Since time immemorial farmers of Uttarakhand have been growing several nutritious varieties of millets without using any external or chemical inputs. But now the government, under influence of agri-business, is making them dependent on harmful chemicals and costly commercial seeds.
Government intervention will destroy traditional millet farming in the
“Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”
- George Santayana, American poet and writer
This is organic, officially organic Uttarakhand, and the state Agriculture Department is having ‘minikits’ of chemical fertilizers and micro-nutrients distributed free to its small farmers. Quietly, almost secretly!
These free minikits are part of the “Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millets Promotion (INSIMP)”, beginning current kharif season in the six districts of Uttarakhand – Pauri, Tehri, Uttarkashi, Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Almora.
Though the initiative ostensibly seeks to increase production of and consumer demand for mandua (finger millet, locally called koda) and jhangora (barnyard millet), in effect, it will only lead to widespread degradation of the soil and water, and create a cost of inputs which hitherto have been next to nothing. It will also cause loss of traditional local seeds diversity and productivity and erode people’s stable self reliance in these food crops and their food security. While millet revival is welcome, what is not is this unnecessary stress on chemical fertilizers and pesticides and hybrid seeds. Our government and its agriculture department do not seem to have learnt lessons from the Green Revolution, whose bitter outcomes are widely documented, and which the INSIMP is closely patterned after.
INSIMP is an all-India programme introduced in 16 states and one union territory, under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana to promote four categories of millets – jowar, bajra, mandua/koda and small millets like jhangora, kutki, etc. For 2011-2012, a sum of Rs 300 crore has been allocated for countrywide implementation. Essentially, the programme is being taken up actively in districts where these millets are grown over large areas (over 5000 ha for mandua, and over 2000 ha for small millets) but where the productivity is less than that of the National Average Yield.
In Uttarakhand, the initiative covers only mandua in Pauri and Almora and jhangora in Almora, Chamoli, Rudraprayag, Pauri, Tehri and Uttarkashi. In the case of mandua, the national average yield of 1226 kg/ha (base year 2006-07) is only marginally higher than the average yields in Pauri (1068 kg/ha) and Almora (1200 kg/ha). But in the case of jhangora, against the national average of 475 kg/ha, Almora already yields 996 kg/ha, Chamoli 1372 kg/ha, Rudraprayag 1146 kg/ha, Pauri 1072 kg/ha, Tehri 1250 kg/ha and Uttarkashi 1245 kg/ha.
Why is then INSIMP being introduced for jhangora in these districts when their yield averages are already two to three times higher than the national averages? The communities have been getting these yield averages without any government intervention and external market inputs whatsoever. This also means that the communities growing jhangora in these districts (and definitely in other districts of Uttarakhand as well) are entirely self-reliant and that their practices are already exemplary and so, best not disturbed.
This raises suspicion that INSIMP is really not so much about increasing nutritional security in the state, but more about pushing to introduce chemicals and hybrid seeds in an arena that has been since time immemorial untouched by them.
In the case of mandua too, the productivity is barely lower than the national average, and even this is largely due to urbanized social conditioning, influences and culinary preferences that have resulted in people preferring it less as their food and hence growing it less too. But people’s re-awakening in the last decade on the merits of mandua is already apparent and only needs to be given just a little encouraging push.
This raises suspicion that INSIMP is really not so much about increasing nutritional security in the state, but more about pushing to introduce chemicals and hybrid seeds in an arena that has been since time immemorial untouched by them. It smells that this initiative is at the discreet behest of agro-chemical companies, for whom the growing worldwide interest in millets mean markets and unlimited profits, just as they saw in the green revolution years ago. These agro-chemical companies have been eyeing to capture this arena in agriculture ever since interest in mandua has been shown overseas, particularly in Japan, some years ago.
As part of INSIMP, participating farmers will be provided with free technology demonstrations kits containing micro-nutrients, fungicides and bio-fertilizers, DAP, urea, potash, pesticides and weedicides. For example, for small millets like jhangora, each one hectare kit would contain micro-nutrients/zinc sulphate 12.5 kg, DAP 55 kg and urea 55 kg, costing about Rs 2000 per ha. Per hectare cost of kit for mandua would come to Rs 3000. The total allocation for 2011-2012 in Uttarakhand is Rs 3 lakhs for mandua and Rs 13.60 lakhs for jhangora.
The Green Revolution, even in better times, was planned for and achieved its whatever success in irrigated areas. But mandua and jhangora have always been grown in unirrigated fields under rainfed conditions. Not just that, these millets have been grown on the most marginalized soils and with very little or sometimes no external inputs. Chemicals have been rarely, if at all, applied in the mandua-jhangora fields. Under INSIMP now, application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides/weedicides on these drylands where irrigation or even water is not readily available will only inflict untold damages on the soil, upset its inherent natural equilibrium of micro-nutrients and hence its fertility. In fact, this is exactly what excessive use of chemical fertilizers has done to almost all green revolution fields, which have now been rendered sorely deficient in organic matter. And this is exactly what will happen in the productive mandua-jhangora fields of Uttarakhand as well. Fields that always yielded good mandua-jhangora are threatened with sterility.
