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
..... 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
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
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
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:
CLICK TO ENLARGE
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
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.
advocates: “More energy without
increasing greenhouse gas emissions” a euphemism for renewable energy - solar, wind,
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.”
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
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.
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.
et al (1998) posed a crucial question in their analysis of fueling Asia’s
‘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
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%.”
"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.”
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
....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
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
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
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
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.
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. 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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