"INDO-US KNOWLEDGE INITIATIVE ON AGRICULTURE -  WHITHER INDIAN FARMER?"

National Workshop on December 8th & 9th 2006 Hyderabad



"Similarities & Differences between Indian and American

Agriculture and need for the KIA?"

 

Sri Devinder Sharma then made his presentation on "Similarities & Differences between Indian and American Agriculture and need for the KIA?".

 

Congratulating CSA and CWS for taking this initiative to hold a national workshop on the KIA, Mr Sharma pointed out that the fact that there has been no debate on this important issue is also a reflection on the agricultural scientists in the country (compared to the Indo-US nuclear deal which brought together many nuclear scientists of the country to write to the Prime Minister). The following is a transcription of most of his talk:

 

"Ladies and Gentlemen, let me present two scenarios to you. India is seen as the Land of the Holy Cow. We have all been made to believe that all the 400 species of livestock in India are unproductive, they hardly give any milk. So what do you do? We have to improve the productivity of the Indian milk production, we're told. There are 27 breeds in India -many of them fit remarkably well in the areas that they belong to. Then an impression was given that these breeds are good for nothing. So what you must do is to bring the improved germplasm of Jersy or Holstein Frisian, then cross breed your cows, then they start giving the milk. Why is it that we never realize our own potential and everybody thinks that our cattle is unproductive? Is there something wrong here? If you read the Agricultural History written by MS Randhawa, he says that these breeds are well endowed and respected for their high yielding capacity. We had a White Revolution in the country but eventually, it is a recent FAO report that finally opened our eyes. The report says that Brazil has emerged as an important exporter of Indian cattle breeds and is also into embryo transfer and is selling embryos at a particular price to Asia and Africa. The report tells us that in the 1960s, Brazil imported four cattle breeds from India. When these breeds landed in Brazil, they found that these breeds could also yield a lot of milk. They had actually imported them for their beef potential. Today, Brazil is benefiting from the breeds that we had badly neglected and discounted. It speaks volumes about the way we did agriculture.

 

'Twenty years later, Pepsi Cola entered India through the back door by promising a second horticultural revolution in trouble-torn Punjab. When they entered India, they talked about those kinds of varieties that would suit the food processing industry. They said that Indian potato and tomato varieties were not good for food processing. 'We'll bring our own germplasm from America and Venezuela', they said. Subsequently they brought in 6 varieties of Potato into India and it was found out by the Central Potato Research Institute that the varieties brought by Pepsi were as good and as bad as existing Indian varieties. No wonder that Pepsi Cola still uses Indian varieties of potato for their potato chips. Then came the KFC. When KFC came in, they said that Indian chicken is not of good quality, so you must bring in improved variety. When Pepsi Cola brought in potatoes and KFC brought in improved chicken, they must have revolutionized the entire food processing industry in India. However, they still use Indian breeds of poultry for their foods. When the companies want to push in something, they always brand our products as inefficient or substandard or poor in quality. They always say that they would bring superior quality.

 

"Around 1985, there was an amendment in the American Congress called the Bumpers amendment. Senator Bumper introduced an amendment which said that the US will no longer support or provide aid to anything that is in opposition to their trade interests, and that would mean essentially in case of agriculture. So US in 1980s started withdrawing from all those areas where it was competing. Let us say when it wants work on rice in Asia, it said we want to withdraw the investments that we made in India because it competes with American interests. On other products like Soybean and so on and so forth. This amendment still holds good and changes the course of the scientific collaborations in the days to come.

 

'let's look at the similarities or dissimilarities that exist between these two countries. In America, in the previous century, the country actually moved 27 million people out of agriculture. This was before the War. This was because they had to make way for industry to come in. At the time that India attained independence, the total population of America involved in agriculture was. roughly around 10%. The average landholding size at that particular point of time was 50 ha. In 2000, the last time they had their census, they did not even count the number of farmers for the first time in their history. The number of farmers had come down to such a low level that they didn't have to count them. They do have some farmers left. There are fewer people on the American farms today than the number of people in their jails. What a remarkable development model! The same model is now being pushed all over the world.

