lunes, septiembre 11, 2006

India's death dance demostrates Green Revolution failure

GM WATCH daily
In the main article in India's largest selling dailypaper, Devinder Sharma points out how the huge numberof suicides occurring among India's farmers is atestimony to the the failure of the Green Revolution.

Yet while, as Devinder notes, the serial death dancecontinues unabated, India's policy makers andagricultural scientists are busy laying thefoundations for a second Green Revolution - one guidedby the likes of Monsanto.

This is an English version of the article in Hindi.
Second Green Revolution
Pushing Out Farmers
Devinder Sharma
From: Dainik Bhaskar, April 24, 2006.

Forty years after the first Green Revolution waslaunched, Indian agriculture is faced with anunprecedented crisis - farm incomes plummeting, soilgasping for breath, water table plummeting, andfarmers being pushed out of agriculture.

For the past two decades, agricultural production hadalmost stagnated, then began the downslide. Byignoring the critical connection between agriculturalproduction and access to food, policy makers hadfailed to take any corrective measures to stop thedestruction of the natural resource base - thefoundation for sustainable agriculture andlivelihoods.

Green revolution has for all practical purposescollapsed. The unexplained number of huge number ofsuicides is a testimony to the entire equation goingwrong. While the serial death dance continuesunabated, policy makers and agricultural scientistsare busy laying the foundations for a second GreenRevolution.

Formally launched by the visiting American PresidentGeorge Bush at Hyderabad on March 3, the Rs 1000-croreIndo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agricultural Researchand Education is for all practical purposes the softlaunch of the second Green Revolution.

It is being put in place without first ascertainingthe reasons behind the terrible agrarian crisis thatexists, much of it the result of imposingenvironmentally-unfriendly alien technology, thegovernment embarks on the faulty promise of a secondgreen revolution.

Even before the ink dried on the technical cooperationagreement, news reports pointed out that two of theAmerican multinationals, Monsanto and Wal-Mart, whoare on the governing board of the Indo-US KnowledgeInitiative, have already said they are not interestedin research and development but on selling theirproducts. Tailored on the objective of transferringthe unwanted and risky technology of geneticengineering on plants and animals, which incidentallyis not finding many takers worldwide, the US findsIndia an easy dumping ground.

In a country where land holdings are meagre, thebiggest challenge is to ensure how can agriculture bemade more attractive for these small and marginalfarmers. At a time when the natural resource base hasbeen devastated, and growing indebtedness drivespoverty-stricken villagers to take their own lives inseveral parts of the country, the government is keenlyfollowing the poverty-mitigating prescription beingdoled out by the Indian industry -- to turn Indianagriculture into a 'food factory' and thereby uprootmillions of subsistence farmers from their meagerlandholdings.

Although the land holding size is diminishing, theanswer does not lie in allowing the private companiesto move in by way of contract farming and corporateagriculture. Private companies enter agriculture withthe specific objective of garnering more profits fromthe same piece of land. These companies, if the globalexperience is any indication, bank upon still moreintensive farming practices, drain the soil ofnutrients and suck ground water in a couple of years,and render the fertile lands almost barren after fourto five years.

It has been estimated that the crops which are beingpromoted by the agri-business companies will on anaverage require 15 to 20 times more application ofchemical inputs and will need to pump out at least tentimes more water than what is being applied now byfarmers. These companies would then hand over thebarren and unproductive land to the farmers who leasedthem, and would move to another fertile piece of land.

What the farmers need desperately is an assured andremunerative income. This cannot be ensured by makingfarmers subservient to the private trade. Farm incomecan go up if the government lays out a roadmap that isbased on the underlying parameters of sustainabilityand equity. There is an immediate need to providehigher procurement prices to farmers, extendprocurement to regions which have remained outside itsgambit, and at the same time extend the reach ofprocurement to crops which are important for country'sfood security and nutritional needs.

Cropping pattern therefore needs to encourage multiplecropping with thrust on nutritional crops like pulsesand legumes, and linked in an integrated manner withanimal husbandry. At the same time no technology orprogramme that limits sustainability by furtherdestroying the natural resource base should be allowedat any cost. Such a nation-wide programme however doesnot find place in the existing thinking. All that thepolicy planners are worried about is how to benefitthe agri-business industry. Poor farmer has been veryconveniently left out, once again.

No wonder, Economic Survey 2005-06 categorically talksof dismantling the minimum support price (MSP) andprocurement-based food subsidy system. The two planksof the 'famine-avoidance' strategy that our plannershad put in place, and which were instrumental inmaking the country food self-sufficient, are now onthe hit list. This will enable the food retailers todirectly purchase from farmers. In other words, Indianfarmers will in future be faced with not only thevagaries of the monsoon but also the market.

It is being said that by allowing the private retailcompanies to purchase directly from farmers, not onlythe farm incomes go up but the number of middle-men isalso removed. This is however not true. Even inAmerica, the entry of retail chains in the agriculturesector have only shifted the profits to a horde ofmiddlemen -- retailers, processors, certificationagencies, quality controller and so on. The differencebeing that the dhoti-clad arhatia will now be replacedwith a battery of smartly-dressed midllemen moving inswanky cars.

American farmers earn only 4 per cent from whateverthey sell. In 1990, farmers earned 70 per cent of whatthey sold. From 70 per cent earnings to a mere 4 percent income - the drop in income is huge. The rest ofthe profits are shared by the chain of middlemen. InCanada, the National Farmers Union has in a studyshown how the combined profits of 70 retailer andagribusiness firms have multiplied whereas the farmershave mounting losses. That is why the developedcountries provide huge subsidies in the form of directpayments to farmers to compensate the loss.

The same model is now being shifted to India, butwithout compensating him with direct income support.The result is that in the name of second greenrevolution, the objective is to drive out farmers andinstead create an enabling environment for theagri-business industries to produce food.

(Devinder Sharma is a New Delhi-based researcher andpolicy analyst specialising in global food and agriculture).

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