Thursday, December 1, 2011

Oxfam’s and ActionAid’s Climate Smart Agriculture policies will accentuate global hunger, not mitigate it! Part 3

Part 3
Climate Smart Agriculture: Eco-Imperialism’s new weapon

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 in an over-populated planet. In the process, these NGOs elevated Malthus's reputation as a prognosticator to the Delphic levels of a Nostradamus.
This is Part III of the article explains how Climate Smart Agriculture and Renewable Energy furthers the eco-imperialistic agenda.Part I is the introduction.  NGOs have changed the labels of their hysteria - from Global Warming to Global Hunger with the philosophical underpinnings of their programmes unchanged. Part II of the paper that critique the claim that “climate change” being responsible for high food prices and global hunger and concludes that at best these claims are  based on shoddy research and at worst cloaks a Machiavellian agenda. Part 4 of this article deals with the attempt  of Western countries to finance such a programme by a Global Green Fund and carbon market at the on-going Climate Summit at Durban. However a huge section of African NGOs are  so upset about this funding linked to carbon trading that they signed an open letter to the leaders not to adopt this programme.

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. 

So Oxfam like other global warmists advocate that to avoid such a scenario “agriculture must be more efficient”, which is simply  a euphemism to shrinking agriculture to reduce greenhouse gases, creating more hunger and starvation based on a model of development aid piloted in East Africa, and now to be up scaled to rest of the  developing world. 

Climate Smart or complaint Agriculture inflows flows from Article 2 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which states:

“...stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”

 ..... At the same time, agriculture is an important source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, representing 14 percent of the global total. Developing countries are the source of 74 percent of these emissions (Smith et al. 2008). If related land-use change, including deforestation (for which agriculture is a key driver) and emissions beyond the farmgate are considered, the sector’s share would be higher. However, the technical mitigation potential of agriculture is high and 70 percent of this potential could be realized in developing countries.”

So the so called Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) peddled by Oxfam and ActionAid are not something they evolved through their own experience and learning but policies deliberately designed to align with those of the UNFCCC. Further the main thrust of the programme of CSA is on developing countries, not developed countries!
What is being asked of developing countries is to transform their agriculture:
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 below: 


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.

Energy Imperialism

ActionAid advocates: “More energy without increasing greenhouse gas emissions” a euphemism for renewable energy - solar, wind, tidal power.  

Oxfam was even blunter stating their renewable energy agenda:

“The vice-like-hold over governments of companies that profit from environmental degradation—the peddlers and pushers of oil and coal—must be broken...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.

Oxfam admits elsewhere in their report “Certainly, the fundamentals that determine long-term food prices are shifting, especially rising demand in emerging economies”.
So 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.

Yergin et al (1998) posed a crucial question in their analysis of fueling Asia’s recovery: 

 Will energy spoil it? implying that a failure to satisfy the enormous increases in the consumption of energy resulting from rapid economic growth would undermine this economic miracle. So the best method to ensure this is by raising energy costs and putting a spoke on their development.

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.”

High-income group countries consume 51% of the total commercial energy consumed in the world and account for 80% of the income generated. Middle-income group countries consume 36% of the total energy while generating only 17% of the total wealth. Low income group countries consume 13% of the total energy and generate only 3% of the total wealth


According to the World Bank as per their 2006 data, India’s per capita energy consumption is just 28% of the world average and just under 7% of those of the US who top the world charts. And this is the consumption these NGOs want to freeze. The report Energy Resources: Will They Be the Last Frontier in South Asia? concluded that There does indeed appear to be a nexus between the use of energy and societal development.”   

Its estimated that India would take 100 years to close the gap in incomes between itself and the high-income countries (UNDP Human Development Report, 2005), the deficit in HDI could be removed much earlier if energy use is tightly linked to income.

So if one limits the energy growth, they succeed in limiting development of India itself and if they limit our development, they limit people being pulled out of the vicious cycle of poverty which in turn moderates global demand and prices  for food or energy .

