THANKS FOR THE KIND WORDS: CAN WE HAVE SOME ACTION NOW?
Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s statement in Parliament that the Government plans to shift subsidies from chemical fertilizers to organic manures has finally earned him some admiration from grassroots organisations working with small and marginal farmers in the country’s vast dry-lands.
Pawar’s statement, if translated into policy action, may go a long way in improving the condition of some of India’s poorest farmers in the rain-fed areas which account for about 60% of India’s total agriculture, including 90 per cent of its oilseeds, 80 per cent of its pulses and over 40 per cent of its total food grain production. (For more clarity, please see the links at the bottom of this note)
The Revitalising Rainfed Agriculture (RRA), a growing network of 175 civil society organisations, research institutions, policy makers, donor agencies, journalists and individuals, has said that even though it has come late, the Government’s plan to shift subsidies from chemical fertilizers to organic manures, will be a major step towards improving rain-fed farming. Historically, rainfed farmers are deprived of any government support to improve their soils and till now they have not received any significant incentive to adopt eco-friendly fertilization practices, so vital for a healthy and holistic approach to farming. (See the RRA Press Release below)
Although still stuck with the concept of Green Revolution for food security – of producing food surplus in a few districts to feed the rest of the nation – the Government seems to have realised a basic problem with the strategy: its heavy dependence on chemical fertilisers, pesticides and water, which has led to depletion of both soil nutrients and water and, consequently, output in the areas where it was executed. Concerned over the adverse impact of fertilisers on soil and crops, the government plans to reduce subsidy on it and divert funds to organic manures, bio-fertilisers, green manures and promotion of organic farming.
Arguable, the Green Revolution played a role in meeting the challenge of self reliance in food grain production in the face of rapidly rising population and India’s bitter experience and humiliation while negotiating food aid from the United States under the Public Law 480 programme. However, the success of the Green Revolution was based on adoption of crops that inherently demand more inputs – from groundwater to chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides – and promote monoculture at the cost of its vast dry-land areas. This resulted in widespread depletion of groundwater, rapidly growing soil degradation and an escalating fertilizer subsidy. Add to this the subsidies given for fertilizers and sprinklers or drips plus the power subsidies given by the state governments.
Compared to this, the support for rain-fed farmers in the dry-land regions has been negligible. India has a vast pool of drought-hardy and high-protein millets and sorghums which are capable of providing rich harvests for very little water or other inputs.
Now, buoyed by the statement made by Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar in the Lok Sabha about Government’s plan to shift subsidies from chemical fertilizers to organic manures, the RRA network has asked for further steps to make it meaningful in resolving some major problems confronting the agriculture sector in rain-fed areas of the country.
Following is a press statement from the RRA Network:
Revitalizing Rainfed Agriculture (RRA) network welcomes Government’s plan to support organic manures
The RRA network welcomes the Government’s plan to shift subsidies from chemical fertilizers to organic manures, though it has come too late. This is in response to a statement made by the Union Agriculture Minister, Mr. Sharad Pawar in the Lok Sabha earlier this week, which has been reported in the mainstream media.
If implemented, this will be a major step towards improving rainfed farming, which constitute about 60% of the total agriculture in the country. Historically, rainfed farmers are deprived of any government support to improve their soils as the support is made available only in the form of chemical fertilizer subsidy. Water being the limiting factor in the rainfed areas, farmers cannot make much use of the high subsidies in the form of chemical fertilizers. They also have not received any significant support till now to adopt eco-friendly fertilization practices, which can work well in a rainfed situation. Hence the Government’s plan to shift subsides offers a ray of hope, and if implemented properly can correct the historical anomaly.
Along with the indiscriminate usage of chemical fertilizers, the complete neglect of organic matter addition is the major reason for soil health crisis both in irrigated and rainfed regions. Organic matter is the life line of soil, which plays a key role in soil functions, determining soil quality, water holding capacity and susceptibility of soil to degradation. Soils rich in organic matter helps in fighting climate change as they act as a sink to carbon-dioxide and also helps soils to capture and store much of the rainfall in its profile. Addition of bulky organic manures is the only way forward to improve the organic matter content in the soil. Concentrated nutrient rich organic manures and bio-fertilizers can contribute to improving quality of manures and diversifying the soil microbes. A holistic approach with bulky and concentrated manures can improve physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil and through that also ensure a steady supply of nutrients for agriculture growth. Nutrient use efficiency improves drastically and crops will perform much better when they are grown in organic matter rich soils.
