Updated: Aug 12, 2019
Authored by: Ishanee Sharma
Dastagir, a farmer from the Jheri region of Adilabad in Telangana, spent years of his life growing Bt Cotton.
Like Dastagir, there is an entire generation of farmers who moved from the traditional understanding of agriculture and traditional crops, to cater to the demands of the market.
Gradually as traditional crops, like millets disappeared from Indian homes and were replaced by imported quinoa, farmers like Dastagir began to realise that sustainability, food security, lives and livelihoods were at risk.
During this time that Dastagir was growing Bt cotton, the fertility of the soil on his land was severely affected. Dastagir had to seek help from the Biodiversity board of the region, and gradually moved to cultivation of organic, local pigeon pea. The crop is registered in the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority. Yet, the farmers’ ability to sell the pigeon pea (being an organic crop) without certification was a mammoth task in itself.
After being failed by consecutive Governments, the agrarian crisis only seemed to intensify with the administration’s inertia and lack of proper market access for farmers like Dastagir.
For years, the ‘Green Revolution’ has been propagated as a silver bullet answer to the question of food production and rural economic prosperity. However, the industrial mode of agriculture needs to be re-evaluated as a mechanism to engage with farming. A U-turn to biodiverse-ecological agriculture, based on traditional knowledge, could be one of the solutions.
With agriculture as the backbone of the Indian economy, especially over the last two decades, India has industrialised the essential processes of agricultural production. Agro-biodiversity has been severely affected due to chemical interference and excessive growth of more commercially viable crops. As per the United Nations, 93% of all indigenous plant variety has disappeared over the last 80 years from Indian agriculture. The Indian agricultural system was known for its agro-biodiversity, having close to 8500 crops, which due to industrial levels of farming, have now been reduced to 8 commodities for our consumption.
Additionally, India’s agricultural subsidy bill has increased over the years, touching Rs. 70,000 crores in the year 2019. A large part of those subsidies have been used to buy fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides which have entered natural cycles, polluted our land, water and soil and are beginning to pose a threat to the agricultural wellbeing of the country
As demonstrated in BT cotton regions, a considerable decline in soil fertility and organisms has been noted. Additionally various pests have developed a resistance to pesticides being used. In many regions, with intensive use of pesticides and GMOs, other living organisms such as bees, butterflies and other pollinators are disappearing, while new varieties of pesticide-resistant insects are being found. Even bigger challenges are now emerging, with health related side-effects of extensive usage of pesticides. This is amply visible with the increase of cancer cases in areas where the ‘Green Revolution’ was implemented; there are ‘cancer trains’ which run from Moga district in Punjab to Rajasthan which exemplify this.
Treating seeds as normal commodities for market-place trading instead of as traditional knowledge is leading to the rise in prices of these seeds, and acting as a major contributor to the farmer’s debt crisis. Bio-technology companies, such as Monsanto, and others, are striving to impose patents on seeds to collect royalties from farmers for each seed planted in every season. Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), expanded to cover living systems and organisms, were introduced to favour these large bio-technology companies in the TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement of the World Trade Organization.
India introduced the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001 (PPVFRA), a Sui Generis option to patents governing seeds and plants consistent with TRIPS. Seeds are a part of the natural cycle, the ecosystem, as well as Section 3(j) of the Indian Patents Act, which excludes plants and animals from patentability, stands strong.
What is critical at this time is for India to develop a holistic, non-mechanistic approach and see issues such as malnourishment, climate change, farmer distress, and water wastage and water pollution as interlinked.