Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Secularism and Nationalism In the Time of Farmer Suicides

The effective definitions of nationalism and secularism that are current in a country decide the quality and inclusiveness of the democracy prevailing in that country. In India there is clearly a problem because the nationalism being practised discounts community participation and leaves almost ninety percent of the people in this country out of the picture. Also while the state is formally secular, in that it does not support any religion, in effect it has transformed the belief in centralised modern industrial development to the level of a religion and the mega projects of development into temples and marginalised all other forms of development. These dominant definitions of nationalism and secularism have resulted in many distortions the most glaring of them being that of a growing crisis in agriculture. It is becoming difficult to sustain agricultural growth anymore and farmers and labourers are leaving the sector in large numbers and in extreme cases committing suicides whose number has now run into lakhs. Nothing can be more evocative of this than that forty percent of the respondent farmers expressed the desire to give up farming and take up other professions in a survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation of the Government of India in 2003 (NSSO, 2005). This is a serious situation because without food security there cant be any other form of security.
Thus the imperative for us as Indians at present is not to stick to the hackneyed analysis of nationalism as being related to a country's identity disregarding the class, caste, ethnic and gender divisions within and the communitarian organisations at the grassroots and secularism as being related only to the institutionalised religions but to redefine these terms so as to counter the exclusivist and exploitative development and democracy that is being actually practised. Especially so in the case of secularism because even if we succeed in overcoming the animosity between different institutionalised religions our obeisance to the religion of centralised modern industrial development will spell doom for us.
We will study this phenomenon of nationalism and secularism gone awry in developmental terms with the example of the crisis of agriculture in Western Madhya Pradesh. This region is appropriate for our study and analysis because a direct link can be established between the wrong developmental policies adopted as a consequence of the faulty definitions of nationalism and secularism mentioned earlier which have been manifested in -
• a serious problem of over extraction of ground water in the region.
• the significant tribal population in the area losing their livelihood bases and being forced to migrate either seasonally or permanently.
• soil erosion in heavy proportions.
• degradation of forest resources.
Moreover the region is a naturally water scarce dry land area like about 70% of the country. The lack of adequate soil moisture is the major constraint on agricultural productivity in these dry land areas (Benites and Castellanos, 2003). Thus the proper conservation and utilisation of water is the most important determinant of agriculture in such dryland areas and the key to agricultural production there. It is the criminal neglect of this natural fact in pursuit of concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the industrial and capitalist elite through an unsustainable development process that has led to the present serious agricultural crisis.
In the specific case of Western Madhya Pradesh natural water scarcity arises due to four reasons that are peculiar to the region -
1. The average annual rainfall is low being around 700mm with the number of rainy days being around 50.
2. The soil is mostly clayey and so infiltration of rain water is low. Moreover such soils tend to get waterlogged if subjected to flood irrigation.
3. The underlying rocks are basaltic and sedimentary having low porosity and permeability and so their capacity to store water in underground aquifers is limited.
4. The average evapo-transpiration rate for the area is very high at about 2100 mm and so a considerable amount of the rainfall evaporates immediately. In the dry periods during the monsoons and later the moisture retained in the soil gets evaporated. A large amount of the water stored in surface storages big and small too gets evaporated.
The farmers of the region, a large proportion of them being Bhil adivasis, traditionally adapted themselves to this situation by growing crops that required low amounts of soil moisture and had a high tolerance of water stress like jowar (sorghum), makka (maize), bajra (pearl millet), udad (black gram), moong (green gram), til (sesame) and moongphali (groundnut) during the kharif season and chana (gram), alsi (linseed), jowar, makka and unirrigated wheat during the rabi season. Moreover, the farmers developed ingenious methods of soil and water conservation and irrigation to enhance soil moisture (Rahul, 1996). As Sir Albert Howard, the pioneer of organic farming who carried out his research in Indore which is the hub of Western Madhya Pradesh, has stated - “What is happening today in the small fields of India ... took place many centuries ago. The agricultural practices of the orient have passed the supreme test, they are as permanent as those of the primeval forest, of the prairie, or of the ocean” (Howard, 1940). The clever use of rotation of a large variety of crops ensured that even in drought conditions some part of the harvest was always saved.
However, excessive levies by kings and colonial rulers and usury by sahukars (moneylenders) resulted in the farmers being left with little to invest in the development of their lands (Patnaik, 1991). Indeed the levying of excessive taxes and usury have been a severe constraining factor on the development of agriculture all over the world from ancient times and in India this was intensified greatly because the sahukar doubled up as the tax-collector also, resulting in one Bhil adivasi proverb that goes - " I love the Sahukar so much that I have given him a fat belly" (Hardiman, 2000). Consequently the important work of in-situ soil and water conservation through community participation to capture and retain the rainfall which is the only sustainable way of improving water availability in such regions began to be neglected leading to falling productivity in agriculture. Matters were compounded by massive deforestation of the rich forest areas in the post independence era due to commercial logging of timber which further impacted adversely the water infiltration due to greater runoff of rainfall.
