We left Potnal yesterday morning, visited an NGO en route and reached Kadiri at 8 pm. Dinesh met us near the bus stop on his motorcycle and we followed him to his home, with a brief stop at Earth 360, the millet processing factory that he set up, which we were pleased to hear, was doing well. Involved in every step of promoting millets, linking farmers and consumers, the company had grown and was breaking even while upholding the values with which it began 5 years ago, holistic health for people and planet through sustainable agriculture rooted in diverse, local, whole grains (also called coarse grains). In brief: millets for all, health for all. Continue reading
What follows is the third part of a talk called “Women’s Rights Perspective in Birth, Breastfeeding and Food” that I presented at a Training Program on Gender, Work and Health held at the National Labour Institute, Delhi in March 2014. The earlier two parts concern Birth and Breastfeeding. Continue reading
Eating is an agricultural act. – Wendell Berry
Films like “The Story of Stuff” have made millions of people aware of the connection between what individuals consume and waste daily, to the issues of poverty and pollution globally. At the local level, we need to translate this to specific changes people can make in food, clothing and shelter habits to meet our needs without exploiting our environment and other people.
While the mainstream media spends billions persuading us that we need to consume more and more to be happy and that simple living is dull and difficult, the Farmers’ Market serves as a place to bring producers and consumers together, to and make a socially conscious economy not only possible but also joyful. Street musicians perform while children ramble about the park and eager photographers zoom in on birds and butterflies.
The farmers bring fresh vegetables and fruits from their fields, and several stalls sell snacks prepared from organic ingredients. As well as art and craft stalls, a place to spin thread on a charkha, a stall to get a massage and others that come and go.
I found it a worthwhile place to display our jivika products, particularly those that are not available in most places, such as our convenient nursing kurtas, cloth menstrual pads and cloth diapers, and the veggie-bags. All of these are designed not only for supporting products made of khadi by rural tailors, but products that make sustainable living easier for all of us. So I usually take an EZ Cooker, which generally interests people to come and find out what it is and how it works, and a few people order them for home use. When it is cold I try to take some khadi hoodies as well. And the usual AID literature, CDs, calendar etc. Apart from sales, tabling is a great opportunity to meet interesting people and particularly young people looking for volunteer work. Because the farmers’ market is not just about buying delicious food but connecting with people who believe that we can bring about a better world.
Organic food is expensive. But polluting the land and our bodies is even more expensive, though as a consolation the vegetables may come with a lower price tag. I try to keep on buying organic food not only for my own sake but also in the hopes that as the farmers practicing organic agriculture get more demand, they will also increase their supply, get more economic supply chains and eventually more people will be able to afford these and farmers who grow the food will have more secure livelihoods.
Among the threats to food security today are:
- Cultural Change
Unsustainable agricultural policy
Non-implementation of land rights
Loss of forests, depriving forest-dwelling communities of livelihood as well as food / medicine that comes from the forest, as well as overall health of ecosystem.
Loss of bees
Pollution, Submergence, and Diversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural use
- Dams and diversion of water for cash cropping, tourism and other non-agricultural use
Land acquisition for industries and projects that benefit industries, rendering 1 million people per year landless, homeless and food-insecure.
- Food Industry – nutritionally inferior products, false advertising, government subsidy, corporate lobbyists,
25th August 2012
GM crops are no way forward by SATYARAT CHATURVEDI
The Hindu, 24 August 2012
It is very good to hear directly from one of the members of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture. People must unite behind this committee’s recommendations and see that the government of India stop all field trials and ban Genetically Modified food crops (such as Bt. brinjal).
“For years the biotechnology industry has trumpeted that it will feed the world, promising that its genetically engineered crops will produce higher yields.
That promise has proven to be empty, according to Failure to Yield, a report by UCS expert Doug Gurian-Sherman released in March 2009. Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.”
from: Union of Concerned Scientists report: Failure to Yield
Concerned Scientists in India must study and report on matters like this that impact policy and people’s lives.
GM crops are no way forward
Food security is not about production alone; it is also about bio-safety, and access to food for the poorest
We are predominantly an agricultural economy, with the agricultural sector providing employment and subsistence to almost 70 per cent of the workforce. There have been some remarkable contributions from the agriculture sector to food grain production in the last six decades, when from a meagre 50 million tonnes in the 1950s, the country has been able to produce a record 241 million tonnes in 2010-2011. Despite these achievements, the condition of the farming community is pitiable considering that 70 per cent of our farmers are small and marginal, and there is a complete absence of pro-farmer/pro-agriculture policies which has led us to an environment of very severe agrarian distress.
