Telangana was to cut down on cost of cultivation. If that is no longer a big component…

No longer a driver. The kind of enthusiasm the farmers had when the cost reduction was high, today you won’t see that kind of enthusiasm.

Beyond cost reduction, what are the advantages farmers can get from non-pesticide management?

One of the drivers is not only cost, but also reducing risk. Every farmer, every individual farmer, or family member, you ask about pesticide, they talk about the problems they have because of using pesticides. Ecological problems. The kind of diseases when pesticides fall on their fingers and hands. What happens when it falls on their head. When animals are fed on the grass where the chemicals are sprayed. All these impacts are clearly seen. So it is not only about cost reduction, but the immediate problems they see with pesticides. It is about getting out of the pesticide trap itself.

You have been a big critic of conventional agriculture. Of chemical fertiliser, pesticide-driven agriculture. What are your points of contention?

One of the major contentions about Indian agriculture, Indian agricultural science I would say, is it never took socio-economic or ecological conditions of the farmers into account. It is purely productivity-driven. Productivity also very narrowly understood as yield—the yield of a single crop. They didn’t even look at the productivity of land or long-term productivity kind of thing. They had a very narrow focus. Second thing is they never cared about the externalities. A pure mathematical-equation-kind-of approach where more input gives more output landed us in serious problems because of high use of chemical fertilisers and high use of chemical pesticides, high use of groundwater, etc. My major critique is that agricultural research was never tuned to meet the agro-ecological situation. If something was successful in Punjab they would want to try it in Rajasthan where the ecological conditions are very different. Similarly, what succeeded in paddy, they wanted to try out in jowar also, which is not possible. The socio-economic conditions were also never taken into account. Whenever farmers were complaining that they were not making money or about the pesticides, all the government was saying was that for national self-sufficiency we need to produce more. To produce more, the assumption is that you use more of inputs.

Can you tell me of a particular instance when the use of pesticide has resulted in a pest population going out of control?

In 1986-87, there were a large number of farmer suicides which happened in Guntur and Prakasam districts in Andhra Pradesh. That was the first reported data on farmer suicides. More than 100 farmers committed suicide because of the white fly incidence. I was in college then, I had just joined for B. Sc. agriculture. We used to see clouds of white flies even in my college. Nearby towns, cities everything was filled with those white flies. At that time whatever pesticides were there failed. The government said we will bring in synthetic pyrethroids which are more powerful. They were brought in, and within two years’ time all the white flies were controlled. But the bollworm problem increased. By 1997-98 there was a huge outbreak in Guntur and Karimnagar districts. There were 2,000 farmer suicides that year. By that time, they said they will bring in BT cotton (resistant to bollworm) and that they will bring in new pesticides. By 2007, the bollworms have been managed but the white flies have become a major problem. They made a comeback. This imbalance of trying to look at only one pest and one way of managing it is creating the problem. A purely technological solution will never work.

What is the impact of long term use of pesticides and fertilisers on soil?

Of course. Certainly. More than 30-40 percentage in any of these chemical fertilisers is inert matter. Basically fill-up material to make it into granules and mostly it is talcum powder that is used. The fine powder actually fills up all the soil spaces and today the hard patches that are found in farmlands are because of that. Second is that the increased use of one or two nutrients also causes imbalance (in the soil). It also led to salinity. These two have killed the soil health biologically. Soil biology, soil chemistry, soil physical structure—all three properties should have been taken into account. But there was an excessive focus only on the chemical properties.

On the pesticide issue, if you look at the annual report released by the Central Groundwater Board, even groundwater in Hyderabad is seen to have chemical pesticide residues. How are they coming in? Entire groundwater aquifer is contaminated. Surface water is contaminated. What are we doing to our natural resources? How do we clean them up? Pesticides which were banned 20-30 years back like BHC (Benzene Hexachloride), if the residues are still seen today, then when are we going to get out of this crisis?

Has the amount of pesticides and fertilisers being used being going up?

