Issues, Strategies and the way forward
An initiative of Kheti Virasat Mission, Jaitu
Punjab is sitting on a volcano of environmental health disaster, waiting to erupt. The serious social, ecological and livelihood impact has already started manifesting. Rather Punjab is already amidst this crisis. This is the clear message from the report of epidemiological study by School of Public Health, PGIMER and sponsored by PPCB on the effects of effluents on water quality and human health recently submitted to government of Punjab.
Agrochemical-centric agriculture has taken centre stage in country's planning and perception and Punjab has become most vital component of this chemical-based agriculture system. Since then, the Punjab was projected as the model state for the success of green revolution; it has become the centre of intensive agriculture practices from 50's. During last five decades, India has increased the consumption of pesticides from 154 MT in 1953-54 to 73,000 MT in 1994-95. Similar patterns were followed in Punjab, which become biggest consumer of technical grade pesticides in country. Punjab has highest per hectare usage of pesticides 923 grammes and chemical fertilizers 192.5 kg, in India. 1 State of Environment 2007, Published by PSCS&T
This also indicates that Punjab has highest pesticide body load among the Indian states. More over the cotton belt of Malwa is consuming highest pesticide use density in country. Punjab is just 2.5% area of total agriculture land in India and it consumers near 18% pesticides of the country, where as the cotton belt comprises nearly 15% area of Punjab and it consumes nearly 70% pesticide of the state, thus making the equation more dangerous. Malwa's cotton belt is less then 0.5 % geographical area of country but almost 10 % pesticides of country are used here.
Economics of agrochemical based highly mechanized agriculture:
The agrochemicals and particularly pesticides are not only impacting the ecology and environmental health of Punjab, but these are also taking away economic self reliance of Punjab farmers. On an average in Punjab farmers are spending Rs 5000 on chemical inputs per acre annually where as Malwa's cotton belt farmers are spending Rs.7000 in normal conditions. If there are more pest attacks, then there may be no limit to this amount. There is a rough estimate that every village is spending a large sum of money -- from Rs.40 lakhs to Rs.6 crores -- purchasing agro-chemicals, depending upon area of cultivation and cropping pattern.
If we calculate this figure from last four decades it may lasts into hundreds crores from a single village. This is plunder of village wealth.
According to PAU study done by Prof Sukhpal Singh and others, Punjab farmers are spending 44.1 % of total loan on agri inputs and 12 % on farm machinery. This is clear indication that chemicalisation and mechanization of agriculture pushed most of farmers into debt trap, which leads to exodus and displacement of farmers and ultimately created the situation of suicides.
The Chemical centric agriculture is not sustainable at all, it prescribes a kind of extortion on the name of modern agriculture practices, and it is money drain from villages to make agro-chemical manufacturers more and more rich. The present technological regime persuaded by PAU and State Agriculture Department and backed by agribusiness corporations is exploitative for farmers and abusive to the Nature and ecology.
From last few years after witnessing thousands of farmers’ suicides, our worthy experts started talking about agrarian crisis. We all are witnessing a deep crisis in the agrarian sector all around us, in all states of the country. We are seeing farmers commit suicides in thousands all around - this is probably part of the Exit Policy that the state has for them. Though we call this as 'Agrarian Distress', we are yet to come across any cases of the owner/senior manager of an agribusiness enterprise committing suicides because of the unviablity of their enterprise. We are yet to see which industry - seed, pesticides, agricultural machinery etc. - is not witnessing growth trends. If it is agrarian distress, why is it not reflected in the Agribusiness economics? Why only farmers? Therein lays the crux of the role of agri-business in starting and compounding the agrarian distress around us.
We have to evolve a different paradigm of agriculture that can liberate our farmers from exploitation. Defiantly, the ecological agriculture has answer to this.
Why should Ecological Farming be promoted in Punjab?
To restore the culture & dignity of our farmers – those who have been traditionally doing natural farming need to be given back their confidence; the many customary agricultural practices of the people of Punjab prior to the “green revolution” which have made it such a rich society need to be revived.
To revive soil health – this is a dire need in Punjab if Punjab has to continue to be the food bowl of India and if the technology fatigue related to stagnation in production/productivity has to be overcome.
