- A Study of the Devastating Impact of the British Rule on Agriculture, Farming and Lifestyle of the People of India
- A comparative study of Indian and Western agricultural system and the impact of Green Revolution
- The Perils of the Genetically Modified Food
- The Present Situation – Various Practices Adopted in Processing and Dealing with Food at various stages
- Some Issues of Critical Importance
At the time when the reins of the country came into the hands of the first leaders of independent India, the whole country was suffering badly from the after effects of famines and the destructive policies of the English government. Our leaders of the time believed that with the help of Science, Socialism and Economic Planning the Indian people’s own government would be able to take the country to an ideal state superior to anything that might have been achieved in the ancient past. The initial concentration of the economic planning was on the construction of big multipurpose hydro-electric power projects, steel plants, a network of roads, etc. The big steel plants and huge hydroelectric power projects like Bhakhara-Nangal dam were declared to be the true and fitting places of worship for all forward looking spirits in the new India.
The situation on food front became especially acute in the mid-sixties. At one stage, to meet the crisis of continuing shortage of food grains, the Mrs. Indira Gandhi government even announced a complete nationalisation of trading in food grains. The policy was wisely abandoned overnight even before it got off the ground because, given the corruption and inefficiency of the bureaucracy, this measure would have been disastrous for the internal peace and security of the country. Large amounts of food grains had to be imported under U.S. PL 480 deals against payments in rupees – since we had no foreign exchange reserves to speak of in those days to permit purchases in the open market. Eventually, we could not fully pay for the food even in rupee terms and had to seek the “write-off” from the U.S. of the huge PL 480 deposits belonging to it that got built up in the SBI.
In such a desperate situation the Green Revolution was prescribed as a tecno-politic strategy that would create abundance in agriculture and thus provide an answer to the problem of scarcity of food and other social problems related to this scarcity. In the first two-three decades of the Green Revolution the country did apparently come out of the desperation. It could not only meet the demands but had surpluses. But the adverse consequences of what initially seemed to be an unmixed boon soon began to appear and became more and more obvious as time elapsed. So to understand what went wrong, one has to closely examine the fundamentals of the Green Revolution.
Vandana Shiva, a food analyst, writes, in her book ‘The Violence of the Green Revolution’: “The Green Revolution was based on the assumption that technology is a superior substitute for nature, and hence a means of producing limitless growth, unconstrained by nature’s limits.” (Page 24) The advocates of Green Revolution found, “…an urgent need for improved crop varieties as it was found that the native varieties (the only ones available during these early years) responded very poorly to the improved practices and produced low yields even when subjected to other modern recommended practices.
It was not that native crop varieties were low yielding inherently. The problem with indigenous seeds was that they could not tolerate high doses of chemicals. The Green Revolution seeds were designed to overcome the limits placed on chemically intensive agriculture by the indigenous seeds. The new seeds thus became central to the breaking out of nature’s limits and cycles. The miracle seeds were therefore at the heart of the science of the Green Revolution.” (Page 36)
Chemicals – Fertilizer and Pesticide
For the time being it appeared that science has figured out the basic mechanism of all the various determinants and factors related to food and its cultivation and that it could very well handle all the problems with readily available chemicals at hand. And thus an ever growing use of chemicals began. The seeds were designed to stand more and more use of chemicals; no one even suspecting the harm in doing so, the soil was treated with more and more chemical fertilizers, as it was considered only a supplement provided to the soil that it lacked, so as to enhance the production; to guard against attacks by pests a whole series of chemicals was used both as spray as well as in other forms. The dosage and potency of all these pesticides had to be increased continuously as the pests very soon became immune. As the land rapidly lost its fertility with the use of inorganic fertilisers an ever growing use had to be made to make up for this. Since the chemically treated crops were not getting truly needed organic nutrients they were sickly like a person suffering from malnutrition and hence susceptible to attacks of various diseases. And thus began a vicious cycle of an ever growing dependency on external and chemical means.