Of course. If you look at pesticide use, in many states, the use of pesticides have gone up 30-40 per cent. You also need to take into account that there has been a reduction in the volume. The older high volume pesticides are replaced by newer low volume pesticides. If you correct it for that, it means the real use must be very, very high. Fertiliser use has also been going up. Today, if you take Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the average fertiliser use is 261 kg per year per hectare. It is higher than the global average. Perhaps 50 kg higher. That is the state average. If you look at it district-wise, there are certain districts which are very, very high.

Why is fertiliser use going up?

It is similar to the pesticide problem. The plant depends only on the chemical source of nutrients. And when you use only one or two nutrients, the other nutrients become limited. When other nutrients become limited, the yield comes down. When the yield comes down, people feel that the fertiliser amount used is not sufficient, and they put in more fertiliser. Additional fertiliser is not in any way helpful to the farmers or to the plants. But they go on using it. Balanced use was never an idea. Public policy also shifts [which fertilisers are used]. For example, after the decontrol of DAP (Diammonium phosphate), the prices shot up. But urea was still subsidised. People started using more of urea and started using less of potash and phosphorus.

There is a plan to introduce GM mustard in India.

The GM mustard they are trying to introduce is a hybrid. They introduced technology to develop a hybrid. The way to make a hybrid is to introduce male sterility in the crop. India is one of the centres of diversity for mustard. If you are introducing male sterility into it, it can get crossed with several other traditional varieties or improved varieties. The sterility genes can escape from GM mustard and get into others also. Cross-pollination would be a serious problem. The claims made that yield would increase is not substantiated. They compared it with some 20 or 25-year-old variety. There are recent varieties that yield better. A very important issue is herbicide-tolerant genes were used in generating this technology. Herbicide tolerance is not advisable because herbicide use goes up. There are a number of reports that show that the herbicide that is going to be introduced with this—gluphosinate—is going to be a major ecological disaster in other countries. It can cause the same problem here also.

Can non-pesticide management give the same yield as conventional agriculture?

Take the green revolution. There is a lot of discussion which happens about the green revolution saying that technology solved the problem. But it’s not just technology. They started using chemical fertilisers and new seeds. But beyond that, the entire public extension system was built around that. There were extension systems where people used to go to villages, talk to people, give seeds and all that. The banks were all nationalised to provide credit. The Food Corporation of India was established to actually buy at the farmers’ footsteps. The minimum support prices were ensured. Subsidies were given, Seed Corporation was established to produce and supply seeds. So, a whole range of support systems were established for the green revolution. This created an ecosystem for the success of the model. Whereas when we talk about alternative models, NPM was the only initiative where to a limited extent the government built comprehensive support systems.  When we are talking about alternatives, where is that ecosystem that is built?

How have the central government’s policies over the last two years affected agriculture?

I would say they are still grappling with what to do. During the elections, the BJP said it would implement the Swaminathan recommendations of increasing the prices; but after coming to power, they said it’s not possible, that we would provide income security through farm income insurance. But the farm insurance scheme has not yet rolled out. In the last budget, the government said it will double the farmers’ income.

As per the National Sample Survey, 81 per cent of the people’s monthly income is less than their monthly expenditure. In absolute numbers it is so low, what do you do even if you double it in five years? The average is between `4500-5000 in the small and medium farmer category. Even if it becomes `10,000 in 2020, what do you do after that? Cost of living is also going up in everything like health and education because there is so little government support in rural areas. There should be a comprehensive approach and a new policy framework. While the government has said that it will double the income in five years, in the last two years the prices (of crops) have gone up only 5 per cent. How would you increase so much in the next 3 years?

Basically we have indebtedness. If people are spending less than they earn, the credit cycle starts.

This is because the support from the government’s side is decreasing. Even today credit access is 30 per cent, insurance is only 30 per cent, subsidies not even 10 per cent.

From a liberal economic standpoint, as the economy develops, landholdings have to become larger and the number of people dependant on agriculture fewer. Is the government thinking that the way forward is to encourage migration from agriculture to industry?