To protect and revive the health of farming community members and consumers – the impact of pesticides after the heavy pesticide load in Punjab farming is apparent and getting out of the trap of chemical pesticides is an urgent need
To revive the livelihoods and reduce the debt burden of Punjabi farmers, by reducing the cost of cultivation dramatically. This ensures better net incomes for farmers and practiced well, this also ensures self reliance of farmers when it comes to inputs needed for farming. Internalisation of inputs into the farming systems incrementally reduces cost of cultivation of farmers and any organic farming that serves corporate interests of newer markets for organic products will not serve the purpose.
To allow for premium prices for high quality produce by tapping into the “enlightened self interest” of Punjabi consumers, wherever possible, so that the livelihoods of farmers are improved
Wherever possible, to address the issue of water crisis in farming through methods like System of Rice Intensification
To ensure that there is no threat to the trade security of the state – by default as well as design, since GM crops are disallowed in organic farming, this ensures trade security of the state, which right now exports various agriculture products including the famous Basmati rice.
Ecological security and environmental sustainability are directly linked to agriculture and economic sustainability. The agriculture model and lopsided development has already taken a huge toll of the environment. It is growth at the cost of ecology, economy and livelihoods. Punjab needs an immediate intensive action for over all change in the planning, thinking and perspective specifically for ecological and agricultural sustainability.
An immediate shift to ecological and natural farming can bring Punjab out of impending ecological, agricultural and environmental health crisis.
HOW CAN ECOLOGICAL AGRICULTURE BE PROMOTED?
By supporting small peasants in their OWN agriculture with their OWN seeds, this would require assistance in the shape of re-introducing lost traditional varieties from the NARS and even repatriating seeds from any state or private seed collections
Set up a Punjab Institute for Natural and Sustainable Farming, fully equipped with human and financial resources to promote organic farming with farmers of the state. This Institution should have agriculture scientists as well as other renowned resource persons (including practicing farmers from Punjab and other states) so that a mandate related to awareness building; capacity building and extension can be fulfilled. The Institution should have clear targets over a time line of converting a specific number of farmers each year to natural/sustainable farming. Financial allocations for awareness materials, training materials, kisan melas, workshops, demonstrations, monitoring, some scientific studies, farmers’ exposure visits etc., should be clearly earmarked for effective functioning of this Institution. If needed, district resource centres of this Institution should be created, to start with in the ‘cancer belt’ of Punjab. This should be an autonomous body which can report directly to the Agriculture Minister.
This Institute should have funds to take up some specific research studies including on pesticide residues, pesticide health impacts, impacts of organic/natural farming etc.
Train agriculture department officials in Natural/Sustainable Farming and convert the IEC material of the department into messages related to organic farming. To begin with, in select districts of the state, agriculture department officials can adopt a village each and start converting them to organic/natural farming. For this, proper institutional structures and processes are needed at the village level so that knowledge related to organic/natural farming spreads faster and the process scales out.
Organise farmers into collectives, if needed with the help of NGOs wherever present or where not possible, through lead banks in each location, so that establishing the alternative on the ground becomes easier. It is usually found from experiences elsewhere that groups of about 15-20 farmers will be ideal for democratic institutional processes, knowledge sharing and collective work. Even issues like agricultural credit for those farmers/tenants who are unable to access institutional credit, can be based on peer collateral that will emerge from such institutions.
Extension support is critical for ecological farming, which is a knowledge-intensive model. Let the existing natural and organic farmers of Punjab be the lead extension workers at the village level to motivate and train other farmers around them.
Facilitating a community-driven certification scheme – there are several examples & ongoing experiences from different parts of India & the world to learn from
Making “NO to GE” a reality in Punjab – as there an be no co-existence of organic & GM agriculture
It might also be good to give a functional definition to ecological farming as an “alternative” approach to farming that covers a variety of approaches which emulate nature's processes as closely as possible and which rely on natural products and certain practices (especially of intercropping and designing one's farm properly) rather than synthetic and toxic products. Ecological farming rests heavily on agro-diversity being conserved and promoted and an integral part of such farming is the revival of indigenous seed varieties and germplasm, rather than promotion of hybrid or GM seed.
