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.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Barmecide Feast – The Problems in Production and Sale of the Produce of Organic Agriculture

 


Agriculture in India directly or indirectly provides livelihoods to 60 percent of the population and so the problems of this sector are most relevant for the overall development of the country and have to be effectively addressed. Especially in distress are the small and marginal farmers who have less than 2 hectares of land and constitute 85% of all farm households (Agricultural Census, 2016).

1.            The Problem

Specifically, the problems of agriculture with regard to aggravating global warming are as follows (CGIAR, 2020) -

1.       Carbon dioxide emissions from the heavy use of gasoline-powered agricultural machinery that modern techniques require.

  1. Carbon dioxide emissions from the deforestation and burning of land to convert it for intensive agriculture.
  2. Loss of soil and forests as carbon sinks. Natural vegetation acts as a huge reservoir, soaking up atmospheric carbon, as does the soil. Destruction of the plants and the disruption of the soil that occurs when land is converted to agriculture decrease the available of these sinks, meaning more carbon is left in the atmosphere. Conventional farming techniques also increase soil erosion and the leaching of soil nutrients, which decrease the use of soil as a sink. Rough estimates are that man-made changes in land-use have produced a cumulative global loss of carbon from the land of about 200 thousand million tonnes.
  3. The use of synthetic fertilizer releases huge amounts of N2O – it is the single largest source of N2O emissions in the world. The application of fertilizers accounts for 36% of the total emissions of N2O. According to the IPCC, if fertilizer applications are doubled, N2O emissions will double, all other factors being equal. Since regular applications of fertilizer are an integral part of modern farming, and as the developing countries adopt more of these industrialized agricultural practices, this is a realistic situation. Remembering that N2O has over 300 times the warming potential of CO2 and can stay in the atmosphere for about 120 years, the effect on global warming could be devastating.
  4. Methane released from animals and manure piles. Manure storage and treatment systems equal 9% of total CH4 emissions and 31% CH4 emissions from the agricultural sector.

 Apart from this the indirect contributions of modern farming are even greater. The manufacture of synthetic fertilizer is one of the most intensive energy processes in the chemical industry, which itself is a primary energy user globally. Add into this the need for the fertilizer to be transported to the farmer, and we find that synthetic fertilizer is the largest producer of CO2 emissions in the agricultural industry – even considering all the tractors and equipment belching out exhaust fumes. The use of synthetic fertilizer tends to acidify the soil, which then requires the application of lime to balance the pH; manufacture of lime also produces CO2 emissions. Finally, synthetic fertilizers suppress the soil’s natural micro-organisms that break down methane in the atmosphere, which leads to higher levels of methane than otherwise. The soil micro-organisms are largely responsible for controlling soil temperature and water run-off, production of vitamins, minerals and a host of plant hormones, not to mention that soil micro-organisms provide much of a plant’s immune system so reducing their population is harmful. Thus, modern agriculture is unsustainable from the point of view of its harmful contribution to global warming and reduction of biodiversity and organic soil fertility (Shiva, 1992).

Simultaneously economically too this modern agriculture is proving to be unsustainable. The main problem with modern artificial input agriculture is that there is a natural limit to the artificial inputs that the soil can take and so the quantity of fertilisers, pesticides and water to be applied goes on increasing while the yields go on falling and sometimes the crop fails altogether. Consequently, the economic costs of providing the inputs go on increasing while the realisation of the value of agricultural products in the market does not keep pace with this rise in input costs. Inevitably this leads to farmers falling into the clutches of moneylenders and becoming enmeshed in spiraling debt. Matters have been compounded by the reduction in the availability of cheap institutionalised credit and various kinds of government subsidies for fertilisers, water, diesel and electricity and research which even now amount to about Rs 5 lakh crores annually in India (16% of the farm sector GDP) while it is as much as $20 billion (20% of the farm sector GDP) annually in the USA. The economic crisis in agriculture has now assumed serious proportions with thousands upon thousands of farmers having committed suicides, sold their lands, houses and even their kidneys and there is a general reluctance among them to continue with farming (NSSO, 2005).

Another problem arising from the adoption of modern agriculture has been that of the increasing scarcity of water. Most of the water needed for irrigation in India is being provided by groundwater extraction and this has led to a situation of "water mining" wherein water collected in the deep confined aquifers over hundreds of thousands of years were used up in the space of a decade and large parts of the country have been facing a ground water drought from the nineteen nineties onwards. Since then, there has been less and less ground water available for not only irrigation but also for drinking and the cost of its extraction is continually going up. Big dams, however, are the environmentally and socially most harmful component of modern agriculture. The World Commission on Dams reviewing the performance of big dams brought out the fact that the benefits gained from big dam construction have been at an unacceptable and unnecessary higher cost in terms of environmental destruction and human displacement (Dharmadhikari, 2005). There is lack of equity in both the distribution of benefits and costs with the poor having lost out on both counts. According to the Falkenmark Indicator of water stress, India is a water stressed country as the water availablity is only 1400 m3/year/person whereas it should be 1700 m3/year/person. In fact, many areas in India are water scarce as the water availability there is less than 1000 m3/year/person which is the level below which a region is classified as water scarce (NIti Ayog, 2019).

Additionally, modern agriculture drastically reduces the agricultural bio-diversity with its stress on mono-cultures. For example, in the western Madhya Pradesh region there has been a reduction in the acreage under coarser cereals and pulses which have been replaced by soybean.  This combined with the greater monetisation of the rural economy has forced the marginal Adivasi farmers 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. Thus, they too 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, 2013).

Agricultural Production and Consumption Expenditure surveys conducted from time to time by MAJLIS have shown that the scheduled tribe households in western Madhya Pradesh are earning only about Rs 18 per capita per day from their agricultural operations which is well below the international poverty line income as decided by the World Bank of $1.9 per capita per day (equivalent in Purchasing Power Parity terms in India to Rs 41 per capita per day) (World Bank, 2021) and their average per capita calorie consumption is only 2000 per capita per day which is well below the World Health Organisation Standard for rural areas of 2400 calories per day (Chopra, 2011). Moreover, the annual per capita agricultural work availability is only about 60 days, whereas, assuming a five-day week and a few holidays, the per capita annual work availability should be 250 days. All the farmers surveyed have to undertake supplementary labour, often migrating to Indore to work for big farmers or as construction labourers, apart from the work they do on their own farms, to make ends meet. Thus, small and marginal farmers are not only being grossly underpaid but they are also not getting enough work on their farms.

