Wednesday, December 7, 2011

'Climate Smart Agriculture': The new eco-imperialistic tool

This is a shortened version of one of our 3 part posts - Oxfam’s and ActionAid’s Climate Smart Agriculture policies will accentuate global hunger, not mitigate it! 

Copenhagen, December 2009.  A public art exhibition was put up as a sidelight to the Climate Summit. Seen in the photograph is the 'Survival of the Fattest', sculpted by artist Jens Galschiot (2004) the sculpture is accompanied by text, reading in part:
The website goes on to explain:
'The sculpture ’Survival of the Fattest’ is a symbol of the rich worlds (i.e. the fat woman, ‘Justitia’) self-complacent ‘righteousness’. With a pair of scales in her hand she sits on the back of starved African man (i.e. the third world), while pretending to do what is best for him.'
The sculpture however was first exhibited in London, 2004 G7 meeting. On that occasion, it apparently was to symbolize the evils of globalization and free trade. In Copenhagen, 2009, it morphed into a new message about climate change with apparently little need to change anything except the captions. So the Justitia sculpture lends itself to whatever we want it to be. So in 2011, I use differently the sculpture changing nothing but the caption again. The text below reads:  
‘The New Eco-imperialistic Strategy: Under the guise of eliminating hunger in developing countries, they actually conspire to accentuate it.'
In May this year, Oxfam published their new report ‘Growing Better Future’ and five months later ActionAid, their ‘On the Brink’ report. Their key message was one and the same: We are hurling towards mass starvation on account of the synergistic impact of accelerating climate change; degradation of natural resources and untameable food price inflation on an over-populated planet. In the process, these NGOs elevated Malthus's reputation as a prognosticator to the Delphic levels of a Nostradamus. 

Climate alarmism itself is dying a slow and painful death, and now grasping for its last breath. With the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol by the end of 2012; we can expect the formal pronouncement of its death. For NGOs and environmental groups who opportunistically jumped into its gravy train; they now need to latch on to an alternate alarm to ensure that their good times continue unabated.  As the Ecologist observed: 
"The low-key nature of Durban’s COP17 climate talks has produced an unexpected silver lining. With a Kyoto II agreement seemingly in the deep freeze, a key issue has been allowed to fill the void: food security."
The new generation scam of NGOs is Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) which the likes of Oxfam is pushing  very hard at the Durban Climate Summit.   

The ActionAid Report astonishingly claims that climate change (aka global warming) is accelerating.

Here’s the latest monthly global temperature anomaly from the UAH satellite temperature dataset, developed at the University of Alabama in Huntsville-NOAA-NASA that shows temperature anomaly stood at just +0.1 degree, at the end of October, and should be well within the negative territory for November.  Global temperatures peaked in 1999, the year of the super El Niño and trending flat ever since so much so that climate alarmist scientists, driven to desperation, are reduced to floating various theories to explain the missing heat.

What comes as a further setback to the global warming brigade is the latest draft IPCC Report predicting that:
"Climate Change Signals Expected to Be Relatively Small over the Coming 20-30 Years".
In plain IPCC speak, warming is climate change while cooling is natural variability.  Accordingly, what IPCC is forecasting is the absence of global warming till 2030-2040 and by default, global cooling for the next 20-30 years.



The ActionAid report claims:

“Scientists estimate that already global production of key staples, such as wheat and corn, has fallen by 3.8 per cent and 5.5 per cent respectively over the last three decades, as a result of climate change." 
This is a remarkable statement as it contradicts over 50 years of global wheat and corn observational production data as shown in the above graphs. (Cornell University is the data source. Incidentally Cornell University has a collaborative relationship with Oxfam for their agriculture programmes, including their System Rice Intensification (SRI) programme!. 

