Food Biotechnology: Promising Havoc or Hope for the Poor? [was: Re: Rain]

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Thu Nov 23 07:29:41 MST 2000



Paddy quoting a Swiss scientist:
>Indeed, all of these technologies are important for developing countries
>where farm to market transport systems are grossly inadequate and cooled
>storage almost nonexistent and where diets often lack nutritional balance.

The problem is not one of technology, but class relations. Land in the
third world is generally used to produce export commodities rather than
food for domestic consumption. Even when countries break free of
capitalism, they are forced by market forces to produce useless junk like
tobacco. Right now I am reading John Womack's study of Zapata and am
learning that the cause of the 1910 revolution was the expropriation of
Indian village land by sugar plantations in Morelos. What good is a "green
revolution" when land in Mexico is being used to produce mangos, tomatoes,
strawberries, etc. for the US table? This of course leaves aside the
question of the merits of the "green revolution" itself.

AGRICULTURE-INDIA: Yields Decline on 'Green Revolution' Farms

By Bharat Dogra

BIJNORE, India, Jan 11 (IPS) - An educated farmer, Abdul Samad has been
keeping careful record of crop yields on his eight-acre farm in north
India, as well as the costs of various inputs like chemical fertilisers and
pesticides.

>From a study of his records, he says, far from raising farm yields, 'Green
Revolution' farming practices -- hybrid seeds and chemical inputs -- have
led to a decline in agricultural production in the nineties.

His irrigated farmland in the Himalayan foothill region of Bijnore which is
watered by the Ganga River, has been losing fertility. Harvests of wheat
and rice have both shown a decrease, although the use of fertiliser has
increased.

Initially, the spraying of chemical fertilisers had boosted production. In
1990, he reaped 400 kgs of wheat, the main winter crop, and 600 kgs of
high-quality 'basmati' rice.

But by last year the wheat production had declined by 100 kgs, and the rice
by 200 kgs, while the use of chemical fertilisers had doubled to 60 kgs
between 1990 and 1999.

Samad, who is neither a rich nor poor farmer, says he was also spending
more to buy fertilisers, and other inputs.

The cost of chemical fertilisers had increased from 140 rupees per bigha
(five bighas are equal to one acre) to 360 rupees. While the cost of
pesticides and weebicides has increased nearly five times over the same
period.

Samad warns that if the trend persists in his Kot Kadar Village, every
farmer will be wiped out in the next one or at most two decades.

Bijnore's rich, medium and small farmers are all complaining of falling
yields. ''Zameen ki takat khatm ho gai'' or the land has lost its strength,
is a frequent refrain here.

Take Subhash Chand. He is counted among the big and prosperous land owners
of the area. Chand agrees that production has been falling, and says the
loss of fertility is a serious problem.

He feels the use of green manure and cow dung could return the fertility,
but he is also the first to admit that it would be extremly difficult to
reverse the present trend of farming for profit.

Farmers are caught in the vicious cycle of increasing production of cash
crops like sugarcane and grain, and cannot afford to pay heed to the loss
of fertility by modern farming practices, he said.

''It is not that villagers are not aware of the usefulness of organic
manure, but even the number of farm animals has declined with the advent of
tractors and shrinking of village common lands for grazing,'' he points out.

Farmers have also switched to mono-cultivation under the 'Green
Revolution'. Tek Chand, who is a middle-level farmer like Samad, says most
have stopped growing soil-enriching pulses or legumes like 'Chana' or
Bengal gram which was widely grown here.

The most worn out fields are those cultivated by contract farmers -- whose
sole motive is profit.

Says Zameer Hassan: ''I gave my land for contract farming. I learnt later
that he mixed salt with urea so that all the nutrients could be sucked into
a bumper crop, depleting the soil.''

''When I got back my land I had to leave it fallow ... and put a lot of
organic manure ... Only then could it be used for cultivation again,'' he
added.

Another problem is the overuse of pesticides. Last year, even that could
not save the paddy crop in Kot Kadar village, says local farmer Samad.

Some agriculturists say that earthworms, which are considered the farmers
friend, are dying in fields poisoned by pesticides. Other farmer-friendly
insects, like bees and butterflies, have also noticeably reduced in number.

Older villagers hark back to the days of organic farming practices, and say
that was by far better than the present day cultivation of high-yielding
varieties.


Louis Proyect
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