It is a wrong thinking is what I would say. The government is looking to have a large source of unorganised cheap labour so that industrial development can happen. If you look at the last ten years, what the government has done, they couldn’t create any additional jobs. Whatever additional jobs were created were created only in the construction sector. The construction sector is a very unsustainable business, right? More than 20 per cent of these constructions are lying vacant. The written policy of the government is that industrial development will solve all the problems. For that you need to take out a large number of people from agriculture.

According to the last National Sample Survey Data, between 2004-05 and 2009-10, the growth rate in terms of employment (in different sectors) is coming down. The only sector where the growth increased is the non-manufacturing construction sector. See, no one has a second opinion that you need to increase the productivity of labour. But what we are asking is, at what cost? When you are displacing someone, what are you doing to them? I think that is something that is very, very critical. If there is no plan for the people you want to displace, but you are still displacing them, it is a criminal act.

You mentioned access to markets to increase the price farmers get. What can be done to give them direct access to markets?

One of the key things is to increase aggregation at the farmer’s level. If that can be increased, the farmer’s share in the consumer price will go up. One effort is to build famers’ cooperatives. In Sahaja Aharam, a cooperative scheme we are running in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the consumer price of the produce is `80. The farmers get `42 out of that. So, there is a way. The difficulty is for these farmers’ institutions to get support from the government. The key challenge is that today if a farmers’ cooperative goes to a bank to get a loan, they ask for 150 per cent collateral security with non-agricultural assets. They ask whether in Hyderabad, you have land, whether you have a building… They don’t take agricultural land as the collateral. While most of the non-performing assets the banks are suffering are from industries. If you look at agricultural loans, there are not much NPAs. And they charge high interest rate of 13 to 14 per cent on these.

How many farmers are involved in the Sahaja Ahara scheme?

There are 5,000 farmers.

You told me you are signing an MoU with the Andhra Pradesh government for scaling up…

For scaling up organic farming and marketing, yeah… We are working with Sikkim and Tripura governments also. Andhra Pradesh is planning to scale up to about 131 clusters. Each cluster of about 5 villages, and 10 clusters in each district, is the plan. They will pick the best villages from the community-managed sustainable agriculture villages programme, started in 2004. A comprehensive approach is being developed with support from local NGOs and other state agencies to develop a system where we will help the farmers go organic and market their product directly. As part of the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, they are putting in the resources. We are trying to develop convergence plans with various ongoing government programmes also.

  • Oct 21 / 2016
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Comments

My comments on ‘Food and Environmental Safety of GM Mustard’

Download the Feed Back 161001-feedback-on-gm-mustard-from-csa

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Comments on the document on

“Assessment of Food and Environmental Safety (AFES)” On The Proposal for Authorisation Of Environmental Release of Genetically Engineered Mustard (Brassica Juncea) Hybrid DMH-11 and use of Parental Events (Varuna Bn3.6 And EH2 Modbs2.99) For Development of New Generation Hybrids

Contact details

Full name*: Dr. GV Ramanjaneyulu

Male/Female: Male

Affiliation*: Agricultural Scientist and Executive Director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Expert Director at Sahaja Aharam Producer Company

Postal Address*:  12-13-445, Street no-1, Tarnaka

City: Hyderabad

State: Telangana

Country: India

Pin code: 500017

Email address: ramoo@csa-india.org

  1. Brief Comments on AFES on GE Mustard
Ch Section Comments
General comments As per recent Supreme Court orders, regulators are to engage in dialogue with all stake holders and this process is still on. Hence this feedback is being sent.
Without full access to full bio-safety dossier, it is not possible to give comprehensive feedback. Pending availability of the same, following may be considered as partial comments.
  Technology used The technology for introducing male sterility using bar, barnase and barstar from Bacillus amyloliquefaciens (which uses barnase for protection from microbial predators and barstar to protect itself from barnase ) gene  link to bar gene which confers resistance to the herbicide  Glyphosinate is not new.  Proagro earlier in November 2002 and April 2003 applied a GM mustard hybrid with the same technology and GEAC rejected the application with the following comments

·         Pollen flow studies as reported by the company showed transgenes escaping upto 35m, while the ICAR trials indicated pollen flow upto 75 meters. “Considering the agro-climatic conditions and small land holdings of Indian farmers, the Committee was of the view that the non-GM mustard seed from the adjoining fields is likely to get contaminated by the male sterility barnase, barstar, neomycin and bar genes. This factor may affect the stability of the properties of the non-transgenic varieties”.