Meanwhile Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's chief executive claimed: 
“The food system is pretty well bust.” 
Take a second look at the corn and wheat graphs given earlier. Does it look anything as ‘food systems going bust’?  So what does Oxfam exactly mean by food systems going ‘bust’? The narrative of their report explains:
“Global aggregate growth in yields averaged 2 per cent per year between 1970 and 1990, but plummeted to just over 1 per cent between 1990 and 2007. This decline is projected to continue over the next decade to a fraction of one per cent.”
Oxfam says that yields are still rising, just not fast enough, though more and more are expected to be produced every year for the next decade. Oxfam projects that yield growth will continue to register increases but would be less than 1% throughout this decade. As this productivity growth rate is lower than the population growth rate, it creates a food security crisis in the future.

While there is evidence of plateauing of yields, it does not have anything to do with climate change. Eventually, we will reach the upper circuit, as there would be limits to the amount we can tweak or modify as what we are primarily dealing with are finite biological systems. Having said this, there are few problems which we come across with Oxfam’s basic argument. Oxfam for instance claims:
“Climate change poses a grave threat to food production. First, it will apply a further brake on yield growth. Estimates suggest that rice yields may decline by 10 percent for each 1°C (1.8 °F) rise in dry-growing-season minimum temperatures. Second, it will increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts and floods, which can wipe out harvests at a stroke.”
Oxfam's claim that rice yields decline for every 1°C rise in temp is amazingly based on a single study in the Philippines. A cursory reading of this study suggests the following: 
- It turns out that the study is not even representative of the Philippines rice production itself! Data is from a single 100 sq metres experimental plot maintained by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and not from the farmer’s fields.

- Irrigated farms started using high input inorganic techniques since the 70s. What the data shows is that these farms 40 years later have not gone bust as Oxfam’s CEO claims but actually still increasing in yields though productivity rates are now falling. There we have it - hybrids yields maybe plateauing but not declining in yields.

- More importantly, the scientific understanding of minimum temperatures (Tmin) in relation to agricultural productivity is at present too rudimentary.  Besides plants respond to the impact of Tmin and Tmax (maximum temperature) collectively and not to their individual impacts separately. And yet, this study hypes the Tmin factor.

- The time line of the study is 1979-2003 - cherry picked to coincide with the last global warming cycle.  Since 2002 global temperatures have been trending flat and since 2010, found marginally declining.

- If Tmin reduces yields, how does Oxfam all time record rice harvest in India, two years in a row? Last year, Andhra farmers dumped their rice into the Krishna River to protest low prices due to the rice glut in India. And if prices do not increase this year, which seem the likely scenario, they might do it again as this year’s bumper rice harvest is expected to be even bigger than last year!

India the 7th most vulnerable nation??

To justify India’s categorization as the 7th most vulnerable nations in the world in their climate and hunger vulnerability scorecard, ActionAid makes this claim:
“Since 1999, the failure of the monsoon has adversely affected the soil, leaving land barren. In fact, half of India’s land is now classified as desertified. Since India’s land supports 16 per cent of the world’s population and 18 per cent of its livestock, these pressures alone play a major role in promoting desertification. India must develop climate-resilient crops, expand weather insurance mechanisms and promote better agricultural." 
While it is true the 1998-99 India suffered one of the worst droughts in recorded history because of a super El Niño, we must keep in mind that this ActionAid report has been released in 2011, just a month ago. 12 years have passed and ActionAid chooses to speciously project the lingering imagery of 1999 drought as if this is constant, if not encouraging the perception that drought is an increasing phenomenon in the country. Obviously 1999 was cherry picked as it supported their argument, ignoring the ‘wet’ years e.g. during the last two years India received excess rains at 105% of its Long Period average (LPA).

But since we are talking of climate change, it is important to note that the IPCC models did not forecast increasing droughts for India. They forecasted instead more floods accompanying 15-20% excess rainfalls. This prediction was falsified by observational data with the Long Period Average (LPA) remaining fairly stable, with a minute negative departure that is not statistically significant.

The Indian Monsoon besides displays a 30 year  dry-wet oscillating cycle as seen in the table. During the dry period, below average rainfall (and droughts) is relatively more frequent than excessive rainfall (and floods) and vice versa. 
(Pls note: The rainfall data in the last row is till 2003 and incomplete as the current 30 year cycle ends in 2020.) 