 

"I think when we talk of this Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture we must look beyond the agreement at the larger onslaught on agriculture that has been pushed all over the world. Why is it that America which has less than 2% of farmers and 4% of GDP from agriculture is so interested in agriculture? I think that is the question that is bothering many of us. Why is 4% in GDP making them so interested in agriculture, what is happening in the WTO and so on and so forth? University of Tennessee at Knoxville came out with a study which said that GDP is not the right way to see the role of agriculture in the economy. With only a 4% share in the GDP, agriculture still accounts for a 60% share in the America's economy. That was a quite a revelation. When I shared this bit of information with agricultural policy makers in India, they were just baffled because even here, they only talk about share of agriculture to GDP in India is falling and therefore we need not bother much about agriculture. What we are not understanding is that the share of agriculture in India's entire economy is roughly 80-90% and that we don't want to count.

 

"Ladies and gentlemen, in America, they forcefully removed people out of agriculture after the war - however, America's agricultural exports were increasing, food exports were increasing, subsidies went on increasing. It was agribusiness corporations that have taken control over the agriculture there. Here, when we talk about agriculture, we are talking about farmers - every fourth farmer in the world is an Indian. About 600 million people directly dependent on agriculture. Average land holding has come down from 4ha in 1947 to 1.3ha now. If you are maintaining a cow in America, you require 8-10 hectares of land for the kind of feed that goes to the cow whereas in India, a family of 5 members plus one or two cows would survive on 1.3 hectares of land.

 

"The crisis in Indian agriculture today is actually due to the collapse of the Green Revolution. Scientists call it as (technology) fatigue' but I call it the collapse. The Green Revolution model has completely collapsed and let's accept that. Unless we accept that, we cannot plan what we need to do to reorient our agriculture on economically viable and sustainable lines. We need to look back to understand how our understanding of agriculture was changed and how we shifted our policies towards American agriculture. USAID did a remarkable job when they set up agricultural universities in India under the Land Grant system. Pantnagar was the first agricultural University and now we have 47 agricultural universities, all based on the Land Grant system of education. They knew that if you have to change the agricultural system of a country like India, you must change the educational system. You must change the mindset of entire generations of people, the scientific community, and they did it remarkably well. I still remember that when I was a student of agriculture, the soil science that I used to read was Buck man and Brady. They did not know about tropical soils but we still read what Buckman and Brady had to tell about our soils! For everything that they wanted to teach or promote, they made us believe that our agriculture is substandard, backward and inefficient. In the education system through which we all came but in agricultural universities, we were made to believe that this is the only way forward. We have to bring in the so-called improved varieties, add more fertilizers, spray pesticides, pump out more water and so on if food production and productivity had to be improved. Yes, the Green revolution came and scientists go on patting themselves for the increase in the food production.

 

'That is history. Whether we did a remarkably good job or not is debatable. We went on increasing our production and productivity - NPK was the basic mantra. I always call the agricultural scientists as the NPK breed - a majority of the agronomic research in India in the last 40 years is based on NPK. Interestingly, you have all these various avenues to research on agronomic research, qualities of soil, so on and so forth; but every time a PhD student came out it was only on the NPK model. This tells you a bit about the kind of mindset they had put in. NPK, NPK and NPK - the negative impact of this is visible now. Some of us see the need for correction. However, the scientific community, instead of suggesting corrections is coming out with more green revolution as the answer. If your soil fertility is falling low, you are asked to add more fertilizers, rather than saying that you need to shift now, that we learnt a lesson that this is not suitable for our sustainable farming system. We went on doing this kind of mistake for the last 20 years and the result today is the complete destruction of the natural resource base.