Tragically, this march of modern chemical agriculture has marginalised women completely. Settled agriculture began after the Neolithic Revolution about 10000 years ago most probably due to the selection of seeds of edible grains done by women from the wild grasses (Lerner, 1986). However, once surpluses accumulated from agriculture, thereafter, women were gradually pushed into a secondary status in society by men without rights to land and other means of production. With the advent of mechanised chemical agriculture this marginalisation of women assumed greater proportions and their say in the conduct of agriculture reached rock bottom (Agarwal, 1994). The increasing burden of poverty too is disproportionately borne by women due to the feminization of poverty (UN Women, 2021).

2.            The Solution

Research has shown that organic arable production is about 35% more energy efficient, and organic dairy production about 74% more efficient per unit of output than non-organic production (Smith et al, 2015). Organic farming, by definition, prohibits the use of synthetic fertilizer, using instead a limited amount per hectare of organic matter and knowledge of soil biology. Since the pH of the soil is not disrupted by organic farming techniques, the use of energy–intensive lime is also minimal or non-existent resulting in lower CH4 and CO2 emissions compared to modern external input farming techniques. The use of organic matter also increases carbon content in the soil, storing up to 75 kgs of carbon per hectare per year. Organic farming uses nitrogen-fixing plants as cover crops and during crop rotation, which help to fix nitrogen in the soil rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. Moreover, through bio-gas plants the methane generated can be channelised for cooking and generation of electricity instead of being released into the environment. Finally, organic farming techniques maintain soil micro-organisms and so help in oxidizing atmospheric methane. The combined effect of all the different benefits of organic farming results in a Global Warming Potential that is only 36% that of modern external input farming. The main constraint to organic farming is the availability of adequate amounts of manure as the cowdung produced is not enough to cater for the fertilization of all the agricultural area. This can be solved by composting of animal manure with a mixture of waste agricultural and forest biomass and making microbial cultures out of cow dung which are labour-intensive processes. There are several effective techniques for composting and creating bio-enzyme rich microbial cultures (TNAU, 2021).  So, if enough subsidy is given to organic farmers to compensate them for the labour required for composting and microbial culture preparation, then this problem will be solved.

Organic agriculture with indigenous seeds is, moreover, less water intensive. Thus, the virtual water embedded in these crops is less (Hoekstra & Chapagain, 2007). Consequently, this kind of agriculture also greatly reduces water use and relieves water stress which is very important in the Indian context where 80% of the total water demand is from agriculture (Niti Ayog, op cit). Combined with appropriate local area watershed development beginning with the uppermost ridges of river valleys and working down to the drainage lines, this will solve the problem of water stress which has assumed serious proportions.  

Therefore, sustainable internal input agriculture is more energy, water and nutrient efficient and results in lower greenhouse gas emissions than modern external input agriculture per unit of crop produced, which is a crucial parameter, given the need for food production to feed the world’s population. It is also community dependent rather than market dependent and so it revitalises the local economy. What is required is collective action by communities at the grassroots as individual farmers cannot bring about this radical change (Ostrom, 1990). Last but not the least it opens up huge possibilities for women to play a decisive role in agriculture and so in society. This kind of sustainable agriculture has to be complemented by ecosystem restoration and decentralized renewable energy generation for a comprehensive attack on both poverty and climate change. The United Nations has declared the ten-year period from 2021 to 2030 as the decade of ecosystem restoration (UNO, 2021). However, this will not materialize unless concrete steps as underlined below are taken in this regard.

3.            The Remedial Intervention

The organisation Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti (https:/mahilajagatlihazsamiti.in/) is carrying out a reorientation of scheduled tribe farmers towards sustainability and gender equity in an area around Bisali village, in Udainagar Tehsil of Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh. Scheduled Tribe farmers have been chosen because they are traditionally nature friendly and are default organic in their subsistence agriculture (Rahul, 1997). The overall framework for the development intervention is aimed at achieving sustainability and equity for the tribes people through organic agriculture and ecosystem restoration which also mitigates climate change at the global level with the use of Survival Edge Technology. This is an assortment of simple technologies that is implemented by communities through collective action to mitigate the agriculture, water, energy and climate crises that face humanity and with the agency of women in its planning and implementation (Banerjee, 2020). A collective named Kansari Organics (https://kansariorganics.in/) was set up to undertake the production and marketing of organic produce. Kansari is The Bhil Adivasi Goddess of Agriculture in Bhil Mythology. The Supreme God created the Goddess Kansari, from the cereal Jowar (Sorghum) and gave her breasts. Human beings fed from these breasts and blood flowed into their veins. That is why the Bhil Adivasis believe that if they do not eat Jowar, their blood will dry up. Kansari is, thus, an apt name that signifies the importance of reviving organic agriculture as a must for restoring the health of the planet and human beings.

The problem started with the selection of farmers. Such is the hegemony of chemical agriculture that it was initially not possible to find farmers to take up organic agriculture even though they were assured of being provided a subsidy for preparing organic manure followed by a fair income. Farmers just do not believe that it is possible to do agriculture in the organic way. Eventually two marginal farmers, with about 1 acre of land each, undertook organic cultivation of the Lok1 variety of wheat with support from MAJLIS. This is a hybrid variety of wheat but since its introduction by the NGO Lok Bharti (https://www.lokbharti.org/Wheat-Research) in 2000, over the years it has stabilised and the seeds were selected from the production on the pilot farm of MAJLIS in Pandutalab village.  Ideally with a proper application of chemical fertilisers Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) in the right proportion of 24 kg of N, 12 kg of P and 12 kg of K per acre, the output should be 18 quintals of Lok1 wheat. However, when a shift is made to organic compost there is a reduction in yield initially and so the two farmers produced about 12.5 quintals of output from an acre each though it slowly increases later over a period of three years or so. The seed sown was 0.5 quintals per acre and so the net output was 12 quintals per acre.

4. The Economics of Organic Lok1 wheat variety production per acre

The costs of production of Lok1 wheat are as follows -

1. Cost of manure – Rs 6600

2. Preparation of field and sowing of wheat @ Rs 220 per day which was the agricultural minimum wage in Madhya Pradesh in the 2020 Rabi season – Rs 2200

3. The electricity cost for running the pump for irrigation was Rs 2000

4. Five waterings were done each requiring one person to work for two days– Rs2200

5. Preparation and application of microbial culture thrice – Rs 1800

6. Harvesting and threshing of wheat – Rs 3600

7. Cleaning, grading, storing and packaging of wheat – Rs 2200

8. Total Agricultural Cost A2 (sum of costs on items 1-7 above) – Rs 20600

Family Labour (FL) in protecting the crop for 140 days – Rs 6600

Total cost C2 = A2 + FL – Rs 27200

Therefore, price at the farm for the organic wheat by applying the Government formula (Indian Express, 2020) is 1.5 x C2 = Rs 40800 for 12 quintals which comes out to be – Rs 34 per kg. Thus, after giving the statutory minimum wage to the farmer and also a 50% profit over and above the costs so as to ensure enough to invest in soil and water conservation and meet other household expenses, the cost of wheat produced by Kansari is double that being offered to the farmers in the open market of Rs 17 per kg. The Madhya Pradesh Government offers slightly more at Rs 19.75 per kg under its minimum support price scheme but that too cannot cover the cost of organic wheat at the farm gate and additionally for chemically produced wheat the Government subsidises the cost of chemical fertiliser purchase whereas there is no such support for preparation of organic manure.