Thus we see that the nationalism practised since independence which laid stress on draining natural and human resources away from adivasi populated dryland areas so as to serve the needs of the temples of modern development effectively led to the disenfranchisement of the adivasis in particular and other farming communities in general in the region.
By the late 1970s the population explosion in the region, which again arose because of the patriarchal social structure which forced women to bear more children so as so ensure enough surviving male progeny, created a pressure to increase agricultural production by increasing the water availability. Ideally this should have been done through the initiation of massive in-situ soil and water conservation works and afforestation works with widespread community participation. Simultaneously research should have been put in to improve the quality of the seeds of the traditional dryland crops mentioned earlier. The stress should have been on evolving a definition of nationalism that promoted localised community participation and a definition of secularism that demystified the religious character of modern development as it was being practised and promoted more sustainable decentralised development instead.
Instead the alien and highly water intensive agricultural paradigm of the green revolution that had been adopted earlier in Punjab and Haryana was introduced in the region with the promotion of the cultivation of soyabean and hybrid cotton in the kharif season and irrigated wheat in the rabi season at the behest of the high priests of modern development - the international funding agencies. The constraint on water availability was sought to be overcome by providing electricity at a subsidised rate for the operation of pumps and subsidised loans to purchase these pumps and other accessories. Thus farmers could tap the water stored in the deeper confined aquifers by sinking tubewells and installing submersible pumps and also the base flow in the streams and rivers through lift irrigation at relatively small capital and operating cost to themselves. In 1993 the new Congress government in the state made the supply of electricity to agricultural pumps of 5 horsepower or less free thus further reducing the cost of water.
While this boosted agricultural production considerably it also created what has come to be characterised in natural resource studies as a "tragedy of the commons" (Hardin, 1968). Normally in the case of a non-renewable resource the user has to trade off resource use between successive time periods to optimise production in the long run because more the resource is used the more is its extraction cost and more is its scarcity value. The water in the deep confined aquifers in dry hard rock regions is akin to a non-renewable resource because it has accumulated over thousands of years from the minimal amount of percolation into these aquifers that has taken place annually. Thus when this water is pumped out in large quantities in a particular year far in excess of the minimal recharge that is taking place, the water level goes down and in the next year the extraction cost will be greater and this will go on increasing with time. However, in a situation in which this extraction cost was rendered close to zero by electricity being made free and the water itself being a common property resource did not have any price attached to it and neither did its depletion result in a scarcity value, all the farmers tended to use as much water as they could get as in the long run the water would be finished even if a few farmers adopted a more conservationist approach.
Situations in which there are public goods with no well defined property rights as with groundwater either the state has to step in to regulate its use through fiscal or legal measures or there has to be communitarian command over its use as markets fail. However in this case the state, because of its faulty definition of nationalism which neglected community participation and its faulty definition of secularism which raised modern development to the status of a religion, failed in its duties and instead adopted the opposite stance of subsidising the greater use of water.
The crunch came at the turn of the century when the Madhya Pradesh government as part of the conditions for getting a loan from one of the high priests of modern development, the Asian Development Bank, for restructuring its power sector had to begin charging farmers for electricity supplied to them at cost plus profit rates determined by the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission. The ADB imposed this fiscal prudence on the government so as to ensure that it could pay back the loan that was being given. It is indeed ironical that having first forced governments in the developing world to subsidise the spread of green revolution agriculture the international funding agencies are now forcing them to withdraw these subsidies while the developed countries continue to give subsidies to their farmers or farming corporations.
The prolonged bleeding of the Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board due to the free power supplied earlier had hampered the addition of new power generation capacity and so the quantity and quality of power supplied to rural areas also began to suffer. The shortfall had to be made up by purchasing power from the national grid and this too pushed up the cost of electricity further. In additon to this heavy withdrawals of water had led to the severe depletion of the confined aquifers and many of the tubewells had either gone dry or were yielding much less water. Most of the blocks in Western Madhya Pradesh were declared to be either critical or over exploited in terms of ground water resources. Finally the continuous cultivation of the soyabean/cotton - hybrid wheat monoculture had reduced the fertility of the soils calling for an increased application of chemical fertilisers which too had become scarce and more expensive due to a combination of supply not keeping pace with demand and declining subsidies.