PROS AND CONS
In this situation, food security has been one of the main agendas of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government and also one that the government has been struggling with. There is a strong opinion among policymakers that biotechnology holds a lot of promise in achieving food security and that transgenic crops, especially, are a sustainable way forward. But given the opposition and controversies surrounding Genetically Modified (GM) crops and the differences of opinion among stakeholders, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture decided to take on the mammoth task of an objective assessment of the pros and cons of introducing GM crops.
We expect the observations in our report to answer the big question on the role of GM crops in achieving food security. We hope the recommendations will be acted upon at the earliest. The committee felt this was all the more necessary in the light of the Prime Minister’s exhortation at the Indian Science Congress about the full utilisation of modern biotechnology for ensuring food security but without compromising on safety and regulatory aspects.
In India, the only commercialised GM crop is Bt cotton. Industry and the Central government have painted a picture of success about it — saying it has led to an increase in production and that the costs of cultivation have gone down. But the ground reality is starkly different. This was evident during the extensive interactions of the committee with farmers in different cotton growing regions around the country during study visits in March 2012.
Besides analysing the facts and figures provided by government agencies and listening to eminent cotton scientists, the committee’s consultation with farmers in Vidharbha helped us conclude that the Bt cotton saga is not as rosy as made out to be. In Vidharbha, the per-acre investment in cultivating traditional varieties, or even pre-Bt hybrids, could be less than Rs. 10,000. That was certainly the case until the first half of the previous decade. But for Bt cotton, even the un-irrigated farmer is spending upwards of Rs. 15,000-18,000 or even more per acre. And irrigated farmers complain of input costs exceeding Rs. 45,000 per acre. While the investment and acreage rose dramatically, the per acre yield and income did not increase in equal measure and actually fell after initial years. Indeed, the Union Agriculture Minister spoke of Vidharbha’s dismal yields on December 19, 2011 in the Rajya Sabha.
It was clear that at least for the rain-fed cotton farmers of our country, the introduction of Bt cotton offered no socio-economic benefits. On the contrary, it being a capital intensive practice, the investment of farmers increased manifold thus exposing them to greater risks due to massive indebtedness. It needs to be remembered that rain-fed farmers constitute 85 per cent of all cotton growing farmers.
Added to this, there is desperation among farmers as introduction of Bt cotton has slowly led to the non-availability of traditional varieties of cotton. The cultivation of GM crops also leads to monoculture and the committee has witnessed its clear disadvantages. The decade of experience has shown that Bt cotton has benefited the seed industry hands down and not benefited the poorest of farmers. It has actually aggravated the agrarian distress and farmer suicides. This should be a clear message to policymakers on the impact of GM crops on farming and livelihoods associated with it.
From the various deliberations to which the committee was privy, it is clear that the technology of genetic engineering is an evolving one and there is much, especially on its impact on human health and environment, that is yet to be understood properly. The scientific community itself seems uncertain about this. While there are many in this community who feel that the benefits outweigh the risks, others point to the irreversibility of this technology and uncontrollability of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) once introduced in the ecosystem. Hence, they advocate a precautionary approach towards any open release of GMOs.
One of the concerns raised strongly by those opposing GM crops in India is that many important crops like rice, brinjal, and mustard, among others, originated here, and introducing genetically modified versions of these crops could be a major threat to the vast number of domestic and wild varieties of these crops. In fact, globally, there is a clear view that GM crops must not be introduced in centres of origin and diversity. India also has mega biodiversity hotspots like the Eastern Himalayas and the Western Ghats which are rich in biodiversity yet ecologically very sensitive. Hence it will only be prudent for us to be careful before we jump on to the bandwagon of any technology.
The committee’s findings on the GEAC-led regulatory system for GM crops show that it has a pro-Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and pro-industry tilt. It has also come under the scanner due to its inefficiency at the time of Bt Brinjal approval and for behaving like a promoter of GM crops rather than a regulatory body mandated to protect human health and environment from the risks of biotechnology. The DBT, whose mandate is to promote GM crops and fund various transgenics research, has a nominee as the co-chair of the GEAC, who gives the final approval for environmental and commercial release of GM crops.