5. Problems of Marketing Organic Produce

The price of the organic Lok1 wheat in Indore being sold by Kansari Organics after adding Rs 1 per kg for transportation from the farm to the city is Rs 35 per kg. Comparable quality of Lok1 wheat graded and cleaned and produced by chemical means sells at Rs 25 per kg in Indore and so the organic wheat produced by Kansari is 40% more costly. Consequently, despite this wheat being healthier, it has few takers. The problem becomes even more when the wheat has to be sold outside Indore. To be able to reduce the transportation and delivery cost in an external location there has to be a hub and spoke model in that location. The wheat is transported in bulk to the hub from the farms and there it is packed in smaller retail sale quantities and delivered to the stores or to homes. However, for this to be possible there must be brand recognition and a high demand among customers for the product.

Unfortunately, as there is a lack of credibility regarding the authenticity of organic products among consumers and consequently a reluctance to pay a premium price for them, the demand for them is low generally and a new brand like Kansari has very little traction. In fact, the difficulty of getting farmers to produce organic crops going against the strong tide of chemical agriculture, is there across the country and so even established organic produce firms too are unable to ensure purity of their offerings. A study conducted by the Consumer Education and Research Centre, Ahmedabad, showed that the products of seven leading organic food brands in India had traces of heavy metals in them and some had pesticides also (CERC, 2017). Tests conducted by MAJLIS recently on the organic produce of some of the firms that were tested by CERC, Ahmedabad, being sold in Indore, revealed the same presence of heavy metals and pesticides, indicating that chemical produce is being passed off as organic.

Given this situation, the organic firms have to courier their produce across India or set up dedicated stores themselves and that increases the cost by a substantial amount as even the cheapest courier, India Post, charges about Rs 37 per kg. So organic wheat or flour made from it is very expensive compared to chemical wheat or flour which can be delivered cheaply through the hub and spoke model because of the huge demand. There are thus both severe demand and supply side constraints for organic produce which organic producers cannot overcome on their own. The products of Kansari Organics are the cheapest among all organic produce on the market because not only is there no mark up for profits but the management costs also are being subsidised by MAJLIS from grant funds.  While there are a few customers across the country and in Indore and one in the USA who are doing repeat orders and have paid glowing tributes to the quality of its products, they are not enough to consume the whole of the very low production of 25 quintals of wheat that Kansari had this year!! Over the year only about 8 quintals of the wheat will be sold through word of mouth advertising and the trust networks of MAJLIS.

6. Problem of Storage of Produce

This brings up another intractable problem of storage of wheat as after about 5 months after the harvest in March it starts getting attacked by pests. The big traders of chemical wheat who deal in lakhs of tonnes use pesticide fumigation to keep the wheat free of pests. Organic producers can’t do that and so have to resort to fumigation with Carbon dioxide which is not only more costly but also a contributor to global warming. A small player like Kansari cannot invest in machinery required for Carbon dioxide fumigation and anyway it is harmful from a climate change perspective. So MAJLIS bought 17 quintals of the wheat from Kansari at Rs 35 a kg and then spent some more in distributing it free to poor Adivasi households in the form of COVID relief!! The problem of storage is a little bit more for organic produce but it is there even for the produce of chemical agriculture. The Food Corporation of India and the various state government agencies that procure grains under the minimum support price mechanism eventually end up losing a portion of the procured grains. There is no data regarding this loss and even though the Government claims that the loss is only about 6%, experts say that it is more likely to be greater than 10% (TPCI, 2020).

7. Status of Big Organic Companies

The gross annual value added from agricultural production of crops is around Rs 17 lakh crores (GoI, 2018). Whereas, only 1.3% of all farming households are doing some organic farming on 1.5% of the total arable land with a gross annual value addition of only Rs 16,000 crores (Khurana and Kumar, 2020). The export component of this value addition is about Rs 7,000 crores with Soya meal constituting 57% of the total value (APEDA, 2021). The Big Organic companies and Multinational Corporations are involved in this lucrative export market as the complications involved in exporting organic produce are many which cannot be tackled by small producers. Most of the exports are done by Multinational Corporations. The biggest Indian company, Sresta Natural Bioproducts Private Limited which sells its produce under the brand name 24 Mantra, had a total annual turnover in 2019-20 of just Rs 217 crores with a net profit after tax of Rs 3.1 crores, up from a turnover of Rs 176 crores and a net profit after tax of Rs 1.3 crores in the previous year. This, after a higher profit rate from exports as the Indian market is not ready to pay for the high prices of organic products and so its Indian operations are less profitable. Moreover, studies have revealed that overall the farmers have not benefited in financial terms from the practice of organic agriculture whether on their own or as contract farmers for big organic companies (Peramaiyan et al, 2012).   

8. Conclusions

The organic farmer and any organisation, whether an NGO like MAJLIS or a commercial entity like Sresta Natural Bioproducts, that tries to promote organic farming, is thus faced with Herculean problems. First of all, given the huge support that is being provided to chemical farming by the Government and the market over the past six decades and next to no support for organic farming (the Government subsidy is about Rs 500 crores for organic agriculture as opposed to Rs 5 lakh crores for chemical agriculture), most farmers are reluctant to believe that it is possible to successfully do organic farming. Secondly, this has resulted in lack of authenticity of organic produce which in addition to its high price in the absence of subsidy makes even the well-off consumer suspicious and reluctant to buy organic produce. The common consumer can’t afford organic produce anyway and it is exclusively bought by the rich. In fact, as mentioned earlier most farming households are not producing enough food for themselves and so are dependent on additional work to make ends meet and are suffering from chronic hunger.

This severe restriction of the consumer base means that organic producers cannot deliver their goods to the consumers through the hub and spoke model and have to rely on couriers and dedicated stores instead and this further increases the price. Then there is the problem of storage and loss due to pest attacks which reduce the shelf life of organic produce and also increase the costs of loss prevention. Consequently, companies engaged in organic farming and trade are not able to grow the sector and provide remunerative prices to farmers and so organic farming remains marginal to the agricultural economy. Overall, the farmers and especially the small holder farmers, even after getting subsidies for chemical agriculture, cannot solve the twin crises of unsustainability of this agriculture and the adversities of climate change on their own given the huge and complex problems that they face in terms of lack of adequate Government support and remunerative prices in the market. This is even more so in the case of organic farmers who do not get even a fraction of the support that chemical farmers get. Consequently, despite grandiose promises being made to the farmers by the Government, their plates are in reality empty as in a Barmecide feast and they are suffering from both indigence and hunger!!