Some of the very important strategies that are needed to be incorporated into any large scale programme of organic farming include:
a. Large scale and effective campaigns to convince all stakeholders about the ill-effects of chemical farming and the possibilities and opportunities with non-chemical farming; the government should employ a variety of means and media to put out messages to farmers urging them to give up chemical farming and opt for non-chemical approaches
b. Capacity building of farmers who are coming forward to take up organic farming: a variety of modules and structures to be created for capacity building of farmers related to pest and disease management without synthetic pesticides, soil fertility management without chemical fertilizers (especially in terms of promoting soil biological activity and thereby addressing soil chemical and physical properties), agro-diversity and need to conserve it etc. Such capacity building efforts should include bringing in resource persons from all over the country as well as taking farmers on exposure visits to places where organic farming is being practiced successfully. There should also be opportunities created for farmer to farmer extension on organic farming. Further, Punjabi material meant for farmers' use should be created and disseminated as part of capacity building.
c. Creating farmers' institutions from village upwards including farmers' field schools. Such institutions with hand-holding by external support agencies initially in creating systems for farmers' own management of these institutions will act as the sustainable fora to carry the work forward later on with or without external support.
d. Set up constant extension services on organic farming, with the extension structures beginning at the village level; this is a very critical component because when farmers are shifting to organic farming, since it is a knowledge intensive process, they look towards someone to support them with advice at all stages. Extension personnel in a programme like this are practicing farmers themselves in the case of Andhra Pradesh and are paid a nominal honorarium for facilitating the farmer field schools and for visiting all fields regularly so that proper advice can be extended to individual farmers.
e. Creating other support systems for credit for organic farming and for marketing support for organic produce. Village level enterprises can be set up for processing and value addition for organic produce.
f. Setting up village & household level seed banks which offer diversity of crops and varieties of seeds to farmers in the village. Like mentioned earlier, agro-diversity and revival of traditional landraces constitutes a critical part of ecological farming – when each farm exhibits mixed cropping, pest and disease management as well as soil productivity management are left more to natural processes than to chemicals as is the case now.
g. Further, in the case of Punjab, it is important that all departments concerned, including the Health department, Agriculture department, Rural Development department, S&T and Environment departments to come together to form the State Level Secretariat and to allocate resources from all the departments for this large scale organic farming to be taken up.
h. Setting up of a Punjab Institute for Ecological Farming for capacity building of stakeholders, preparation of IEC materials and dissemination of the same, for research and validation of ecological practices etc., would be a needed step. More on this Institute is in the attached note.
i. A comprehensive water policy should be evolved with specific attention on water management (local water management as opposed to grandiose water solutions like linking the rivers); detoxification of all rivers, rain-fed nullahs; and strict monitoring of all industrial discharge into the State's rivers and drains.
j. The soil and water resources in Punjab have been severely degraded over the last several decades. Facilities for toxicity testing, specifically for pesticide residues, of soil and water should be made available at nominal costs to farmers at the district level with specific suggestions on how to reduce/ counter the ill-effects of chemical farming on these resources by use of organic practices/ inputs.
k. At a later stage, right after launching the programme straightaway (the environmental health crisis is so acute that there is no time to be lost), a state level policy on organic farming should be evolved and adopted in Punjab as is happening with many other states. Apart from Central Government, five states have their state policies on organic farming this includes Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttaranchal, Andhra Pradesh is in the mid of drafting process. Moreover, Himachal Pradesh has initiated a state level project on organic farming. The Northeastern states had also prepared an elaborative plan for organic farming promotion. Every policy has few indispensable components- the vision, the ultimate objective and the inbuilt capacity to fulfill peoples' aspirations. The policy should address its core issue holistically. Its guiding principal lies in the well-being of community and the nation at large. It reflects the tradition, the heritage and socio-economic and civilization thought process, perceptions and progressive unfolding of the society. For this, policy has to be evolved by the involvement of community and its inputs. These are the fundamental of participatory democracy - a key word for sustainable development in true sense.
l. Develop a Strategy and Action Plan for Sustainable Agriculture: The agriculture of Punjab needs a fresh vision for its sustainability, as well as sustainability of its natural resources. Currently, agriculture has not only destroyed the household nutritional security of farmers but has also made them dependent on the market for daily needs.