India has the fourth largest coal reserves in the world with proven reserves above 250 billion tonnes that at current consumption rates can be expected to last for hundreds of years. Though Oxfam and ActionAid often talk of self-sufficiency, their advocacy aims to deprive us the use of the resource that nature endowed us in abundance - coal - which for that reason remains the cheapest energy source for our country. They instead want us to depend on expensive renewable imports. The hypocrisy of the West is best illustrated by their advocacy that developing countries should curb their fossil fuels while they go to war to annex the oilfields of Iraq and Libya. 

Oxfam’s objective of The vice-like hold over governments of companies that profit from environmental degradation—the peddlers and pushers of oil and coal—must be broken’ is merely an euphemism for policies that encourages heavy taxation of fossil fuels, including coal even when renewable energy capacity is just a fraction of the country’s energy mix . 

Its impact on one hand means that energy expense continue to cut a bigger and bigger hole in the family budgets of the poor, leaving less and less for food expenditure. On the other hand, its inflationary impact on the general economy makes food more and more expensive. Their pincer impact increases hunger and poverty, which is ironically what ActionAid and Oxfam claim they want to mitigate in their respective reports. To quote the Oxfam Report on food inflation:  

“In summary, these expected effects would wipe out any positive impacts from expected increases in household incomes, trapping generations in a vicious circle of food insecurity.”

South Asia houses nearly 1.4 billion people which is around 25% of the world’s population; it has a sizeable energy deficit that is filled up by imports. Although the South Asian region is a repository of the poorest people in the world, with most number of people without adequate access to energy than anywhere else in the world, ailed with pressing issues of mortality and health, economically it is also one of the fastest growing regions of the world.  The vast majority of the population living in rural areas still depend on traditional (or non-commercial) energy sources, but gradually changing over to commercial fuels. Nearly 680 million people in rural areas and 110 million in urban areas of South Asia are without access to electricity (IEA, 2002). Nearly a billion people in South Asia are without access to electricity.

My friend Barun Mitra in his paper Sustainable Energy for the Poor”   observed that the poor depend on traditional forms of energy that are of low intensity and cause harm to both the environment and human health:

 “Studies have revealed that women in Indian rural areas were exposed to total suspended particulates of about 7000 micro-grams per cubic metre in each cooking period, whereas the annual standard for outdoor air is 140 micro-grams per cubic metre. The exposure to benzo[a]pyrene was equivalent to smoking ten packets of cigarettes per day. Their exposure to toxic tiny particulates during a cooking cycle is 33 times greater than that of standard ambient air pollution."

Energy and rural development are mutually dependent, and they represent one aspect of the poverty cycle that pervades most rural areas in India. Breaking this deadlock is one of the major challenges that developing countries face in developing their rural areas. It is likely that problems resulting from lack of energy will only be alleviated by investment in facilities that provide energy on a wide scale basis.” 

However the Greenpeace and The Body Shop, in a campaign for the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, proclaimed that Oil, coal and gas cannot meet the needs of the poorest, but “positive” or renewable energy can.’  This is the same line the Oxfam and ActionAid reports echo.
We need to pause and understand just who is saying just what on whose behalf? A CEO of ActionAid India and Oxfam India receives a salary of more than Rs 500,000 per month, including perks and factoring in their terminal contract benefits. As we are all aware, a foreign funded NGO arrival in a disaster or development setting portends rising local prices and a culture shock. Many live in plush apartments, patronize five star hotels, and drive SUV's, sport $3000 laptops, expensive PDA’s, mobiles and designer wear. Their children study in elitist private schools or abroad and they take vacations to exotic locales abroad.  

How seriously should we take those living such a lifestyle talking on behalf of those earning $1 or below per day? While the poor does not tell these NGOs how to lead their lives and what to aspire to in life, these NGOs in contrast feel it is their divine right to preach to the poor. Advocating renewable energy exposes these NGO activists as having neither proximity nor empathy with the poor and their aspirations.

We may have even respected these NGO activists if they take $ 1 per day as a salary; power their own homes with just one solar lantern and use cow dung as their cooking fuel. But this is not to be. They have one standard for themselves and another for the poor. And they call this extremely patronizing behaviour, ironically, Climate Justice!

The more radical in the Climate Justice movement call even for banning the burning of cow dung because of its carbon footprint! The more idiotic among them do not mind cow dung be wasted as a fuel while at the same time advocate for agriculture to use more organic manures (cow dung) and shun inorganic fertilizers!

