Why the crisis in agriculture?
oImprovements in farming could be traced in certain regions of the world, where agriculture has become prime occupation of life. Hence, the struggle...
Agriculture is intertwined with soil, plant and human beings. In shaping the research, how much attention was paid to these three components? There is a need to reassess or evaluate the institute, whether it has retained the virtues of the pioneers who started it
oImprovements in farming could be traced in certain regions of the world, where agriculture has become prime occupation of life. Hence, the struggle and labours of few groups whose innovations later imitated by neighbours and form the basis to development by successors.
Up to early part of 19th century, this trend continued. Leibigs (1840) monograph on agri-chemistry and discourses of Boussingault (1834) changed the traditional trend of agriculture in the world as well as India.
Investigating centre for agriculture (Rothemsted Research Institute) was established in 1843 in synchrony with the entry of artificial NPK and development of soil physics. This revolutionised the research on new resources.
Similarly the role of micro and macro-organisms identified by Louis Pasteur and Charles Darwin opened new line of understanding of soil, animal and plant relationship.
The documentations of pedology (origin & formation of soils) and rediscovery of Mendals' laws by the end of 19th century laid new roads to agricultural research.
Necessity of verification i.e. testing at field level led to develop research centres (farms) in many areas. The concerted work on wheat, rice. jute, cotton, clover, grasses etc., in the early part of 20th century was a land mark in Indian agricultural research.
Within 40-50 years a vast system of research institutes, experimental farms and state agricultural universities took shape in the country. Agricultural universities were established in India on the pattern of Land Grant Colleges of USA.
It is time to assess the fabric of agricultural research in terms of its impact on the farming as a whole and peasants in particular. Since a long time agricultural research in the country is in public sector domain.
The investments in research and improvement besides human resource development in agriculture are channeled through Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
It has a vast network of research and training institutes as well as state agricultural universities. Investments in agricultural research and education went up from Rs 733 million in 1965-66 to Rs 2994 million in 2000, Rs 6320 million in 2007-08 and more than Rs10,000 million by 2012-13.
Several international level institutes and few commended the role of crop improvement and allied technologies of various crops by the institutes that reshape agriculture in the country.
The experts concluded that this public funds based institute has played a tremendous role in achieving higher returns at crucial stage of political social development.
The assessments reveal that the crop varieties as well as other technologies developed so far have paid rich dividends in improving the economy of the country and retaining political sovereignty.
However, agriculture entered into crisis phase, reflecting in terms of more than250,000 suicides of small and marginal farmers in more than 69 districts of the country, where intensive farming technologies were spread.
Since 1998 this trend of suicides continues. Everyday there are media reports from one corner or the other about the suicides among farmers. In addition mass migration of work force in search of unskilled employment has become a common phenomenon even after initiation of MGNREGA in the country.
This situation necessitates reevaluating the claim of growth and development through agricultural research. Agriculture is intertwined with soil, plant and human beings. In shaping the research, how much attention was paid to these three components? There is a need to reassess or evaluate the institute, whether it has retained the virtues of the pioneers who started it.
Recent trends evaluated in terms of out-put growth and input utilisation make to review the whole lot of technologies that have inadvertently spread to all corners of the country. It is clear now that these technologies have become major threats to sustainability of agriculture as a whole. The decline in soil fertility resulted as decrease in factor productivity and reduction in profit margins.
The adoptions led to degradation of major resources, enhancement of water logging. Increase in soil salinity, dilution of genetic diversity, disturbance in the ecosystems have become a threat to food security as a whole in certain years. As one of the founders of Indian Science Congress, Albert Howard (1940) said “the capital of a nation is soil and people”.
Soil fertility (health) is the indicator of peoples’ health. The huge amounts spent on medical care and health systems expose the situation of extra-ordinary imbalance in the nutrient availability in the soil. The serious defect in the research organisation is encountered due to contradictions and ad-hocism.
The piece-meal approach and discipline-wise planning, led to surpass the real obstructions in the problem solving. A wide gap formed between the science and principle stake holders. The researchers in the institute confine themselves to few aspects of their field. Hence, the proposed technologies or investigations rapidly become departmentalised.
The reports of these institutes frequently narrate the activities or achievements of researchers that are busy on the periphery of the subject. Many of the researchers avoid interactions with the target groups. Many are hardly exposed to humanities since the curriculum they were taught is for technology improvement that could replace common peasants.
This is evident with their belief that mechanisation and chemicalisation alone can eliminate the role of humans in agriculture. Since many of the researchers lack the basic characteristics’ viz. makings of a good farmer, sound training in science and acquaintance with methods of research, an irrational approach of separation of science with practice could be seen in these institutes.
Many a times the farmers complain that the research worker is out of touch with farming needs and conditions. The researchers are assessed in terms of publications in journals that deal fragments of subjects as in other academics fields The interests of the agri-input-producers and end users vary, since social changes led to develop commerce (services) at the cost of science and technology related to food production.
The laws that protect the rights of the producer of inputs precipitated in the shape of monopolisation and dilute democratic rights. The repercussions of the technologies that negate the balance of ecosystems and suppress the phenomenon of energy transfer among life forms are rarely taken into consideration since the target is the returns i.e. produce for profit.
Throughout farming history, new technologies got evolved mostly from field. In the era of biotechnology, laboratory is the source of new forms - plants, microbes, chemical molecules - that restructure the system as a whole. Naturally the subsequent developments at field level are not paid enough attention in view of hurry in exploitation.
Most of the things that influence the land - soil health, tilt, the quality of produce and equilibrium prevailing among life forms-are rarely taken into consideration. It is common in these organisations that the team of researchers with some practical exposure are put in the hands of administrators with very little practical experience and with a mind set of satisfying the authorities (The recent Indo-US knowledge Initiative on Agriculture-2006 is an example to indicate this trend).
The research system has taught the farmer to profit at the expense of posterity that is how to transfer capital in the shape of soil fertility and environment. It led for a temporary success as we felt in terms of grains or produce. All went well as long as the soil could be made to yield a crop. As soon as the soil has become sick i.e., saline, prone to erosion, lost microbial activity, farming started to be in decelerating trend.
That is practically evident for the past one and half decades in the states like Andhra Pradesh. It is noteworthy to find that the benefits of integrated pest management on cotton like crop, where several propositions to safeguard the resource base are underscored, could not be realised, because of the prevailing political- economy of the country.
The evolution of a species is directly related to the evolution of environment that is proportionally responsible to shape the system i.e., sequences of energy transfer from one level to another. It was proved beyond doubt that things evolved by interactions and dynamic phenomenon of complex nature. In the wave of modernism, technologies devoid of dialectical base were opted in agriculture too.
The ultimate destiny of the people who participate in the race was moulded by science traders to thrive at the cost of other life forms. This made to avoid to think of the repercussions. Agricultural research was shaped in this background. The growth in terms of expansion of area, inputs and grain or fodder is focused as development in food front. This misnomer should be wiped out before we opt alternatives for sustainability of the systems as a whole. (The writer is a retired Professor of ANGR Agriculture University)