•       While the company showed seed yield increase ranging from 16% to 23% over the best check Varuna indifferent GM hybrids, ICAR results showed only 5% upwards.“

•       ICAR under whose supervision the trials are supposed to have taken place clarified that it did not supervise the number of trials that the company claimed, and that it conducted trials only at 4 locations which is not adequate.

•       “Mustard being an edible crop, important policy issues related to labeling, traceability etc., need to be put in place prior to commercial release”

•       Trial studies conducted by the company also indicated  that the presence of barnase gene is about 0.31%.

•       The use of Bar gene as a marker gene, increased weediness and consequent use of more toxic persistent herbicides were discussed. Further studies should be conducted by ICAR to address all biosafety issues including resistance to herbicide

•       The Committee noted that mustard being an edible crop, further studies to establish health safety aspects need to be conducted

The current application GE Hybrid DMH-11 is no different.  While GEAC has not raised the same questions while the problems were similar.

 

6 ENVIRONMENTAL SAFETY ASSESSMENT STUDIES

 

GE hybrid DMH-11 is inferior in vigour to the handmade conventional hybrid VEH2-F1 as mentioned in the text but the fact is not considered for experiments.

Page 77: “Shoot and root weight: Shoot and root weight were recorded as fresh and dry weight of the seedlings after 15 days after sowing, The data revealed significantly higher shoot and root weight in hand-made non-GE hybrid (VEH2-F1) as compared to the GE hybrid DMH-11 under field conditions.

COMMENTS: It can be surmised that the GE hybrid DMH-11 is inferior in vigour to the handmade conventional hybrid VEH2-F1. Therefore the conclusions drawn in page 103 (reproduced below) are invalid. “Conclusions: ..Based on the agronomic and phenotypic parameters it can be concluded that presence of transgenes in the hybrid does not lead to any unintended effect on the agronomic parameters.”

The yield of ‘male sterile line Varuna-barnase’ is equivalent to fertile Varuna. This is not possible.

Page 86: “From the biology document of B. juncea it is very clear that it is mainly a self-pollinating crop and its pollen is relatively heavy and sticky and generally not carried to great distances by wind. Insects, particularly bees, are the primary cross-pollinators. The highest rate of cross-pollination occurs with plants in close proximity and more so in situations where there is a physical contact with the neighbouring plants. In B. juncea the rate of out-crossing up to 11 to 17.5% have been reported. “

COMMENTS: ‘Varuna bn 3.6’ is a male sterile GE variety. Self pollination is ruled out. However, as per the data presented in the report in page 102, the yield of GE ‘Varuna barnase’ is equivalent to that of non-GE male fertile Varuna, thereby indicating the possibility of fertile pollen on Varuna-barnase or the occurrence of unbelievable 100% natural insect/bee-assisted cross pollination, which is in stark variance with available reports. Presuming that 100% insect aided cross-pollination occurs in fields, production of pure hybrid seeds under such circumstances is impossible, since insects and bees travel long distances and can pollinate the GE ‘Varuna barnase’ male sterile plants with any B. juncea pollen from anywhere.

How insect pollination is restricted to 20 meters is a mystery

Page 86: …”Therefore, DMH-11 pollen travelled only up to 20m, as no Basta resistant seedlings were observed in the progeny of PUSA bold plants beyond 20 meter distance from the boundary of the inner plot.”

COMMENT: It is not clear how and why insects and bees can restrict themselves only to 20 metres distance of pollination. Insects travel far and wide sometimes several kilometres to effect pollination.

SUGGESTION: Genetic purity of the DMH-11 must be examined before any inferences are made.