Such an approach will need a paradigm shift in approach and thinking. To take up this issue with urgent priority the Government should formulate a policy and action plan with a fixed time frame to promote sustainable agricultural practices and eco-friendly methods of farming like organic and natural farming. Special budget allocations shall be made available for the purpose. The major focus of this strategy should be:
To draw a balance sheet of the collapse of Green Revolution. We need to know what went wrong with agriculture, so that we don't repeat the same mistakes. A post-mortem of the Green Revolution is absolutely necessary.
To draw a map of the soil health of Punjab. In the future, all crop introductions should be based on soil health. If a crop (including cash crops) has the possibility of destroying the soil fertility and thereby accentuating the ecological crisis, that cropping system should not be allowed.
A biodiversity-based system of agriculture should be promoted, with support for indigenous varieties of cattle, other animals, and seeds. Awards, incentives & recognition should be offered to those farmers who practice biodiverse farming.
Attracting youth through awareness building, and making agriculture economically viable, and hence attractive as a livelihood option. This means there must be support for the youth to take up agriculture and related activities.
A cultural revival focused on reviving the farming culture of the state and upholding its heritage and pride as an agrarian state and food supplier to the nation.
A farm-based approach rather than crop-based approach in agriculture planning and supports
Support to form framers’ collectives in production, farm management and marketing, and ensuring procurement by government agencies, to avoid price fluctuations.
Awareness-building about harmful effects of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and the phasing-out of chemical pesticides through capacity-building among farmers, women’s groups and local entrepreneurs to produce organic inputs locally. All these have already been successfully developed and tried in many states without reducing the outputs.
Changing the syllabus of Agriculture University to suit to this approach, meaning building the capacity of agriculture students to understand the local ecology and needs for an ecological revival of Punjab. This can include forestry and fisheries students also.
The phasing-out of investments and increased outlays for agricultural research based on external chemical inputs like fertiliser and pesticides. Instead, financial allocations should be made for reviving low-input agriculture, which uses cheap and locally available technology and, in turn, improves production, reduces the cost of production and protects the environment.
Agricultural research must reorient itself to learn from the existing sustainable farming models. The focus of genetically modified crops must immediately stop as it is risky and expensive for the farmer. This has been amply demonstrated in several parts of the world. Water productivity and efficiency has to be the hallmark of agricultural research based on the local conditions.
Involvement of Women: The women are playing very significant role in restoring nature and making organic farming a success in several places throughout the country. As organic farming can be termed as family enterprise, the involvement of women can provide organic farming the requisite motherly care. Women-power has immense scope and strength for scientific mass-production of compost, bio-fertilizers, bio-control agents, antagonists and other benevolent organisms through a structured entrepreneurship along with post-harvest handling of crops including value-added product production. This shall also provide the enhanced opportunity for women to take part in this endeavor of transforming the agro-cultural scenario. Civilization and its spontaneous evolution cannot be imagined without the active participation of a major part of the population, which is a woman.
Incentive and subsidies: The subsidies and other incentives shall play a crucial role for the promotion of organic farming and it becomes more relevant in the present WTO regime. In fact, the subsidies paid by the American and European governments are indeed very high and form the backbone of their farmers. Government schemes for promotion of organic farming should consider this aspect. Appropriate schemes and policies for the development of organic farming in the state are needed. These must be farmer oriented and may require rising of special funds. Rising incidents of suicides by the Punjabi farmers is another pointer of their woes. The cost of inputs is increasing day by day, the pests attacking the crops are becoming resistant to even the most lethal chemicals insecticide, pesticides and other synthetic pyreathroids agents, thus creating huge losses to already struggling Punjabi farmer.
Examples set by other States
1. The Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture programme [CMSA] in Andhra Pradesh, taken up by the Rural Development department of the state government is a large programme of setting up non-chemical, self-reliant farming for improvement of farmers’ livelihoods in around 25 lakh acres of the state, covering all crops and districts. This is a programme being implemented by women’s self help groups. The institutional set up consists of one village level activist [who is a practicing farmer, who will also receive additional capacity building inputs and training aids], a cluster coordinator for a cluster of five villages and a district level coordinator of the programme. Further, there is a state level secretariat which plans, reviews and monitors the entire programme and leads the capacity building effort. Probably a small team of agriculture department officials and other concerned people from Punjab, including ones who could potentially be part of the proposed Institute for Natural and Sustainable Farming can be sent to Andhra Pradesh to look at this programme.
