At your peril


The need of the hour in India’s agricultural sector is sustainable and eco-friendly farming. Can we resort to that even as GM crops’ shadow looms?

SSeveral aspects of problems faced by farmers have been highlighted in recent months. Yet, some important issues have not received the deserved attention. Firstly, there is the very important need to reduce the cost of farming. Secondly, there is the need to emphasise that the solutions we find for the farming crisis should definitely be along the lines of eco-friendly farm practices, or along the lines of agro-ecology. Only then, these solutions will be sustainable.

During the last five decades or so, the government has followed and favoured policies and technologies which have increased farming costs relentlessly – whether it is the costs of fertilisers pesticides, herbicides, seeds of big companies, or various kinds of farm machinery. Firstly, the government implemented policies which trapped farmers in this technology, and at a later stage, price of some of the inputs and implements went on increasing arbitrarily. The next phase is that of extension in some way or the other of intellectual property rights or patents to seeds and farming. This is also the phase of aggressive promotion of GM (genetically modified) crops, which are getting concentrated in the hands of fewer and bigger multinational companies bent on dominating the world food and agriculture scene.

India is predominantly a land of small farmers who have very low capacity to absorb losses. There are several uncertainties associated with farming, which have only increased in times of climate change, erratic weather, and declining water table. Hence, a relentless rise in costs over the years – which has accentuated further in more recent times – has been one of the most important factors behind the increasing debts and distress of farmers.

Fortunately, dozens of interesting experiments and initiatives all over the country have established that it is possible to reduce the costs on a sustainable basis. These possibilities will increase further if the government invests in a much bigger way in water and moisture conservation, improving pastures and the green cover of indigenous trees of diverse species, protection of traditional diverse seeds and small-scale, low-cost irrigation projects, all this taken up with the involvement of local villagers. For sustainable and broad-based, deeply rooted well-being of farming and farmers, it is very important to maintain the fertility of soil, the water table, and also be protective towards the various pollinators and the various friendly birds, insects and micro-organisms. But the policies and technologies promoted and pursued in India have relentlessly destroyed the natural fertility of soil, depleted and lowered the water table, while perpetuating a genocide against bees and other pollinators, various friendly insects, earthworms and micro organisms. It is a measure of the distorted thinking that has dominated that wherever all this happened on the largest scale, those areas in official jargon are called the most developed areas. Now with the advent of GM crops and related technologies, the ground is being prepared for the next stage of irreversible ecological ruin. Fortunately again, there have been several experiments and initiatives which reveal that still it is possible to come out of the trap of this ecologically destructive farming and adopt sustainable, eco-friendly farming practices. The two challenges of reducing costs and protecting environment are mutually supportive of each other. The same methods, technologies and policies can be very useful in protecting environment and reducing costs. In some places, organic and eco-friendly farming has been made needlessly expensive by adding costly certification procedures. This is not for us. We need those eco-friendly methods which are so low cost as to be close to zero budget.

Very low cost methods and ecologically protective methods become more possible within the overall perspective of self-reliant communities. So the key issues are reducing costs, eco-friendly farming, and an overall perspective of increasing self-reliance.


Bharat Dogra

Bharat Dogra is a Delhi-based freelance journalist who writes on social concerns.