The learning from the pilot projects on soil health improvement in rainfed areas run by RRA network in five states indicate that with proper incentive systems, significant improvements can be made in farmers’ adoption of soil health improvement practices. Farmers, reeling under mounting fertilizer prices are increasingly adopting organic sources for fertilizing soils. Soil health management through organic means can make farmers self-reliant, keep them away from the vulnerabilities of fossil fuel price fluctuations and contribute to the overall livelihood improvement. It also generates local employment.
The Government’s plan to shift subsidies can definitely address most of these concerns on soil health, provided it is accompanied by appropriate institutional reforms, research support, incentives and a community driven implementation plan. Government should keep in mind the fact that the traditional way of subsidizing the input manufacturer/dealers in the name of “bio-fertilisers” will not work in the case of promotion of bulky organic manures. Community based, farmer driven models can only succeed as the organic matter needs to be produced in bulk in situ. We sincerely hope that the Minister's statement would be followed by a series of swift policy actions.
RRA network demands:
- Shifting of 25% of chemical fertilizer subsidies to support promotion of bulky organic manures and this public investment should progressively increase to 50% during the 12th plan period.
- Create grassroots institutions for holistic soil health restoration in contiguous farm lands through farming systems approach and regeneration of the commons.
- Document support and promote traditional knowledge on soil health improvement
- Create soil testing labs for monitoring soil health in a holistic way
- Ensure research support for holistic soil health improvement.
RRA – Secretariat, Secunderabad
For more information, please contact the following RRA members:
• Dr. Suman Sahai, Gene Campaign, Mob: +919811041332, email: email@example.com
• Dr. Rajeswari Sarala Raina, NISTADS – CSIR, Mob: 9810956469, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• S.R. Gopikrishna, Mob: +91 9900897341, email:email@example.com
• Dr. Srijit Mishra, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR), Mob: +919757363651, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• G.R. Dharmendra, Chetna Organic, Mob: +919866508488, email: email@example.com
Notes to the editor:
1. Revitalising Rainfed Agriculture Network (RRA) Network is a growing network of 175 civil society organisations, research institutions, policy makers, donor agencies, journalists and individuals advocating for a differentiated agricultural policy and support system for rainfed areas in India. The RRA Network aims to evolve appropriate policies rooted in the realities of rainfed areas. It advocates for increased and appropriate public investments to strengthen rainfed agriculture. Towards this direction, RRA Network synthesize lessons from the field, generates large scale field experiences through comprehensive pilots integrating soil, seeds, water, millet-based crop systems, fisheries, livestock, credit, markets and institutions, engaging in research and promoting partnership among all stakeholders including government agencies and departments.
2. The statement made by the Union Agriculture Minister in Lok sabha was reported in major dailies. Here are few links to the story:
State of Indian Agriculture, http://agricoop.nic.in/SIA111213312.pdf
Rainfed Agriculture: Unlocking the Potential (2009)-edited by Suhas P Wani, Johan Rockström and Theib Oweis, CAB International, ICRISAT and IWMI, http://www.iwmi.cgiar.org/Publications/CABI_Publications/CA_CABI_Series/Rainfed_Agriculture/Protected/Rainfed_Agriculture_Unlocking_the_Potential.pdf
Dryland farming, http://agriinfo.in/default.aspx?page=topic&superid=1&topicid=421
Include Rain-fed Farming in Agriculture Policy, http://www.im4change.org/news-alert/include-rain-fed-farming-in-agriculture-policy-95.html
To the hungry, god is bread-MS Swaminathan, The Hindu, 1 October, 2011, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2500978.ece
Elucidation of the 4th National Report submitted to UNCCD Secretariat, 2010, Ministry of Environment and Forests, GoI, http://moef.nic.in/modules/divisions/desertification-cell/unccd-report.pdf
Weathering the Perfect Storm by William D Dar, http://blog.icrisat.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/times-disaster-dar.pdf
President for out-of-box solutions to deal with farming issues, The Economic Times, 16 February, 2012, http://www.im4change.org/rural-news-update/president-for-out-of-box-solutions-to-deal-with-farming-issues-13233.html
Millet group demands local sourcing clause in Food Security Bill, The Hindu Business Line, The Hindu Business Line, 9 December, 2011, http://www.im4change.org/rural-news-update/millet-group-demands-local-sourcing-clause-in-food-security-bill-11916.html
Pranab Mukherjee looks east for 2nd green revolution, The Times of India, 29 March, 2012, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Pranab-Mukherjee-looks-east-for-2nd-green-revolution/articleshow/12448197.cms