The seriousness of the economic aspects of the problem thus created can be illustrated with the comparative economics of the production of the popular Lok 1 variety of hybrid wheat in the free electricity and bigger fertiliser subsidy era in 1997 and the cost plus profit electricity charges and lower fertiliser subsidy regime now prevailing a decade later. The crucial difference has been made by the reduction in output resulting from a lack of sufficient water. If more waterings had been possible in 2007 then output would have been as before and the net income per hectare would have been at par on nominal terms with the earlier net income. However, even if the farmers are prepared to pay the higher charges there just isn't so much water anymore because in the intervening decade the number of farmers sowing wheat has gone up considerably reducing the availability of water per farmer.
The situation with water from surface storages is also not very bright. Small water storage structures built on the drainage lines are not able to store water sufficient to provide five waterings. The bigger structures are faced with command areas which are also hilly given the fact that most of the Western Madhya Pradesh region forms the upper catchment of the Chambal and Mahi rivers. Though the region is in the lower catchment of the Narmada basin it is mostly hilly in nature with only a narrow strip of the Nimar plains. The construction of big dams on the bigger rivers has also not proved to be very beneficial. The experience nationwide so far is that the immense investments made in the construction of the dams and the canal systems and their operating costs have rarely been recovered from the farmers and so there too water has been supplied almost free of cost. This has resulted in the under development and under maintenance of the canal systems leading to under utilisation of the stored dam water. So far only one major dam has been built in Western Madhya Pradesh on the river Man and it has not been able to irrigate even 15% of its projected command area of 15000 Ha. Apart from this there are problems related to catchment area treatment, rehabilitation and resettlement and water logging and salinisation due to lack of proper drainage associated with big dams which make them a dubious water source (WCD, 2000).
Additionally the adoption of the soyabean/cotton - hybrid wheat mono-culture has resulted in the adivasis and dalits in the region becoming under nourished. With the reduction in the acreage under the traditional coarser cereals and pulses which have been replaced by soybean and the greater monetisation of the rural economy, the marginal adivasi farmers have had to buy their food from the market instead of getting it cheaply from their farms and this has reduced their nutritional levels well below healthy standards (Khaperde, 2001). Thus they have become sufferers of the problem of chronic hunger that today engulfs the poor in much of the developing world and even in the developed countries because the shrinking of livelihood opportunities has meant that they are not able to earn enough to buy wholesome and adequate food (Dreze & Sen, 1989)
A research cum action study has been initiated by Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra (DGVK) to find out possible solutions to agricultural distress in Western Madhya Pradesh. The study is basically centred on the understanding that development has to become more inclusive and nature friendly and challenge the currently dominant definitions of nationalism and secularism. The aim should be to harvest rain water and conserve soil as much as is possible in situ and use the increased topsoil moisture to grow the less water demanding traditional crops over a larger area rather than extract excessive water either from the deep confined aquifers or by building expensive and harmful large dams to grow high yielding varieties of wheat in a necessarily much smaller area. The people in one village who had lost most of their lands in the reservoir of the Man dam listened patiently to this and then said that there was one large stream, Keshvi, a tributary of the Man river, that did not have any dam on it and if one big dam was built on it then all the lands below it including those in their village that were not yet submerged could be irrigated. When they were asked whether those upstream of the dam were ready to give up their lands for this they remained quiet.
DGVK tried to organise a public meeting in this village and invited many other oustee families from nearby villages to discuss the whole issue of in situ water and soil conservation and the practising of an agriculture based on the optimum use of conserved soil moisture. The DGVK workers spent two whole weeks going from village to village and talking to people and they all nodded their heads and said that this was indeed the way to go. However, only five people came to the meeting. In the desultory conversation that took place these people said that DGVK should try and get them either drip or sprinkler irrigation systems which were more efficient in the use of water than traditional flood irrigation. Once again under the influence of the dominant definitions of nationalism and secularism the penchant was for energy guzzling and capital intensive modern technological solutions that could be implemented at best in a very small area. There was no enthusiasm at all for the traditional communitarian labour intensive agriculture. Such is the hegemony of modern development that even when one version of it fails people still feel that a newer version based on newer, more energy intensive technology will succeed.
Despite this DGVK has with great difficulty succeeded in getting a few farmers to try out the cultivation of a dryland wheat variety named Amrita developed by the Wheat Research Centre of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in Indore. This variety requires just one more watering after the first watering prior to sowing and can give yields of between 3000 and 3500 kgs per hectare which is comparable with the yields of Lok 1 under three waterings as seen earlier. Moreover, this wheat requires no pesticide and can be grown with biofertilisers. Because little or no watering is required the immense amount of labour involved is saved.
