Holistic Ecological Agriculture for India, 11 point agenda for the Eleventh plan.
The Prime Minister and Chief Ministers of India
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Paradigm Shift for the 11th Plan : Livelihood Security for Small and Marginal Farmers & Regeneration of Natural Resources through Holistic Agriculture
Organic agriculture is defined as a holistic food production management system, which promises and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It emphasizes the use of management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs, taking into account that regional conditions require locally adapted systems. This is accomplished by using, where possible, agronomic, biological and mechanical methods, as opposed to using synthetic materials to fulfill any specific function within the system."
- FAO/WHO, Codex Alimentarius Commission
Agriculture in India is in crisis. The failure of the 'Green Revolution Technology' (GRT) is clearly evident in stagnant agricultural production, a mounting spiral of ecological problems, relentlessly rising input costs, and increasing farmer indebtedness and suicides. From the small, peasant farmer to the FAO, there is global consensus that the GRT path is unsustainable. It impoverishes both the farmer and the natural resource base of agriculture, and provides toxic food and water to consumers. The increasing billions of dollars spent every year to subsidize 3% of the population engaged in farming in the USA, is stark proof of its economic bankruptcy. Large corporates who provide agro inputs, are the real beneficiaries of chemical based agriculture.
Indias National Commission on Farmers recently reported: 40% of Indian farmers would like to leave farming if it is possible to do so. This summarizes the enormity of the present agricultural crisis and the challenge facing the nation: how to safeguard agricultural incomes or provide alternative livelihood support to a quarter billion people who are potential future economic and ecological refugees uprooted by mounting farm production costs and a rapidly degrading natural resource base.
While some corporate interests are now lobbying for Genetically Modified (GM) species as the solution, a growing body of scientific testimony and evidence from both India and round the world warns against the many serious and irreversible dangers these pose. Such hazards include the uncontrolled and unwanted spread of certain genes and genetic traits; emergence of resistant and more virulent secondary pests; potential health hazards; and other unpredictable problems. Evidence of the economic counter-productivity of GM in the long run, is already emerging. In China, for instance, which has been using Bt cotton for over 7 years, there has been a severe rise of secondary pests when the bollworm is controlled, resulting in the same levels of pesticide spraying as before the use of Bt seeds. In India, there is an alarming record of an increase in crop failure, farmer suicides and deaths of grazing cattle after the use of Bt cotton in rainfed areas of Andhra Pradesh and Vidharbha, Maharashtra. The high cost, high risk and ecologically damaging GM technology is not the solution for our agrarian crisis, and will further damage Indian agriculture.
Both GRT and GM based agriculture require chemical intensive and fossil fuel intensive inputs, which directly contribute to greenhouse gases and climate change: an estimated 25% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, 60% of methane gas emissions and 80% of nitrous oxide emissions. In fact nitrous oxide, produced by the use of nitrogenous fertilizers, is 200 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Chemical based agriculture estimatedly uses ten times more energy as input than the calories it produces as food. Shifting to bio-diverse, organic systems can contribute significantly to mitigating global warming and climate change. National vulnerability to the rising costs of fossil fuels, inescapable with chemical farming, is also much reduced.
Small and marginal farmers, whose land holdings are below 2 ha, constitute almost 80% of all Indian farmers, and more than 90% of them are dependant on rain for their crops. With GRT, their costs of cultivation and risks of crop failure are so high that often the farmers cannot recover even the money spent. Between 1990-91 and 1995-96, chemical fertilizer costs increased by 113%, and pesticides by 90%, whereas the wholesale price of wheat went up only 58%. Minimum Support Prices for all crops, except sugar, were 38% to 50% lower than the actual cost of production. Per capita food grain production has fallen to levels lower than the 1939-44 famine. Despite the thousands of crores spent on fertilizer and other subsidies, farmers are increasingly in debt and despair. Apart from the necessary immediate reliefs in crisis areas, through write off of loans/interest, and appropriate Minimum Support Prices for agricultural produce, there is urgent need for a planned and vigorous promotion of low-cost, low-risk, high nutrition, holistic and sustainable farming systems to reinvigorate Indian agriculture, and to stem the rising tide of farmers' indebtedness, distress and suicides.
