Saturday, February 9, 2008

India needs her small farmers For food security, livelihood security, peace and democracy

India is a land of small farmers, with 650 million of her 1 billion people living on the land and 80 per cent farmers owning less than 2 ha of land. In other words, the land provides livelihood security for 65 per cent of the people, and the small farmers provide food security for 1 billion.

Policies driven by corporate globalisation are pushing farmers off the land, and peasants out of agriculture. This is not a natural evolutionary process. It is a violent and imposed process. The 150,000 farmers suicides are one aspect of this violence. The killing of dozens of peasants in Nandigram who were resisting land acquisition for a Special Economic Zone is another aspect of the violence involved in the forced uprooting of India's small farmers.

Citizens have been outraged and shocked by both dimensions of the violence against the providers of our food. Yet the government is putting the policies of uprooting the peasantry on fast forward. The Prime Minister, the Agriculture Minister, the Head of the Planning Commission have all made statements that are in effect a declaration of a war against the small farmers, treating two-thirds of India's population as disposable.

On 26th March 2007, while addressing the Confederation of Indian Industry, Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh stated, " As I said recently in Parliament, we have to recognize that in a country like ours, where the average size of landholding is small, there are limitations to what you can do to improve agricultural productivity." (Pioneer, 27/03/07)

This is a false assumption, as Navdanya's work over two decades has shown. Infact, it is the small biodiverse farm, which has higher productivity than large industrial farms. Large farmers and industrial farming has serious limitations on increasing agricultural productivity.

Productivity is output per unit input. Biological productivity is output per unit acre. Small biodiverse farms have higher productivity than monocultures, which are a necessary aspect of industrial agriculture based on external inputs. Higher biological productivity translates into higher incomes for small farmers. In Rajasthan, monocultures of Pearl Millet gave Rs. 2480 of net profit per acre, whereas a biodiverse farm of Pearl Millet Moth Bean Sesame gave Rs. 12045, a difference of nearly Rs. 10,000 per acre. In Uttaranchal, a monoculture of paddy gave Rs. 6720 per acre, whereas a biodiverse farm gave Rs 24,600 per acre, a difference of Rs. 16,000. In Sikkim, a monoculture farm of maize gave Rs. 4950 per acre while a mixed farm of maize, radish, Lahi saag and peas gave Rs. 11,700. Navdanya's rice and wheat farmers have doubled the production of rice and wheat by using indigenous seeds and organic methods. Jhumba rice in Uttaranchal has 176 quintal per ha of biomass production compared to 96 quintal per ha of Kasturi, a high yielding rice variety. The paddy yields are 104 and 56 quintal per ha respectively.

Farmers in West Uttar Pradesh have got 62.5 quintal per ha using a native wheat variety 308 for organic production compared to 50 quintal per ha for chemically produced wheat.

Small farmers have tremendous scope for increasing productivity because the natural capital - the soil, the water, the biodiversity, can be enhanced through conservation and rejuvenation. On large farms, natural resources are exploited and depleted. The soil looses fertility through chemical fertilizers; it is compacted by heavy machinery. Water is over exploited since chemical farming needs ten times more water than ecological farming. Biodiversity is eroded since industrial scale farming can only be practised as a monoculture. And energy use is intensified, contributing to global warming. The small farms of India have the highest potential for increasing productivity. There are scientific reasons for this. A small farmer can intensify biodiversity and the higher the biodiversity, the higher the productivity and stability and sustainability of agriculture. A large farm has to intensify external inputs such agrichemicals and fossil fuels, which lower the productivity, and lead to non-sustainability and economic and ecological vulnerability. When the industrial model of high external inputs is imposed on small farmers, the result is debt and suicides. The industrial model of farming is at the root of farmers' suicides. Yet, the disease is being offered as a cure.

Small biodiverse farms based on internal inputs are in fact the only promise for increasing agricultural productivity, whether productivity is defined in terms of biological productivity or in terms of financial returns, or in terms of energy. Large industrial farms use ten times more energy than they produce as food, most of the energy goes to pollute the atmosphere and destabilize the climate. The present Prime Minister needs to remember the words of an earlier Prime Minister of India, Choudhary Charan Singh who had said,

"Agriculture being a life process, in actual practise, under given conditions, yields per acre decline as the size of the farm increases (in other words, as the application of human labour and supervision per acre decreases). The above results are well nigh universal; output per acre of investment is higher on small farms than on large farms. Thus, if a crowded, capital-scarce country like India has a choice between a single 100 acre farm and forty 2.5 acre farms, the capital cost to the national economy will be less if a country chooses the small farms."

Yet, every government institution, which should be looking after the welfare of the country and the welfare of small farmers, is launching an assault on the peasantry. The Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, whose job is to look after farmers' and provide them livelihood security has stated that farmers' need to be "weaned" off the land.

And the Vice Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia has talked of "the feasibility of large corporate ownership of farmland" (Economic Times, 28/03/07)

The peasants of Singur and Nandigram, Paradip and Kalinga Nagar, have declared loudly and consistently that they intend to farm their land. The future defined by the majority of small farmers of India is in terms of their land sovereignty and food sovereignty. India needs her small farmers because her freedom is in their hands. Wherever the totally inappropriate model of industrial corporate agriculture has been applied, farmers are in distress, the soil has been destroyed, and the water has been over exploited and polluted. And wherever the government has pushed rural communities off the land for industrialization, it has had to use violence and has created zones where Naxalism is viewed as the only alternative.

A food secure and peaceful India is in the hands of her small farmers. Without small farmers, India will be a food insecure, violent and undemocratic society.

The Congress came to power because the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) had neglected demands of the small farmers. The Congress lost two regional elections because of the crisis in food and agriculture the government is creating in order to benefit its friends in the corporate world - the Monsanto's and Cargills, the ITC's and Levers, the Reliance's and Wal-Mart's.

In 2009, India will have its general elections. If the anti-farmer, pro-corporate policies continue to be pushed by the Prime Minister, the Agriculture Minister, the Vice Chairman of the Planning Commission, the Congress will have to pay a heavy price.