Thus, the primary onus for promoting sustainable agriculture in particular and ecosystem restoration and climate change mitigation in general is on the Governments both Union and State to switch subsidies and investments from chemical agriculture to the promotion of sustainable agriculture, ecosystem restoration and decentralised renewable energy generation through collective action at the grassroots. Along with this big companies in India must use their massive Corporate Social Responsibility funds to promote organic farming and grow the organic consumption market because commercially run companies cannot do so on their own given the poor returns from the market and the immense obstacles in terms of authentic organic production, its storage and distribution.  

References

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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Crisis of Smallholder Agriculture

The biggest concern at present should be about the severe constraints that the small and marginal farmers, who constitute 85% of all farming households and about 50% of the total population, face. These farmers put in a huge amount of back breaking family labour into their farming. This labour is grossly underpaid at about Rs 100 per day as revealed from  surveys that we have conducted in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh. Whereas the latest statutory minimum daily wage in the state is Rs 335 for unskilled, Rs368 for semiskilled, Rs 421 for skilled and Rs 471 for highly skilled. Farming is a highly skilled operation and so the farmers should be paid Rs 471 in the interests of equity. Especially because the analysis of the consumption expenditure surveys that we simultaneously carry out show that the respondents are suffering from chronic hunger. One can easily imagine what raising the household labour wage to Rs 471 per day will do to the farmgate price of agricultural produce. When we paid a wage of Rs 220 per day (the statutory minimum wage for unskilled labour in MP last year) and also a fifty percent profit over and above their operating costs to the farmers with whom we work in our organic farming project (https://kansariorganics.in/) the farmgate price of our organic wheat shot up to Rs 27 per kg as opposed to the Rs 17 prevailing in the market for chemical wheat and the Rs 20 offered under the MP government's MSP scheme (which is anyway available to a limited number of farmers). After adding on the costs of the subsidy we provided to the farmers for organic composting and bio-enzyme rich liquid making and cleaning and grading the price of our wheat in Indore is Rs 35 per kg whereas the chemical wheat of similar quality sells at Rs 25 per kg. Few people are prepared to buy our wheat at this premium despite its being the cheapest organic wheat available in this country because we are not charging any profits or management costs which are met by grant funding. This in turn means that there is a need for direct transfers to farmers by the government to compensate them properly as the market will not do so. Since the chemical agriculture being practised now is both economically and ecologically unsustainable this cash transfer should be given to farmers to switch the country from chemical monoculture to organic biodiverse agriculture combined with huge investments in communitarian ecosystem conservation and restoration, compost and bio-enzyme rich liquid making on a very large scale to replace chemical fertilisers and decentralized renewable energy production from gasification of agri and forest biomass.


But why have we come to this sorry pass? There were four major constraints to agriculture in the British times as follows - high land rents under the zamindari and ryotwari systems, usury, these two in turn prevented investments in soil and water conservation and in situ irrigation development and the low availability of fertilisers. We had innumerable varieties of crops including rice and wheat varieties that were of a high yielding type and therefore there was no constraint as regards to crop varieties. There was no storage problem either as there were traditional methods of decentralised storage of crops that were very effective. With independence the first obstacle was removed to a great extent even though land reforms did not take place as much as they should have and this released the energies of the peasantry in farming leading to a considerable boost in agricultural production. However, usury continued and constrained investments in soil and water conservation and in situ irrigation. Therefore, what was required was greater land reform, control of usury and extension of cheap credit, heavy investments in forest, soil and water conservation and in situ irrigation development and last but not the least heavy investments in composting to increase organic manure availability which is a highly labour intensive process. Animal manure on its own is not enough for the huge agricultural land in this country and so agricultural residue has to be mixed with a little organic manure and composted to greatly multiply the availability of manure. Beginning with Albert Howard there have been many experts in composting in India and so the needs of fertiliser can be easily met through widespread composting and bioenzyme rich organic liquid making. Unfortunately, none of these were done and so agriculture continued to be constrained and combined with the other folly at the time of independence of not implementing compulsory and free school education which would have put boys and girls in school instead of them getting married and producing children which led to a population explosion, we faced a food crisis in the 1960s. There was no nationalism involved in going for the green revolution. It was a neo-colonial collaboration between the American MNCs and the Savarna elite who were ruling this country and still do ( the British too were able to rule over India for such a long time because of the collaboration they received from the Savarna elites. they would have been kicked out in 1857 itself if they had not received extensive support from the Savarnas who had benefited from their rule), to ignore the possibilities of a policy of land reform, control of usury, investment in forest, soil and water conservation and in situ irrigation and widespread composting and instead foist hybrid seeds, big dams, deep tubewells, chemical fertilisers and pesticides and cheap coal fired electricity all heavily subsidised by the Government. This chemical monoculture has devastated both agriculture and food availability, especially in the rural areas where there is chronic hunger.

There is only one solution to the crisis of agriculture, water scarcity. rural unemployment and chronic hunger - gradually switching the whole country to organic biodiverse agriculture over a period of five years by providing heavy subsidies to farmers to make the switch by investing in forest, soil and water conservation, in situ irrigation and composting and generation of decentralised renewable energy from gasification of agri and forest biomass. Especially composting because it is a labour intensive process and asbolutely essential to replace chemical fertilisers. This is difficult though because after 50 years of chemical agriculture most farmers have lost the belief that it is possible to do agriculture in any other way and it is extremely hard to convince them to make this switch as we have found out when we have tried to fund farmers to make this switch. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Self Rule of Tribespeople

 My trenchant criticism of capitalism makes many people think that I am a communist. But in reality I am an anarchist, that is a person who favors a decentralized community based economic and political system with no or minimal state regulation as opposed to the currently dominant centralized economy and governance system which is heavily controlled by the state and market. That's why from the very beginning of my working life I have lived among people who have traditionally been anarchists - the tribal community. Because the modern centralized system obviously does not like anarchists, the tribal people have been oppressed for centuries and this persecution has reached its peak after independence. For the past four decades, I, along with my compatriot Bhil tribal people, have engaged in mass struggles to preserve and promote their anarchist culture and way of life. We have not achieved as much as we would have liked to from these struggles, but together with other tribal organizations, we have been able to get two important laws passed which are –

1. Panchayat Provisions (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (popularly known as the PESA)

2. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (popularly as the Forest Rights Act)

Although we have failed to implement both these laws properly due to state apathy, however, in the area of work of our organization, Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, in Alirajpur, our writ runs. The major problem is that we have failed to make the state officially recognise the small tribal gram sabhas as per the first law and make the state recognise the community rights over forests as per the second law. a

Both these provisions are in accordance with the Subsidiarity Principle which says - "The central level of authority shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved either at the regional or the local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at the central level". Thus, all work related to agriculture, agri-processing, ecosystem conservation, decentralised renewable energy and primary education and health involving indigenous knowledge and the like should be the responsibility of local governments but in reality centralised governments at the central and state level dominate and local governments are marginalised, especially in areas where tribes people reside. 