It is the experience of increasingly large numbers of farmers that holistic farming systems, based on scientifically proven techniques, are a very successful remedy to the economic and ecological crises engendered by GRT Holistic farming systems rely on available natural resources and rebuild the ecological capital on which all agriculture is dependent. They also greatly reduce or totally eliminate the dependence of farmers on the purchase of expensive external inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Particularly for rain fed farming and horticulture, which cover at least 60 \% of our cultivated land, holistic farming should be adopted on a large scale without fear of loss of production. Depending on the extent of prior damage by chemical-intensive monocultures, there is some drop in productivity in the transition phase if adequate biological inputs are unavailable. But within 2 to 3 years, the system is equally, or more, productive than other systems and on an improving and sustainable growth path. This has been scientifically validated internationally by FAO reports, and by ICRISAT Patencheru (O P Rupela & others). Better nutrition (balanced and free of toxins), and distributive justice (helping the poorest) are additional important benefits of a holistic approach. [Supplementary documents available on request]
There is clear scientific empirical evidence that a holistic, organic approach to farming nurtures numerous effective microbes occurring in nature that make all the essential nutrients available to crops, and improve vital physical qualities of the soil, namely its porosity, aeration, moisture absorption, drainage, and resistance to erosion. Crop yields thus increase in a sustainable manner, input costs fall and farm incomes rise.
Mixed cropping central to holistic farming greatly increases the total yield of biomass, which in turn, absorbs more carbon dioxide and thus ameliorates global warming. It also helps maintain soil fertility through on-farm recycling, heightens security against climatic vagaries and crop failures, and improves the nutritional balance of local diets. This will also help in reducing the large quantities of pulses and oilseeds imported every year.
With water and energy shortages fast mounting, it is imperative to cut wastages and improve their use efficiency. Holistic farming optimally utilizes available moisture, and vastly improves national water and energy efficiency. Scientists estimate that for every 1% of organic matter content, the soil can hold 16,500 gallons of plant available water per acre of soil of one foot depth (Source ATTRA) Groundwater recharge is also enhanced by increased biomass and mulch, correspondingly diminishing run-offs and floods.
11 POINT AGENDA FOR THE 11TH PLAN
Considering the above compelling reasons for adopting a holistic approach favoring sustainability, national health and distributive justice, we strongly recommend and petition the Government of India to adopt an 11 point programme on agriculture for the 11th Plan as follows:
1) Holistic sustainable farming should be promoted vigorously to cover at least 20% of all farmland progressively every year, so that the major part of the cultivable area of India is converted to holistic, ecologically and economically sound and sustainably productive farming systems by the end of the 11th Plan. Government policies and programmes should be specifically prioritized, designed and targeted to help the small and marginal farmers, who constitute almost 80% of farmers, to achieve food and livelihood security. Even small holdings have demonstrated that they can efficiently meet food and livelihood needs with proper policy and support.
2) The current excessive use of inorganic nitrogenous fertilizer that is incrementally destroying the vital biological quality of Indian soils, and contributing to global warming, should be discouraged by phasing out the subsidy on urea through a progressive 20-25% reduction each year, publicly announced in advance. Similarly, subsidies for all other agro-chemicals and heavy farm machinery should also be phased out within 5 years.
3) All the money saved by reducing/withdrawing subsidies as aforesaid (Rs 22000 crore per annum for urea alone) should be used as incentive/support for farmers who adopt holistic organic farming This should include subsidy for local generation of bio-fertilisers, including the planting of trees for enhanced availability of biomass and nutrients. Each farmer adopting holistic, organic agriculture, helps build up the nation's agricultural capital of soil and water, but faces some risks and costs in the initial 2 to 3 years of transition period commonly needed for ecological and economic recovery. Soil-depleting chemical fertilizers have been subsidized all these years, and it is therefore warranted that a similar subsidy should be extended to those who produce their own fertilizers and enhance soil capacity for sustainable productivity. A cash incentive to holistic farmers of Rs. 4,000 per ha per year for 2 or 3 years is strongly recommended to encourage this vitally necessary shift.