Then comes an even more shocking statement by ActionAid:
“In fact, half of India’s land is now classified as desertified.” 
ActionAid cited a Caritas article as source. Other than this statement, the article did not divulge either the methodology how this figure was derived or the secondary source of this information.

So based on just one sweeping statement of a NGO’s brief article and instilling the imagery of 1999 drought,  India was placed by ActionAid as the 7th most vulnerable nations in the world in their climate and hunger vulnerability scorecard!!!! And to think this score card was the central showcase of ActionAid’s Report!  


Oxfam claimed that climate change: 
“will increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts and floods, which can wipe out harvests at a stroke.” 
And just 4 months after the release of the Oxfam report; the IPCC in their new draft report left Oxfam red faced by its following conclusions:
 - Widely-held assumptions that climate change is responsible for an upsurge in extreme drought, flood and storm events are not supported by a landmark review of the science.

 - And a clear climate change signal would not be evident for decades because of natural weather variability.
So not only did the IPCC concede that the claim that weather extremes are  on account of climate change are not supported by scientific data, they further clarified, leave alone acceleration, the global warming signal would not detectable for the next 20-30 years (meaning it is taking a vacation) and  natural variability aka global cooling will be instead prevalent!


The Oxfam Report warns:
“The earth’s population is expected to grow from around 6.9 billion today to 9.1 billion in 2050—an increase of one-third—by which time an estimated seven out of ten people worldwide will live in Low-Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDCs).”
Parson Thomas Robert Malthus 1798 essay on population inspired many self-styled Cassandra’s to use his work as a basis for predicting famine and global woe. The most famous of these was The Population Bomb, Paul Elrich’s overpopulation-panic classic bestseller of 1968.
More recently we saw Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs citing Malthus to explain the dire state of Africa and Harvard University historian Niall Ferguson predicting a coming 20 years of global misery. The recent food crisis which pushed 100 million-plus people worldwide into absolute poverty and hunger apparently prompted NGOs like Oxfam and ActionAid to join this bandwagon.

If India were to have fallen into a Malthusian trap, then its agricultural productivity growth rate should fall behind its population growth rate to create a food security crisis. 
So what do observational data tell us?

Food grain production in the country grew at an average 1.98 per cent during 2004-05 to 2008-09, which was higher than the average rate of population growth of 1.50 per cent during the same period, Minister of Agriculture, KV Thomas informed the Rajya Sabha in a written reply. Sharad Pawar, India’s Union Minister for Agriculture in a written reply to parliament stated that India achieved a 3.2 per cent growth in agriculture in the first four years of its 11th Plan.
A 3.2 per cent growth rate is over double the country’s population growth rate and despite such performance Oxfam warns India is
“pointing to a future in which agriculture struggles to keep pace with the demands associated with a growing population.”

Action Aid claims: 
“Rising food prices – as a result of rapid population growth, stagnating yields and the conversion of cropland into biofuels production – is the third part of the crisis.”
Oxfam too in a more nuanced way attributed rising food prices to climate change. So when the headlines of ActionAid and Oxfam reports blame climate change for high food prices, we find absolutely nothing to substantiate this link in the narratives of their respective reports.
Oxfam on the other hand blamed biofuels, particularly land grabbing of arable land by western corporations in Africa for increase in global hunger levels. They fell short in condemning the carbon trading system that promoted these land grabs. In fact while Oxfam blames the climate for food rises they actually link biofuels and the carbon trading system as the causes for increase in global hunger, suppressing the fact that both are frontline climate mitigation solutions.

Oxfam however admits that there is a strong correlation between crude and food prices as seen in the graph above. However they fight shy to publish a similar graph establishing the correlation between food prices on one hand and global temperatures and/or agricultural growth rates on the other hand.
Why? The answer is obvious. There is simply no correlation between food prices and the “climate” or agriculture production”.

Theoretically, strategy and crisis should find a striking but balanced contrast;  parallel in definition but opposed in outcome. But in the case of Oxfam and Action Aid,  strategy and crisis are similar in outcome. In simple terms this means that the solutions advocated  would only accentuate the crisis, in this case, global hunger and poverty.