A few days ago some of the activists said that efforts should be made once again for getting the small gram sabhas and the community forest rights officially recognised by the state and we prepared an application for submission to the government and to later launch a mass movement for this. This application is given below for public information -

The necessary action to be taken by the government in the interest of tribespeople in Madhya Pradesh

Many laws and policies have been enacted in the interest of tribespeople (Scheduled Tribes) but they are not being implemented properly, as a result of which the participation of tribals in the development of the country is less than desirable. They are not only deprived of many benefits of this development. but they have also to pay the price for it in the form of displacement and loss of livelihoods. In view of this, it is proposed that the government take the following steps in the interests of the tribespeople –

1. Implementation of the special provisions made in Chapter 14 (a) of the Madhya Pradesh Panchayat Raj and Gram Swaraj Act, 1993 in accordance with the Panchayat Provisions (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, which are as follows -

129 (a) Definitions - Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act and in this Chapter, unless the context otherwise requires,

(a) “Gram Sabha” means a body consisting of persons whose names are included in the electoral rolls of the Panchayat at the village level or the part thereof for which it is constituted.

(b) “Village” means any village in a Scheduled Area consisting ordinarily of a dwelling or group of dwellings or a small village or group of small villages consisting of a community and which manages its affairs in accordance with its traditions and customs; .

129 (b) Constitution of village and Gram Sabha - (1) The Governor may, by public notification, specify a "village" for the purposes of this Chapter.

(2) Ordinarily, there shall be a Gram Sabha for a village as defined in sub-section (1):

Provided that the members of the Gram Sabha may, if they so desire, constitute more than one Gram Sabha in any village in such manner as may be prescribed and the area of ​​each such Gram Sabha shall consist of a dwelling or a group of houses or a small village or small villages. The community will manage its activities according to its traditions and customs.

(3) For every meeting of the Gram Sabha, there shall be a quorum of not less than one tenth of the total number of members of the Gram Sabha or five hundred members of the Gram Sabha, whichever is less.

(4) The meeting of the Gram Sabha shall be presided over by a member of the Gram Sabha, not being a Sarpanch or Up-Sarpanch or Ward Panch of the Panchayat, who is elected for the purpose by a majority of the members present at that meeting. .

129 (c) Powers and functions of Gram Sabha - In a Scheduled Area, in addition to the powers and functions conferred on the Gram Sabha under section 7, the following powers and functions shall also be there, namely:-

(i) to protect the traditions and customs of individuals, their cultural identity and community resources and customary methods of resolving disputes;

(ii) deleted by amendment

(iii) to manage the natural resources within the area of ​​the village, including land, water and forests, in accordance with their traditions and the provisions of the Constitution and with due regard to the spirit of other relevant laws for the time being in force;

(iv) deleted by amendment

(v) the management of village markets and fairs including cattle fairs, by whatever name called, through the Gram Panchayat;

(vi) to implement local plans, including tribal sub-plans, and to exercise control over the funds and expenditures for such plans; And

(vii) to exercise such other powers and to perform such functions as the State Government may confer  upon it under any law for the time being in force.

It is well known that Gram Panchayats are not functioning properly. The main problem is that the employees of the Panchayat Department ignore the elected members of the Gram Panchayats. There is also the problem that Panchayats are made up of several villages and hence their Gram Sabha meetings cannot be organized easily. Especially in areas where tribes people reside in scattered buildings on their own farms. By implementing the above legal provisions, small gram sabhas can be notified and they can then do all the development work on their own without the intervention of the panchayat employees. Since these will be small groups, it will be easier to organize their meetings and they will be able to take decisions in the collective interest without having to elect any Sarpanches or Panches. Therefore, the Madhya Pradesh Scheduled Area Gram Sabha (Organization, Process of Consolidation and Conduct of Business) Rules, 1998, should be implemented and small Gram Sabhas should be formed in the scheduled areas with all the finances and powers for implementing rural development work under various schemes.

2. The United Nations has declared the decade from 2021 to 2030 as the decade of "Ecosystem Restoration". Because tribespeople have been protecting the ecosystems of their habitats for centuries, they can are the best in this kind of restoration work. But the reality is that their traditional rights on the forest and land have been taken away and the responsibility of looking after the forests has been given to the Forest Department, which is not doing this work properly. Therefore, by implementing the provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, small gram sabhas formed under the PESA provisions should be given community forest rights in their forest area. This will not only facilitate the work of restoration of ecosystems but will also help in alleviating the poverty prevailing among the tribespeople.

3. Protection of the linguistic and cultural rights of the tribals - It is an established fact that the education of children should begin in their mother tongue and also that any community's own language and culture should get official recognition. The provisions for this have been made in the Indian Constitution as follows -

Section 347. Special provision in relation to a language spoken by a section of the population of a State.- If the President is satisfied on a demand in this behalf that a substantial part of the population of a State would like the language spoken by it to be recognized by the State, he may direct that such language be given official recognition throughout that State or in any part thereof for such purposes as he may specify.

350a. Facilities for education in the mother tongue at the primary stage - Every State and every local authority within the State shall endeavor to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups and the President may give such directions to any State as it considers necessary or proper for securing the provision of such facilities.

At present, neither has the language of any tribal community has got official recognition in Madhya Pradesh nor is there any system to provide education in these languages ​​at the primary level. Therefore, these important provisions of the Constitution should be implemented immediately. With this, it will be possible to promote the language and culture of the tribal communities so that they will be able to strengthen their place in modern India.

Presently the standard of school education in Madhya Pradesh is very pathetic. especially in the scheduled areas. Therefore, at least at the primary level, the responsibility of school education should be shifted from the School Education Department to the smaller Panchayats created under the above-mentioned Panchayat provisions in the Scheduled Areas. In this way tribal children will be able to get school education of higher standard in their own language.