Male sterile genes can flow through pollen from GMS-based-hybrids and Barnase-barstar-based hybrids and not through CMS hybrids. Conclusions on page 86 are contrary to facts and are misleading

Page 86: “In farmer’s field, one of the concerns is that the crossing could occur between intra-specific varieties growing in adjoining fields. In case of DMH-11, the crossing with neighbouring B. juncea would be similar with other non-GE hybrid/varieties and no further effects are expected due to presence of the transgenes

COMMENT: Misleading conclusion “In case of DMH-11, the crossing with neighbouring B. juncea would be similar with other non-GE hybrid/varieties and no further effects are expected due to presence of the transgenes

POSSIBILIOTY OF SPREAD OF STERILITY BARNASE gene INTO CONVENTIONAL VARIETIES AND ITS  CONSEQUENCES

1.       Barnase-Barstar based GM hybrid produces 8 kinds of fertile pollens of which 12.5% contain the Barnase gene alone and another 12.5% contain both the Barnase and Barstar genes. These 25% of pollens are likely to have detrimental consequences in native varieties due to outcrossing. The above facts are based on Mendelian Genetics. Based on the Population Genetics, the following inferences can be drawn.

2.       At least 1.5% of yield will be lost with the farm saved seed of the variety which is contaminated with pollen from Barnase-Barstar GM mustard hybrid. This inference is based on standard presumptive condition of 15% out crossing in Mustard (Brassica juncea).

3.       The yield losses can increase progressively every year with the farm saved seeds of non-GM variety as long as pollen contamination continues to happen from the GM mustard hybrid. If herbicide is used on the GM hybrid crop, the frequency of sterile genes will continue to increase at an enhanced rate.

4.       Barnase is a dominant gene which causes male sterility in plants wherever the gene is present in the absence of barstar, unlike GMS system which is recessive in gene action and takes one generation of selfing to express itself albeit in lesser frequency compared to Barnase-Barstar system.

5.       Chances of gene escape through pollen are almost nil in case of CMS as sterility genes are contained in cytoplasmic organelles.

6.       Due to possible gene outflow through pollen in case Barnase-Barstar system, the detrimental male sterile genes can get into mustard germplasm including wild and weedy relatives and hence, there are potential and irretrievable risks for crop diversity and varietal diversity, which is unacceptable as per PPVFRA. The naturally occurring biodiversity and varietal diversity of Brassica spp. should never be compromised through genetic contamination of detrimental genes such as Barnase.

7.       GM canola in Canada is cultivated in large tracts of land with 100% seed replacement ratio. This precludes the possibility of any contamination with the varieties since the farm saved seeds are not used. On the other hand, in India, it is extremely common for varieties to be cultivated in close proximity of hybrids in a mosaic pattern of small size farming system. Therefore, comparison of Indian mustard farming conditions with Canadian conditions will not be appropriate.

8.       India with its rich diversity for mustard and its relatives the contamination can lead to a serious problem. Containment impossible and contamination inevitable

 

  Herbicide Tolerance Herbicide tolerance is introduced into the DMH-11

1.       BarN genes used for selecting male sterile female plants confers tolerance to glufosinate a herbicide from Bayer (commercially traded as Basta).

2.       There are number of documents which show the potential impact of Glufosinate on human beings, pollinators and environmemnt.  The papers are attached.

3.       Glufosinate tolerant rice (called liberty link) when accidentally contaminated rice in USA has caused huge losses and the entire export consignments were  forced to withdraw[1].

4.       The Technical Expert Committee appointed by Supreme Court as well as the Parliamentary Standing committee on GM crops have inequivocally said India should not allow herbicide tolerant crops

7 EVALUATION OF AGRONOMIC PARAMETERS FOR GE HYBRID DMH-11 AND THE    PARENTAL LINES

 

Agronomy trials are flawed.

Appropriate varietal and hybrid checks were not used in the trials. Based on the data available, there is hardly any proof in the data to draw inferences to substantiate the claims that the GE hybrid DMH-11 can confer any additional advantage over the conventional hand-made hybrid VEH2-F1 and cytoplasmic male sterile based hybrids, DMH-1, NRCHB-506, in either yields or cost of hybrid seed production.

SUGGESTIONS: DMH-11 hybrid (Varuna bn 3.6 x EH2 modbs 2.99) should have been compared for agronomy performance with the conventional non-GM VEH2-F1 hybrid (Varuna x EH2).