According to Oxfam, agriculture is the single largest contributor to greenhouse-gas pollution on the planet, through routes such as deforestation, rice growing and animal husbandry. Emissions include nitrous oxide from fertilizer and methane from livestock, as well as carbon dioxide. And with global food demand projected to double by 2050, the fear is that agriculture's emissions will likewise double.

What is being asked of developing countries is to transform their agriculture is as follows:

1. to enable productivity increase;
2. adapt to climate changes and   
3. mitigating effect on the climate changes through practices!

Bad enough agriculture is subject to vagaries of the weather, Bad enough developing countries are struggling with food security issues but now the western world wants to transform their agriculture to an obstacle course but taking care not to impose such restrictions on their own agriculture! 


CSA policies of Oxfam and ActionAid can either promote high and low food security and if we sieve them to categorize these accordingly, we end up with the grid as above. Now as seen in the above grid - if the real intention of Oxfam and ActionAid is really to eradicate hunger i.e. the whole emphasis is on people, they should really choose the upper quadrant marked green. Though most of their policies end up in the green quadrant, it is the few found at the bottom quadrant, marked in purple whose impact can wipe out all the gains of agriculture and worsen global hunger and poverty.

We can even understand if these policies applied to western economies that have to bear a huge subsidy burden on their enormous surplus agricultural production. But they are not. These policies are mainly targeted at developing countries that have no such surpluses, many of whom are reeling under huge deficits, experiencing mass hunger and starvation.  

As also seen from the grid both energy and agriculture are integrated together. by both Oxfam and ActionAid. For the sake of convenience we separate the two to critique their policies. 


Both ActionAid and Oxfam advocate the elimination of fossil fuels and promotion of renewable energy. Oxfam observes:
“But the Malthusian instinct to blame resource pressures on growing numbers of poor people misses the point, because people living in poverty contribute little to world demand.”
Actually Oxfam was being rather disingenuous. That was indeed the whole point -
“People living in poverty contribute little to world demand.” 
The planet's poorest 10 percent receives only 0.6 percent of the world's income. And sub-Saharan Africa's population accounts for about 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

What happens to prices and supply when developing countries start increasing their demand to ultimately seek parity to those of the West? There would be a substantial rise in need for energy and raw materials within rising economies, intensifying competition for that restricted resources globally. This is the West’s greatest nightmare. So it follows that by keeping more and more developing country people in a continuing state of abject poverty, ensures moderating global demand for food or energy which in turn moderates their global prices.

Barun Mitra of the independent New Delhi think tank, Liberty Institute, in a paper observed:
“Global primary energy demand is projected to increase on an average by 1.7% per year from 2000 to 2030, reaching an annual level of 15.3 billion tonnes of oil equivalent from the current level of 9.1 billion tonnes. The outlook further states that the share of developing countries in total energy demand will increase from the current level of 30–43% while that of the developed countries will fall from 58% to 47%.” 
Omamo & Grebmer, 2005; Borlaugh, 2001; Shiva 2000 in their perceptive paper “Eco-Imperialism: The Global North’s Weapon of Mass intervention” exposed the real agenda of renewable energy when they observed:
"We are seeing a new type of imperialism emerge, an imperialism based not on the acquisition of territory, but on a radical environmentalist agenda, an agenda that seeks to reserve the earth and its resources for the wealthy and elite, to freeze energy use at current levels, and to restrict nation states from exploiting indigenous resources for the benefit of their people.”  
The Dutch who gave the world the invention of windmills, now say they can’t afford it. When the Netherlands built its first sea-based wind turbines in 2006, they were seen as symbols of a greener future. But five years later, we find a different story. Faced with the need to cut its budget deficit, the Dutch government says offshore wind power is too expensive and that it cannot afford to subsidize the entire cost of 18 cents per kilowatt hour -- some 4.5 billion euros last year. Read more HERE

When the richer Western countries can’t afford the so called ‘green’ energy, why do the Oxfams and the ActionAids think India and other developing countries can afford its costs by continuing to peddle these as appropriate energy choices?

Notwithstanding this, how did these renewable energy experiments work in India? 

