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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

Re: Harnessing the benefits of ecosystem services for effective ecological intensification in agriculture

Subhash Mehta
Subhash MehtaDevarao Shivaram TrustIndia

Dear Danielle and Artur,

Bhaskar Save’s Low Risk Agro ecology vs MNC Agribusiness’ High Cost/ Risk Conventional Green Revolution/ Climate Smart Technology provides most of the answers you may be looking for in this discussion, also attached docs:

 “We are being far too kind to industrialised agriculture. The private sector has endorsed it, but it has failed to feed the world, it has contributed to major environmental contamination and misuse of natural resources. It’s time we switched more attention, public funds and policy measures to agro ecology, to replace the old model as soon as possible.” Dr David Fig, Biowatch, South Africa

Based on the results on his farm in Gujarat, Indian farmer and campaigner Bhaskar Save demonstrated that by following the agro ecology, his yields were superior to any farm using chemicals in terms of quantity, nutritional quality, biological diversity, ecological sustainability, water conservation, energy efficiency and economic profitability. 

Bhaskar Save: 1922 - October 2015, published in 2006 a famous open letter to the Indian Minister of Agriculture and other top officials to bring attention to the mounting suicide rate and debt among farmers. He wanted policy makers to abandon their policies of promoting the use of toxic chemicals that the ‘green revolution’ had encouraged and subsidized, even today .

According to Save, the green revolution had been a total disaster for India by flinging open the floodgates of toxic agro-chemicals which had ravaged the lands (paper attached) and lives of many millions of farmers (for example, read about the impact, in Punjab). He firmly believed that organic farming in harmony with nature could sustainably provide India with abundant, wholesome food to the growing population. 

India had for generations sustained one of the highest densities of population on earth, without any chemical fertilisers, pesticides, exotic dwarf strains of grain or ‘bio-tech’ inputs – and without degrading its soil. For instance, see this analysis which highlights better productivity levels in India prior to the green revolution. (If further evidence is required as to the efficacy of organic farming, see this report, based on a 30-year study, which concludes that organic yields match conventional yields, outperform conventional in years of drought and actually build soil fertility rather than deplete it; and see this report that says that low cost low risk organic and sustainable small- holder producer communities could double farm production in all parts of the world, especially India, ensuring access to their own requirements of nutritious food thus reducing hunger, mal nutrition, poverty, effects of climate change and suicides - the big issues.) 

Save argued that numerous tall, indigenous varieties of grain provided more biomass, shaded the soil from the sun and protected against its erosion under heavy monsoon rains. But in the guise of increasing crop production, exotic dwarf varieties were introduced and promoted. This led to more vigorous growth of weeds, which were able to compete successfully with the new stunted crops for sunlight. The farmer had to spend more labour and money in weeding or spraying herbicides. In effect, farmers were placed on a chemical treadmill as traditional pest management systems were destroyed and soil degradation and erosion set in. This water-intensive, high cost external input model of the high risk economies of scale conventional green revolution technologies led to the construction of big dams, deep indebtedness, population displacement and a massive, unsustainable strain on water tables. Save noted that more than 80% of India’s water consumption is for irrigation, with the largest share hogged by chemically cultivated cash crops. Maharashtra has the maximum number of big and medium dams in the country. But sugarcane alone, grown on barely 3-4% of its cultivable land, guzzles about 70% of its irrigation waters. 

For Save, in a country of farmers, it was essential to restore the natural health of soil by making required investments in Indian agriculture to solve the inter-related problems of poverty, unemployment and rising population. See his arguments in more detail here

Save’s views may be out of step with global agribusiness interests and the international bodies, national governments and regulatory bodies they have co-opted or hijacked (see thisthisthisthisthis and this), but there is an increasing awareness across the globe that the type of viewpoint put forward by Save and many others is valid and backed with evidence. 

Millions of farmers across the world already knew that what Save had stated was correct and have for a long time been protesting and resisting the industrial conventional green revolution high cost high risk model, dependent external input of seed/ GMO, agro chemicals and increasing requirement of water each year and being  imposed on producer communities across the planet. They are in step with what the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology (IAASTD) report (among others) advocates: a shift towards and investment in and reaffirmation of  following the agro ecology of the area.  

Likewise, botanist Stuart Newton’s notes that the answers to agricultural productivity do not entail embracing the international, monopolistic, corporate-conglomerate promotion of agro chemicals dependent hybrid/GM crops. He argues that India must restore and nurture its heavily depleted, abused and degraded soils and is endangering human and animal health by following the agro ecology. Newton provides good insight into the vital roll of healthy soils and their mineral compositions and links their depletion to the green revolution. In turn, these degraded and micro-nutrient lacking soils cannot help but lead to denitrified food and thus malnourishment: a very pertinent point given that the PR surrounding the green revolution claims it dramatically helped reduce malnutrition, hunger and poverty when the facts are otherwise. 

Over the past few years, there have been numerous high level reports from the UN and development agencies putting forward proposals to support and invest in small holder producer communities and their agro ecology has not been put in their plans and budgets to ensure their access to own requirements of nutritious food and cash, if they are to be sustainable in the long term. Instead, the inaction of governments on the ground producer communities are increasingly being marginalised and oppressed due to corporate seed monopolies, land speculation and takeovers, rigged trade that favours global agribusiness interests and commodity speculation (see this on food commodity speculation, this on the global food system, this by the Oakland Institute on land grabs and this on the impact of international trade rules). 