On one point there can be no question, viz. that the ideas generally entertained in England, and often given expression to even in India, that Indian agriculture is, as a whole, primitive and backward, and that little has been done to try and remedy it, are altogether erroneous. … At his best the Indian Ryot, or cultivator, is quite as good as, and in some respects the superior of, the average British farmer; whilst at his worst, it can only be said that this state is brought about largely by an absence of facilities for improvement which is probably unequalled in any other country, and that the Ryot will struggle on patiently and uncomplainingly in the face of difficulties in a way that no one else would…. Nor need our British farmers be surprised at what I say, for it must be remembered that the natives of India were cultivators of wheat centuries before we in England were. It is not likely, therefore, that their practice should be capable of much improvement. What does, however, prevent them from growing larger crops is the limited facilities to which they have access, such as the supply of water and manure. But, to take the ordinary acts of husbandry, nowhere would one find better instances of keeping land scrupulously clean from weeds, of ingenuity in device of water-raising appliances, of knowledge of soils and their capabilities, as well as the exact time to sow and to reap, as one would in Indian agriculture, and this not at its best alone, but at its ordinary level. It is wonderful, too, how much is known of rotation, the system of mixed crops and of fallowing. Certain it is that I, at least, have never seen a more perfect picture of careful cultivation, combined with hard labour, perseverance, and fertility of resource, than I have seen in many of the halting-places in my tour.
Differences between Indian and modern (chemical based) farming
Now, the important question is: How was Indian way of farming different from this new western farming system? Unless we understand the fundamental difference, it would be difficult to truly comprehend the direct or indirect impact of the western inspired chemical farming.
Here are some selected excerpts from a book entitled ‘An Agricultural Testament’ by Sir Albert Howard, formerly Director of the Institute of Plant Industry, Indore, and Agricultural Adviser to States in Central India and Rajputana, who is regarded by many as the father of modern organic agriculture. He had a close experience of Indian farming and related practices.
“In the agriculture of Asia we find ourselves confronted with a system of peasant farming which in essentials soon became stabilized. What is happening to-day in the small fields of India and China took place many centuries ago. There is here no need to study historical records or to pay a visit to the remains of the megalithic farming of the Andes. The agricultural practices of the Orient have passed the supreme test – they are almost as permanent as those of the primeval forest, of the prairie or of the ocean. The smallholdings of China, for example, are still maintaining a steady output and there is no loss of fertility after forty centuries of management.” (Pg 17-18)
“The crops and live stock look after themselves. Nature has never found it necessary to design the equivalent of the spraying machine and the poison spray for the control of insect and fungous pests. There is nothing in the nature of vaccines and serums for the protection of the live stock. It is true that all kinds of diseases are to be found here and there among the plants and animals of the forest, but these never assume large proportions. The principle followed is that the plants and animals can very well protect themselves even when such things as parasites are to be found in their midst.” (Pg 13)
In an account of occidental methods of farming, he says: “Monoculture is the rule. Almost everywhere crops are grown in pure culture….. Increasing mechanization is one of the main features of Western agriculture….. The feature of the manuring of the West is the use of artificial manures…… For the moment farming has been made to pay. But there is another side to this picture. These chemicals and these machines can do nothing to keep the soil in good heart. By their use the processes of growth can never be balanced by the processes of decay. All that they can accomplish is the transfer of the soil’s capital to current account. That this is so will be much clearer when the attempts now being made to farm without any animals at all march to their inevitable failure. Diseases are on the increase. With the spread of artificials and the exhaustion of the original supplies of humus, carried by every fertile soil, there has been a corresponding increase in the diseases of crops and of the animals which feed on them. …the conclusion is inevitable that there must be an intimate connection between faulty methods of agriculture and animal disease. …the use of the poison spray has closely followed the reduction in the supplies of farm-yard manure and the diminution of fertility.
