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production model of farming and its impact on indian farming  RSS feed

charlotte anthony
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Soil and seeds. There is an article posted by Shashi Galada which is at the bottom of this article which inspired this piece.
Production per acre. There are several facets of the production per acre story that will be addressed here.

1. From the standpoint of an individual farmer, production per acre is usually related to a desired financial result.
2. From the standpoint of world hunger, increased production per acre is supposedly necessary to prevent starvation.

We will look first from the standpoint of the farmer wanting to increase his financial gain per acre.

1) Production per acre is a term most associated with a monocropping system, a piece of what I call a production system.
a. Cost of setting up a monocropping system is very high and often accomplished by using the land as collateral for loans. Loans are given by banks usually for chemical farming.
b. Costs for consultants on what is appropriate to grow are high, whether the cost is a direct cost or hidden in the cost of the chemicals the consultant sells.
c. Tractors and other equipment including serious spraying equipment must be purchased or rented. If equipment is rented, it may not be available in a timely fashion which could mean crop losses.
d. Land must be leveled, so that the equipment will work on it.
e. Costly irrigation systems must be put in place including usually new bore wells to supply them. In many places bore wells have to be redug every 2 years to keep up with the decreasing water table.
f. High cost of hybrid seed which may or may not give better yields or earlier yields but do have to be purchased yearly. Also the taste of crops from these seeds may not be as good as local seeds. Transportation may be better. Most important the seeds are not bread for resiliency. This means they do not have root systems that allow them to do well in droughts, resist insects, fungus or disease, etc.
f. Suitability of soil for the crop is important and may or may not be properly considered by the consultants involved. The farmers who traditionally understood their soil may yield to experts as they want to make more money.
g. Suitability of the soil for the type of cultivation. (no till vs. low till vs. small tractor till vs large tractor till, vs. deep till, very shallow till). Since these systems are modeled on temperate agriculture, the consultants rarely consider the vulnerability of the tropical soil to these tilling equipments leading to massive soil compaction followed by erosion, desertification etc..
h. Crop rotation including green manure rotations are necessary to continue good production per acre and may or may not be done.
i. Traditional farms had hedgerows around every 2-3 acres. This allowed insect predators, pollinators, etc. to thrive. These hedgerows include trees for wind breaks that cut down on the water needs of the plants. Also provided timber, fruits, nuts, berries for family needs.
j. Diversity of crops gives resiliency (when one crop fails another still produces) in a situation with untimely rains, insects, disease, fungus.
k. Every single one of the above must align for the touted yields to happen.. As we know from the farmer suicide rate, they often do not align so crop failures and low yields proliferate. Then the farmer has borrowed a lot of money with no way to repay it. At best the farmer can repay some of the loan and each year must again borrow money for the next year, making interest an added expense.
l. The major interest of the farmer for high production per acre is the money gained from such. We can see why if we add all of these costs together year in and year out, we will not have a monetary gain from “high production per acre monocrop farming.” If farmers actually calculated their costs including the costs of more fertilizer, more insecticides, more herbicides, more fungicides more water, tractor time, seeds, (and ultimately dead land from erosion) needed to get the results, they would find they are getting considerably less rupees per acre from the monoculture system.
m. In the U.S. there are millions of acres in the midwest that are now dead due to the side effects of GM agriculture.
n. Many of the production per acre studies on monoculture are done by universities with studies financed by the chemical industry. The western system which the studies are reflecting are all done to minimize labor, including equipment at every stage. Harvesting polycultures has not been possible with equipment in the past but is now happening with conservation agriculture.
o. The dominant paradigm is monocropping and research is aimed at this dominant paradigm on the theory that this is what the farmers want. I would love to see studies that included all of the above factors.
p. Most farmers today want someone to tell them what to do. They have lost the ability to tell when their plants need water, how their plants are growing, what their plants need, etc.

2) Traditional Indian cropping systems especially 365 day systems provide MUCH HIGHER production per acre than monocropping yields. This as Indians have known for thousands of years is because the root systems of different plants drawing from different levels of the soil make it possible for the plants to be closer together and actually improve yields. Most of these systems work well for dry land farming. 50% of Indian land does not have access to water so yes the yields are lower than irrigated systems but without water some yield is better than no yield.
a Studies on these poly culture dry land cropping systems are rarely done by universities and so do not get the media coverage that monocropping yields get, see vandana shiva studies.
b. With these traditional systems the soil becomes more fertile every year (sustainable farming) vs. monocropping where the soil is more depleted every year. As one person describes it, the current paradigm would rather grow in sand and provide all nutrients through chemicals. One does not need skill or connectedness to the land to do this, just follow the directions of your local chemical supplier.
c. Done properly in the polycropping system the land does not lie barren and thus the roots prevent soil erosion, as well as the leaves protect the microbial life from the sun and wind.
d. On the traditional Indian farm, the food the family needed including all the elements of a nutritious diet including fruits, nuts, vegetables, pulses, cereals and oil seeds were grown with several different cash crops. In the worst case scenario the family ate well and had seeds for the next crop. Now with eating just chemically grown rice and dahl there are many nutritional deficiencies leading to decreased mentation and illness.
3) India has many acres without a way to irrigate that can be and have been farmed for thousands of years with dry land farming.
4) Multistory perennial cropping system along with earth works including contour bunding and trenching, check dams, percolation tanks can return the ground water to whole watersheds and produce good yields with a fraction of the costs of installing a monocropping system which is only good for 10 years.
5) The current agricultural paradigm originated in temperate soils. Agronomist and microbiologist C. Bourge. . . in his book Restoration of the Soil, describes how practices developed in temperate soils do not really work in tropical soils. With one rain chemical fertilizers leach down to levels where the plants cannot reach it in tropical soils. Dr. B has spent many years working with grape growers in both temperate and tropical soils and feels that methods developed for temperate soils lead to quick degradation of the soil in tropical areas . He describes different soil fertility factors, one being chemical which is meaured in NPK and another being biological, measured in soil macrobes and microbes. Because of leaching there is virtually no NPK retained in tropical soils so all the fertility of the land is held in the plants growing on it. This is for another discussion but there are soil bacteria which take nitrogen out of the air and “serve it” to the plants, as well as many other valuable soil critters. Practices of tilling and leaving the land without a cover or without organic matter to feed on causes very quickly a dearth of these critters, and again erosion. As he says why buy chemicals when they are available on your land for free if you nurture them properly. Sounds like what the traditional Indian farmer figured out to me.