Tamilnadu in India for the last decade focused capacity expansion of green field projects entirely on the so called renewable energy that today account for more than 1/3 its power supply. In a space of 10 years, it reduced the state from a net exporter to a net importer of power, shaving off at least 2% of its GDP due to acute power shortages. Why? These renewables didn’t even generate 10% of their touted installed capacity! But in a year’s time, a much delayed coal power plant would come on stream to put an end to the state’s power woes.

India has a gross potential of approximately 45,000 MW from wind (Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources, 2004). The present installed capacity is a little over 3,000 MW – making India the fifth in the world. This was made possible through a set of measures meant to encourage the use of wind power (such as subsidies and 100% depreciation allowance), resulting in many projects coming up without proper site selection. Most wind power sites in India are located in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharasthra and Gujarat where wind densities unlike in European countries are not strong enough (200-300 W/m2 as compared to about 500 W/m2).

So all the expensive investment in renewable energy have came to naught - dead in terms of not generating power it was suppose to generate; leaving India unable to bridge the ever widening gap between energy supply and demand leading to power cuts all over the country. It is this plight, the Oxfam and ActionAid reports want to accentuate by advocating that renewable energy to be the future bedrock of India’s power industry! 


The assumption behind these so-called climate compliant agriculture models is that global temperatures are increasing and based on this, different regions will experience increased precipitation and  will others, reduced rainfall. The East African drought and the Sri Lankan floods this year for example exposed how ludicrous the assumptions of these climate smart agriculture models are. Both events were predictable and yet NGOs were caught on the wrong foot. 

With the recent IPCC report admitting the lack of linkage between climate change and extreme weather while conceding that global warming will be taking a vacation for the next 20-30 years, the very rationale to the climate smart agriculture model has now fallen apart.

Assuming if one billion of global citizen’s face prospects of stark starvation, this is indeed a crisis of the gravest proportion. Logically in such a situation we need to put all the available technological options in our selection basket before selecting the best to solve the problem. Instead under CSA we are offered a limited basket of choices - those remaining after filtered through a climate compliance prism. For example Oxfam promotion of exclusivity of choices is illustrated by their statement: ‘scope for increasing the area under irrigation is disappearing; increasing fertilizer use offers ever diminishing returns.’ By limiting choices, their seriousness to eliminate hunger and fight food inflation is open to question.

NGOs have a tendency to implement pre-determined solutions selected through ideological blinkers which is why impact often eludes them. Many have not yet discovered Liebig's Law of the Minimum which is a principle developed in agricultural science by Carl Sprengel (1828) and later popularized by Justus von Liebig.

It states that growth is controlled not by the total amount of resources available, but by the scarcest resource (limiting factor). Accordingly, if seed material is a limitation for higher yield, it is foolhardy to attempt quantum increase in yield by supplying more irrigation and organic manure. We need to change the seed to get quantum jumps in yields.

The Oxfam and ActionAid reports besides  create an impression that climate smart Agriculture is a magic wand wherein all the solutions are known but it is left to the FAO to give this warning:
“... these options involve difficult trade-offs, with benefits for mitigation but negative consequences for food security and/or development. For example, biofuel production provides a clean alternative to fossil fuel but can displace or compete for land and water resources needed for food production.

 ....Restoration of organic soils enables greater sequestration of carbon in soil, but may reduce the amount of land available for food production.

 ....Restoration of range lands may improve carbon sequestration but involves short-term reductions in herder incomes by limiting the number of livestock. Some trade-offs can be managed through measures to increase efficiency or through payment of incentives/compensation.

 .....Other options may benefit food security or agricultural development but not mitigation.”

......“There are still considerable knowledge gaps relating to the suitability and use of these production systems and practices across a wide variety of agro-ecological and socio-economic contexts and scales. There is even less knowledge on the suitability of different systems under varying future climate change scenarios and other biotic and abiotic stresses”
Even without climate compliant objectives, NGO agriculture programmes by and large are struggling to make an impact. Otherwise we should not be having a global food crisis. Now climate compliance becomes yet another addition to a long list of cross-cutting themes - gender, disaster risk reduction (DRR), bio-diversity, caste, class, disabled, linking relief, rehabilitation an development (LRRD) etc.