4. Meetings of the Tribal Advisory Council should be held regularly – In the provisions of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, an important role has been given to the Tribes Advisory Council for the welfare of the tribes people. But in reality, the meetings of this council are not held regularly and due to this, the budget allocated by the central government for the scheduled areas, the "Scheduled Tribes Component" is not used in the development of the tribes people but is diverted to other departments. Therefore, meetings of the Tribes Advisory Council should be held regularly. 





Thursday, June 24, 2021

Villagers Count for Little

 Community involvement in natural resource conservation is a must for it to be successful. People must understand the need for such conservation and then design the structures and processes involved and then maintain them over long periods of time. This is the only way in which ecosytems can be restored for long term sustainability as is the aim of the United Nations which has declared this decade as one for ecosystem restoration. The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath in Alirajpur has followed this practice over the last four decades and achieved exemplary success. 

However, the Government of Madhya Pradesh does not understand this one bit. It has set up a Rajeev Gandhi Watershed Management Mission (RGWMM) under the Panchayat and Rural Development Department as a stand alone organisation that does not consult with the people of a panchayat when carrying out its work. Neither are the people involved in the design and implementation of the structures nor are they made aware of the need to maintain them. The whole work is done by earthmoving machines and external labour and so the villagers neither get employment nor learn the skills involved.

Recently, in Dewas district the RGWMM has dug a number of ponds and tanks and built gabion structures on the channel through which the water is to reach them so as to hold the soil behind them and only let the water through. Gabion structures are boulders wrapped in wire mesh which are considerably cheaper than concrete check dams and more robust than just boulder bunds as shown below. 


Ideally the funds should have been transferred to the local panchayats and meetings held with the people about the need for such soil and water conservation structures and then they should have been trained to construct them and employed in the construction. This would have raised their awareness about the need for ecosystem restoration, provided employment and ensured future maintenance through ownership of the structure. 
Bypassing the panchayats in this way and relying on standalone departments to carry out ecosytstem restoration work will be counterproductive because the crucial work of maintenance will not be done by the panchayats in the absence of awareness building and ownership by the people. However, the government is least bothered and is only interested in expending funds. This is the most serious problem with governance in this country - the refusal to give common people a say in development projects even when they are of a local nature like ecosystem restoration. So instead of strengthening and provisioning the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and making it the flagship for ecosystem restoration, a stand alone department is created to carry out the work with little or no involvement of local people.


Friday, June 4, 2021

Organic Farming Blues

 The Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti (MAJLIS) is engaged in organic farming on its farm in Pandutalab village in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh since 2015. Even though this farm is now fully organic and produces over thirty different varieties of crops over the three seasons these are mainly for conserving the seeds of these indigenous varieties and selling them to other organic farmers who may want to sow them. The common farmers around the farm of the organisation are not interested in doing organic farming. Primarily because preparing organic manure is time consuming and therefore expensive as compared to the subsidised chemical fertilisers. Also the organic produce sells at the same low price as the chemical produce in the local markets and so the farmers lose out economically when they do organic farming. The only way to make organic farming economically viable is to sell the produce to relatively affluent people in the cities who are prepared to pay a premium for the organic produce.  In that also there is a problem as most of the produce going under the rubric of organic is of dubious quality. So the consumers also are sceptical. On the supply side it is very difficult to ensure that the farmers do not cheat and apply chemical fertilisers on the sly.

Finally, last year two farmers in Bisali village were convinced to try organic farming by telling them that we would finance the cost of preparing organic manure and also buy their produce at a higher price to compensate them for the labour they put in at the statutory minimum wage which was Rs 200 at that time. Normally with chemical farming in the Adivasi areas of Western Madhya Pradesh the farmers earn only Rs 100 per day from the work they do on their own farms. So we had about 2400 kilograms of the Lok 1 variety of wheat which is a well established hybrid variety to sell at the end of March this year. We did not use the local varieties of wheat because their yields are less and their taste is a little different and has to be acquired and so everyone may not like them.

The cost of the wheat, graded and cleaned of all dirt and chaff, after paying for the organic manure and paying the farmers the statutory minimum wages for their labour turned out to be Rs 35 per kilogram. Whereas graded and cleaned chemical wheat is available in the market at Rs 25 per kilogram. So obviously this wheat would not sell in the local market and urban customers had to be found.

A commercial entity https://kansariorganics.in/ was set up to market the wheat and also some other produce like Sorghum, Maize and Pearl Millets from our farm and an online store was set up for this. The first problem that we encountered was the last mile delivery to the consumer. Searching the internet showed that this was very expensive. Even Amazon with its economies of scale charges Rs 50 a kilogram for home delivery. After many enquiries we found that delivery by registered parcel post service provided by India Post was the cheapest option with the cost coming to Rs 40 a kilogram inclusive of packaging charges. Thus, the cost of the wheat home delivered in distant locations would be Rs 75 a kilogram which is a substantial premium over the chemical wheat. Initial testing of this delivery system revealed that the relatively affluent people would like flour instead of wheat as they do not have the time to go to the miller to grind the wheat. So we launched our online store with Lok 1 wheat flour at Rs 80 per kilogram. Even though this is quite competitive with other such flour available on the internet nevertheless this is quite expensive.

Initially, there were a spate of orders and we succeeded in clearing 150 kilograms or so of wheat by the middle of April after which lockdown was imposed in Indore due to the COVID 19 second phase devastation. India Post also stopped taking parcels of goods other than medicine. So the marketing operations came to a halt. In fact there are still a few orders that are pending to be processed. In the same time the same amount of about 150 kilograms was sold in Indore even though the price in Indore was much less at Rs 35 a kilogram. Considerable amount of publicity was done through social media but it had little impact. it was argued that the advantages of eating wheat flour that does not have chemicals and so being healthy far outweighs the extra cost of Rs 10 per kilogram but that has not cut much ice.

Thus, there are about 20 quintals of wheat left and that means that till the next harvest in coming march on an average 2 quintals need to be sold per month. This depends on how well the products are marketed in the coming months. In case the wheat is not sold due to lack of demand another problem will crop up. It will get infested by insects. Those who deal in chemical wheat use pesticides to prevent insect infestation. However, this cannot be done with organic wheat and so it is necessary to ensure that the wheat is sold off completely. 

So it was decided to keep only about 10 quintals in stock for future sale through the online store and the rest has been distributed to needy Adivasi families in Alirajpur. MAJLIS bought the wheat from KANSARI ORGANICS and transported it to Alirajpur for distribution there. The photo below shows the teachers of the RANI KAJAL JEEVAN SHALA in Kakrana taking the wheat to Alirajpur.


So the economic viability of organic farming is a problem. Even when the produce is sold without any profits and only the costs incurred are charged from the customer. In fact let alone earning profits, the costs of setting up the website and online store and the work put in by the staff of MAJLIS, who are playing an important mediatory role in connecting the farmers to the consumers have not been factored in to keep the price as low as possible. 