From the standpoint of world hunger what do we see here in India.

Millions of hectares of land are not in use. We could maintain a sustainable agriculture on our existing lands and provide a lot of food from farming these lands
a. More than 50% of agricultural land does not have water either because of no money for a bore well or no source of water. Many farmers who have had access to irrigation do not believe dry land farming is economically viable. Again there is a long dry land tradition here in India and much of these lands could be used profitably with a dry land paradigm including multistoried nut and fruit trees, herbs, vegetables as well as oil seeds, pulses and cereals.
b. Wastelands caused by erosion which is increasing. Using forest trees waste land can be reclaimed and treated sustainably can produce well.
c. Land lying idle. Farmers feel they would rather move to cities than work on the farm for low money and or do not choose to initiate the borrowing money to syndrome make money (read lose money) syndrome.
d. There is a lot of land not suitable for monoculture type farming. Kerala has demonstrated that unlevel land can be very profitable with multilevel tree cropping systems. Indian farmers have developed crops on whatever land they have that work without major investments, rather than basing agriculture on a system that works in temperate climates on level land.

The real issue here is not yield per acre. It is what I will call a production way of life that values production out of context with what that production must have to continue. This is a lose/lose situation. In the case of agriculture, the soil and ecological system in which that soil exists has needs for long range production. Yes an animal, a person or a piece of land can for a small amount of time produce extraordinary yields. The cost is a fallow period, a period of being out of balance that requires time and external inputs to repair. In the case of the tropical soils of India because of the soil structure, the winds and rains of a tropical climate, maximum yields can be pushed with heavy equipment for maybe 10 years. In temperate climates the system can work for 70 years. After these years of maximum yields comes serious soil degradation. Farmers in the temperate climates are just now realizing the soil degradation of this production out of harmony and are starting to look for a sustainable agriculture. The traditional Indian agriculture has developed ways for the soil, the animals and the people working that soil to be included in a viable network of life that has produced laudable results year after hundreds and even thousands of years. The result of what I will call a production model has destroyed the underlying fabric of life of the farmers in India. Using tractors and working for production they no longer see themselves as a link between the earth and the crops, the vital role they play with nature, and see themselves as beasts of burden in a system they despise. My question is what will it take to return the farmers to their place in the web of life.


This is Shashi Galata’s post to Seeds and Soils on Facebook which inspired the above:

There is this myth that agricultural production in India is far less then the production in the developed countries.
The farming systems in the west are far superior to the systems in India.
India to advance and improve in this sector needs to follow the path of the west.
What if I tell you that all this is bullshit. These studies, these figures, these statistics are all baseless and are directed to break us further more and destroy the Indian Farming community. It is not easy to believe but this is the truth.
In the Western World they have large farmlands and they practice monocropping systems. You can see on 100's of Acres of land just one crop growing. If it's corn then it's just corn and nothing else. This system of Intensified Industrial Monoculture results in huge productions per Acre. But to produce this every other vegetative growth irrespective of it being a complimentary crop or a unwanted weed is either pulled out or suppressed by spraying harmful chemicals. At the sight of a pest again harmful chemical pesticides are sprayed and to improve the growth and volume of production, large quantities of chemical fertilisers are used either as soil amendments or foliar sprays.
The end result is scaled up production but at the cost of depleting the Soil quality, Poisoning the ground water, increased soil erosion, polluting the air, tampering with the food cycle of nature and to top it call inducing poison in our food.
Whereas in the traditional Indian farming system the Indian farmer has small land banks, grows atleast 5 different crops in an acre of land ranging from oil seeds to cereals to legumes to spices and vegetables and relies on a self regenerative fertilising system. The production in this system cannot be measured accurately in terms of volumes of production per Acre for one simple reason that their is a varied crop pattern and the amount of a particular crop grown in an Acre cannot be measured. This poly-culture system involves a calculated approach where the Indian farmer before sowing the seeds plans out a system where he has one or two major crops while the rest are crops grown to fill in as soil builders, pest traps, companion plants, pollinator attractors and diet balancers. This system of farming results in lesser usage of fertilisers, weedicides and pesticides and results in production of nutritious food.
While the west believes in volumes per Acre in India the traditional farmer believes in Nutrition per Acre. The Indian system works on a holistic balanced model of farming.
By introducing industrial system of Farming in India we have seen the destruction. I am listing out a few of them here.
1. Cultural Destruction
2. Deforestation
3. Climate Change
4. Ground Water Depletion
5. Pollution of Water Bodies
6. Infertile Soils
7. Malnutrition & Immunity loss
8. Increased Diseases
9. Increased Pests
10. Destruction of Habitats of Animals
11. Farmer Suicides
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