Towards a Self Reliant (Atmanirbhar), Seed Sovereign, Food Sovereign India Through Regenerative Agriculture (Jaivik Kheti) and local, circular, solidarity, economies. — Dr. Vandana Shiva
Referring to the food problem India faced as a result of the extractive “Lagaan” based agriculture of British Colonialism which killed 2 million during the Great Bengal Famine of 1942, and had killed 60 million during a few centuries of British Rule, on 10th June 1947 at a prayer meeting Gandhi had said - “The first lesson we must learn is of self-help and self reliance. If we assimilated this lesson we shall at once free ourselves from disastrous dependence on foreign countries and ultimate bankruptcy. This is not said in arrogance but as a matter of fact. We are not a small place, dependent for this food supply upon outside help. We are a subcontinent, a nation of nearly 400 million (now 1.3 billion). We are a country of mighty rivers and a rich variety of agricultural land, with inexhaustibe cattle wealth …”
After Independence we became food self reliant through shifting from extractive agriculture that created famines and poverty to a regenerative agriculture that repaired the broken nutrient and water cycles and guaranteed fair incomes to farmers and fair food to all, focusing on “food first” policies instead of the colonial policies of priority for cash crops and raw material for industry.
At a program on Regeneration of Indian Agriculture on 27th Sept 1951 KM Munshi, told the state Directors of Agriculture that the diversity of India’s soils, crops and climates had to be taken into account in making plans. The need to plan from the bottom, to consider every village and sometimes every individual field was considered essential for the regeneration of Indian Agriculture KM Munshi said – “Study the Life’s Cycle in the village under your chargein both its aspects-hydrological and nutritional. Find out where the cycle has been disturbed and estimate the steps necessary for restoring it … Nothing is too mean and nothing too difficult for the person who believes that the restoration of life’s cycle is not only essential for freedom and happiness of India but is essential for her very existence”
This process of regenerating nature’s cycles and our food and agriculture self reliance was eroded by the chemical driven Green Revolution and the corporate driven Globalisation and so called “free trade”. We are being recolonized again.
Background: How the Green Revolution and Industrialisation and Globalisation of Food and Agriculture has contributed to the crisis of livelihoods, hunger and disease.
The Green Revolution model of energy intensive, water intensive and chemical intensive agriculture undid the gains of the post independence policies of regeneration, and has degraded the soil and the land, destroyed biodiversity, created a water crisis and contributed to climate change and chronic diseases.
Chemical agriculture combined with globalization of food and agriculture since 1991 has led to a shift from staple foods to commodity crops and raw material for the industrial food processing industry, which are perishable. Farmers dependence on costly corporate seed and agrichemical inputs has increased, and falling prices of commodities has trapped farmers in debt, eroded their seed sovereignty and food sovereignty. It has contributed to the agrarian crisis.
Pseudo-productivity: A recipe for displacement of farmers, destruction of livelihoods and creation of hunger and malnutrition.
Farmers were turned into refugees on their land by industrialised farming propelled by neo liberal globalisation that incentivised agriculture led by agribusiness corporations. “Productivity” was manipulated to drive farmers off the land and also create the illusion that we were producing more food and reducing hunger. When Productivity takes chemical capital, chemical and energy inputs into account, industrial agriculture is in fact a negative economy because it uses 10 units of energy to produce one unit of energy as food. In the pseudo productivity calculus, instead of taking into account the high costs of chemical, energy and water inputs, productivity is measured falsely by treating human beings as “inputs” instead of recognising that human beings are cocreators who take care of the land and the well being of society is the outcome of any economic activity. Displacement of farmers is tautologically built into this definition of pseudo productivity of industrial agriculture.
When productivity takes chemical capital, chemical and energy inputs into account, industrial agriculture is in fact a negative economy because it uses 10 units of energy to produce one unit of energy as food.
Pseudo productivity is creating an ecological crises, an unemployment crisis, and a hunger and malnutrition crisis.
The farmers who had been displaced from farming and gone to cities as agrarian refugees, are now returning to their villages as a result of the corona lock down. It is inappropriate to call them “migrant labour” because they are Indian citizens, and have the freedom to move to any part of the country. They are displaced workers .
According to 2011 Census of India, there were as many as 48.2 crore workers in India. Of these, only 3.3 crore are in the formal sector. Of the rest who are in the unorganised/informal sectors, constituting 93% of the total workforce, 11.9 crores are farmers, 14.4 crores landless agricultural workers, and 21.9 crore non-agricultural workers.
80% urban workers lost jobs and started an exodus back to the villages.The working people who are the foundation of our economy were treated as throw away people, even criminalised and made victims of police brutality.
The hunger crisis has grown as millions have lost livelihoods and work.
Hunger and malnutrition is also structurally designed into the industrialised, globalised food system which is destroying the small farms which produce 70% of the food globally while using only 25% of the land. In India our entire food system is based on small farms. Small farms are more productive because they are based on care for the biodiversity and for the land, they are based on deep knowledge and multiple intelligences of farmers. Pseudo productivity also becomes an illegitimate instrument of land grab. Since 1991 Structural adjustment, an attempt has been made to grab the land of small farmers through contract farming or changing the land acquisition act. Seed Sovereignty and Land Sovereignty is the foundation for Food Sovereignty. India will be Atma Nirbhar when our farmers are Atma Nirbhar, the land sovereignty, seed sovereignty, knowledge sovereignty and economic sovereignty of farmers is protected, and no one goes hungry.
