Natural farming is the future: Professor Devinder Sharma

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Andhra Pradesh shows the way.

Sharma writes:

The evidence is all there. With soil fertility declining; excessive mining of groundwater sucking aquifers dry; and chemical inputs, including pesticides, becoming extremely pervasive in environment, the entire food chain has been contaminated.

As soils become sick, and erosion takes a heavy toll leading to more desertification, crop productivity is stagnating thereby resulting in more chemicals being pumped to produce the same harvest. A former Director General of Indian Council for Agricultural Research had rightly said: “In 1980s, farmers used to produce 50Kg of wheat by using 1 kg of fertilisers. Now farmers are producing only 8 Kg by using 1 kg of fertiliser”.

The warning of an ‘Ecological Armageddon’

As farmlands become more toxic, and with modern agriculture becoming a major contributor to Greenhouse Gas Emissions leading to climate aberrations, a startling study has gone unnoticed. A study by the University of Sussex finds that three quarters of flying insects in a nature reserve in Germany have vanished in past 25 years. While the alarming decline in population of honeybees had raised international concerns, that 75% of the insect population has disappeared -even inside a nature reserve – raises the warning of an ‘ecological Armageddon’.

This is happening at a time when not only in Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh in India, the dreaded bollworm pests on cotton have become resistant to genetically modified cotton in America too. From Carolina to Texas, bollworm insects have renewed their attack on cotton.

The Green Revolution has already run out of steam, leaving behind a trail of misery, the catastrophic consequences manifest in the form of farm suicides. With input costs growing, and farmgate prices remaining almost stagnant, if not declining, farmer’s income is swiftly on the downward slide.

In America, hundreds of dairy farms have closed down in the past 4 years. In Europe, many farms would be unprofitable if European subsidies were to be removed. In France, farmers’ mutual insurance association (MSA) believes that in 2016 “a majority of farmers earned less than Euro 350 a month”.

In India, the government’s own Economic Survey 2016 records that the average income of a farming family in 17 states, which means nearly half the country, has been computed at a paltry Rs 20,000 a year. Another study by Niti Aayog tells that real farm incomes have remained virtually stagnated in the five year period, 2011 to 2016.

And yet more of the same is being pushed as the solution

Despite all the laudable objectives, the world is almost at a tripping point as the International Panel on Climate Change had warned us a few years ago.  ‘Business as usual’ is not the right way forward, we are repeatedly told. But despite warning, there is no policy change that actually keeps environment protection as a non-negotiable.

Even the report of the International Assessment for Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which was ratified during an intergovernmental plenary in Johannesburg, April 7-12, 2008, and had called for a shift towards sustainable agriculture has been lying in limbo ever since.

The more the world tries to change, the more things remain the same. Every disaster is an opportunity. But it invariably ends up as an opportunity for business.

Business leaders from 17 private companies had announced at the 2009 World Economic Forum the launch of a global initiative — New Vision for Agriculture — that sets ambitious targets for increasing food production by 20 percent, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions per ton by 20 percent, and reducing rural poverty by 20 percent every decade.

See video here

The 17 agribusiness giants include Archer Daniels Midland, BASF, Bunge Limited, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Metro AG, Monsanto Company, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Syngenta, Unilever, Wal-Mart, and Yara International.

The rhetoric has been the same and the solutions have remained the same too: more aggressive push for industrial agriculture. Just to illustrate, to ensure that the world does not witness a repeat of the 2008 food crisis — when 37 countries faced food riots — the international community has been swift in proposing a roadmap (not one, but a plethora of similar privates-sector driven blueprints).

In these difficult times, it is heartening to see the Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledging the ecological crisis the world faces.

Addressing the National Congress of the Communist Party in Beijing last October, he acknowledged that “Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us… this is a reality we have to face,” and then went to specify in more detail his plans to “step up efforts to establish a legal and policy framework … that facilitates green, low-carbon, and circular development,” to “promote afforestation,” “strengthen wetland conservation and restoration” and “take tough steps to stop and punish all activities that damage the environment.” He has called for 21st century to be the beginning of an ‘ecological civilisation’.

Back home, as we get half way through 2018, the script for an ecologically sustainable agriculture, which brings back the smile on the face of farmers, without leaving any scar on the environment, is being rewritten.

Andhra Pradesh has launched a massive programme to promote natural farming.

This programme, Rythu Sadhikara Samstha, aims to bring 5 lakh farmers in all the 13 districts during the period 2017-2022 to adopt natural farming practices (read more here and on their Facebook page). I recently visited a number of villages in Kurnool district to meet some farmers who have moved away from chemical agriculture to natural farming practices.

I was amazed to learn that yields are increasing across all crops

In groundnut, yields have gone up by 35 per cent; Cotton productivity has increased by 11 per cent; Chilli by 34 per cent; brinjal by 69 per cent; and paddy by 10 to 12 per cent. So far, 1.63 lakh farmers have switched to natural farming. If crop productivity can increase without using chemical fertiliser and pesticides; if the net income in the hands of farmers goes up considerably; and if natural farming ushers in a climate resilient agriculture,

I see no reason why other states cannot emulate the pioneering efforts being made by Andhra Pradesh. #

 

Posted 3 hours ago by Devinder Sharma

 

 

 

 

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March visitors search for A2 milk, dabbawallas and Sharma’s news

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People from 20 countries visited the site in March.

TOP POSTS

Most desi cows and buffalo breeds give A2 milk (stats show many people searched on ‘buffalo’):

The fascination for exotic cattle breeds has been the bane of Indian dairy industry”. We return to these words by CHS co-founder Winin Pereira, first entered on this site after reading Devinder Sharma’s 2010 blog quoted in the CHS-Sachetan archives

A summary – ‘Dabbawalas: Mumbai’s lunchbox carriers’

Farmers are being denied their rightful income

Devinder Sharma writes: “For the past two years we have seen news reports and videos of distraught farmers throwing tomato, potato and onions on to the streets.  Farmers are unable to recover even the harvesting and transportation cost in most cases –  a well-established fact . . .

 

 

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Farmers are being denied their rightful income

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Devinder Sharma writes:

For the past two years we have seen news reports and videos of distraught farmers throwing tomato, potato and onions on to the streets.  Farmers are unable to recover even the harvesting and transportation cost in most cases –  a well-established fact.

One example:

Farmers in Erode district in Tamil Nadu are a worried lot. The retail price of cabbage has crashed. Against a price of Rs 12/kg last year, farmers are getting on an average Re 1 per kg. In Chhattisgarh too, tomato prices have crashed leaving farmers in the lurch. Not fetching more than Rs 1 to 2 per kg, farmers have simply abandoned the tomato harvest. The deplorable price they are getting in the market is not even enough to meet the plucking and harvesting cost.

This is primarily because of higher production which enables the middlemen to form cartels and manipulate the prices often to the extent of exploitation.

This is the third year in a row when prices of almost all the agricultural commodities have crashed across the country. While the increase in production has brought cheers to the government, the drop-in prices has added to the misery of farmers.

Enhancing farm incomes has never been on the top of the economic agenda. Even when it comes to Minimum Support Price, the fact remains that only 6% farmers are able to sell at MSP. The remaining 94% farmers are dependent on the exploitative markets.

After 70 years of Independence, the average income of a farm family in 17 States, roughly half the country, is Rs 20,000 a year as the Economic survey 2016 has shown, the primary cause of the agrarian distress that prevails is before us. The 2016 NCRB data for farmer suicides has made this abundantly clear.

Sharma focuses on the reasons for high levels of farmer suicides: “There are of course a number of reasons that have been cited time and again but essentially everything boils down to the failure of the markets to assure a profitable income”.  

He writes that the latest set of farmer suicide statistics compiled by the National Crime Record Bureau is a clear-cut pointer to the fact that much of the agrarian distress is primarily because farmers are unable to realise a remunerative price for his produce.

The general understanding is that suicides are high in India because roughly 60% of the crop lands do not have assured irrigation facilities.

But in Punjab, which has 98% assured irrigation; the NCRB recorded 271 farm suicides in 2016, an increase of 112% over the 2015 suicide toll of 124. In neighbouring Haryana, which has 82% of the cultivable area provided with assured irrigation; the suicide rate has jumped by 54%, from 162 in 2015 to 250 in 2016.

Another reason openly cited and largely agreed by Ministry of Agriculture, Niti Ayog and even the agricultural universities is that farmers are dying because of low crop productivity.

Higher the crop productivity, higher is the net farm income goes the refrain. But Punjab has the highest crop productivity in the world among cereal crops – wheat, rice and maize – and yet there is hardly a day when I don’t find news report of two, three or four farmers committing suicide. Crop productivity is very high in Haryana, often at the 2nd level after Punjab, and yet it seems farm suicides are increasing.

 (Ed: As Ian Potter often reminds farmers, when exhorted to raise milk production, increased quantities on the market will actually be a factor leading to lower returns).

Policy planning is aimed at ensuring that food grain production registers an increase and it is the failure to assure a profitable income into the hands of farmers that has actually accentuated the agrarian crisis. The Minimum Support Price (MSP) that the government announces for 23 agricultural commodities every year is worked out keeping the consumer prices in mind. More often not, the MSP is lower than the cost of production a farmer entails. No wonder, when farmers undertake cultivation, they don’t realise that they are actually cultivating losses.

Sharma proposes the setting up of State Agricultural Prices Commissions, with the mandates to provide a higher income to farmers, similar to that in Karnataka, which ensures procurement of 14 crops at prices that are much higher than the MSP announced by Central Government.

In his book, AGRICULTURE & RURAL DEVELOPMENT: KARNATAKA – 2020 (extracts available), Dr.Sangappa.V. Mamanshetty, who was born in Karnataka, writes “The main objectives of food management are:

  • procurement of food from farmers at remunerative prices,
  • distribution of food to consumers, particularly the vulnerable sections of society,
  • at affordable prices,
  • and maintenance of food buffers for food security and price stability”.

Sharma summarises: “I am in favour of bringing more areas under irrigation as well as increasing crop productivity. But this must be accompanied by enhanced net income”.  

Main sources: 

http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/a-call-for-making-minimum-support-price.html

http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/farmers-suicides-statistics-point.html

 

 

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Farming protest: government responds

Hyderabad’s Siasat Daily reports that tens of thousands of farmers joined the Long March from Nashik to Mumbai last week, organised by All-India Kisan Sabha. The main demands included:

  • debt abolition,
  • an adequate fixed minimum support price for their produce
  • the right to land ownership for the tribal cultivators as part of the 2006 Forest Rights Act.

Narendra Modi’s government agreed to resolve the farmers’ issues within six months and irrigation minister Girish Mahajan said that the government has agreed on 100% of demands, including transfer of land title.

However, in November farmers held huge nationwide strikes to demand agrarian reforms and despite government promises to address their issues, not much was done and tribal lands have been taken by the government for high speed rail and highways.

Devinder Sharma sees a pattern: “For the first four years after coming into power, all ruling parties simply ignore farmers, often creating economic conditions that force them to abandon agriculture and migrate to the cities”.

He stresses that an unprecedented spurt in rural anger has been seen in the past few years with recorded incidents of farm protests multiplying by a staggering 670%, from 628 in 2014 to a record high of 4,837 in 2016 and asks:

“Will the ensuing 2019 elections see a change? I am not sure. Unless of course the farmers realise that enough is enough . . . For 70 years, they have been taken for an easy ride by politicians of all colours, from all parties. They have been victims of the universal phenomenon of “elections and farmers”. A few carrots are invariably thrown at them as electoral bait. And they grab it just like the mice is unable to resist the cheese. They have never been seen as the mainstay of the economy in real terms. Farmers have only two roles – as a vote bank and as a land bank”.

Despite the undertaking given, Sharma adds: “I don’t think the political parties are unduly perturbed. They know that a few months before the elections, a series of sops can be dangled before the farmers and their vote bank will remain intact”.

As around 60–70%% of the Indian population (directly or indirectly) depends upon the agriculture sector according to Puneet Bansal, the director of forecasting and strategy at DRG Group, they could, if resolved, affect the outcome of national elections.

Sharma’s conclusion: “The day the farmers rise above caste, religion and political ideology and vote as farmers, the political landscape will change. The economic policies will also change the day farmers vote as farmers. Farmers will then be in the driving seat, becoming the pivot of economic growth and development. Till then, they must learn to live with the never ending agrarian distress. They must know that the survival battle they fight every day is actually their own doing”.

 

Read the whole article here: http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/if-bounties-are-being-showered-for.html, or in Hindi https://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/in-election-season-farmer-is-just-a-vote-bank

Additional information: https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/india-after-huge-marches-government-agrees-farmer-demands

 

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India’s solar energy development – 2

CHS’ founder, Winin Pereira, whilst acknowledging the advantages of solar power, focussed on issues relating to the toxic materials used in solar panels.

Pereira saw the need for safe disposal methods for the earlier panels and research into materials replacing those currently used in solar panels being replaced. ‘Energy and Lifestyles’ (co-author Subhash Sule,1988) listed some of the highly toxic materials in thin film cells – selenium, cadmium and titanium dioxide – and pointed out that some very strong acids are used to etch the surface of the solar cell to improve light entrapment, commenting “These materials, and their recycling, have to be handled carefully”.

In 2004, a Californian government report issued during the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger (who continues to campaign on environmental issues), also stressed potential  risks during the manufacturing process:  

The greatest environmental risk with silicon cells is associated with the use of gases (arsine and phosphine) during the manufacturing process.

At sites with installed PV modules, release of trace elements from sealed modules is unlikely except due to explosion or fire.

 Leaching of trace metals from modules is not likely to present a significant risk due to the sealed nature of the installed cells and the plan for recycling of spent modules in the future. 

The most likely routes for environmental release of trace elements are from accidental spills during the manufacturing process. At sites with installed PV modules, release of trace elements from sealed modules is unlikely except due to explosion or fire. Leaching of trace metals from modules is not likely to present a significant risk due to the sealed nature of the installed cells and the plan for recycling of spent modules in the future.

A variety of off-site treatment methods are utilized to manage the chemicals produced by photovoltaic facilities. The types of treatment facilities used include publicly-owned treatment works, metals recovery systems, solvents/organics recovery systems, and energy recovery systems.

The goal of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) is environmental sustainability and clean production for industry. Its members ‘envision a toxic-free future in which each new generation of technical advances includes parallel and proportionate advances in social and environmental justice’.

Five years after the 2004 report, STVC produced a White Paper with a section on hazardous materials used in solar PV cell production: “Potential End-of-Life Hazards for Solar PV Products”. It recommended:

  • reduction and eventually elimination the use of toxic materials and development of environmentally sustainable practices.
  • ensuring that solar PV manufacturers are responsible for the lifecycle impacts of their products through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
  • proper testing of new and emerging materials and processes based on a precautionary approach
  • expansion of recycling technology and design products for easy recycling
  • and protection of the health and safety of industry workers and the community throughout the global PV industry, including supply chains and recycling.

There is agreement that solar panels become toxic waste at the end of their working lives if they are not properly recycled.

Environmental Progress notes that only in the EU are solar panel makers required to collect and dispose of solar waste at the end of their lives and even there, solar panels are currently exempt from the 2010 WEEE regulations requiring manufacturers to take back all equipment at the end of its life. With regard to the recycling of silicon-based modules and non-silicon based panels it has two goals:

  • To encourage the industry to develop products that are easier to recycle and use fewer raw materials
  • and to lead producers to factor in the cost of the collection and end-of-life treatment of their products into the cost paid by the consumers.