INSIMP would also be providing the farmers seed mini-kits of the so-called “improved varieties/hybrids” of millet crops, with an incentive of Rs 3000 per quintal for hybrid and Rs 1000 per quintal for HYV, of which 75% incentive would be passed on to the farmers and 25% to the seed producing agencies towards their handling and processing charges. In Uttarakhand, about 3370 qtl of seeds are proposed to be processed and distributed at the cost of Rs 34 lakhs.
This is sacrilege. Farmers in Uttarakhand have been growing mandua and jhangora since times immemorial and successfully maintaining high productivity. Over time, they have developed diverse, locally suitable and beneficial varieties. The small farmers’ movement, Beej Bachao Andolan itself has in its collection 12 different varieties of mandua and 8 varieties of jhangora - all local varieties collected from different parts of Uttarakhand - which the farmers have been actively growing. Although in the Tehri district jhangora seeds are not yet being provided as part of INSIMP because the department does not have any, the state’s premier GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology has developed a jhangora variety at its research station in Majhera (dist. Nainital), which is being given to the people as part of demonstration for over five years now. However, the response of the farmers to this variety has been largely negative, as it lacks the nutritious taste of the local varieties and, more importantly, gives very little fodder, an important product of the crop.
INSIMP too is a time bound programme and by the time it is over there will be nothing free for the farmers – everything will have to be paid for, and paid for dearly. And since by then, their fields would have got addicted to chemical inputs, the farmers will have no choice but forcibly continue to use these inputs and pay ever-increasing amounts for them in future.
The fact of distribution of seed kits in INSIMP is exactly the same strategy that was and is followed in the corporate green revolution agriculture whose long-term objectives remain the destruction of people’s seed varieties and holdings and unbounded, ad infinitum profits for the agro-chemical companies. The observed and confirmed characteristic of the so-called HYV, company bred and marketed seeds are that they are not resilient, do not regenerate, reduce yields over time, diminish fodder availability and, of course, are costly.
Will the hybrid and HYV mandua-jhangora seeds, turn rainfed mandua-jhangora agriculture into one practiced with irrigation? Will the new seeds be as water guzzling as their predecessor rice seeds? Will this not lead to water-mining in a scenario that is already suffering from water shortage, with the prospect of it turning even more acute as a result of climate change and other development factors? And the government would bring upon the people this catastrophe in its full consciousness!
We cannot also forget the experience of the Green Revolution and all subsequent market prompted government programmes which provide all inputs to the farmers free in the beginning. INSIMP too is a time bound programme and by the time it is over there will be nothing free for the farmers – everything will have to be paid for, and paid for dearly. And since by then, their fields would have got addicted to chemical inputs, the farmers will have no choice but forcibly continue to use these inputs and pay ever-increasing amounts for them in future.
Once when the agriculture fields in Uttarakhand become addicted to chemical fertilizers and pesticides and the farmers are forced to use more and more of these just to maintain earlier production levels, the small farmers will find the going harder and harder. Once the farmers have lost their own traditions and reservoir of seeds and become lamely and entirely dependent on the market seeds which they would need to purchase year in and out, they will find the financial implications unbearably burdensome. They will then seek an exit altogether from farming. Perhaps that is what the protagonists of agro-chemical agriculture are looking forward to: abandoned farm lands – to capture land cheaply, to practice their own kind of agriculture, to mine, to scavenge, to build dams – unmindful of the larger consequences for the society. If this sounds like a prophecy, so be it. But this is what the recent history of corporate driven, market dependent agriculture and development tell us.
It is precisely because of the long-term deficiencies caused by Green Revolution, particularly in our crop diversity and food security, soil nutrients and now because of climate change factors additionally, that millets are seeing a plausible revival across the state. Mandua-Jhangora form part of Uttarakhand’s rich agro-biodiversity and its multi-crop baranaja system. The INSIMP, patterned as it is on green revolution, is very likely to demolish their mixed cropping practice. Growing these hybrid millets in monoculture will only mean less than total food produced. It may mean more millet for export, but certainly not for local consumption, as the INSIMP nomenclature claims.
Hitherto, millet agriculture was the only farming which the farmers were doing without any external interference. But with INSIMP, their independence and control over this farming will surely be taken away. “INSIMP will not strengthen people’s food security, but in fact, destroy it,” warns Vijay Jardhari of Beej Bachao Andolan.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are
personal and do not necessarily reflect the
views of d-sector editorial team.
Biju Negi is a writer, sustainable agriculture consultant and member of Beej Bachao Andolan.
INSIMP is a sinister effort by corporates to make a back door entry in to the hills of U.K. The Govt talks of U.K. being an organic state but is doing totally opposite to what it needs to do.
This article needs to be circulated widely and media can help us in doing so. Posted By: H M pant
Dated: Tuesday, August 02, 2011
This is how the Corporate houses, through the corrupt bureaucrats are surreptitiously causing irreparable damage to the poorest of the poor. I hope this article is translated into Hindi and published in local dailies that have wide circulation in the hills. Posted By: RS Rawat
Dated: Thursday, July 14, 2011