FOCUS ON ASIA
"The Green Revolution was projected to have saved the country some 58 million hectares of additional land to be brought under the plough, whereas almost twice that land mass has been rendered degraded and ecologically devastated."
The darker truths behind farmers' suicides
[India News] Bangalore, Sep 27
Indo-Asian News Service
[appears to be based on an article by Devinder Sharma]
The fact that 65 of the 243 farmers who committed suicide in Maharashtra's Vidhrabha region had debts as little as Rs.8,000 has not shaken the conscience of India, Grassroots Features reports.
That Meena Prakash Rechpade, widow of 36-year-old farmer Prakash of Dhanori village near Wardha in Maharashtra, has no money to arrange for the last rites of her husband no longer evokes a strong reaction.
In Andhra Pradesh, ever since Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy took over as chief minister in May, over 400 farmers have committed suicide.
In Karnataka, new Chief Minister Dharam Singh seems to have no time for farmers in distress. More than 300 farmers have committed suicide in the state. A majority of those were below 45.
In western Uttar Pradesh, 14 farmers committed suicide in July. Farmer suicides are topping the chart in Kerala too.
In frontline agricultural states like Punjab and Haryana, the situation is no better. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had said that close to 2,000 farmers have committed suicide in recent years.
While the serial death dance continues, policy makers and agricultural scientists are busy laying the foundations for India's second "Green Revolution".
Sensing the uneasiness being felt by agricultural scientists, support has already flown in from the expected quarters -- the biotechnology industry.
The US-based International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Application (ISAAA) -- which promoted genetically engineered crops and transfer of technology with multimillion-dollar funding from Cargill, Dow, Monsanto and Novartis in addition to foundations and Western governmental funding agencies -- is busy collaborating with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), besotted with the vision of India as one vast genomic valley.
This is happening at a time when high chemical input based technology has already mined the soils and ultimately led to lands gasping for breath, with water-guzzling hybrid and Bt cotton crops sucking the groundwater aquifers dry. This has happened at a time when the markets have failed to rescue farmers from a collapse of farming systems.
In Punjab, for instance, of the 138 development blocks, 84 have already been declared dark zones -- the level of groundwater exploitation in these blocks has been in excess of 98 percent against the critical limit of 80 percent.
The National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning estimates that nearly 120 million hectares of the total cultivable land of 142 million hectares in the country is degraded.
The Green Revolution was projected to have saved the country some 58 million hectares of additional land to be brought under the plough, whereas almost twice that land mass has been rendered degraded and ecologically devastated.
All these years, for instance, dry land regions, which comprise nearly 75 percent of the total cultivable area, have increasingly come under hybrid crops.
While crop yields from these was surely high, the flip side -- these varieties are water guzzlers -- was very conveniently ignored.
In Punjab and Haryana, farmers cultivate high-yielding varieties of rice that require about 3,000 litres of water to produce a kilo of grain. Instead of bringing in varieties that require less water for deficit areas, hybrid varieties with water requirement exceeding 5,000 litres a kg were promoted.
Three decades after the first Green Revolution, scientists are now discovering that chemical pesticides are a complete waste of time and money. They have realised the grave mistake only after poisoning the lands, contaminating groundwater, polluting the environment and the death of thousands of farmers.
Not only rice hybrids, all kinds of hybrid varieties that require higher doses of water -- whether it is of sorghum, maize, cotton, bajra and vegetables -- are promoted in the dry land regions.
The harmful combination of chemical inputs with water guzzling crops has played havoc with dry lands, turning them not only further unproductive but also barren.
At no stage did scientists call for a mid-term correction to rectify the imbalance and destruction of soil fertility through excessive application of chemicals.
The second generation environmental impacts became so serious that the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which runs 16 international agricultural centres, did launch an initiative for studying the negative impact of the Green Revolution model on sustainable agriculture in the Indo-Gangetic plains but the results were never made public.
Instead of learning from the Green Revolution debacle, the same breed of scientists and policy makers are now being asked to provide a solution to the prevailing agrarian crisis.
The darker truths behind farmers' suicides (27/9/2004)
FOCUS ON ASIA