 

"Some of the agricultural technologists did another job - they pushed in a technology which is not even suitable for irrigated areas into the un-irrigated areas. I still remember that National Academy on Agricultural Research Management (NAARM) did a report which said that dry sands are hungry for chemical fertilizers - what a remarkable report! A faulty model of agriculture was promoted into all systems of farming in India, not realizing or acknowledging that there could be an alternative approach. Scientists got disconnected from the realities of farming and that has been the biggest casuality in our entire understanding of agriculture. We went on promoting all these faulty technologies even in dryland agriculture even though we knew that these high yielding varieties require more water, more fertilizers and so on. Similarly, hybrid varieties require roughly 1.2 times more water that high yielding varieties. In the rainfed areas common sense should tell us that we require varieties which require less water. In the rainfed areas of India we have actually ended up growing varieties which require double the amount of water. What a remarkable system! The scientific community has turned a blind eye - you have hybrid rice, hybrid sorghum, hybrid corn, hybrid cotton, hybrid vegetables...all of them are grown in rainfed areas.

 

"At a time when Mrs. Gandhi was our Prime Minister in 1983, Ronald Reagan was the President of America. Ronald Regan made a statement then and I quote-'If America cannot find an export market for its produce, the American economy will collapse with the weight of artificial agricultural subsidies'. So the world began to think about how to bail out the US and Europe from this crisis - this was justified in the name of the poor and the underprivileged. We were also ready to bow our heads in front of such plans. Look at the WTO now. The role of KIA is to be seen in the context of the WTO also. This is part of the trinity which began with the World Bank and the IMF. They started telling us that it is no longer good to grow staple foods like wheat and rice and that wee need to diversify. That happened first in Latin America and in Africa and now of course India

is under great pressure to diversify its agriculture. Indian agricultural scientists are also ready to say that it is a dire need now. We somehow refuse to see the politics that exist beyond these policies.

 

"Let's take an example of rice - all these years we were told that pesticides are inevitable if you want to increase food productivity. So we've used pesticides on all crops including rice, as though there was no other alternative. The IRRI has now gone on record saying it was a waste of time and effort to use pesticides on rice in Asia. The farmers in Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, India and Bangladesh are getting higher yields of rice without using pesticides. It took four decades for the scientists to understand that pesticides were not at all required on rice. Here in Andhra Pradesh, Non Pesticidal Management is being adopted now in a large scale promoted by CWS and CSA. It is not just rice but all other crops that do not require pesticides - yet, we went on promoting and promoting pesticides blindly. Now, the damage is evident with these toxic chemicals. The scientific community has to acknowledge that they were party to the entire episode.

 

"This is a paradigm where we go on giving farmers technologies that they do not need. It is the same with genetically modified seeds - we are told that if we don't give this technology to farmers, they would suffer. In reality, farmers given this technology are committing suicides. Growing indebtedness of farmers is not because the farmer drinks or is spending too much money on marriages and so on....the reality is that we actually brought in technologies that were not required and were expensive. They upset the entire economy of the farmers. The cost of production had gone up enormously. People blame money lenders but they forget to mention the role of nationalized banks in this entire process of actually exacerbating the crisis.

 