So does renewable energy at least fulfill the promise of cost effective power generation?

The Europeans have cut back on subsidies and promotion of renewable energy, unable to afford the costs. (Read more here) The UK government has warned its citizens that in future (because of green energy)  families, schools, offices, shops, hospitals and factories better “get used to” consuming electricity “when it’s available,” not necessarily when they want it or need it.!

Instead of enabling India to be an UK, the likes of Oxfam and ActionAid have dragged UK into an India - the land of power shortages. Here kicks in the principle of fuel poverty - defined as one where a family spends ten per cent or more of its earnings on fuel bills. The number of estimated people living in fuel poverty in the UK is seven million which is projected to more than double to the Green Energy policies of the UK government.

Spain introduced the subsidies three years ago as part of an effort to cut the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. At the time, the government promised that the investment in renewable energy would create manufacturing jobs and that Spain could sell its panels to nations seeking to reduce carbon emissions.

The programme catapulted Spain to the verge of bankruptcy. Spain finds itself saddled with at least 126 billion euros of obligations to renewable-energy investors. The spending didn’t achieve the government’s aim of creating green jobs, because Spanish investors imported most of their panels from overseas when domestic manufacturers couldn’t meet short-term demand. (Read more: here)

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.

One of England's foremost climatologists, Mike Hulme, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, points out that green militancy and megaphone journalism use "catastrophe and chaos as unguided weapons with which forlornly to threaten society into behavioral change". In his words, "we need to take a deep breath and pause." Unfortunately, India did not heed Hulme’s warning.

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).

And what of solar power performance. India currently produces just under nine megawatts of solar power out of which 97% were in off-grid settings. Here is what Harish Hande, Managing Director, SELCO Solar Light (P) Limited, India; Social Entrepreneur; Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum and Magsaysay Award winner says:

...The prices have been based on large solar installations, completely neglecting the after-sale services and sustainability of small and medium enterprises. It is the small and medium enterprises that create sustainable supply chains with solid after-sale services. The solar mission in its present design is a document on how to discourage small enterprises and supply the poor with low-quality systems.

...In 2005, subsidies in the German market had a near disastrous affect on the systems targeted towards the poor. But never did we realize that the climate flagship programme of India – the solar mission – would be so chilling."

So all the expensive investment in solar and wind 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!

Food Imperialism

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.  

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 and 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.

If one billion of global citizens’ 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 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.

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; 
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.


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. Perhaps Oxfam would have retained its credibility if they have been more forthright of their preference for the planet over human beings and in that case their report should have focused on saving forests and wilderness rather than human hunger.

Equally interestingly, the European Union treats expansion of biofuel into forestry as meeting the criteria of climate compliance while expansion of agriculture into forestry as a compliance violation! As the prime mover of the climate smart agriculture model, the EU policies reveal the eco-imperialistic character of this model.

Option 2: Increasing the cropping intensity on existing agricultural lands


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]
Thus, higher cropping intensity means that a higher portion of the net area is being cropped more than once during one agricultural year. This also implies higher productivity per unit of arable land during one agricultural year. For instance, suppose a farmer owns five hectares of land, and gets the crop from these five acres during the kharif season and, again, during the rabi season he raises a crop from three hectares. He, thus, gets the effective produce from eight hectares, although he owns only five hectares physically. Had he raised crop from only five hectares totally, his cropping intensity would have been 100 per cent, while now it is 160 per cent.

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.

As reflected in the USDA graph, 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. And if cattle population is culled, what happens to milk supplies and nutrition in the country? 

That’s not the only chaos it creates. In India, livestock provides significant contribution to agriculture through draft power, fuel apart from manure. According to the World Bank, in the developing world, milk and meat production alone can account upto 26% of the agricultural GDP. Livestock is more important to the poor as a leveraging asset. In bad times, animals can be sold. Selling livestock in hard times acts as a buffer against loss of other assets, particularly as an insulation against land alienation.

Oxfam and ActionAid reports do not divulge what their positions regarding cattle are. So the moot question is whether they want to reduce cattle population or increase it according to their plan to ‘building a new agriculture future’?

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. Animal manure also encourages soil microbial activity, which promotes the soil's trace mineral supply, improving plant nutrition. 