Under the circumstances, the only way ahead is to gradually shift the whole nation from chemical to organic agriculture over a period of years. For this a huge amount of awareness building has to be done among the policy makers, farmers and consumers.


Thursday, May 27, 2021

COVID and the Bhil Adivasis

 The second wave of COVID 19 spread in India due to the variant B.1.617 has wreaked havoc across the country. Not only is thise new variant more infectious it is also more fatal. Once it affects the lungs in the second stage then it becomes difficult for the patient to recover despite getting the best of medical treatment. The problem is compounded by the fact that in addition to oxygen, ventilators become necessary along with anti viral drugs such as Remdesivir. The huge increase in the number of cases from the second week of April meant that all these were in short supply and many patients were unable to get proper treatment and died. Even when patients did get these treatments, such was the severity of the disease that a number of them died. Thus, unlike in the first wave, even proper treatment was not able to save patients even if they were prepared to pay and so even upper and middle class patients have died and this has created a considerable furore.

Under the circumstances one would have thought that once the virus spread to rural areas there would be much greater fatalities given that none of the crucial aids - oxygen, anti-viral drugs, ventilators and qualified doctors and hospitals, were available in rural areas.  The ratio of qualified doctors to the population in India is very low and most of them are located in urban areas. So rural people have to rely on quacks who give them intravenous drips of saline and antibiotics for treatment. 


  Eventually the virus made its way into the rural areas of western Madhya Pradesh where the Bhil Adivasis reside. Given their low nutritional levels one would have expected them to be particularly vulnerable to this dangerous virus. However, while quite a few have fallen ill with fever and cough very few in the villages have died. Since there are no testing facilities for COVID 19 in rural areas and even in small towns, one does not know whether this fever and cough are due to the virus or not. However, from the fact that the incidence of fever and cough is much more than what normally happens at this time of the year, one can infer that this morbidity is due to COVID 19. Yet as usual the Adivasis have visited the quacks and been administered intravenous drips of saline and antibiotics and gradually they have recovered. In most villages there are no deaths whatsoever. 
As opposed to this from among those Adivasis who are in government employment as teachers, engineers and the like who stay in the towns and cities some have died after being infected by the virus. 

The matter of lesser fatalities among Indians from COVID 19 as compared to other countries like the USA or UK had come up for discussion earlier also in the first wave of the pandemic. It was said then that there is something special among Indians that has kept the death rate down and the Government had even boasted in February that it had controlled the disease very well as compared to the developed countries.  However, in the second wave the death rate in the general population has been very high and this has put paid to this theory that there is something special in the Indian population. 

However, the Bhil Adivasis in the rural areas, especially those who are dependent on farming, have had the better of the virus this time round also, relying on the irrational medicine practiced by quacks. This makes one wonder whether the Bhils have something special in them that despite being mal nourished they are able to counter the virus!!

The bigger problem like last time has been the loss of earnings. Most Bhils have to depend on migratory labour to supplement their meagre farm incomes which are not enough to sustain them. Normally they work in nearby towns and cities during the summer months to accumulate money to finance the sowing operations at the start of the Kharif season and obviate the need to borrow from traders at usurious rates to buy seeds and other material. However, due to the lockdown that has not been possible this year and so they will have to go to the moneylenders for loans.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Survival in the Time of Pestilence

 

The Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti (MAJLIS) is a unique organisation in that while being formally registered as a charitable society it is actually a community based organisation that addresses the issues facing its members with regard to their equitable and sustainable development through active community participation in both design and implementation of its programmes which include positing an alternative to the present unsustainable and unequitable centralised development.  Over the last year the work of the organisation has been severely impacted by the spread of the COVID 19 virus which required a change in the work and also long term strategies of the work.

1. Countering the Negative Impact of the COVID 19 Pandemic

The organisation anyway works on the premise that given the ecological unsustainability of the prevailing centralised development there is bound to be a backlash from nature. This backlash is broadly visible in the spheres of global warming and water scarcity. Now it has come in the form of the COVID 19 pandemic. Therefore, the organisation responded primarily by intensifying its work in the spheres of natural resource conservation and sustainable agriculture to provide long term proofing against ecological unsustainability. Massive soil and water conservation work was undertaken in the months of April and May 2020 during the lockdown. Technology was utilised to facilitate this. The soil bunds to built on the farms of the beneficiary farmers were marked out on Google Maps and these maps were sent by Whatsapp to the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries formed teams among themselves to do the work. Once the work was done Google Maps was used to verify this and then payment was made to the beneficiaries through online banking. In this way without any physical movement in violation of the lockdown a tremendous amount of soil and water conservation work was done. This also provided much needed financial succour to the farmers who were in need of money as they were unable to sell their Rabi season crop as the agricultural markets were closed due to the lockdown.

 

Apart from this a major problem that cropped up was that of migrant labour in Gujarat and Maharashtra who were making their way back on foot or in the best way possible to their homes because they had run out of money to be able to continue in their work places. Our organisation is connected with many organisations in Maharashtra and Gujarat that are working with unorganised migrant labour and so we got a number of calls for assistance from these migrant workers who were stranded in Madhya Pradesh on their way back home without money. Once again technology was used to transfer money online to their bank accounts.

Finally, other organisations that we are connected with were involved in providing relief by distributing dry rations to needy people during the lockdown. Since we do not have the staff necessary for doing this kind of work, we transferred funds to these organisations so that they could provide much needed relief to poor people.

2. Reproductive Health Programme

The holding of reproductive camps for women is a flagship programme of the organisation but this could not be done due to the COVID 19 restrictions on congregation of people. Moreover, the doctors too were not keen on participating in camps for fear of contracting the virus. Under the circumstances no camps were held and only medicines were distributed to women who faced serious problems after tele-medicine with doctors.

3. Education Programme

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2019 ticks many correct boxes as far as school education is concerned but the problem as always is whether all the provisions will get implemented.

The Annual State of Education Report (ASER) has been published since 2005 based on a rigorous nationwide survey of learning in schools. In all these 15 years the learning levels have been going down continually and students are unable to solve even basic problems in reading, writing and arithmetic across both government and private schools. Mainly due to a lack of adequate numbers of properly trained teachers. Most Government schools in fact have a single teacher doing mutli-grade teaching in addition to doing various other non-teaching work. Then there is the problem of the curriculum. The curriculum has become tougher and tougher over the years further making it difficult for the teachers, who in most cases themselves do not understand what is written in the books. The language, even when it is vernacular, is highly sanskritised and incomprehensible. Less said about the teaching of English the better.