2. Inputs are provided by the state government through the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty [a GO-NGO] mainly go for capacity building of the human resources mentioned above for constant extension support to farmers, for campaigns and exposure trips, for trainings and training material production, for collective enterprises to be set up at the village level for input production, for collective marketing support etc.
3. States like Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttaranchal, Maharastra, Kerala, Nagaland and Sikkam had all ready formulated organic farming polices and programmes. Several other states had also initiated the process. This has moved beyond the debate of the need for organic farming and has begun with a stated stand that organic farming is indeed needed and profitable. Large scale programmes have been initiated without the need for the conventional approach of agricultural universities first having to endorse such programmes.
4. It is not an option between NPM or organic or natural farming but a mix of all of these and if needed, an incremental movement from one to the other (as in the case of Andhra Pradesh where the Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture programme, or CMSA as it is known, evolved from NPM or No-Pesticides Management of crops). Even in "natural farming", though the concept is understood as "do-nothing", many practitioners use some natural resource-based products initially. Similarly, "organic farming" is not to be understood only in one rigid sense of externally-certified production system – there are models of "declared organic" too, which run on corporotisation between consumers and producers.
Ecological Agriculture: The International scenario
The role of technology, too, needs to be ascertained. Pesticides were promoted blindly on rice, for instance. The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines now says that pesticides on rice were a waste of time and effort in Asia. But meanwhile, pesticides usage has already taken a huge toll, and pushed farmers in a debt trap.
Studies done by ICRISAT and IRRI clearly demonstrate the sustainability, viability and successful economics of Non-Pesticide Management practices. Farmers in Bangladesh, Philippines and Vietnam have successfully opted for pesticide free rice cultivation. The Cuba has also shown the way. Former Director General of IRRI, Dr. Robert Cantrell had this to say: "It shows that the mistakes of Green Revolution where too much emphasis was sometimes put on the use of chemicals for pest control have clearly been recognized and corrected".
The FAO also in its report on International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security held at Rome on 3 to 5 July 2007 clearly says that Organic Can feed the World. The report stats that use of chemical agriculture inputs has been increasing in the last two decades but grain productivity keeps declining. Report also says more knowledge is readily available through fast information technologies but nutrition related diseases are increasing; industrialized food systems have environmental and social costs that threaten food security (e.g. occupational deaths through pesticides poisoning, farmers’ suicides due to debts, and loss of million jobs in rural areas).
The example of Cuba is known to every one. The Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea are most progressive Countries in terms of perusing ecological agriculture. In 1986 Indonesia banned 28 pesticides on rice by a Presidential decree. Making it first country in the world where a pesticides were banned under a Presidential decree. Further more these pesticides were then completely banned and phased out in Indonesia in 1996. In 1986 The South Korean Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has announced national targets for reducing pesticide use by 50% and fertilizer use by 40% by the year 2004.
Natural Farming in Punjab
There are scores of ecological [natural/organic] farmers in Punjab today, who have successfully demonstrated that a shift to ecological approaches will mean better economics, including on the yields’ front after a small initial transition period. It is also seen from the experience of organisations like Kheti Virasat Mission that farmers of Punjab are really keen on alternatives because the current agricultural models have turned out to be very unfavorable to them. Therefore, the experience from the ground shows that the debate really is not about whether organic farming will help farmers and whether there are scientific studies around it (which can also be shown, of course), but about how to establish organic farming on the ground.
Other Steps must be taken by Punjab Government
Research Project on Pesticide consumption and residue: As Punjab has one of highest levels of pesticide consumption in India, it subsequently has the highest pesticide load on its people and eco-system. Punjab is already facing severe adverse impacts of agro-chemicals used in last four decades. Now at this crucial juncture, the Punjab Government should take bold steps to ensure a safe environment and eco-system to the future of generations of Punjab. For this the Punjab Government should take these steps:
1. Complete a detailed study on pesticide consumption patterns in Punjab.
2. The government should immediately ban aggressive marketing of pesticides including all forms of advertisements, publicity and promotion schemes for pesticides and other agro-chemicals along with all incentives given to the pesticide and agro-chemical dealers’ network.