4) A country-wide campaign must be undertaken on a war footing to regenerate our natural resources of soil, water, biodiversity, tree/forest cover, etc. Natural forests, grasslands and wetlands must be conserved and regenerated as they shelter fauna, avifauna and insects vital for agriculture, besides creating new fertile soil and augmenting recharge of groundwater. Outstanding benefits can thereby be efficiently achieved in the shortest possible time with significant savings in expenditure.
5) Decentralised water harvesting and its optimal and equitable use must be actively promoted and financed by Govt policies, programmes and fiscal incentives/disincentives. Since at least 60% of Indian farming is rain-fed, the small and marginal farmer is at the mercy of an increasingly erratic monsoon. The first priority should be protective irrigation, through full subsidy for small farm ponds and/or ground water recharge by farmers This will reduce monsoon crop failure and facilitate introduction of a winter crop, thereby greatly reducing risks and increasing agricultural production and farmer incomes. This can be financed by decreasing the proposed massive and wasteful expenditures on large irrigation projects, having long gestation periods, high inefficiencies, fiscal irregularities and high social displacement, rehabilitation and ecological costs. Farmers need immediate provision of water on-farm, not through interlinking of rivers. Where irrigation projects exist, water delivery must be regulated through suitable local bodies like Water Users Societies, SHGs (Self Help Groups) and/or Rural Producer Companies controlled by locally resident farmers. A differential, incremental pricing mechanism should be mandatory for higher per capita /per acre levels of consumption of surface or ground water in excess of the minimum/basic allotment. (The water used to irrigate one acre of sugarcane is sufficient for at least 25 acres of jowar, bajra or maize.)
6) The main objective of EGS, grants, subsidies, loans and Govt schemes should be asset creation for the small and marginal farmers. Delivery should be channeled through local SHGs, associations, or bodies of farmers. These, as well as Producer Companies that are wholly owned and controlled by locally resident farmers and which can engage the services of professionals to handle marketing, finance and other support services, must be actively promoted and supported. Such support/incentives to local farmers' bodies should be proportionate to the number of farmer members represented by each such recipient body, with additional benefits to those consisting exclusively of small and marginal farmers primarily engaged in natural resource regenerating holistic agriculture.
7) The financial capacity of small Indian farmers, who are at the mercy of the market, should be strengthened so that they can hold their surplus produce till the prices are remunerative, and be helped to take up activities to add value to their produce through basic processing, packing, and collective marketing. Some Cooperative Banks, which provide grain storage and loans to farmers against grain stocks, are examples to be up-scaled. Government should promote the formation of local bodies/ Producer Companies of farmers and help them meet their needs for working capital, storage structures, community banks for grain, seed, fodder and other biomass, basic food and biomass processing units, tree planting, rainwater harvesting, biodiversity regeneration, extension and education, subsidy on small machinery/farming tools/aids, oxen, bullock carts, etc. The Government has long provided generous incentives for the promotion of industry. Bodies of small and marginal farmers engaged in holistic farming should similarly receive tax waivers/concessions, low interest loans, and easier access to credit. There should be a farmer-friendly, single window delivery system for credit and Govt schemes through the rural banking network, which must be rapidly extended to support farmer groups. Organic Certification must be provided free. In fact, certification of chemically cultivated and GM crops, and cautionary labeling of those that are packaged, should be mandatory in the interests of consumers.
8) Low cost and nutritious food must become available to all, and particularly to the poor. The Public Distribution System should offer a wide variety of locally produced nutritious crops and be managed by local SHGs or Producer Companies under civil regulation. This will reduce the high fuel cost and carbon dioxide generation of long-distance transportation. There should be total liberalization for primary processing, free movement and regional marketing of farm produce within a 150-200 km radius from farm to retail outlet, and proactive government support for basic transportation and regional marketing infrastructure which shortens the supply chain between farmers and consumers.