India has largely ignored he needs of the rural poor producer communities by continuing  to follow the World Bank/ US Government advice on moving out 400 million out of agriculture livelihoods, thus capitulating to US agribusiness interests and in the process seeking to demonise those who criticise the Government line. The  reasons given was that smallholder producers are not viable (policies behind making agriculture financially unviable) and the impacts are discussed in the article ‘Global Agribusiness Hammering Away at the Foundations of Indian Society‘. The urban-centric model of ‘development’ being pursued is unsustainable and is wholly misguided as about 20% of the population do not have jobs and thus the 70% of the  population (rural) must be put to work gainfully in agriculture as they can contribute to growth and development and become sustainable in the long term. 

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Professor Hilal Elver

Empirical and scientific evidence shows that small farmers feed the rich world [see this]. According to the UN Food & Agrultural Organisation (FAO), 70% of food we consume globally comes from small farmers… Currently, most subsidies go to large agribusiness. This must change. Governments must support small holder producer communities.”

Despite the top down approach adopted by the National Agriculture Research & Education System (NARES) in India, it should be noted that a good deal of inspiring work is now being made to happen by the policies of the Ministry of Rural Development which may soon make the NARES redundant unless they start contributing substantially to facilitating and creating capacity in the producer communities to follow their agro ecology and having access to own requirements of nutritious food and cash, contributing to economic growth and development, becoming sustainable in the long term. 

In Tamil Nadu (South India), for example, women’s collectives have been restored their agro ecology/ nutritious food systems and follow low cost low risk farming methods, resulting in lower costs, higher farm production and improved nutrition.  

Before the green revolution India had 14,000 different varieties of paddy, but these traditional varieties were displaced by hybrid varieties developed based on the application on increasing quantities agro chemical and water use. Sheelu Francis is General Coordinator of the Women’s Collective of Tamil Nadu fighting back against the deleterious social, economic and environmental impacts of the conventional green revolution technologies. She states that by practicing agroecology, an increasing number of women farmers are now free from debt by growing many crops together – grains, lentils, beans, oilseeds each season thus have access to own requirements of nutrition and food, at little or no cost – creating biodiversity, producing most  inputs on farm (seed, compost, plant protection formulations and plant growth promoters) not using the high cost external agro chemicals. 

Government subsidies for high cost external inputs required for conventional green revolution systems, farmers gave up following their agro ecology/ traditional farming practices and agriculture systems. Francis says that farmers were encouraged to grow rice, wheat and other commodities because of government price support and subsidies which promoted growing, especially with hybrid/ GM seeds and agro chemicals. Rice and sugar cane use lots of water, so when it is the dry season or when there is drought, there is no production at all, putting producer communities into deep debt. 

The use of agro chemicals harmed the health of the producers, according Francis, not just because of the chemicals but because people consume polished rice which is not very nutritious (she says 46% of children are malnourished in Tamil Nadu).

When you combine the effects of degraded soils depleted of nutrients, chemical residues many times the acceptable level, mono crops as food is a recipe for catastrophe. Little wonder then that producers are now going back to their agro ecological practices and growing multiple nutritious crops, thus ensuring access to own requirements of nutritious, balanced diet and maintain soil health. 

However, it is an uphill struggle, as Francis notes: 

“People who try to hold onto their ways of life are marginalised from their land, their seeds, and their way of farming. Now the industries are trying to make them workers on their own land and to a large extent they have succeeded. That is why we are strongly opposing Monsanto and Syngenta and the whole project of GM (genetically modified) seeds.”

Elsewhere, in Africa, while Monsanto and The Gates Foundation are trying to force through a corpoand rate-controlled GMO/green revolution, the Oakland Institute recently published research that highlighted the “tremendous success” of agro ecology across the continent. By combining sound ecological management, using on-farm inputs renewable resources and managing pests and disease with low cost low risk approaches that increase their net incomes/ purchasing power, improves livelihoods whilst reducing hunger, malnutrition, poverty, effects of climate change and suicides of producer communities, agro ecology embodies a social movement for positive change. 

Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, says that the research provides irrefutable facts and figures on how agricultural transformation can yield immense economic, social, and food security benefits, while ensuring its contribution to growth, climate justice and restoring degraded soils and the environment. Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director of the Oakland Institute, who coordinated the research, adds that the research debunks the myths about the inability of agro ecology to deliver and highlights the multiple benefits of agro ecology, including affordable and sustainable ways to boost agricultural prodiction  while increasing farmers’ net incomes/ purchasing power, food and nutrition security being resilient. 

There are many successful farmer case studies and of different soils and agro climatic conditions  from across the world and this needs wide replication by contracting the successful farmers. However, what is ultimately required is a level playing field at the national and international level to stop the use of high cost external inputs in dry, rain fed and hill areas, to stop handing out massive subsidies for external inputs and to get off the destructive and wholly unsustainable and poisonous chemical treadmill. 

“Agro ecology is more than just a science, it’s also a social movement for justice that recognises and respects the right of communities of farmers to decide what they grow and how they grow it”, says Mindi Schneider, assistant professor of Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague.

As Mindi Schneider goes on to say, ‘agro ecology is essentially a system that prioritises local communities, smallholder farmers, local economies and markets. It is a system that the Rockefeller-backed green revolution is dismantling across the globe for the last 60 years or so. The green revolution is in crisis and has/ is causing massive damage to the environment and to farmers’ livelihoods to the point where ecocide and genocide is occurring and the cynical destructionof agrarian economies has taken place. The solution ultimately lies in challenging the corporate takeover of agriculture, the system of economies of scale ‘capitalism’ that makes such plunder possible and embracing and investing in sustainable economies of scope agriculture that is locally owned and rooted in the needs of communities.