Scientific Inaccuracies in the NITI Aayog Agriculture Policy paper

Scientific Inaccuracies in the NITI Aayog Agriculture Policy paper

By Dr Vandana Shiva

The policy paper by the NITI Aayog, “Raising Agricultural Productivity and Making Farming Remunerative for Farmers”, is full of inaccuracies, false assumptions and blind spots. Today, the entire world recognises the contributions of India’s traditional agriculture to sustainability- to the conservation of biodiversity, soil and water, as well as the improvement of nutrition, health and livelihood security.

The paper identifies the problems of Indian agriculture as intrinsic to our agriculture, rather than as consequences of  5 decades of the pseudo ‘Green Revolution, which was merely an inclusion of toxics is farming and promoted monocultures; and 2 decades of trade liberalisation policies, first undertaken by the UPA Government and now accelerated by NDA Government. It then proceeds to offer the disease – of the chemical intensive pseudo-green revolution, trade liberalisation, and absolute corporate takeover of Indian agriculture – as a cure for that very disease.

If there is a decline in India in food staples like dal and oilseeds, it is because the Green Revolution drove these crops out of cultivation to promote chemical monocultures of rice and wheat. If we have a scarcity of food grains, it is because trade liberalisation policies focused on global commodities- which are industrial raw material, such as Bt cotton, soya bean and hybrid maize – instead of the diversity of food crops necessary for sustainable agriculture and a healthy and balanced diet, food crops that were grown in abundance prior to the toxic takeover of our agriculture by chemical corporations.

In its 1991 structural adjustment policy for Agriculture, the World Bank had told India that we should stop growing food and instead grow fruits, vegetables, shrimp, meat for exports. NITI Aayog’s paper blindly reproduces the failed recipe of World Bank Structural Adjustment, without an evaluation of the impact of the trade liberalisation policies had on India’s food security and sovereignty, and farmers livelihoods. The NITI Aayog recommends continuation of a focus on export commodities, and neglect of food staples. NITI Aayog’s calls these “High Value Crops”, blind to the reality for Indian farmers – how the value the farmer receives for his crop crashes when all farmers grow tomatoes,  gherkins, or potatoes, and when monopolies are established, as in the case of potato farmers being pushed to distress by PepsiCo. Nor does the NITI Aayog assess how every prescription of increasing exports through trade liberalisation has, in fact, made India import dependent.

The paper is supposed to address the crisis of falling prices of agricultural produce. If farmers are not earning enough, it is because giant traders and corporations are siphoning off, and off-shore, a big share of the agricultural value produced by farmers. This needs fairness and justice, not more freedom for corporations to exploit Indian farmers. It is this ‘corporate freedom’ that the trade liberalisation paradigm promotes and propagates. Throughout the paper there is an unscientific interpretation of issues of trade as issues of productivity. And this false correlation is being used to promote GMOs.

Cultivation of Pulses and oilseeds has declined dramatically because of exclusive promotion of chemical rice and wheat monocultures, and now large scale imports of inferior oils and pulses. This then becomes an excuse for the NITI Aayog to recommend GMOs. This is the context for rushing the Bayer GMO mustard which was rejected by the GEAC in 2002, and about which the Supreme Court has asked an explanation in light of the contempt of court petition. The SC intervention, farmers protests, and our #SarsonSatyagraha stalled the approval of GMO mustard on 5th Feb 2016 .

The NITI Aayog paper is promoting GMOs on the basis of false claims about increasing yields in Bt Cotton and decreasing pesticide use.Bt Cotton yields are in fact declining  and have gone down from 554.39kgs/ha to 488.89 kgs /ha

Cotton Yield

Bt cotton is a failed technology. It has increased pests and pesticide use, not reduced them. In the 2015-2016 cotton season Bt cotton was devastated by the white fly epidemic in Punjab, Laliya in Vidharba, and pink boll worm developing resistance to Bt toxin in Karnataka. Across the country farmers have lost their crops because of a failed technology.

Contrary to the claims of NITI Aayog that “GM technology has proven useful in curtailing the use of pesticide and insecticide”, the scientific evidence clearly shows an increase in pests and pesticide use after introduction of  Bt cotton, and shows how unscientific this statement is.

Insecticide usage on cotton

Insecticide use CICR

*estimate data compilation: Dr K. R. Kranthi and Dr A. R. Reddy, CICR 

Monsanto has pushed Bt cotton farmers into a debt trap, and to suicide because of illegal collection of royalties. Even the government has had to intervene in the royalty and seed price case. Yet in total denial of the Bt cotton failure to control pests, which is what the technology was designed for, NITI Aayog blindly promotes GMOs – clearly not for the benefit of the farmers.

The obvious failure of Bt Cotton has seen African countries rejecting it based on science. Malawi turned down Monsanto’s Bt cotton application, and  Burkina Faso is phasing it out.

NITI Aayog has prioritised GMOs and reduced Seed to a “carrier of technology”, when Seed is the source of life, the embodiment of centuries of farmers breeding.

Even though farmers are the first breeders, they have been left out of the list of those ‘producing’ seed. The list stops at research institutions, public sector and private corporations, including MNC’s. NITI Aayog reveals its clear blindness to farmers breeding, a bias against the public sector, and a bias to promote the corporate take over of seed.

At a time when the whole world is waking up to the need to save and conserve seed diversity, and our national laws protect and promote Farmers Rights to save, exchange, improve and sell seed, the Aayog continues to use the language of “low seed replacement”, which, in effect, means forcing farmers to become dependent on corporations to buy costly seeds in every season. The Aayog falsely equates farmers seed sovereignty as their not being able to “distinguish between common grain and seed and use common grain as seed”.

We work for seed freedom and seed sovereignty for India.

Indians are not stupid, Mr Panagariya. Our seeds are true seeds. Our seeds give rise to seed. “Bija”, the seed, is that which arises from itself again and again, and again. And it evolves and adapts, it is selected for nutrition, taste, cooking qualities, climate resilience, resistant to pests and diseases. What you call seed is a non renewable commodity, owned and controlled by foreign corporations. You want to institutionalise seed slavery.

Your science is clearly based on the outmoded chemical industrial paradigm. Synthetic fertilisers are part of a fossil agriculture and food system which accounts for 50% greenhouse gas emissions, the largest contributor to climate change. Nitrogen fertilisers lead to emissions of nitrogen oxide, which is a Green House Gas that contributes 300 times more to global warming than carbon dioxide. Synthetic fertilisers also increase water demand in agriculture and are responsible for “Dead Zones” in oceans and waterways.

You promote imports and increasing use of fertilisers, ignoring the fact that fertilizer response is coming down. Chemical fertilisers are leading to a decline in productivity because they are destroying soil health. During three and half decades fertiliser productivity has declined from 48 kg food grains/kg NPK fertilizer in 1970-71, to 10 kg food grains/kg NPK fertilizer in 2007-08.

Organic farming is the proven path to increasing agricultural productivity and farmers incomes as, our studies  “Biodiversity Based Productivity”, “Health per Acre” and “Wealth per Acre” have shown. The Prime Minister has also acknowledged the contribution of organic farming.

You need to catch up on your science, Mr Panagariya. And you need to connect better to Indian realities. The highest policy making institution of India should not be reduced to peddling outmoded paradigms, failed policies and corporate agendas.