…These mushroom ideas of agriculture are failing; mother earth deprived of her manorial rights is in revolt; the land is going on strike; the fertility of the soil is declining. An examination of the areas which feed the population and the machines of a country like Great Britain leaves no doubt that the soil is no longer able to stand the strain.” (Pg 24-25)
In 1889 Dr. Voelcker, Consulting Chemist to the Royal Agricultural Society of England, was deputed to India to make inquiries and suggest improvements, in respect of Indian agriculture. He wrote: “On one point there can be no question, viz. that the ideas generally entertained in England, and often given expression to even in India, that Indian agriculture is, as a whole, primitive and backward, and that little has been done to try and remedy it, are altogether erroneous. … At his best the Indian Ryot, or cultivator, is quite as good as, and in some respects the superior of, the average British farmer; whilst at his worst, it can only be said that this state is brought about largely by an absence of facilities for improvement which is probably unequalled in any other country, and that the Ryot will struggle on patiently and uncomplainingly in the face of difficulties in a way that no one else would…. Nor need our British farmers be surprised at what I say, for it must be remembered that the natives of India were cultivators of wheat centuries before we in England were. It is not likely, therefore, that their practice should be capable of much improvement. What does, however, prevent them from growing larger crops is the limited facilities to which they have access, such as the supply of water and manure. But, to take the ordinary acts of husbandry, nowhere would one find better instances of keeping land scrupulously clean from weeds, of ingenuity in device of water-raising appliances, of knowledge of soils and their capabilities, as well as the exact time to sow and to reap, as one would in Indian agriculture, and this not at its best alone, but at its ordinary level. It is wonderful, too, how much is known of rotation, the system of mixed crops and of fallowing. Certain it is that I, at least, have never seen a more perfect picture of careful cultivation, combined with hard labour, perseverance, and fertility of resource, than I have seen in many of the halting-places in my tour.” (Pg 10-11)
In the light of the above record, we can very well analyze the impact of undermining and ignoring the fundamentals of Indian agriculture and replacing it by western system of farming.
• It had been a practice of the Indian farmer for thousands of years to preserve the best seeds for future. This practice not only kept the seed heritage alive from generation to generation but also maintained a wide range of selection of varieties from region to region. This age-long practice was altered by the introduction of the exogenous varieties for which the farmer became more and more dependent on seed agencies or companies and hence more susceptible to exploitation by big seed companies. This has resulted not only in the dependence of a farmer on companies for his seeds and various other supplies but also in the disappearance of a large number of indigenous varieties of various food grains or pulses or oil seeds that were for a time being considered low yielding and unprofitable and hence were abandoned and ignored, but it is only recently being that a growing number of farmers are realizing the great value of the varieties which have either become completely extinct or are nearing extinction.
• Monoculture was never considered a wise way of farming in India. Always, mixed cropping was practiced with a very wise selection of such varieties that would not only supplement each other but also maintain the overall health of the soil. But by the practice of monoculture, this age-long pattern was completely altered. This seemingly small alteration had very serious consequences. First of all, it impoverished the soil over time as each crop utilizes certain elements from the soil which, after a time, if not replenished, fail to sustain the same crop. Another consequence it had was on the irrigation pattern. Monoculture was based on extensive use of water, increasing mechanization, artificial manuring and excessive use of pesticides and insecticides.
• An illustration provided by Dr. Vandana Shiva in her book “The Violence of the Green Revolution” shows how the term high yielding variety seeds is nothing more than a myth. The illustration shows how the so called high yielding hybrid seeds involve: NEW COSTS OF INPUT, i.e. chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, dams for intensive agriculture; and NEW COSTS OF ECOLOGICAL IMPACTS, i.e. greenhouse effect with ecological pollution, destruction of soil fertility, micronutrient deficiency, soil toxicity, water logging and salinization, desertification and water scarcity, genetic erosion, biomass reduction for fodder and organic manure, nutritional imbalances with the reduction of pulses, oilseeds and millets, pesticide contamination of food, soil, water, animal and human life.
To sum up, as the Green Revolution progressed, it has impoverished the soil, disturbed its intricate balance of the humus content, its microorganisms and micronutrients, polluted it with lethal poisonous chemicals and increased its toxicity, ruthlessly exploited and polluted the water resources and disturbed the whole ecosystem. All this has resulted in adversely affecting not only the physical health and well being but also the cultural, economic and social well being of the people in various ways.