Trials should have been conducted to compare the agronomic performance between the conventional hand-made hybrid VEH2-F1 and cytoplasmic male sterile based hybrids, DMH-1, NRCHB-506.

Trails did not include other agronomic innovations like System of Mustard Intensification where substantial yield improvements were observed in conventional varieties.

Send your comments by email (only) to: mustard.mef@gov.in.by mentioning “Comments on RARM document on GE Mustard” in the subject matter.

[1] http://archive.panap.net/sites/default/files/rg_libertylink.pdf

  • Sep 23 / 2016
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My Story

Genetic Determinism: Genetic engineering to Desi Cow

2nd part

Genetic Determinism: Genetic engineering to Desi Cow
Why people think genetics is more important than environment where it expresses? #MyStory

‘Why i am like my dad’ by N. Luchnik published by Mir Publishers was the first book on ‘genetics’ which created lot of interest in me on the subject during school days and led to pursue biological science stream. The book starts with an interesting question wondering ‘what make me look like dad’ and explains genes and genetics and how environment plays an imp role.

After joining agriculture college we are all told Genetics and Plant Breeding’ is the key for improving agriculture and food security. The whole green revolution is driven by that….as a passion i also wanted to be a geneticist or a plant breeder and pursued to get a fellowship and secured ICAR JRF in Plant Breeding in 1990. But i didnt pursue it and moved to extension as working with farmers made more sense than plants and genes.

But reading loads of works on genetics vs environment, nature vs nurture which started as part of ‘psychology’ and reading the whole debates about castism and racism as part ‘sociology’ both in preparation for civil services exam…with this background, coming to the point

Why people think genetics is more important than environment in which it expresses? while everyone of us atleast paper agree that all humans are born equal why do we think some are more equal than others (not because of their economic status but because of the family (caste/religion) in which they are born in?

The central belief that every character is determined by genes (read also as birth) is part of both modern science and all religions. the indian caste system or the western racism are fall outs of it. The human genome project was essentially to build a so called ‘scientific support’ for such thinking… (always there would be other side of the story and there would be some benefits of this as well for human kind..but i am only talking here about the central dogma which is driving science for some). in fact this is also disproved long back. current understanding is that ‘Genetics sets the limits’ within which ‘enviroment’ plays an important role in the extent of expression of the character.

This theory largely ignores that it is environment and opportunities which are provided to people which determines their performance and not just the genes.

it is exactly same theory which is in operation in agriculture. while much of the success of ‘Green revolution’ is attributed to the ‘high yielding varieties’ while much of the success (leaving aside the fall outs) is also due to the environment created by supplying more nutrients, more water through dams and canals, support prices and procurement through FCI, credit access through nationalisation of banks etc. they completely failed when the govt tried to replicate the same ‘magic’ in rainfed areas without creating the supportive ‘environment’… the fall out of creating the articial environment through chemicals, water through dams is now seen…in punjab and other green revolution areas too…modern science of agroecology evolved from these fallouts and is evolving into a newer discipline driven by science and experienced farmers.

Genetic engineering is also driven by the same old ‘genetic determinism’ philosophy. it believes that all characters in organisms are determined by genes, and we can identify the genes for the characters we need, isolate, multiply or copy paste them in any organism and achieve the same expression. so by identifying the genes which produces ‘endotoxins’ in bacillus thuriengenesis, we can extract them and engineer them into cotton plant so that cotton can also can produce the same toxin and the gene performs exactly as it performs in the bacteria. this completely ignores the fact that the expression of this gene is aldo dependent on the internal environment of the cell/plant and external environment…the fall out of this we have seen with bt cotton and several others. same is the thinking behind GM mustard (which claims you can increase yield by creating a hybrid) and golden rice (which claims you can have vitamin a produced by inserting a gene into rice plants)..most of the biosafety problems we are observing are because of this narrow understanding and reductionistic thinking.