But this is where Oxfam will find their policy contradictions kicking in and find its elf in a dilemma as cattle top their greenhouse gas emission chart and so expansion of its population is a strict no-no by their climate compliant agriculture policy. If they promote FYM without increase cattle population then this would spike FYM prices and keep it out of reach of poorer farmers.

Consequently, it would be much simpler for Oxfam not to promote FYM. But then, 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. 

How the Oxfams and ActionAids under these varying conflicting priorities evolve tradeoffs will be fun to watch. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. But if they want to continue to be accepted as one of the voices of developing countries, one trade off that would do well to avoid would be attempting to reduce the cattle population.

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. 

India then invited Norman Borlaug, the father of 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.

Before the Green Revolution, almost the entire agriculture was organic, using traditional seeds. The country’s population in 1970 was then only around 555 million. So this can be treated as a good baseline. It was because organic farming performed  so miserably; not being able to feed the population that India opted for the Green Revolution.  India was then a net importer of foods and virtually dismissed as a basket case. The population in the country has since then doubled itself in the last 40 years and agriculture growth rate is currently double the population growth that explains why food supply is not a problem.

Amazingly we are now being told by the likes of ActionAid that traditional seeds hold the key to future productivity rises! Assuming they do, they do not tell us why they (traditional seeds) could not do so before the Green Revolution and why there were unable to feed a population which was only half its present size? Visit Mizoram, a NE state of India whose agriculture even today is almost completely organic as it was before Independence and what do we find? Agriculture is a dismal state and the state is net importer of food. Since the population of the state has been growing, the state’s food import bill has been growing in leaps and bounds since Independence!

We have been also repeatedly told that food accessibility for many people in the developing countries remains closely tied to local food production (FAO 2008a,b; Bruinsma 2009). This maybe by and large a truism but organic food lies outside its pale. You may ask why? This is because organic food commands a premium both nationally and in export markets. Because of this, poor farming families consider it more profitable to sell their harvest rather than consume it. So the potential of organic food to increase food security of the poor remains extremely low.

Oxfam calls for “breeding drought-resistant and flood-tolerant crops”. Vandana Shiva, on the other hand argues there is no need to breed new varieties as farmers have already bred corps that are resistant to climate extremes. Though Vandana Shiva is absolutely correct she forgets that being resistant to weather extremes is a very different trait from also enabling high yields. This is the benefit of hybrids as they can combine many traits. So in this case, Oxfam maybe on the right track except that they are increasingly suspected as acting as the Trojan Horse of the Monsanto-Bill Gates Foundation Axis for Genetically Modified (GM) seeds.

GM seeds, as we know, now command more than 95% share of the cotton seed market in India, despite NGOs and environmentalist huge opposition to it. The story of cotton enables us to use as a classical case study to understanding the mind of the farmers. The very fact farmers en masse discarded traditional cotton seeds for GM seeds reveal their overwhelming desire for quantum jumps in yield increases.

But GM seeds are nothing but hybrids encoded with a GM gene, where yield potential is determined by the hybrid while all what the GM gene does is enabling protection against one or a small range of pests, and thereby reducing yield losses from pest attacks. The main drawback of GM seeds is that it is creates pest resistance during the medium-long term. Its impracticality is highlighted by the imperative to keep 20% of the area under cultivation as refugia, which shrinks available cultivable area, a luxury for a country like India.
To prevent resistance build up in, pesticide management should reflect its judicious use - finding the right toxin-pest fit; right dosage-degree of infestation fit combined with timely and required frequency of applications. The endotoxins secreted from Bt violate all these conditions and curiously neither Action Aid or Oxfam do not firmly take a position on GM seeds. So while GM maybe a possibility in the future, it still a very work-in-progress technology. Read our archives: As Bt Cotton turns 10, observational data certifies it a Super-Flop

So continuing productivity increases, as of now, need to rely on high yielding varieties (HYV) or hybrid seeds.  Yields may have plateaued which is different from saying there are declining. This plateau is still at least higher by a factor of at least 5 as compared to the time of Independence when agriculture was entirely organic. Within this context, unless a technological breakthrough appears, there is no alternative but to continue dependence for hybrids.

Here ends Part III. To go to PART IV (CLICK HERE)

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