The agrarian crisis in India is deep, as is the malnutrition crisis. We have lost 400,000 farmers to suicide. India has the largest number of hungry people in the world. In the 2019 Global Hunger Index, India ranks 102nd out of 117 qualifying countries. Millions of children die every year due to malnutrition. Of the 1.04 million under-five deaths in India in 2017, over 7 lakh (706,000) can be attributed to malnutrition, reveals findings of India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative’s report.
Corporations and billionaires are now talking of Digital Agriculture and “farming without farmers” as the next step of increasing productivity and efficiency. This will increase the degradation of the land, the crisis of hunger, the crisis of work, the crisis of knowledge, and deepen dependence on external inputs, with data as the new oil added to the dependence on costly seeds, chemicals and machines. The industrial agriculture system cleverly and deliberately hides its intensive use of fossil fuel and toxic chemicals which are contributing to 50% of the Green house gas emissions leading to climate change, and also driving the crisis of extinction.
Agribusiness controlled Industrial food systems & the health emergency
A resource wasteful, inefficient and greed driven food and agriculture model is constantly occupying new lands, specially forests, while local, productive farms are laid waste by the unfair rules of free trade.
Science tells us that 70 % of the new epidemics, including Corona, HIV, Ebola, influenza, MERS, SARS, have jumped from animals to humans. This is an outcome of resource intensive land hungry industrial agriculture built on destruction of ecosystems. Constant expansion without limits is built into an agribusiness model which grows commodities like GMO soya in the Amazon and palmoil in the Indonesian rainforests. 90% of the GMO soya is used for bio-fuel and animal feed. This commodity producing system is not a food and agriculture system. Agriculture is care for the land. And food is supposed to nourish us. Industrial farms based on monocultures of plants and animals, facilitate the spread of diseases, and emergence of new disease epidemics. Besides, industrialised food is closely associated with the spread of non-communicable chronic diseases.
The destruction of local, bio-diverse food systems and artisanal processing, increasing dependence on imports of industrial food, and increase in industrially processed food in the diet has contributed to both the crisis of unemployment and the chronic disease crisis. The Health Minister acknowledged that 73% of the deaths due to Covid was due to comorbidity, in other words, pre existing chronic diseases, most of which are related to toxics in the environment and unhealthy industrial food.
With the disruption of agriculture, distribution systems, retail systems, livelihood systems, if no radical steps are taken, we are staring at future famines. The Health emergency could become a Food Emergency.
Post Covid Recovery for a Living Future: Return to the land, Return to our home, to the earth, to “oikos”
Ecology and economy both have their roots in the word “oikos” which means home. Knowledge of the home is ecology. Taking care of the home on the basis of knowledge of ecology is economy.
The dominant model of the economy no longer has its roots in ecology, but exists outside and above ecology, disrupting the ecological systems and processes that support life in the natural and social world. The unchecked conquest of resources is pushing species to extinction and has led ecosystems to collapse, while causing irreversible climate disasters.
Similarly, economy, which is part of society, has been placed outside and above society, beyond democratic control. Ethical values, cultural values, spiritual values, values of care and co-operation have all been sidelined by the extractive logic of the global market that seeks only profit. Competition leaves no room for cooperation. More and more people are excluded from the economy, both in terms of livelihoods and in terms of basic needs.
A post Corona recovery needs a shift to healthy food and agricultural systems that respect nature and biodiversity, so we will avoid future pandemics, that maximise health and nutrition per acre, that maximise the return to farmers through circular economies of real, healthy, fresh food and do not focus on commodity production and cash crops as raw material for industrial processing. Circular economies intensify livelihoods in rural areas, thus regenerating local economies.
A Post Covid just and sustainable recovery programme needs to regenerate soil, water, biodiversity, protect people’s livelihoods, and create new livelihood opportunities while addressing the prevailing extensive health, hunger and malnutrition crisis. We cannot return to the “normal” like before the Corona pandemic, for those political and economic systems do not work for and with the earth, and are based on weakening the status of farmers, and destroying livelihoods and creating hunger. If there is any time to make the shift, it is now. We need to now shift to an earth friendly, farmer friendly, people friendly, food and agriculture system if we want to prevent the deepening of the current agrarian and hunger crisis, the health crisis and the livelihood crisis.
We now have to reimagine our local economies and rural economies that put the regeneration of the earth, of livelihoods, of health at the heart of a Post Covid economy.
Let us shift from linear extractive economies which exploit the earth and people, to local circular, solidarity economies which regenerate nature and society and create wealth and well being for all, meeting everyone’s basic needs by rejuvenation of the Earth. Let us shift from the false definition of productivity which does not assess the resource and energy intensive inputs in industrial systems, and treats only labour as an input, contributing to ecological destruction and unemployment, towards true cost ecological accounting that takes the full ecological footprint into account, and creates meaningful work for all. This involves a shift from fossil fuel intensive, energy intensive models of production, to labour intensive economies of care, so no hands are wasted, and the rich human energy India is endowed with can renew society and regenerate the earth, her biodiversity, her productive capacity to support the needs of all. Let us take a pledge to regenerate local economies and local production and consumption through organic farming and artisanal, hand crafted products that are fossil fuel free, poison free and create opportunities for work for those rendered unemployed.
Let us boycott the MNC seed companies, chemical companies, junk food industry and the e commerce giants like Amazon. Let us sow the seeds of a new India which is free of hunger, disease, unemployment and modern day colonialism. The path to a Self Reliant, Atma Nirbhar bharat is paved with self reliant local living economies and self reliant communities, Swaraj.
[to be continued ...]