Again it is the same ‘genetic determinism’ behind both ‘artificial insemination’ program by modern science which feels bringing semen from videsi cows/buffaloes will improve the yields, or the ‘desi cow’ or ‘desi bull’ syndrome which feels the certain breeds are superior over others irrespective of situations or the environment. animals evolve and adopt to the local growing conditions. so for hot tropical conditions indian breeds adopted well (infact they survied so they are existing…otherwise they might have become extinct). and infact this is not just because they adapted well…but because farmers made careful selections over centuries to suit various needs. it was these people who used them for ploughing, transport, milk production, animal races or for consumption as food. animals were part of their daily life. they were reponsible of constant evolution of several of these breeds and this has to continue in real time conditions not…artifically storing their semen and eggs in cold storages of the gene banks or worshipping them by keeping them in goshalas.

Same is the story about ‘desi’ seeds. every plant evolved in some of the world and has spread to other areas. there are 12 mega biodiversity centres in the world and India is one of them. With just 2.4% of the world’s land area , India accounts for over 45,000 recorded species of plants and 91,000 recorded species of animals even while supporting almost 18% of human population as well as a large livestock population. In the name of modernisation much of the diversity is lost and today we have the diversity resting in cold rooms and not in the farmers’ fields. while much of the problems about this approach and attitude are well known and can be discussed separately as well…interestingly the people who gaga about ‘desi seeds’ are also driven by the same genetic determinism….. seeds are not constant piece of material but a living being which constantly evolves. so regular selections by farmers is what led to such a big diversity we have. what suits to the local ecological and growing conditions is important..its wrong to belive that old seeds are better over newer ones..it essentially depends on the selection process…hybridisation and selection are natural processes with more scientific rigour. dr. richaria has proven this and there are several farmers also who have proven this.

The living beings are constantly evolving by mating and intermating and subjected to natural selection (by nature) and end user (humans for their use)…and this should continue…genetic purity (plants, animals and even in humans) is the approach which is also driven by the same genetic determinism.

This is what is my understanding is and what drivers me. in our daily work we face several questions about several of these… it is the same#GeneticDeterminism thinking which makes kaph panchayats to go against intercaste marraiges, or some people go gaga about desi cow or desi seed like modern science goes gaga about genetic engineering and artificial insemination. its the same thinking behind the Hitlers ideas about eugenics!

  • Sep 23 / 2016
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My Story

What is wrong with our Agricultural research system?

our experiences 🙂 🙂 #MyStory

Apathy, vested interests, high egos, lack of scientific attitude and socio-economic/ecological concerns together at the top level have deteriorated the system. When ever these issues are raised either they raise the national food security card-saying feeding the millions is on their head or scientific card saying all what they dont understand is not science.

One of the main reason for initiating CSA was to build scientific understanding of several successful alternatives in agriculture and scale up to benefit people. In this process we had interacted with many top officials to share and discuss how things can improve…but we were always unsuccessful. looking at the recent controversy raised after the subash palekar’s comments wanted to share few incidents.

After the successful demonstration of Non Pesticidal Management in several villages we had a field visit organised to the scientists and extension staff to villages in kurnool districts to field area of the KVK. every one who visited said it was good but the Director Extension at that time said ‘No’ and they cannot promote it because it was not developed or researched by them. we argued saying many of the pesticides promoted by the university also are not developed and researched by the university…and why not they start research. he didnt agree on that.

Later we met the Director Research of the Agriculture University and discussed with him and requested to take up research and say what works and what is not working in the practices which are promoted as part of the NPM. for several years we followed up and always used to say i wrote to the research stations but no one is interested. later on he became the vice chancellor of the university. we met and discussed with him several times. nothing happend.

in 2007 (if i remember right) One senior official from world bank was interested in trying out an IT system to support farmers. we had a discussion in MANAGE. i proposed that it should be knowledge based and give several options to the farmers and not just the so called ‘recommendations’ by the university and we can evaluate what is more adopted by the farmers and then leave the choice to the farmers. The same director extension didnt agree then.

after 2010 we left chasing or discussing with university officials..and thought we should continue to do what we are doing and can reach out to people in our own way.