3. Raise awareness about the dangers of pesticide use through well-financed education campaigns. These must ensure the dissemination of information on ill effects of pesticides to all users.
4. The government should evolve an action plan for the immediate and time-bound phasing out of the most deadly pesticides: class I a, I b and II.
5. The vital task of properly compiling residue data, already generated by the agriculture universities.
Issues of Concern in Organic:
Develop an alternative local (domestic) marketing strategy, especially for Organic Produce: The government must take steps to ensure the right price for the produce, without the exploitation of middlemen, including the big retail companies, (the shopping malls and supermarkets) that are now monopolizing the markets. It is possible to develop an alternative domestic market for food produce, especially organic through the concepts like an Organic Bazaar (running in five cities in India) and the Participatory Guarantee System of Organic Standards Certification (accepted by IFOAM), which is not costly and exploitative and is based on a faith, accountability and integrity based system. The idea is to grow organic for the health of our own soils & own people not for export.
It has to be noted here that those ecological farming models which are created to provide business opportunities in the form of bio-inputs once again for agri-business companies or for services like expensive certification, will once again take away from the potential benefits for farmers. The whole effort should be farmer-centric and led by them with as many employment/enterprise opportunities as possible created for them and managed by them.
Recommendations of Task Force on Organic Farming: From last five years there are number of documents brought up by various government agencies and institutions. In 2001 Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperation, Government of India had formed a Task Force on Organic Farming headed by Dr.Kunwarji Bhai Jadav that brought out its report in November 2001. In September 2001, the Working Group on Organic and Biodynamic Farming, constituted by Planning Commission submitted another report.
The Task Force on Organic Farming had made several recommendations, few are very important, as:
i) Economic value of chemical fertilizers and organic manures may be equated in terms of their overall effect on soil productivity, crop production and then Government may provide the support accordingly.
ii) The technology packages on organic farming as developed by farmers, NGOs and others may be evaluated and the successful technology may be expanded in larger areas.
iii) Bullock drawn implements should be encouraged.
iv) Bankable model schemes on organic farming may be prepared and circulated among the States for its adoption and popularization.
v) Each of the agricultural universities in the country may start a course at the Post-Graduation level on organic farming.
vi) Each Krishi Vigyan Kendra may set up a vermin-compost unit and a biological control unit for demonstration and dissemination of the techniques. These centres may also provide bioagents / antagonist and earthworms to the farmers after their training.
vii) Each KVK may lay out one demonstration on organic farming by taking major crops of that area as test crops.
viii) Farmers training about cost-benefit relationship in organic farming and about export of organic produce may be organised through some designated institutions specialized in this area. The Government may support such institutions, which may include NGOs.
ix) The organic markets for supply and purchase of inputs and outputs for organic farming may be developed.
x) Adequate numbers of certification agencies may be identified, registered/recognized. The certification agencies may be financed by the Government to carry out free certification for the farmers for intended export of organic produce.
xi) In the areas of high production, the shifting to organic farming system may result into loss of produce in the initial years. For such switch over, farmers may need to be compensated for initial 2-3 years.
xii) All the Central Government farms may set up vermin-compost units, develop, and demonstrate the system of re-cycling of crop residues. This may be demonstrated by reduced consumption of chemical fertilizers on the Government farms.
xiii) All the State Government may be advised to consider to device the system as introduced by Government of Madhya Pradesh about the experimentation and demonstrations on Government farms on 50:50 area basis on organic on organic farming and other forms of farming.
xiv) The biodynamic means of preparing nutrients may be standardized and the technology may be popularized.
xv) The crop residues should not be permitted to be burnt. Suitable legislation may be thought of, if required.
xvi) Adequate information may be made available to the farmers about the crop-wise residues arising and equivalent nutrient value per unit area through such crop residues.
xvii) The ventures of vermin-compost, compost, press mud and other forms of generation of organic nutrients for crop production may be exempted from levy of all kinds of taxes, excise and income tax etc.
xviii) The agriculture being a Sate subject, the State Governments may be effectively involved in the National programme to be prepared for promotion of organic farming.
xix) Each Sate may set up a State level cell or create a suitable unit at the Headquarter of Directorate of Agriculture to oversee the promotion of organic farming in the State.