The more expansive the list of cross-cutting themes, the more nightmarish field level staff should find to design and implement a programme. In particular, project staff should be completely at odds to resolve the dilemma how to achieve the needed levels of growth, but on a lower emissions trajectory as it involves concerted effort to maximize synergies and minimize trade-offs between contrary productivity and climate compliance objectives.

Further to beat hunger and poverty, there are three ways of increasing agricultural output:
1)    Bringing new land into agricultural production;  
2)    Increasing the cropping intensity on existing agricultural lands; and
3)    Increasing yields on existing agricultural lands.

To beat a crisis as grave as Oxfam and ActionAid paint it to be we need to leverage all these three options simultaneously to obtain maximal outcomes. But here the Machiavellian agenda of climate smart agriculture reveals itself as they either completely rule out or put major road blocks to each of this options. The end result is that it further contracts agriculture, accentuating food inflation, hunger and poverty.

Option 1: Bringing new land into agricultural production 

One of the ways to increase food production is by expanding the net area under cultivation. As an option, its leverage potential to increase cropping yields is relatively more limited than the other two options. The net sown area of the country has risen by about 20 per cent since independence and has reached a point where it is not possible to make any more appreciable increase. But its scope is higher if forests are encroached or more expensively convert deserts and wastelands.

But the latter is ruled out as an option by Oxfam because
“it can release large amounts of greenhouse gases”.
But the same Oxfam on the other hand encourages agro-forestry as

‘the income of an average household involved in agro-forestry is around five times larger than for any of their immediate alternatives (such as agriculture, small livestock farming, or chestnut collection).’ 
Interesting. Oxfam’s whole report is all about the planet fast hurling into a Malthusian trap and the need to ACT NOW to eliminate hunger. But Oxfam's preference for agro-forestry over food crops makes it clear that hunger is only a bogey for a larger, hidden agenda.

Option 2: Increasing Cropping Intensity

Though both Oxfam and ActionAid in their report do not overtly rule out this option of increasing cropping intensity, by their obsession to climate proofing the agriculture viz, removing greenhouse gases and thrust on organic agriculture, this by default  could be assumed as an impediment to climate smart agriculture practice.
[Cropping intensity refers to raising of a number of crops from the same field during one agriculture year. It can be expressed as Cropping intensity = (Gross cropped area / Net sown area) x 100]
The index of intensity of cropping for the country as a whole is  reportedly to be around 160 per cent but shows great spatial variations. While it maybe not sustainable to raise further cropping intensity in states like Punjab and Haryana which have the highest  copping intensity in the country, states having less than the international average and arid and semi-arid lands can be targeted to improve their copping intensity combined with the thrust to make higher cropping intensity farming to be more sustainable through options like  irrigation expansion; crop rotation; enhanced soil restoration practices etc.

Option 3:  Increasing yields on existing agricultural lands

Though many policies of Oxfam & ActionAid are in the right directions, it is their climate compliant related components of these policies that threaten to negate all these positives whose end results bring about a contraction in agricultural production and/or add to food inflation.

Irrigation and its Pricing

If the key input prices to agriculture go up, it will add to the inflationary pressure on food prices.  This should be a no brainer. The converse also holds true. If prices of a key input of agriculture decrease, it can help to ease inflationary pressure on food.
So if Oxfam is genuinely concerned about spiraling food inflation, it should support policies that can deflate food prices.
Instead, some of Oxfam’s policies accentuate food inflation further e.g. calling to price irrigation higher. The net irrigated area in India to gross cropped area has crossed more than 60% though accounting for more than 90% of all agricultural production. Accordingly, if the price of irrigation goes up, food prices go up in India.

Trade off between cattle and Organic Manure

According to Oxfam, cattle tops in terms of their carbon footprint within agriculture. To reduce the cattle footprint, logically their numbers must be reduced. At the same time, Oxfam say that they want to promote organic manures, a good proportion of which is accounted by farmyard manure (FYM).
So if they need to promote FYM on a wider scale, they would need to increase cattle population by quantum leaps to ensure sufficient supply to farmers all over the country. FYM though its nutrient content is relatively lower,  is the best option to improve the soil structure (aggregation), enabling soil to hold more nutrients and water needed for the soil to improve its fertility. 