It is noteworthy that in all the locations where the seed was sown, the soil type was medium quality clayey soils and due to lack of water only the first watering at sowing could take place. Despite this the crop came to fruition and the average yield was 2680 kg per hectare. Dry land wheat requires less seed as it has to be sown at a greater distance between plants, it requires less labour for harvesting and threshing and also obviously much less water and so in the end despite a lower production per hectare than Lok 1 with three waterings comes out to be economically superior to it. The demonstration effect of this has been tremendous. The DGVK had insisted that the farmers should pay for the seeds. That is why only a few farmers could be convinced as the others did not want to take the risk of sowing an unknown and for them untried seed and also pay for it. However, the risk taking farmers and DGVK have been amply rewarded and now in the present rabi season of 2008-09 many more farmers have sown the Amrita variety of wheat after buying the seed and the harvest has been excellent. Since threshing has not taken place yet the actual calculations of costs and incomes have not been done so far. Thus the thin end of the wedge for breaking the hegemony of modern development in agriculture in Western Madhya Pradesh has been driven in.
This opens up a whole new vista for sustainable agriculture in Western Madhya Pradesh in which there is much greater community involvement and nature friendly development. Restricting ourselves for the time being to just the sphere of wheat production the proportion of net irrigated area to net sown area in the region in 2003-04 was 35.7%. This irrigation coverage as has been shown has been achieved through an unsustainable withdrawal of ground water and is bound to decline in future if ground water withdrawal continues at the same pace as the aquifers will gradually dry up. This will lead to a decline in wheat production further shooting up food prices. However, now the success of the Amrita variety has thrown up an alternative and so a combination of both kinds of wheat can be sown by the farmers to optimise both their economic gains and also address environmental concerns. We can visualise a sustainable agricultural model with more crops other than wheat and optimised to yield better land and water use and food production along with greater community participation in husbanding of soil, water and forest resources.
So far we have not considered the other environmental benefits of the lesser use of artificial energy, artificial fertilisers and pesticides and the social benefit of the greater use of human labour. If these too are factored in then the advantages of switching to this new model which is essentially based on more inclusive and nature friendly definitions of nationalism and secularism become even greater.
Natural recources like soil, water and forests being public goods there is always a market failure with regard to their use both in the present and also in inter-temporal terms as mentioned earlier. So the state has to step in and ensure either through regulation or taxes or through encouragement of community participation and regulation that these vital resources are sustainably utilised. Unfortunately so far the state has been doing just the opposite by giving subsidies for their misuse and discouraging communitarian regulation and use. Consequently in most cases farmers under the influence of the dominant ideology are just competing with each other to finish off these resources and so bringing on their own demise.
It has become imperative at present that farmers challenge the dominant definitions of nationalism and secularism and through collective action regulate the use of natural resources for sustainable agriculture.Thus there is a need for mobilisation of farmers not only to conserve the use of natural resources but also to change the way the state is misgoverning these vital resources. This is what the Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra is trying to do. It has already begun mobilising people to use the opportunity provided by the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) to improve the supply side with considerable success. The strategy is to use the funds available under the NREGS in soil and water conservation works. This stress on environmental regeneration will ensure that the stock and flow of natural resources is increased. Now slowly DGVK has also begun work on the demand side by pressing for a more sustainable water use in agriculture which will simultaneously also expand the double cropped acreage as instead of intensive watering on a lesser area as at present there will be less watering over a larger area along with higher output. All this eventually will lead to the evolution of more inclusive definitions of nationalism and secularism than those that are currently dominant.

Benites, J and Castellanos, A (2003), Improving Soil Moisture with Conservation Agriculture, LEISA, June.
Dreze, J & Sen, A (1989): Hunger and Public Action, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Hardiman, D (2000): Feeding the Baniya: Peasants and Usurers in Western India, Oxford University Press, Delhi.
Hardin, G (1968): The Tragedy of the Commons, Science, No. 62.
Howard, A (1940): An Agricultural Testament, Oxford University Press, London.
Khaperde, S (2001): Sampann tatha Garib Vargon mein Upbhog evam Paryavaran Nash ke beech Sambandh (The Relation between Consumption and Environmental Destruction in the case of Affluent and Poor Classes), mimeo.
NSSO (2005): Situation Assessment Survey of Farmers NSS 59th Round (January-December, 2003), National Sample Survey Organisation, Government of India, New Delhi.
Patnaik, U (1991): Food Availability and Famine, Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 19 No 1.
Rahul (1996): The Unsilenced Valley, Down To Earth, June 15.
WCD (2000): Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision Making, World Commission on Dams.

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