Most of these recommendations stay there in files only. Some how in 2003, Government of India had accepted one of important recommendation of Organic Farming Task Force and National Centre for Bio-Fertilizers was converted into National Centre for Organic Farming in 2004. Moreover, National Project on Organic Farming was approved with an outlay of Rs.57.05 crores for production, promotion, and market development organic farming in the country during 10th Plan.
GE Crops and Ecological Agriculture: Into this situation, Genetic Engineering in agriculture is being imported as the solution (BT Cotton for example) whereas it has the potential to further worsens the situation given all its potential environmental and health hazards. No one should be misled by the propaganda of GE seed companies taking Bt.crops as pesticide-free organic crops, where as Bt crops have also a pesticides, preotein (delta endotoxin) that has disputed effect on human health. So, at no point Genetically Engineered or Bt. Crops can be considered as organic at all.
It is alarming that the agriculture establishments of Punjab are seeking alternatives to pesticides in GM crops. In last two years there are several statements made by state government being interested in GM crops as well as organic crops reflects the confusion of the government on the issue. It seems that the government has neither understood the basic differences between Ecological / Organic and Transgenic agriculture, nor has it understood the similarity between pesticides and BT crops.
The similarities of transgenic agriculture, especially GM crops developed for insect resistance, with pesticides are uncanny. The same companies are involved, with similar kinds of dangers inherent in the technologies – they are also promoted with the same claims! It has to be remembered that they are both irreversible technologies with a high likelihood of “ending up everywhere”.
Co-existence of GM crops with organic agriculture, given the reality of our growing and post-harvest conditions, this is impossible. Both biological and physical contamination of other crops is a distinct possibility. Segregation of GM and non-GM crops is not possible even at the farmer household level. Isolation distances required for such segregation cannot be maintained at the field level, because this is not a choice that pertains to a single farmer but is something that is impacted by choices exercised by neighboring farmers too. While this is not possible for non-GM, it should be remembered that organic standards are pretty rigid and set very high, set mainly to protect the trust and interests of consumers. After harvest too, at various stages like storage, transportation, at the local market yards, at the ginning and spinning mills and so on, it is impossible to maintain segregation. Implementation of a rigorous system of “identity preservation” [IP] and “traceability” would be virtually impossible in India, Punjab included. No amount of labeling requirements and legislations (an end of the pipe solution, rather than a clean production solution, to draw an analogy from other sectors of production) can control the situation that we would land ourselves in.
As other analysts have argued earlier, even if it is assumed for the sake of argument that Identity Preservation was possible to implement in India, the excessive operational costs involved would make agriculture a very expensive and unaffordable activity. As it is, spiraling costs of cultivation with dismantled public support are pushing many farmers to the brink of suicides every day.
Contamination of GM produce with non-GM produce is unavoidable and this would endanger the trade prospects of an entire nation, in addition to exposing its population to a variety of risks.
Is this what Punjab should show to the rest of the country as a leader in farming innovations? Is this how Punjab should evolve future directions for Indian agriculture?
It would do well for Punjab to remember that it is for a very good reason that the entire world, barring a handful of countries, is taking a precautionary approach to GM crops. It is particularly foolish to promote Bt crops given that alternative pest management models in the form of IPM, NPM, Organic etc., has been successfully established all over the country and across the world. These farmer-centric alternatives have proven themselves time and again to be economically, environmentally and socially beneficial. It is indeed unfortunate that Punjab, which has always been in the forefront of agricultural development, has not yet learnt any lessons from such positive experiences.
To conclude, we would like to inform the state government that there is one more similarity between GM crops and pesticides – both are completely dispensable in agriculture and it has been shown to be so by many farmers in Punjab!
PAU and Ecological Agriculture:
The PAU has also come up with a project in Department of Agronomy, though it is still in infant stage. However, we must understand PAU’s perspective and approach towards organic farming. PAU scientists openly show their apprehensions regard potentials of organic farming. They even put limitations of organic farming in their official presentation on organic farming. It is ironic that while PAU scientists knows that very much about residues of pesticides in food chain etc but they always conclude with the one liner – Pesticides are indispensable, It seems that political factor -There is No Alternative TINA is ruling the PAU vision.
