For evergreen agriculture
S. MAHENDRA DEV
The author urges farmers to resist the temptation of turning the ‘green revolution' to a ‘greed revolution'
This is a collection of 45 select articles written by M.S. Swaminathan over the past 20 years. Arranged in six sections, they cover ‘sustainable development in Indian agriculture', ‘technology and evergreen revolution', ‘sustainable food security', ‘agrarian crisis', ‘WTO and Indian farmers', and ‘shaping India's agricultural destiny'.
As Jeffrey Sachs says in his foreword, Swaminathan had “recognised already in the early days of India's green revolution that the new breakthroughs could create major new ecological problems if not properly managed.” As early as in 1968, he cautioned farmers against harming long-term production potential for short-term gain. He urged them to resist the temptation of turning the ‘green revolution' to a ‘greed revolution'.
But there have been many ecologically unsound public policies that led to the misuse of natural resources. For example, the supply of free electricity has led to overexploitation of groundwater in Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh. Since the heartland of the green revolution has run into deep ecological distress, Swaminathan says there is an urgent need to go in for what he calls “evergreen revolution.” .
According to him, there are two major pathways to it — organic farming and green agriculture. As for organic farming, the practice is being tried out in several pockets and the experience shows the production in these areas is not significantly different from the overall national figure.
Some people argue that organic farming is a substitute for biotechnology and can increase farm incomes. But it is not clear whether organic farming would increase significantly in the immediate future.
In the case of green agriculture, “ecologically sound practices like conservation farming, integrated pest management, integrated nutrient supply and natural conservation and enhancement are promoted.” It could also include hybrid and genetically modified varieties.
On the food security front, it is common knowledge that, in spite of implementing many programmes, India is home to the largest number of malnourished children and adults in the world. As Swaminathan says, the country has about 700 million producer-consumers and about 400 million consumers. The producer-consumers need balanced diet if they are to break free of endemic hunger. This in turn calls for higher small-farm productivity and profitability, and it has to be achieved in an environmentally sustainable manner. Three steps are suggested for ensuring adequate availability of home-grown food. First, Punjab, Haryana, and western U.P. should give up unsustainable agriculture and move on to the ‘evergreen revolution' pathway. Secondly, productivity gains should be extended to eastern India. Thirdly, in rain-fed areas where the gaps in yield are huge, concerted efforts have to be made to raise the yield levels.
Other emerging issues discussed in the volume are: group-approach for the small and marginal farmers; involving young men and women in agriculture; and measures to neutralise the adverse impact of climate change. Appropriately, the 12th Five-Year Plan has its focus on the small and marginal farmers and on the resource-poor areas.
One can add few more issues to those mentioned above. Public investment has been increasing in irrigation and several other farm-related schemes particularly since 2004. For example, huge amounts of public money are spent on four special programmes of the Government of India — the National Food Security Mission (NFSM); the Rastriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY); the National Horticulture Mission (NHM); and the Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA).
How efficient is the utilisation of these funds? What is the impact of these programmes on crop production? There seems to be a disconnect between policy and implementation. In the realm of technology, the private sector played an important role in setting off BT cotton and hybrid maize revolutions. How to revamp the functioning of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) so that better technologies are thrown up by the system is another question that needs to be addressed seriously.
Land and water management should be given ‘Number One' priority for achieving evergreen revolution. No less important is to achieve the utmost efficiency in investment as well as in the use of water.
Finally, agricultural marketing is another priority area, particularly in the context of high food inflation. Reforms are a must in this area if the farmers are to get higher prices for their crops and the consumers get foodgrains and other agricultural commodities at a reasonable price. In any scheme designed to ensure remunerative prices for farmers, incentives have a significant place.
To quote Jeffry Sachs again, Swaminathan “knows that we can meet the great sustainability challenges ahead, but only through tremendous will, scientific knowledge, ethical commitment, and openness to partnerships and cooperation.” The book — which is thoughtfully dedicated to C. Subramaniam, who played a significant part in triggering India's green revolution — will be found immensely useful by all those who have stakes in sustainable and evergreen Indian agriculture.
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