"As a parallel process, while we were destroying our land and other natural resources along with our farmers, we were shifting agriculture into agricultural business. When the WTO was brought in, we were told that farmers of developing countries can benefit now by exporting and that we could import food at low prices. The Punjab Agricultural University, the seat of the GR, actually did a report on this. The Vice-Chancellor was asked by the Government of India how wonderful the WTO would be for the farmers in the state, in a report demanded overnight. So he asked the economics department - by the morning, I want a report from you on what the WTO would do to Punjab, he said. The report said that it will be wonderful for Punjab....Punjab will export planeloads of foods, fruits and cut flowers and we will have dollars coming back into Punjab, it was predicted. That was 1995. Now in 2006, where are all those promised dollars? We ignored the realities of WTO and tried to bring in a system that actually benefited the corporations. The WTO was a model which was actually designed to promote the interests of agribusiness corporations. In 1995, the WTO promised that the world will gain $829 billion a year, if the entire trade obstacles are removed. Out of which, the gain to the developing countries was projected to be $537 billion. Latest figures would shock you - the total gain from WTO now is estimated to be $34 billion. From $829 billion, it has come down to $34 billion. The share of the developing countries has come down from $537 to $6.7 billion and translated into Indian rupees, 35,000 crores is what the developing countries will gain every year. This is the gain for 110 developing countries of the world. The rural development ministry's budget in India is Rs 60,000 crores and we are only talking about Rs 35,000 crores as the gain from WTO. Of course India's share is negative in WTO. What has happened in the entire bargain? Developing counties had to remove all the trade barriers and country after country became a food importing country. When you import food, you actually import unemployment. That's what happened in the developing part of the world. Farmers of one country have been pitted against small and marginal farmers of another developing country. The only gainers are America and the European Union. The American gain from the export of food and agricultural commodities is $10 billion a year. The European Union has increased their export by 26% which equals to $3 billion a year. We now know who are the gainers and who are the losers.

 

"World over, emergence of agribusiness companies and consolidation is getting stronger. There will be three kinds of players now in the food chain. In America, the technology is produced by one set of companies - Monsanto, Syngenta and so on. Then another set of players - the food trading companies like Cargill come in. Monsanto produces the seed and the Cargill will buy the grain. The third player is the big retailer. With the retail chain super markets, from the seed in the field to the food on your plate, the entire food chain is very well determined and in the hands of a few powerful players. In India also, Monsanto will give us food through Reliance. In America, the home for contract farming and commodity trading, if these systems were so good for farmers with the elimination of middlemen, why are farmers continuously quitting agriculture? Can someone answer that soundly before advocating it for other countries like India?

 

"We have been told again and again that for Indian farmers to be competitive in the global markets, we have to promote technologies like Genetic Engineering to improve productivity. The paddy productivity in America is 7 t/ha and in India it is 3 t/ha. So if Indian farmers have to compete globally, they must raise their productivity levels from 3 tons to 7 tons, we're told. Incidentally, the people who grow 7 tons per hectare are the not the leading exporters. The country which is the biggest exporter of rice is Thailand, whose productivity is lower than that of India at around 2.8 tons per hectare, which means productivity has got nothing to do with global dominance. With increased productivity, farming would become viable, they argue. Scientists are misleading farmers on that count too. In America, total output of rice is $1.2 billion. Those farmers however cannot survive till they get a corresponding subsidy. The total subsidy that American rice growers get is $1.4 billion. If you remove their subsidy their entire rice production falls. This is not only true for rice but also for other crops. In India if a farmer gets to raise his productivity from 3 tons to 7 tons, please tell me who will provide the farmer a corresponding subsidy? There, it is corporations which are getting subsidy in the name of farmers. It is not efficiency that makes agriculture viable there but subsidies. The question today in the global arena is that of subsidy versus subsistence. Unless we realize this, we are not going to address the real issue of the farming crisis here.

