The Corporate Hijack of Organic Farming initiative in Punjab
By Umendra Dutt
Organic farming is taking pace in Punjab. “Punjab is going the organic way”- this could be the general impression that anyone can have from the news and media campaign of Punjab government. There are several things going on in Punjab related to organic farming. The Punjab Agro Export Corporation is involved in promotion of organic farming, appointing consultants, roping over 1200 farmers and on the other hand, several large companies are taking-up organic farming projects in state, taking large chunks of lands on lease from government. Then Punjab government is also going to establish Food Park at Fatehgarh Sahib. Bhoomi Vardaan Foundation established in collaboration with Prince Charles for promotion of organic farming. More over state council for organic farming is constituted and the Chief Minister himself announced that soon Punjab would have an organic farming policy. All these developments were enough to be termed as revolution in making.
Let us have a look on other side of this glossy picture.
According to information, the Punjab Government has leased out thousands hectors of land to various companies especially the agri-business corporations for Joint Ventures. Due to one or other reasons best known to government officials no body want to share the exact figure that how much land was given to agri-business corporations so far. This land earlier held by department of agriculture first transferred to Punjab Agro, and further given to JVs. The precious land is in the hands of corporations now. It seems that corporataized organic farming is fast taking its pace in Punjab.
The much-hyped visit of Prince Charles and his interaction with organic farmers and then formation of Bhoomi Vardaan Foundation though received vast media attention but the way organic farming was projected during Prince Charles’ tour, raises several questions. It was corporataized government organic farming show. Prince Charles programme has become show of big agri-business companies and the investors only. Any individual farmer who is practicing organic farming on his own was not invited at Moti Bagh; nor was any civil society groups neither any small entrepreneur working on organic invited. The farmers invited at New Moti Bagh Palace; were part of Punjab Argo’s Network. There was no space for any other initiative, nor was any of voluntary group involved in the programme. The entire show is indicating that, the corporate houses were the champions of organic farming in Punjab.
Recently, Punjab government has extensive advertisements in papers stating – Visit of Prince Charles will boost organic farming in Punjab. But, how mere visit of prince would boost organic farming without any proper planning and widespread participation of farmers and other stakeholders. One has to answer that why other initiatives, institutions, and individuals who are not with Punjab Agro network, were not involved in this programme.
Why the government had overlooked those farmers or institutions that had started organic farming much before Punjab Government’s project?
The Bhoomi Vardaan Foundation (BVF) could be good initiative if it is planned in such a way. Punjab government is likely to get funds from Prince of Wales Foundation for organic farming promotion. However, it is also matter of concern if agri-business Corporations have proximity in BVF board; multi-nationals like HLL and KPMG had more access and say in this entire process. More over it should be clear that what would be the modus operandi of BVF. Is it only an affair of Punjab Agro? If it has to remain a Punjab Agro venture then how the participation of general farmer has been assured. Punjab Agro is an export promotion body and if organic farming ventures goes in its control then it means that for Punjab Government organic farming is for export only. Organic farming in Punjab does not meant for export only; we have to take care of domestic market also. After all people of Punjab have very right of safe and toxic-free food.
Another important issue is the formation of State Council of Organic Farming by Punjab Government. Although it is a good initiative but lacks direction, vision and participatory spirit, yet interestingly, this organic farming council had also become a Punjab Agro affair only. Ironically, even Director Agriculture has not been taken as member of this council. Council has provision of including two farmers’ representatives, but selection of these farmers would be only from Punjab Agro network. It seems that Punjab Government has made Punjab Agro as nodal department to run the organic farming operations in Punjab. Nevertheless, Punjab Argo’s mandate is to promote agro export only, not sustainable agriculture. The motive behind the formation of organic farming council is almost defected when a mere commercial motivated venture takes the reins of organic farming council.
If Punjab government wants to take-up its organic farming initiative in sustainable way for a long-time then, the organic farming council should remain with department of agriculture. Punjab Agro could be taken as one of the promoter and more over government must assure the equal participation of volunteer groups and representatives of organic farmers. The organic farming council should become a tool for restructuring agriculture in Punjab. It should not become merely an offshoot of Punjab Agro for exporting health foods to rich countries, and supplying our own people with GM contaminated foodstuff, which has uncertain impacts on the human body.
Further, more there are more questions must be answered before we go to organic farming.
Firstly, what is our prime objective for promoting organic farming? Is it export-commercialization-agri-business promotion, corporate investment? On the other hand, sustainability, livelihood security, and environmental health? Alternatively, blend of both?
Doing organic farming in a fashioned glamorous manner would not give the results. This way of organic is again an expensive affair and could not be done by the aid only, it again pushes our farmers into another trap of resource and technology intensive farming practices. This would lead to another system of externalizing agriculture. The organic farmers of this stream will remain almost dependent on external support. This is not the real sustainable way.
Secondly, government should make clear how this highly publicized Bhoomi Vardaan Foundation would work. Then, what would the role be of agri-business companies in running the BVF. Interestingly, the with in last one year several companies had landed up in Punjab for contract farming, food processing and agro exports and few of them are in organic farming also.
Then the most important issue, which would repeatedly rack this organic initiative, is co-existence of GM crop with organic crops. If Punjab government seriously wants to promote organic then it should not mix-up organic with BT/GM crops, why it is so hesitant about taking other opinions. After all, Punjab government is doing organic for export then what is harm in considering GM crop issue in this context. Moreover with his contradictory stand the Chief Minister, not only make mockery of organic farming but he is also showing disrespect to the very basic principals of organic farming. The CM repeatedly making statements that he will promote GM crops as well as organic, making clear that as far as Punjab government is concerned it has no idea about organic farming systems, nor it had intention to listen other view on the issue. The ‘liberalized’ government works this way!
It is liberal towards corporate agenda of agriculture and GM crops.
Therefore, it is right time to take put organic farming initiative on right track now; otherwise, it would be too late. By then Punjab may lose its opportunity and prospective strength in organic farming. Organic farming could lead Punjab farmers to a debt free, suicide free, toxic free and healthy life co-habitat with nature. This would save the rural ecology and entire ecological equilibrium of Punjab; conservers fast depleting natural resources of Punjab; the organic farming with natural systems will provide a sigh to magnificent biodiversity and would also give a chance for ecological heritage to pass on to our own future generations. Government should initiate a participatory public dialogue on the issue to evolve vast public participation in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
However, for this a sea change is urgently needed in vision and mission of organic farming plans of Punjab governments. The present system needs total re-structuring, re-focusing, and re-prioritizing to attain the desired goal of prospers and sustainable Punjab. For success of organic farming, what is really needed is a peoples' Movement. The government cannot become substitute of any voluntary action for organising a People's Movement. The best way is to educate the farmers to make them understand their own interest and the interest of the soil. Vinoba Bhave has said that" Sarakari kaam kabhibi asarkari nahi ho sakata"
Only this non-sarkari organic movement will bring the Sarbbat Ka Bhala in real terms to Punjab.