Secondly, they are even equating BT cotton produce with organic one. Even senior officials from Agriculture department had shown their doubts for productivity and yield. So, wither it is PAU or Agriculture department both are working half-heartedly, it may be because there is clear misunderstanding related to yield potentials of organic. Moreover, agriculture scientists from are not so open to learn from experiences of farmers from other Indian states, if it is United States then they may follow it. There is a false self-pride feeling in Punjab that we have to feed rest of the country, we have to grow more and more, and it is only possible by chemicalised agriculture.
Punjab must take note of example of Cuba becoming self-sufficient in food and vegetables by organic farming and that too with in three to four years of time. Cuba has opted for organic in 1990-91 and by mid-1995; the food shortage had been overcome. It is general opinion that a nation cannot feed its people without synthetic agro-chemicals, yet today Cuba is self-reliant in food security without using these deadly agro-chemicals. This is a result of change in mindset and agricultural vision and Punjab needs the same.
Punjab State Policy on Natural and Ecological Agriculture: Lastly, the about two years gone when last government announced that it will form an Organic Farming Policy for the state. But it did not materialize and as of yet, there is no such policy for the state. As ecologically sustainable agriculture is the need of the hour for Punjab, it should have a proper policy for the same. It is time to take the initiative to formulate a policy framework for natural and organic farming promotion. Punjab government should invite suggestions and inputs from all the stakeholders and partners for sustainable development before formulating any policy. Public hearings and dialogue must be initiated to make the policy people-oriented and realistic. Moreover, the policy formulation process should be farmer-centric and must be with a bottom-up approach. Again this task can not be entrusted to Green Revolution mindset experts; it has been entrusted to individuals who want to see the new paradigm implemented.
This is the appropriate time to raise the public debate on state policy for organic farming in Punjab. As Punjab State Farmers’ Commission is intend to formulate a state policy therefore, one can hope that Punjab state policy on organic farming will soon become a reality. Nevertheless, an important question must be answered that what should be the priorities in Punjab. What is meaning and relevance of organic farming for Punjab?
As eminent agriculture scientist and policy expert Dr. Devinder Sharma rightly says, “Emphasis on commodities approach during the Green Revolution has encouraged monocultures, loss of biodiversity, encouraged food trade in some commodities, distorted domestic markets, and disrupted the micro-nutrient availability in soil, plant, animals and for humans. Thrust on farm commodities has also pushed in trade activities, encouraged food miles, adding to greenhouse emissions, water mining, and destruction of farm incomes. The need is to revert back to the time-tested farming systems that relied on mixed cropping and its integration with farm animals, thereby meeting the household and community nutrition needs from the available farm holdings. “
Such an approach will need a paradigm shift in approach and thinking.
KVM feels that there is a urgent need of Swadeshi agriculture movement to decolonize Indian agriculture and to liberate Indian farmer from clutches of westernized agriculture and developmental paradigm being convinced by ICAR and State Agriculture Universities. This prototype is philosophically alien to our cultural roots and stranger to ecological ethos and believes of our society.
The KVM’s natural farming movement has also brings another significant change in mindset of farmers. Now they are not looking towards Agriculture University or departmental experts for expert advice any more. every farmer of this movement is an expert in himself, he practice this science of natural farming, he lives natural farming every day, he is totally engulfed with the philosophy of natural farming. The modern agriculture paradigm has limited all expertise to Agriculture Universities only. The chemicalised agriculture model has made farmers scientifically illiterate – who presumed to be ignorant to every aspect of science and agri technology. This is a conspiracy which has made farmers dependent on Universities, department, companies and even pesticide retailers. It is a cruel joke that those who get a three or five year degree in agriculture with a alien kind of agriculture knowledge are known as experts, who are practicing a agriculture knowledge of only 40 years old, where as the farmers who inherent the agriculture wisdom of at least 5000 years were made commoners. We are not going to accept this nonsense any more. We are working to build self-confidence of our farmers on their own agriculture heritage and wisdom. We are the nation with abundance in farm produces, agro-biodiversity and prosperity.
 Organic farming is a term used here to mean natural and sustainable farming which is not just certified organic as is conventionally understood