So if Oxfam does not  promote FYM a large and key component of organic manure would not be available to farmers, decreasing its effectivity as an operational strategy. To compensate this loss, Oxfam would need to give a stronger thrust to composts, entirely prepared out of crop residues.
The problem is that such compost though it could be high in nutrient value falls out short in its soil restoration potential and hence take a toll of the ‘sustainability’ of their model. Relative to FYM, the potential of composts to improve the soil structure remains low.
Among the different environmental characteristics, soil structure is often neglected, although it has a strong impact on water and nutrient access and uptake by the crop. If the state of the soil structure is unknown, a crop malfunction can be totally misinterpreted and thus improperly corrected.

The other option for Oxfam would be green manuring. But its use has several limitations. Water consumption by green manure is a huge concern in areas less than 30 inches of rainfall that excludes its use under semi-arid and arid conditions.
Besides, nitrogen fixed in a green manure crop is not a "free" source of additional N, but only an effective option for a very small range of cropping systems, such as organic crop production. There is also a cost to buy the seed, inoculate, and plant it, and a cost to terminate the green manure crop at the right stage. There is also the added opportunity cost of not growing a marketable crop in that year, and greater depletion of soil moisture reserves in drier areas, compared to tillage or chemical fallow options.

Seed material as a strategic choice for yield increase

Till the great drought of 1961, India used traditional seeds, which despite several advantages possess the demerit of being unresponsive to external inputs. Liberal inputs like water, fertiliser, pesticides etc had little or no impact on yields, as it was limited by its genetic makeup. So dump as much organic manure you want, the incremental increase in yield would be nil or insignificant.

In the 70s came the Green Revolution to India, who introduced the high yield (hybrid) varieties which were highly input responsive and this brought about a huge transformation of Indian agriculture. From a net importer of food, India became a net exporter. Productivity multiplied by a factor of nearly 10.  The potential of hybrids to enable yield increases is well illustrated by the story of English Wheat. It took nearly 1,000 years for wheat yields to increase from 0.5 to 2 metric tons per hectare, but only 40 years to climb from 2 to 6 metric tons per hectare.

The world population added about four billion since the beginning of the Green Revolution and, without it; there would have been greater famine and malnutrition. India saw annual wheat production rise from 10 million tons in the 1960s shoot up to 73 million in 2006. The average person in the developing world consumes roughly 25% more calories per day now than before the Green Revolution. Between 1950 and 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the globe, world grain production increased by over 250%.

Says Tuskegee University plant genetics professor and AgBioWorld Foundation president CS Prakash: 
"The only thing organic farming sustains is “poverty and malnutrition. Right now, roughly 800 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition, and about 16 million of those will die from it. If we were to switch to entirely organic farming, the number of people suffering would jump by 1.3 billion, assuming we use the same amount of land that we’re using now."
Economist Indur Goklany has calculated that, if the world tried to feed just today’s six billion people using the primarily organic technologies and yields of 1961 (pre-Green Revolution), it would have to cultivate 82 percent of its total land area, instead of the current 38 percent. That would require ploughing the Amazon rainforest, irrigating the Sahara Desert and draining Angola’s Okavango river basin!

So here lies the contradiction. If we were to increase yields by 70% by 2050 as Oxfam aims to achieve and entirely depending on organic farming as ActionAid expressed it would do, instead of facing a triple crisis we would need at least to  triple our present cultivated land.

But here kicks in the real problem. Oxfam in the same breath say they want no further land expansion of agriculture as it increases greenhouse emissions! If we were to do this and  take to exclusive organic food cultivation even as our population multiples, what do we get is mass hunger and runaway food inflation on a scale which the world had not seen before - the very issues Oxfam and ActionAid ironically ostensibly wants to prevent.

1 comment:

  1. That was a most enlightening article Rajan, thank you. It's time more people realised the real damage these people are doing. The founders of these organisations could never have envisaged their charity being put to such uses.