Profit-driven ethos of liberalisation has led to unsustainable farming that has pushed peasants into a debt trap
Amid reports of inferior Chinese pesticides about to flood Indian fields, a disturbing blueprint emerges for ushering in a second Green Revolution via the 12th Five Year Plan by deploying the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The move may appear harmless since it seeks to link the 100 days-job guarantee for unskilled labourers/ peasants under MGNREGA with farming and enhanced agricultural productivity. The Union Ministries for Rural Development, Agriculture and Water Resources are reported to be charting out common ground in this regard so that farm labour is not diverted to MGNREGA, pushed by the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council. It is the fine print of the scheme that raises questions about its real purport, if examined against the backdrop of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's insistence on a second Green Revolution and the UPA's proposal to legislate food security as the panacea for burgeoning food needs.
Given the controversial legacy of the first Green Revolution, spurred by the US via supply of toxic agro-chemicals and high-yielding but biogenetically engineered seeds as the pre-condition for giving wheat to India in the 1960s — one quotes cine star Aamir Khan on this, from his talk show favouring organic farming — the ruling coalition needs to come clean on its game plan. As Khan painstakingly depicts the disastrous fallout of sustained use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers in terms of the preponderance of degenerative diseases and growing infertility among people living in areas that have dense use of agrochemicals, poisoning of the food chain and water, and the consequent disappearance of insects, birds and animals, the view that the second Green Revolution follow an organic course needs to be incorporated into policy-making.
Khan, however, failed to detail organic farming which is livestock-driven with plant manure, worm compost and dung from cattle and other domesticated animals being used as fertilisers, and livestock urine and plant derivatives, such as the popular neemkhali driving away harmful pests. It is a non-violent and cheap resource, as opposed to insecticides/pesticides that indiscriminately harm living creatures. Use of cattle as draught animals, still widely prevalent in India, especially among farmers who lack the means to buy tractors and machines, justifies traditional methods that made the Indian subcontinent a wealthy agrarian economy. Even today, livestock, including cattle, donkeys, yaks, buffaloes and elephants are used for diverse purposes, depending on the region: Ploughing and leveling the field, cane crushing, oil extraction, water lifting, threshing (tramping), winnowing and transporting farm produce to markets.
Humans and animals thus become equal partners in the struggle for survival, with the importance of animals being implicit in the sanctity accorded to them within the cosmos. Cows, as suppliers of milk have special significance. In addition, the metaphysics exalting cows and, by extension, cattle, is evident in this phrase from the Atharva Veda — ‘The cow, in the form of the universe, may fulfill our desires.’ Their extensive use as draught animals explains why cattle, in particular, had sanctity in ancient civilisations: Indic, Zoroastrian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Chinese. And so, beef and leather, to a great degree, was taboo. Cattle continues to be revered here by many and among farming communities in some parts of Asia. Taboos against beef are prevalent even among sections of the Chinese, Burmese and allied people. Here, even the denial of access to revered pilgrimages, especially Vaishnav, to mlecch and Antayaj — foreigners and natives kept outside the social pale because they deployed living creatures, especially cattle, for gain and ate their flesh, termed forbidden food; both courses entailing violence — originated not from blind bias but from the sanctity accorded to life. Security guards at the Puri Jagannath temple forcibly thwarting American Noel Haydon from mounting the chariot of Lord Jagannath for darshan derives from this ancient restriction, even if he may not know it.
As cattle and other livestock came increasingly to be diverted to slaughter houses at the behest of the British for obtaining meat, leather and bones derivatives, they were seen in arid utilitarian terms.
The farming ethos further changed as land owners, in order to meet high revenue targets set by colonial administrators, in many parts replaced cultivation of grains and other edibles with cash crops — a practice that has received tremendous impetus from the compulsions of economic liberalisation. Farmers, whether in Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra or elsewhere, have switched over to cash crops such as cotton, exotic fruits and the like, requiring mechanised and chemical inputs that over time degrade the soil. Formerly, crop rotation and seasonal farming helped preserve fertility. The apparent short-cut to riches has turned into a debt trap. This, in fact, is the sad reality of farming trends today, with suicides being seen as the sole way out by those who cannot repay loans.