Archive for April, 2011

Introduction

The Great Bengal Famine of 1943, also known as the Holocaust of India, took about 3 million Indian lives. This incident along with the food crises during 1960s stimulated the Indian Government to think seriously in the direction of food security. The Government of India wanted to increase the production of good grains, so that we would not have to depend on imports in order to meet our food requirement.

The urge for food sufficiency let to the birth of Green Revolution in India under the guidance of Dr. Norman Borlaug of Mexico and Dr. M. S. Swaminathan of India. The Green Revolution introduced high yielding variety seed in the irrigated lands of Punjab, Haryana, and West Bengal. The high yielding variety of seed requires fertilizers and pesticides so were supplemented with the same. The agriculture practices adopted as a result of Green Revolution resulted in 100% increase in the production of cereals during 1970 to 1990. During the same period, the population of India increased by 60%. Consequently, the per capita availability of cereals has increased by 30%. Such an impressive growth in the production of cereals made India self-sufficient in food grains.

However, the Green Revolution’s main focus was on the production of only two cereals wheat and rice, other food crops like millets, oil seeds, vegetables, etc. were neglected at the first place. Also, the green revolution was limited to the irrigated parts of India, despite the fact that about 75% of the land in India is rain fed. All the more, the green revolution was beneficial for the large and medium farmers who can afford the increased cost of inputs and mechanization.

Is High Yielding Really Yielding?

High yielding variety (HYV) seeds are more responsive to the three macro nutrients nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK). However, a plant requires 16 macro and 7 micro nutrients for a healthy growth. The high responsiveness of the HYV crops to NPK demands more of these nutrients, which is provided through chemical fertilizers like urea. Crops cannot take these nutrients in solid form; they are absorbed in dissolved state. Thus, HYV required seven times more water than traditional variety of seeds. More water in the plant body makes them heavier and more prone to diseases. In order to save crops from pests and diseases more and more pesticides and chemical are used. These pesticides and chemicals not only kill the harmful insects but also helping insects like butterflies, which helps in pollination.

In order to reduce the weight of the plants, and to make plants stand in the fields scientists working for the development of HYV of seeds, came up with dwarf varieties. These dwarf varieties have shorter stem. One can say that in these dwarf HYV seed the stem part is converted into fruits. Farmers use the leftover stem portion of the crops as fodder for their cattle. Now, since the fodder content is reduced, farmers now sustain lesser number of cattle on their farm produce and require other supplements for their cattle.

The HYV has increased the input cost of agriculture, due to extra cost of fertilizers, pesticides and mechanization in one hand and has deprived farmers of fodder for their cattle. So, if we just look at the overall effect on the life of a small farmer, whose life depends only on his small piece of land and the cattle, the picture is not very clear for him. The small and marginal farmers are still skeptical about the overall benefits of the HYV of crops.

Tale of small and marginal farmers

Green Revolution has shown some great results in the short run. However, if one analyzes the impact of Green Revolution in great in detail, we can see that the fertilizer requirement of the HYV seeds has increased considerable. For example, 300kg of urea is required for one hectare instead of 3kg initially. Due to excessive use of fertilizers and irrigation, the soil has become saline in many part of India. The high pH of the soil is not conducive for the germination of the seeds, in some part of India soil is reduced to the status of concrete. A recent pioneering study sponsored by three United Nations agencies (FAO, UNDP and UNEP) estimated the severity and costs of land degradation in South Asia. This study reports that the cost of degradation of the soil due to salinization is close to $1.5 billion. Also, due to excessive use of ground water for irrigation, the water in majority of the part of India has reduced to half. The chemical based farming has regarded the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the soil.

Failure of the seed in some part of India brought back the thought of the use of their traditional variety of seeds in the minds of farmers. But, farmers couldn’t find any traditional variety of seeds in the market. The entire seed market is packed with the HYV seeds. The traditional variety of seeds, which have been gained there properties over decades, by the process of adaptation and natural selection, are lost now. The traditional varieties have adapted itself to the climate and soil conditions of different areas are no more available. The failure of the crops resort farmers to try new varieties, but the skeptical about new varieties. Even Government of India has not provided any provision to safeguard against the crop failure in the proposed Seed Bill, 2010.

The economic condition of small and marginal farmers is very bad. The rising cost of inputs to agriculture coupled with soil degradation and destruction of village ecosystem has led farmers into the debt trap of moneylenders. The farmers are even prone to commit suicides. The NCRB data shows that on an average about 17,000 farmers committed suicide in India during 1997-2006. In number of suicides are high in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh and this is attributed to the failure of the Bt cotton crop in these states. The farmers committing suicides are mainly small and marginal farmers across India.

References

  1. Parikh, K.S. and Upal Ghosh (1991) “Natural Resource Accounting for Soils:  towards an Empirical Estimate of Costs of Soil Degradation in India” Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research Discussion Paper No.48.
  2. Green Revolution: Curse or blessing?; International Policy research institute. (http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/pubs/pubs/ib/ib11.pdf)
  3. Kisan Morcha for amendment to Seeds Bill, The Hindu, Wednesday, Mar 02, 2011.(http://www.hindu.com/2011/03/02/stories/2011030253880500.htm)
  4. Guillaume P. Gruère , Purvi Mehta-Bhatt , Debdatta Sengupta; Bt Cotton and Farmer Suicides in India; IFPRI Discussion Paper 00808, October 2008.