"World over, Bt Cotton has been promoted in the name of productivity and frontier technology, as in the case of USA and India. In the US, the total output of cotton is $3 billion. The subsidy that 25,000 cotton farmers get is around $4.7 billion. 20,000 cotton farmers in America, get a subsidy of $15 million a day. These subsidies depress the global prices by about 40%. That means that the Vidarbha farmer is priced out. The American cotton growers survive not because of their efficient way of farming but because of the huge subsidies provided to them. Add to this the complication of IPRs - India is a mega diversity centre as far as the biodiversity is concerned. We are home to 45,000 species and are home to 81,000 animal species including lower forms of life. Out of this, 7,000 plant species are endemic and originate from India. On the other hand, only 5 plant species and 3 animal species have originated in America. You cannot build a superpower with 5 plant species and 3 animal species. So what do you do? You try to appropriate or misappropriate genetic resources from all over the world. We have been told that genetic resources are humankind's heritage. They must be conserved and put in one place, we were told. We did that. We collected our rice germplasm, we collected our wheat germplasm and we collected our dryland germplasm and put them in gene banks at different places. Then we were told that this is mankind's heritage, so if you keep rice germplasm in Cuttack or in Hyderabad it is not going to helpful, lets put them in one genebank in international agricultural research centres. So we put our rice germplasm in International Rice Research Institute, Philippines, wheat germplasm in CYMMIT, Mexico, and so on. Then they said, to keep your rice germplasm or wheat germplasm in a city like Mexico City or Manila city, there is always a chance that some terrorist will come along and blow it up. So what do you do? You must keep a duplicate copy under safe custody. So where is that safe custody? It is in mountain rocks of Fort Collins in America. So they they put a gene bank there and the world's germplasm was collected and kept there. The world was assured that the world's resources are now taken care of! In 1992, in the Earth Summit, the Convention on Biological Diversity was signed. The CBD for the first time said that plant genetic resources are no longer the heritage of mankind but a national sovereign resource. However, the collections which were already with USDA are outside that purview. Which means that America has control over the vast germplasm collections from all over the world. They have the raw material, they have the biotechnology, they have the money but the problem is that they don't know what to do with these plants. After all you can't go on deciphering and analyzing the composition of each plant for what is commercially useful there. So what do you do? You go to those communities who actually live with these species. Those communities have the traditional knowledge that goes with these traditional resources, as you all know. No wonder that traditional knowledge has become the buzz word now - that it is mankind's heritage and that we must document it before it gets lost and so on. Every scientist, policy makers, CSIR, ICAR and others became very kind and started documenting the traditional knowledge. And the argument was that only if you have this documentation can you challenge bio-piracy. The reality is that we do not even know what patents are being obtained where, based on what resources and knowledge stolen from where. However, ready documentation in a digitized form, in the name of conserving traditional knowledge is being prepared. It is of course readily available for corporations that so desire. Some how, civil society also fell for it. We have joined hands and ensured that they not only the plant genetic resources but also the traditional knowledge. That's what agri-corporations are looking for and if there are still some missing links, the Indo-US knowledge initiative will fill that gap.

 

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the farmers are being completely and continuously squeezed and the agribusiness corporations are continuously increasing their profits. In spite of the so-called successful implementation of the GR, the WTO and various other things, the average monthly income of an Indian farming family is Rs. 2115/- as per the NSS estimates. This includes income from dairying also. The implications of this model of agriculture are clear - we are following a model that began in Europe and America where farmers were forcibly removed from their farming. Despite all the subsidies that they get, European farmers are constantly quitting agriculture. It is now said, no problem if farmers are dying by suicides or quitting agriculture and migrating. Governments want to facilitate big business to come in whether it is Reliance or Bharti. This is actually the Exit Policy for farmers in India. We can expect 400 million farmers to leave rural areas and migrate to urban centres in India by the year 2015. This will be the biggest disaster that this country has ever witnessed. This displacement will surpass all displacement we have seen so far from big dams and so on. This KIA is just a part of the bigger design. We should be clear about where this is all leading, who it will benefit and so on. Agricultural scientists who are supporting such initiatives should remember that their very livelihoods are at stake too, here. This initiative might give them some space to travel abroad and may pay some salaries for a while. They are looking at this as a wonderful opportunity thrown at them when they seem to have nothing else to do. However, they should understand the larger scheme of things, where more and more universities are unable to pay and keep their agricultural scientists and educators.

'For us in the civil society, ensuring that the farmer does not disappear from the economic radar screen of the country is a great challenge. We should see how we can join hands and get support to ensure that the future of farmers is not as dismal as it appears. Thank you".

 

 

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