in 2013 (again if i remember right..i am bad with numbers and years) surprisingly i bumped into the same director extension who is retired and now promoting ‘chemical free’ chilli production. he is now into promotion of natural farming in a bigway… 🙂 🙂

the director research who never took any initiative to work on the alternatives inspite of repeated requests is now heading an education institution promoting ‘organic farming’..😉 🙂

i remember what Jairam Ramesh said during the Bt Brinjal Consultations i Hyderabad…while most of the farmers were opposing the commercialisation of bt brinjal, and NGOs were presenting their arguments about biosafety, monopoly, viable alternatives, the scientists of university and research stations were saying its a scientific advancement and should be promoted…and many retired scientists were saying we should be cautious and should put a break till biosafety is established and we exhaust all our existing alternatives. Jairam ramesh asked ‘how come wisdom dawns on indian agricultural scientists only after retirement?’

while i fully disagree with the attitude of subash palekar about agricultural science…is it not the time the agricultural scientists open their minds and look at world outside which is progressing beyond their labs with more open mind? be scientific in approach… science doesnt mean only chemicals…science doesnt mean what is developed in their four walls of research centres…its time you change other wise you become irrevalent

Just holding names not to disclose identities…this share is not to prove a point that they were wrong…it is to prove a point that they right but at a very late….its good that atleast they are now into alternative stream. things would have changed if they were so open minded while they were in service….its a request to all those agitated scientists to open up and see the value in agroecological approaches… you dont need to wait till the wisdom dawns on you after retirement. #MyStory

  • Mar 01 / 2016
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Articles

2016: Can this budget keep up the promises for famrers?

‘Doubling the farmers’ incomes in the next five years’ is the promise with which the Finance Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley began his 2016-17 budget speech.  What does this means to 263 million people (who form 54.6% of working population) deriving their livelihood from farming today?  The increasing costs of cultivation and stagnant prices (when corrected to inflation), increased costs of living and decreasing over all support to farming has led to continuous decline of farm incomes.  The National Sample Survey 70th round (2014) estimates that average income of farmers is Rs 6,426 per month which is often lower than their monthly expenditure.  Let’s see what the current budget offers to the farmers.

160301 budget dc

Total allocation for farming sector is increased to Rs. 35,984 crore a substantial increase from the previous year. The main focus of the budget seems is to be creating infrastructural support in the form of creating irrigation facilities, storage and processing facilities and establishing unified market system which together will lead to the increase in the incomes for the farmers.

The growing indebtedness in agriculture is due to low access to institutional credit.  The budget targets Rs. 9.0 lakh cr to farm sector with an interest subvention of Rs. 15,000 cr.   This will only marginally increase the credit access from the current 21%.  The allocation of Rs. 5,500 cr to the new Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bheema Yojana is a silver lining which may help more farmers to get under the cover.

The substantial allocations in the budgets for irrigation and ground water management under various schemes will help farmers in rainfed areas to protect their crops and reduce the risks of crop failure.

However, the key question about the strategies to increase the farmers’ incomes remains unanswered.  As promised, if the incomes have to double in the next 5 years, the annual growth rate has to be at least 14%.  This seems to be an impossible task given that the increase in minimum support prices across the commodities in the last two years is only 3-6%.  In this budget also no efforts are made to increase the prices. Promoting decentralised procurement can get more farmers to access the minimum support prices.  Creating a unified market without creating safety nets will only make the farmers vulnerable given the high variations in costs of cultivation and access to productive resources like land and water across the country.

The allocation of Rs. 900 crore for price stabilisation fund is a welcome step, but these allocations are often used to stabilise the prices at the consumer end rather than on the producer end as it happend in the last two years.

The key challenges in farming sector cannot be addressed as long as the farmers remain unorganised.  Substantial investments have to be put in by the governments to organise farmers into producer organisations and extend credit, infrastrure supports and tax benefits to them. Currently, these organisations are taxed at 30% like any other companies with no incentives on loans for working or fixed capital.

Even if we assume that the current trend will continue and somehow farmers’ incomes will double in the next five years, it will remain at about Rs. 12,000 per month on average in 2022 which will be half of the income of the lowest paid employee in government this year and that will be delivered by the next government.  No hope on horizon for farmers as yet.

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