Make Kerala's farming sustainable, rewarding, and competitive, ensuring poison-free water, soil and food to every citizen.
India has a glorious history of farming, starting probably from the 6th millennium BC in the Indus Valley, harnessing the annual floods and the subsequent alluvial deposits. The Indus Valley Civilization was founded on sustainable farming practices. Subsequently, our culture and ethos became reflections of the agricultural practices and it became mutually inseparable till recently. Harvest of the main crops is celebrated through out the country.
In Kerala, it went to the extent of identifying the farmland with Mother God or a female. Just like the female has to take rest after delivery, the farm land has also to be given rest for three months after the harvest; tilling is strictly prohibited during this period. Although it may look superstitious, the ecological reason behind this ritual is that tilling during monsoon leads to severe soil erosion and thus, is an unsustainable practice. Therefore, sustainability has been the hallmark of our farming system from time immemorial; growing the time tested, weather suited, traditional crops with or without additional organic inputs, but deeply interwoven with the ecological systems and climatic conditions.
The once flourished Pokkali cultivation in the coastal districts and the Kaipad farming system in Kannur district are testimonials to man ingenuity in harnessing the natural events for farming, that too integrated farming, without affecting the natural ecological processes and without even any external inputs.
However, the so called modern agriculture-unmindful of the ecosystem principles so revered and practiced for centuries-led to seemingly irrevocable ecological and environmental catastrophes in the country. The Green Revolution essentially replaced the traditional varieties with high-yielding ones. These high yielding varieties now recognized as high input varieties needed tonnes of fertilizers, to achieve the target growth. The crops and varieties alien to the soil attracted new pests and diseases and also outbreaks of existing pests. To combat them, came in huge quantities of pesticides. Input of these "exotic" elements into the traditional farming led to multitude of environmental issues.
The microorganisms declined; the soil lost its fertility and vitality; water demand increased and, the time tested traditional varieties disappeared. In short, the century old practices came to a halt. The eternal relationship between the farmer and farm land was lost. More importantly, sustainability of the agriculture systems collapsed, cost of cultivation soared, income of farmers stagnated and, food security and food safety became a daunting challenge.
Biodiversity in the agricultural fields has now become a history of the past. The farmland became silent; devoid of the croak of frogs, chattering of warblers, whistling of Whistling Ducks. The long tubular straw striven nests of the Baya weaver bird hanging on the fronds of palm-a once spectacular 13 sight-have disappeared from most localities. The insectivorous birds such as drongo, bee-eater, even the house sparrow became rare or locally extinct, indicating the collapse of the entire food webs of the farm land.
In the forestry sector, fortunately the use of pesticides has been much less. However, the aerial spraying of pesticides in India was first tried in Kerala in 1965 to control the teak defoliators in Konni forest division. It was noted that with in 48 hours nearly 162 non-target species of arthropods were knocked down.
The mentally and physically retarded and handicapped children in Padri village in Kasergod tell the world in unequivocal terms the tragedies and disasters that aerial spraying of pesticides could inflict on human life.
As a result of all these modern techniques, the air, water and the soil were polluted; most food grains and farm products were contaminated by pesticides. The run off from the farm land contaminated the wetlands - rivers, tanks, ponds, reservoirs, lakes and all water bodies-and the life in them. Fishes carried high levels of pesticides and also heavy metals, the latter as a result of the many chemical industries that sprang up to provide chemical fertilizers.
Health hazards became unimaginably high. Incidence of fatal diseases rose. Hospitals with modern amenities came up in the cities as profit making industries. Pharmaceuticals flourished.
Food crops became non-attractive, while cash crops became more remunerative. Rice fields have been filled up for non-agricultural activities. The area under cash crops expanded during the last 20 years (16% under rubber alone), while that under food crops plummeted (to just 9% of the total cultivated area). The monoculture of such economically valuable crops led to soil erosion and loss of soil fertility to a great extent. The advent of chemical intensive farming and its prevalence in Kerala for the past 50 years have resulted in the near stagnant levels of productivity of many of these economically important crops such as coconut, cashew, pepper, coffee, tea, cardamom and arecanut. Besides these, many regions in Kerala, like Wayanad started facing acute water scarcity. The State has taken note of it and given priority in the Eleventh Five Year Plan.
Over and above, the economic liberalization and WTO policies added to the woes of the farmers by bringing down the prices of agriculture commodities. They are caught in the debt trap owing to the loan taken to meet the high cost of farming, as it demanded more external inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and water. These led to increasing instances of suicide by farmers. Investment in agriculture has essentially changed from the farmer to the industries supplying input to the farmer, and as a direct consequence, net income for farmers decreased while the industries supporting agriculture in the country flourished.
The national policies of opening retail sector to national and multinational companies pose great threat to our food sovereignty and right to safe food. The enhanced food miles led to increased carbon emission, further increasing the load of green house gases. The potent danger of introducing Genetically Modified crops, monopoly of seeds by national and multinational corporate bodies could very well be the last straw on the camels back for the farmers of Kerala.
Many farmers have realized that they are fighting a loosing battle with the high yield variety - fertilizer-pesticide pack of Green Revolution. They have also realized that the degradation and disruption of the fragile ecosystems of the Gods own country are the chief culprits for the water scarcity, nutritional insecurity, loss of primary productivity and agrarian crisis being faced by the State. The farmers in Kerala are convinced that the only way is to return to the traditional sustainable ways of cultivation without harming the ecosystem. Thus the organic farming, a system with the broad principle of live and let live, came up which was recognized nationally and internationally. 14 Organic agriculture is not limited to crop production alone, but encompasses animal husbandry, dairy, fisheries, poultry, piggery, forestry, bee keeping, and also uncultivated biodiversity around.
By and large, there is an increasing awareness among the consumers also on the deleterious effects of pesticides and hence, there has been a high demand for organically cultivated food produces. Therefore it has become a solemn responsibility of the Government to encourage organic farming to ensure poison-free food at affordable price to every citizen.
There have been demurs and doubts on the practicability of organic farming on the ground that the production would plummet and the country would once again be forced to yet another food crisis. This is quite unfounded. Success stories on high productivity of organic farming are now abundant. The Food and Agriculture Organization reports at the International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security 2007 as follows: Conversion of global agriculture to organic management, without converting wild lands to agriculture and using N-fertilizers, would result in a global agricultural supply of 2640 to 4380 kcal/person/day. Sustainable intensification in developing countries through organic practices would increase production by 56 per cent. Organic yields on average are comparable to conventional yields; although yields do decline initially when converting from high-input systems and almost double when converting from low-input systems. It also has found that organic farms use 33 to 56 per cent less energy per ha than conventional farms.
Worldwide, as of now, more than 22.81 million hectares of land area is managed organically and the market of organic food is around $30 billion. It may be noted that Cuba, a country with 42,402 sq. miles of land and with 11.3 million people, is completely organic.
*National Seminar on Organic Agriculture organized by Reserve Bank of India, College of Agricultural Banking in association with Ernakulam, Palakkad and Idukki Dist. Co-op. Bank (Paper presented by - Rajendra Prasad) 2006*
**Economic Review 2015, Kerala State Planning Board.