9) Good Agricultural Practices used by innovative holistic farmers should be widely, systematically and urgently disseminated by use of Govt institutions, media, personnel and funds. Since the knowledge base for holistic farming systems is to be found among experienced, innovative farmers, a partnership should be forged between them and existent educational, research and extension facilities to document, use and disseminate this knowledge. This can be accomplished faster by granting/leasing 10% of the land of Agricultural Universities and KVKs to innovative farmers with at least 3 years of demonstrated success in holistic farming for demonstration and/or extension of low cost holistic farming systems, including agriculture, horticulture, livestock and rainwater management, etc. Agricultural scientists and extension workers should help in scientifically documenting and widely disseminating this information.
10) Genetically modified organisms/seeds must be banned in India or, at the very least, strongly discouraged through the most stringent regulation and heavy, deterrent penalties for any spread of genetic pollution. They are likely to create new and more damaging cycles of ecological and economic risks. A handful of multi-nationals and Indian corporates are inducing farmers to adopt this high-cost, high-risk, poorly regulated technology by offering credit and promises of short-term benefits. Consumers across the world have been rejecting GM food and increasingly demanding poison free organic food. This is India's opportunity to be a leading producer of organic food and avail of this fast growing domestic and global market. The promotion of GM and GRT destroys this capacity and must be immediately halted and then reversed.
11) Policies which permit the dumping of heavily subsidized agricultural products in India by developed countries facilitated by the WTO or which promote cash crop monocultures for export, making Indian farmers vulnerable to the disastrous consequences of any fall in global prices, must be discontinued.
Promoting holistic farming systems - which can provide food security to the 650 million Indians dependent on agriculture and nutritious food to all consumers- can effectively counter this threat to the nation's food security and farmers' livelihood and survival. It should therefore be the keystone of our agricultural policy, practices and priorities.
Holistic farming involves knowledge, native wisdom, and labour, rather than external industrial inputs or large per capita finance - with their attendant high costs and risks of indebtedness. It can create significantly higher employment opportunities in the rural sector, thereby halting and reversing migration from rural to urban areas. It benefits the small and marginal farmers, who are the " Aam Admi" of the farming community. Government funds and resources should therefore be made available to them in proportion to their percentage in the rural population to honour the promises made in the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA government. Expropriating their land, the only asset of small and marginal farmers, by the Government for SEZs, and providing huge fiscal incentives to their promoters, is a policy that would inevitably lead to further pauperization of the farming community and the growth of armed insurgence. Empowering farmers to ensure their own food and livelihood security through holistic farming systems, and through dispersed small industry based on agricultural produce, is the real need of the hour and the demand of the farmers, who constitute 65% of India's population.
All over the world, the demand for toxin-free produce is rising at an exponential rate of growth. Consumers in India are also entitled to it. Many States, and the farmers themselves, would be keen to adopt holistic farming systems if necessary support, as stated above, is made available. The Planning Commission, the Government of India, and the leaders of all political parties will fail in their duty if appropriate actions are not taken urgently to halt the promotion of GRT and GM agriculture, and to introduce the low-cost, low-risk, holistic farming systems which can save the small farmers from desperation and suicide. We thus earnestly call for your support in implementing the above proposals in the interests of the farming community and the nation as a whole.
WE, THE FOLLOWING INDIVIDUALS AND ORGANISATIONS, ARE DEEPLY CONCERNED WITH THE PROBLEMS OF SMALL AND MARGINAL FARMERS AND WITH THE NATURAL RESOURCE BASE OF AGRICULTURE. WE HAVE CONFIDENCE THAT THE FARMERS FOOD SECURITY AND INCOMES WILL IMPROVE THROUGH HOLISTIC, ORGANIC AND SUSTAINABLE FARMING AND THEREFORE ENDORSE THIS PETITION: