Thursday, May 17, 2007

Agenda for Pro-farmer Green Uttar Pradesh

Agenda for Pro-farmer Green Uttar Pradesh

Utkarsh Kumar Sinha*

The survival of the human being as a species is totally dependent on our surroundings, which is actually a complex set of processes in dynamic equilibrium. Any activity that human beings do for development – from simple hand tilling to complex industrial activity – must be anchored on environmental and ecological guidelines with a social justice, and not just on economic output or increasing production. But if our actions are destructive, pollutive and exploitative, they will eventually destabilize the dynamic equilibrium of our surroundings and we will face a crisis, which will severely impact not just the environment, but overall progress. Uttar Pradesh is facing such a situation, where many of our present ways of development are becoming more and more socially and environmentally destabilizing. The worst of this crisis is now felt in the farming sector, where farmers, with huge economic debts are suffering from diseases – physical, mental and social – on an epidemic scale. Now they are taking drastic decisions like committing suicide. Ultimately, we are taking our land, its environment and its people to an imminent ecological, economic and social disaster.

The success of a development agenda that the government and its people want for the state will depend on whether we correct our past mistakes or not. The primary task of the new government would rediscover the natural environmental design of the state and agree upon its potentials and limitations. They have to take stock of approaches and plans which have gone wrong and reach a common consensus on the corrective priority actions. This would mean policies that take a broad look at our development paradigm (model) vis-à-vis environmental security and address the sectors of agriculture, health, education, social welfare, food, water and industrial development.

In this context that we wish to draw the attention of the new government to the following:

The first thing we must acknowledge is that only an ecologically sustainable Uttar Pradesh can be economically sustainable. The approach that has been followed, especially in the last three decades, is to bring in economic development at any cost. An analysis will reveal that it is this approach that has actually led to the present crisis. The very first step that the new government needs to initiate is to prepare a vision document for a sustainable green, and pro farmer Uttar Pradesh. In Uttar Pradesh the success of the agriculture sector is directly linked to the ecological and social security. Such an attempt will need a paradigm shift in approach and thinking. An ecological audit by the prominent and independent experts should be a step towards it. This will give us a status picture of the ecological condition of Uttar Pradesh. We must know the quality of land, water and air being consumed by each Uttar Pradeshi.

A comprehensive program may be started for ecological revival with the intention of providing natural manure, fuel wood, fodder and fruits for the overall benefit of soil, cattle and human beings. A time bound program for planting of trees, especially indigenous species is required. It should also be linked to the NREGP (National Rural Employment Guaranty Program). This will be one of the biggest investments for the overall development of the state.

Irrigation is a great problem in Uttar Pradesh, there is very little being done to protect the catchments areas of water bodies, Moreover, loss of forests will also have a serious impact on ground water recharge, and surface water availability. The protection of the catchments areas of the water bodies should be taken up on priority and should be linked to NREGP. These are investments that would improve the situation of water availability immensely.
The agriculture of Uttar Pradesh needs a fresh vision for its sustainability, as well as sustainability of its natural resources. Currently, agriculture has not only destroyed the household nutritional and food security of farmers but has also made them dependent on the market for daily needs. As eminent agriculture scientist and policy expert Dr. Devinder Sharma rightly says, “Emphasis on commodities approach during the Green Revolution has encouraged monocultures, loss of biodiversity, encouraged food trade in some commodities, distorted domestic markets, and disrupted the micro-nutrient availability in soil, plant, animals and for humans. The need is to revert back to the time-tested farming systems that relied on mixed cropping and its integration with farm animals, thereby meeting the household and community nutrition needs from the available farm holdings. “
Such an approach will need a paradigm shift in approach and thinking. To get this approach a post-mortem of the Green Revolution is absolutely necessary. Drawing a map of the soil health of Uttar Pradesh is also need an attention and in the future, If a crop (including cash crops) has the possibility of destroying the soil fertility and thereby accounting the ecological crisis, that cropping system should not be allowed. A biodiversity-based system of agriculture should be promoted, with support for indigenous varieties of cattle, other animals, and seeds. A farm-based approach should come rather than crop-based approach in agriculture planning and supports. Support to form framers’ collectives in production, farm management and marketing, and ensuring procurement by government agencies, to avoid price fluctuations should be in plan and policies. Changing the syllabus of Agriculture University to suit this approach could be another major step.

The role of technology, too, needs to be ascertained. Pesticides were promoted blindly on rice, for instance. The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines now says that pesticides on rice were a waste of time and effort in Asia. But meanwhile, pesticides usage has already taken a huge toll, and pushed farmers in a debt trap.
Agricultural research must reorient itself to learn from the existing sustainable farming models. The focus of genetically modified crops must immediately stop as it is risky and expensive for the farmer.
Contract farming can compound the agrarian crisis. Contract farming provides companies to go in for still intensive farming systems thereby destroying the soil productivity. It has been observed that contract farming on average requires 20 per cent more application of chemical inputs and ten per cent more mining of ground water. Apart from these, the unjust contract is also leads to exploitation of poor farmers. But in case there is any such kind of thing is coming, it is important that all contract farming approvals be based on farm sustainability parameters. Contract must specify that the company will return the land back to the farmer (which it takes on lease) in the same fertility conditions that existed at the time of the contract.
Corporate agriculture must be discouraged. All over the world, agribusiness companies have displaced farmers. This cannot be allowed in India, which supports 65-crores of people on the farm. Exotic as well as hybrid seeds should be discouraged. These have been primarily responsible for making the lands sick. The thrust should be on traditional seeds.

But to move towards above mentioned approach the policy formulation process should be farmer-centric and must be with a bottom-up approach. Again this task can not be entrusted to Green Revolution mindset experts; it has be entrusted to individuals who want to see the new paradigm implemented.

*Author is a pro farmer activist and is Director of Center for Contemporary studies & Research

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