The European photovoltaic industry has set up its privately funded take-back and recycling schemes PV CYCLE which has been operating across Europe since 2007. There is a Compliance Inspectorate which allows manufacturers and component importers to register as WEEE-compliant, providing waste holders and customers with relevant information on their legal status. The EU is convinced that the manufacturers’ voluntary take-back scheme is effective.

But is this yet another case in which the risks of self-regulation by industry should not be countenanced?

 

 

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Mumbai’s Tree Saviour

Mumbai’s Tree Saviour 1: neighbourhood trees

https://antidotecounteragent.wordpress.com/2018/01/31/mumbais-tree-saviour-1-neighbourhood-trees/

Mumbai’s Tree Saviour 2: opposing destruction in Greater Mumbai’s Garden of Eden

https://antidotecounteragent.wordpress.com/2018/01/31/mumbais-tree-saviour-2-opposing-destruction-in-greater-mumbais-garden-of-eden/

First published on the Antidote to Gloom blog.

 

 

 

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Political action in the rural areas of India and Northern Ireland (UK)

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For many years international agencies have promoted a school of thought that says it is cheaper to import food than to grow it within the country, comments Devinder Sharma (below, right).

In December he told Rediff.com’s Syed Firdaus Ashraf:

“Rural Gujarat has voted against the influential ruling BJP. During the 2014 elections, Prime Minister Narendra D Modi had promised that if elected his government would give 50% profit over the cost of production as recommended by the (M S) Swaminathan committee and rural India voted conclusively for the BJP – but farmers are still waiting for the promise to be delivered”.

“The Reserve Bank of India’s governor used to say that the biggest reforms would be when farmers are moved out from the villages into the cities, because cities are need of cheaper labour. Cheaper labour is required for infrastructure, real estate and highways. In other words, agriculture is being sacrificed to keep economic reforms alive”.

Farmers need a fair price: cost of production plus

An article by Lancashire farmer, Kathleen Calvert, issued as a press release by local business, Dugdale Nutrition, stressed: 

“Maintaining viable dairy farms not only protects livelihoods of farming families and others directly involved, it also makes a major contribution to local economies and the future of businesses, jobs, and families in the locality”.

Ruth and Richard Burrows, Devonshire farmers, assembled suppliers representing 3000 others whose livelihoods depend on them and other farmers. A photograph was published (right, faded newsprint, The web of rural ruin, Richard Price, Daily Mail, 23.9.99) with notes giving the names and roles of the people pictured.  Mrs Burrows said: “They are living proof of the importance of the spending power of the farmer and how enormously important agriculture is in terms of the entire economic structure around here. The rural communities of Britain tick over on a system of mutual dependency of which the farm forms the hub. If it goes to the wall, dozens of ancillary trades in both town and countryside suffer”. Read more here.

Farmers organise politically in UK

As talks are under way at Stormont, William Taylor, speaks for Northern Ireland Farm Groups, which represents several food production sectors – now including the National Beef Association – and is concerned about the future of 25,000 SME family farmer businesses.

Northern Ireland Farm Groups’ meeting

A bill, written by Daniel Greenberg, a barrister who specialises in legislation and is Editor of OUP’s Statute Law Review, is to be taken forward.

It proposes that farmgate prices in NI return to farmers a minimum of the cost of production, plus a margin inflation linked, that would give 20,000+ new jobs and prosperity across the province in towns, cities and countryside alike.

Their proposals have been well-received by several parties and unions, and Claire Sugden from Coleraine, Independent (the Justice Minister in the former assembly) told the farm groups that ‘she was of a mind to take legislation on farm gate prices forward’.

Legislation on farmgate prices for Northern Ireland according to the Gosling Report, would return 10-20,000 jobs+, save Stormont £280million+ in welfare costs and bring prosperity back to Northern Ireland. 

In both countries, as Sharma comments, “What farmers need is income, a profit over the cost of production. To keep food inflation in control, successive government have denied farmers their rightful income”.

 

 

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