Yet in all these 15 years of the ASER surveys there has not been any attempt to improve matters. That, is why it is doubtful whether the provisions of the NEP with regard to making the curriculum more student and teacher friendly in simple versions of local languages and providing adequate numbers of properly trained teachers, will actually be implemented on the ground.

Right from the time we have through our many organisations tried to improve the school education scenario over the last four decades, we have found little effort on the part of the Government to do the same. These days with the Right to Education Act we have 100 percent enrolment in schools but learning levels are close to 0 and there seems to be little concern because the children of the elite go to good private schools and are in a class apart.

The efforts to teach children at the organisational centre in Pandutalab village have come to nought because the children run away after some time!! Since almost nothing is being taught in the nearby schools, both government and private, the children baulk at studying hard at the coaching classes we run!! So these have had to be closed down.



Given the fact that the Pandemic has closed down all schools, we started teaching the children nearby and so once again our coaching classes were started. The situation however is pathetic. Children whom we had earlier taught the basics of fractions, decimals etc had forgotten everything. Students in class 10 do not know how to do sums on fractions and those in class five can't add and subtract let alone multiply and divide. The future of this country is bleak unless we do something urgently on the ground to improve the school education scenario and not just churn out grandiose education policies. The organisation has now decided to run a residential hostel cum school for girls in the Pandutalab centre as with the second wave of COVID 19 there is little possibility of schools being allowed to open for quite some time ahead.

 4. The Programme of Sustainable Agriculture

The organization has been implementing a programme of sustainable agriculture given the serious problems that beset the farm sector in this country and especially small holder Adivasi farmers. This year this programme has taken  on a formal character with the aim of spreading it among the farmers.

 Research has shown that organic arable production is about 35% more energy efficient, and organic dairy production about 74% more efficient per unit of output than non-organic production. Organic farming, by definition, prohibits the use of synthetic fertilizer, using instead a limited amount per hectare of organic matter and knowledge of soil biology. Since the pH of the soil is not disrupted by organic farming techniques, the use of energy–intensive lime is also minimal or non-existent; again, contributing to lower CH4 and CO2 emissions compared to modern external input farming techniques. The use of organic matter also increases carbon content in the soil, storing up to 75 kgs of carbon per hectare per year. Organic farming uses nitrogen-fixing plants as cover crops and during crop rotation, which help to fix nitrogen in the soil rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. And finally, organic farming techniques maintain soil micro-organisms and so help in oxidizing atmospheric methane. The combined effect of all the different benefits of organic farming produces a Global Warming Potential that is only 36% that of modern external input farming.

Thus, sustainable internal input agriculture is more energy, water and nutrient efficient and results in lower greenhouse gas emissions than modern external input agriculture per unit of crop produced which is a crucial parameter given the need for food production to feed the world’s population. 

  Simultaneously this sustainable system is labour intensive and respectful of nature and so is integrated with social and environmental wellbeing on a larger scale in a holistic manner. Most importantly it gives women the opportunity to regain control of food production. A programme of sustainable agriculture involving communitarian gender based cooperation and natural resource management will take care of the problems of livelihood creation and conservation of natural resources and by producing decentralized energy significantly reduce the need for coal fired thermal plants which are high emitters of green house gases. This will create an “economy of permanence” as outlined by the Gandhian environmental economist Kumarappa. This system respects both nature and the human being and prioritises leisurely decentralised communitarian living based on the collective local consumption and husbanding of renewable resources over the frenetic non-renewable resource guzzling pulls of globalised market led modern agriculture.

 Worldwide there is a burgeoning movement in ecological farming combined with local area watershed development that has come up as a reaction to the deleterious effects of modern agriculture. This movement is theoretically underpinned by the green ideology of development in harmony with nature and at its own leisurely pace. Many localised efforts have thrown up viable solutions to the intransigent problems created by unsustainable agricultural production and the consequent increase in green house gas emissions. There have been successful localised experiments in this sphere for the development of sustainable dry-land agriculture backed up by local area watershed development involving the poor in project formulation and implementation by various NGOs.

There are also many efforts being made by individual farmers to tackle the problem of unsustainability of modern agriculture and the huge emissions of green house gases taking place due to transportation of inputs and outputs from and to cities from rural areas and also the centralized generation of electricity and its transmission to far flung areas. The farmers are making innovative switches to sustainability on their own.

MAJLIS has initiated a programme that is comprehensively addressing all the problems of global warming, environmental and economic sustainability, livelihood and food security and land, forest and water conservation from the standpoint of agriculture, in the broadest sense, being an environment friendly and socially just lifestyle and not just a commercial profession.

Along with the mass organisation Kansari Nu Vadavno, MAJLIS has over the past few years initiated many communitarian projects among the Bhil Adivasis in sustainable agriculture, natural resource management and decentralized renewable energy generation, which have borne fruit. Notably the Bhils traditionally use very little of external inputs and so are default organic farmers. They only need some direction to be given to them for becoming conscious sustainable agriculturists, natural resource conservationists and renewable energy producers. These efforts have been institutionalised with the setting up of a sustainable agriculture centre in Pandutalab village in Dewas district. In other words there is a need for institutionalising research and action in both the material and spiritual aspects of agriculture and natural resource management in the region so as to be able to put forward viable local solutions to the problems delineated above. Such an institution would need both extensive land and associated infrastructure of its own on which to carry out experiments in sustainable agriculture and also well developed linkages with other NGOs, institutions and individual farmers within the region and elsewhere. The results of this research would be disseminated through a strong training and outreach programme among the farmers and policy advocacy with the government and international agencies. There will also be a marketing component which will explore the possibilities of organic certification and marketing of the produce so as to provide a firm economic basis to the alternative agricultural system that is to be developed. 

 


A couple of farmers in Bisali village were motivated to switch to organic farming in the Rabi season and the first harvest of organic Lok1 Wheat is ready. A website https://kansariorganics.in/ has been set up to market this organic produce. The initial response has been quite encouraging but due to the second wave of COVID 19 the process is in abeyance. However, this is a challenging programme as both farmers and consumers are not fully convinced of the benefits of organic farming and so it will take some time to gather critical mass on both sides.

The campaign for propagation of indigenous seeds continued apace with Subhadra Khaperde attending a number of agricultural expositions to sell seeds including an important mass convention of the Adivasi Ekta Parishad in Jhabua in January 2021.


5. Future Plans

Immediately, the second wave of COVID19 has created problems for the farmers as they do not have enough finances. Therefore, the produce of the organic farming project has been purchased for distribution free to the farmers. Apart from this the soil and water conservation work has also been implemented on the farms of selected farmers. The reproductive health programme will continue to remain suspended given the COVID 19 pandemic. However, both the education and the sustainable agriculture programmes will gain in momentum.