Agriculture

For over two decades now, agriculture has suffered neglect, as successive governments, led by World Bank-prescribed growth models, have issued disproportionate doles to industry.While current allocations do not spell much hope, Devinder Sharma suggests what the Modi government can still do to reverse the trend.

We’re accustomed to think of biodiversity only in connection with wild species in places like the rain forest, but the species that humans have selected and bred since the invention of agriculture are no less important. They represent a priceless worldwide store of genetic and cultural information, the heritage of some 10,000 years of co-evolution between humans and their crop plants.

I’ve had a relationship with islands since I was a young man. My attraction has not been to the clichéd tropical fantasy of palm trees and white sand: it is something deeper - island as metaphor for our existence on Earth, representing independence and interdependence, natural limits and boundless space. Island as paradox.

(Translated From the book ‘Aaj bhi khare ha italaab’)

As yet another example of the desperate ‘science’ of Monsanto, it is now being argued that genetically engineered Bt cotton – introduced in India in 1997 – has liberated Indian women. In a paper authored by Arjunan Subramanian, Kerry Kirwan, David Pink and MatinQaim, the argument is that the crop produces massive gains for women’s employment in India.

 

But this argument is false on many grounds.

Did you know: the estimated diversity of beans varieties is 2,000; that of tomatoes are 6,000; while that of rice is a staggering 20,000? Sadly, we have access to only a few commercially grown vegetables – so uniform, pesticide-laced, waxed with chemicals and deceptively attractive. The loss of biological diversity, particularly in the "gene-rich" countries of the Third World, undermines the very essence of sustainable agriculture, as it destroys choices for the future and robs people of a key resource base for survival.

Organic farming is coming under attack from many quarters, even as awareness spreads that it is integral to a more sustainable and healthier way of life. Criticism ranges from doubts about its lack of capacity to feed the world, to, bogies being raised about people having to return to the ‘dark ages’ of food shortage and starvation unless recourse to intensive chemical farming is taken forthwith.

Globally, and in Australia, food has become too cheap. This is having a wide range of unfortunate– and potentially dangerous – effects, which include:

One of India’s first organic farmers, Bhaskar Save, believes co-operation is the fundamental law of Nature

Masanobu Fukuoka, renowned natural farmer, made several visits to India, a country which inspired more hope in him than his own Japan. On his last visit here, he spent a day at the farm of another remarkable octogenarian, Bhaskar Save, in southernmost coastal Gujarat. Halfway through his bullock cart tour of the place, Fukuoka declared – “I have seen many farms all over the world. This is the best; it is even better than my own farm!”

In recent years, there has been a serious disconnect between the consumer and the farmer. By the time we finally consume food, not only has it travelled a lot from the plot to the plate, but it has also undergone so many modifications that what we finally get is a mere ‘product’. Many of us would have hardly met or chatted with someone who grows our food; much less visited their farms and understood what it takes to grow food.

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