The current regulatory system is shameful and calls for a complete makeover. While the government has been toying recently with the idea of a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority, the committee dismisses this and instead recommends an all-encompassing Biosafety Authority. While the committee has also evaluated international regulatory systems on GM crops, it recommends the Norwegian Gene Technology Act whose primary focus is bio-safety and sustainable development without adverse effects on health and environment, as a piece of legislation in the right direction for regulating GM crops in India.
The committee strongly believes that the problem today is in no measure comparable to the ship-to-mouth situation of the early 1960s. Policy and decision-makers must note that the total food grain production rose from 197 million tonnes in 2000-2001 to 241 million tonnes in 2010-11. A major argument by the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation before the committee in favour of GM crops was their potential to ensure the country’s food security. But the issue of food security is not about production alone; it also means access to food for the poorest. Moreover, there is no evidence as yet that GM crops can actually increase yields.
The committee, therefore, recommended the government come up with a fresh road map for ensuring food security in the coming years without jeopardising the vast biodiversity of the country and compromising with the safety of human and livestock health.
The committee unanimously feels that the government should take decisive action on the recommendations of this report and rethink its decision of introducing transgenics in agriculture as a sustainable way forward.
(Satyarat Chaturvedi is spokesperson, Indian National Congress, and member of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture)
AID CARES – campaign on organic agriculture: consumer awareness, responsibility and empowerment
Eating, Wendell Berry said in The Pleasures of Eating, is an agricultural act. What we eat, the farmers grow. If it comes from a plant, of course.
Michael Pollan said: “If it comes from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.” He advised this for the sake of our health and the health of the planet – social, economic, environmental, and spiritual. It is all connected.
The decline of our food habits will result in the decline of agriculture. Conversely, sustaining healthy food habits will sustain healthy agriculture. We can:
Grow food: All of us can grow at least one edible plant in our homes or spaces near our homes. It doesn’t get any more fresh, local, or organic than that.
Buy local: We can also encourage farmers near us who are first and foremost farming, under circumstances that are often difficult, and especially those who are trying to practice sustainable agriculture through low-external input, crop diversity, natural nourishment of the soil and plants, and non-pesticidal and non-herbicidal management of pests and weeds. You can find locally grown foods at the farmers’ market or join a community supported agriculture. In response to growing demand, grocery stores have also started carrying food from within the county, state or region, and displaying the location. Sources of local food in the US are listed at http://www.localharvest.org.
Avoid packaged food: As people’s food habits move towards eating packaged and highly processed foods, eating will become an industrial act and the more industrial food we eat, the more industries will rise to manufacture, package, advertise and market those edible-food like substances. These industries create pollution and waste, in addition to landlessness, sponsored research, misinformed policy, and disease. Remember, the food industry creates customers for the health industry.
Avoid markets that carry mostly packaged food:
Compare the markets where fresh food is sold to those selling packaged food. Which is more likely to allow you to bring your own bags, thus avoiding plastic bags? In which are you more likely to know the shopkeeper? Which is more likely to allow you to pay later if you are in a tight spot?
Which is more likely to be air-conditioned? Which is more likely to have security staff guarding the entrance, checking the bags that come in and go out, and deciding who is allowed in the shop? Which is more likely to send advertisements?
Local or organic? With consumer support, a local farmer may move towards sustainable, low-external input and non-toxic agricultural methods. But a Big Organic farm thousand of miles away has no interest in any local community. It is enough for them if a small percentage of people distributed throughout the country buys their products, separating the organic haves and have-nots. More frightening is that the Big Organic companies can drive out the smaller, local players who are more likely to take a holistic view of organic food, not limited to “absence of pesticides” but rather regional biodiversity, intercropping, and working conditions that allow the workers to have a share in what they produce.
We need local and organic. With community solidarity, organic can be viable for more local farmers and also affordable for more local consumers.
Questions asked after Farmer’s Vigil
Locally, people often use the phrase “Low-input Sustainable Agriculture” rather than “organic.” The aim is two-fold – to make agriculture remunerative to farmers and to make it sustainable year after year by enhancing the quality of the farm and the soil. This requires moving away from the Green Revolution paradigm of dependence on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and seeds from the market. In Vidarbha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Uttaranchal and elsewhere, farmers are successfully moving to methods which require very little expenditure on external inputs. What is more, these methods rejuvenate the soil at the end of the season so that agriculture is sustainable year after year. Organic farming is being successfully used even for crops like paddy, sugarcane and cotton.
You may read more about this on the AID Agri page which is updated with literature on pesticides & fertilizers, site visit reports to groups practicing organic or low-input sustainable agricutlure.