Mainstream, VOL LIII No 49 New Delhi November 28, 2015
Protecting Farmers, Reducing Emissions: Integrating Climate Change Concerns with Welfare of Farmers and Food Security in India
Friday 27 November 2015, by
The seriousness of climate change and the urgency of related adaptation and mitigation actions are by now scientifically well established. Despite this, its significance in terms of basic changes needed at the policy level has not percolated to the level of governments. This is certainly true of the agricultural policy in India where, despite additions in the form of some new climate change-related initiatives, the overall policy appears to be along the lines of ‘business as usual’.
On the other hand, this paper argues that
a) climate change adaptation and mitigation calls for more basic changes in the agricultural policy;
b) these changes in policy need to be integrated very well with the welfare of farmers, the protection of environment, sustainable progress of agriculture and food security;
c) while evolving such a well-planned policy, it is possible to integrate climate change adaptation and mitigation concerns at several levels;
d) there is significant scope for grassroots innovations and inventions by farmers and artisans once there is a situation of clearly understood aims, motivations and incentives; and
e) very significant levels of reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be achieved in this framework.
II. Basic Changes Needed in Policy
From the perspective of climate change mitigation, it is of the greatest importance to reduce the fossil fuel base of agriculture as much as possible. Till about 60 years back, the fossil fuel base of India’s agriculture was indeed very small. However, about 50 years ago the Indian Government, supported and influenced by Western governments and development agencies, introduced very sweeping and wide-spread changes in India’s agriculture which altered the genetic base of crops grown over a vast area, cropping patterns as well as techno-logies and inputs for raising these crops. This had several implications. What is of most relevance is that the fossil fuel base of agriculture increased in a big way, and continued to increase steadily as the new Green Revolution technology continued to intensify and spread. As the use of more and more agri-chemicals per acre with the passage of time is more or less built into the technology and similar technology is sought by official policy to be spread to more and more areas, the expansion of the fossil fuel base of agriculture can continue for a long time unless a crucial decision to roll back this pathway of agricultural development is taken and clear alternatives which reduce the fossil fuel base are adopted.
The extent to which the fossil fuel base of agriculture can go on increasing can be seen from the example of the USA as well as several other countries.As Edward Goldsmith, Peter Bunyard et. al. have noted in Imperilled Planet, “In the US, the amount of oil used to produce one tonne of grain has risen two-and-a-half times between 1950 and 1985. Farmers worldwide now consume sixty times more oil than they did in the 1920s, and 100 times more electricity. Much of the increased consumption comes from the massive expansion in the use of tractors, but the switch from organic fertilisers to artificial fertilisers has also been key to agriculture’s increasing dependency on oil.”1
This reveals the extent to which fossil fuel consumption in agriculture can go on increasing unless deliberate and determined efforts are made to reduce it. In India fossil fuel use in agriculture has increased very fast, but clearly a saturation point is far from being reached as fossil fuel intensity can still increase consi-derably in many remote villages. Thus significant policy-changes are clearly needed to reduce the fossil fuel intensity of agriculture.
Fortunately, these changes are also in the interests of farmers, particularly small farmers who constitute the overwhelming majority of farmers. The steep rise in the costs of farming has been a serious problem for these farmers, a major cause of their indebtedness and economic crisis. This rise in cost of farming is to a considerable extent related to the higher fossil fuel intensity of farming. Farmers who are able to maintain reasonable yields while reducing dependence on fossil fuel-based inputs will be able to reduce costs and improve their viability.
The desirability of reducing dependence on expensive inputs is even greater during times of increasingly erratic weather conditions and weather extremes. In such a situation low expenses on market inputs can reduce risks and avoid debts by ensuring that even erratic weather causes minimal losses.
To summarise then, it is important to decrease the fossil fuel intensity of agriculture to reduce the threat of climate change but at the same this is also very useful for reducing the economic crisis of farmers.
At another level, we may say that steps like progressing to low-cost, self-reliant organic farming are helpful in climate change mitigation as well as adaptation.
There is growing evidence that fossil fuel intensity has increased rapidly in Indian agriculture, and that this has been bad not only for climate change but also for sustainable progress of Indian farmers and farming.
At a recent seminar, organised by Farmers’ Forum, one of the speakers, Mukesh Anand of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, said: “The use of diesel in Indian agriculture is much higher than its use in the industry.” He further said that from 1998-99 to 2007-08 fossil fuel intensity in farming, including indirect use, increased more than three times from 0.020639 to 0.065810.2Hence by moving towards organic and low mechanisation farming, fossil fuel consumption and hence greenhouse gas emissions can reduce signifi-cantly. Panchayats which achieve significant reduction of GHG emissions should be amply rewarded with financial resources which in turn can motivate panchayats to take up more constructive work relating to climate change.
As the 12th Plan document says, “The present subsidies are actually encouraging practices that need to be discouraged... Data from all over India, especially from the prime Green Revo-lution areas, show that high use of chemical fertilisers and power is causing excessive mining of other soil nutrients and of groundwater, and that this is also leading to loss of quality of both soil and water.... The fertiliser subsidy is now much higher than all other subsidies to agriculture put together. India has also emerged as the world’s largest importer of fertilisers. In addition India is dependent almost entirely on imports of feedstock of fertilisers.”3
Further this document informs us: “Imba-lanced nutrient use coupled with neglect of organic matter has resulted in multi-nutrient deficiencies in Indian soils ... The micronutrient deficiency is a limiting factor lowering fertiliser response and crop productivity. As a result of overemphasis on chemical fertilises and imbalanced fertiliser use, efficiencies have become abysmally low: hardly 35 per cent for N, 15 to 20 per cent for P and only three to five per cent for micronutrients like zinc, resulting not only in high cost of production but also causing serious environmental hazards.” At this rate the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences then estimated that NPK supply may have to be moved up to 45 million tonnes (up from 26 mt now) to meet the food needs.4
In such a situation clearly shifting resources (including subsidies) spent on increasing fossil fuel intensity of agriculture to the promotion of low-cost, self-reliant organic agriculture clearly has a lot of potential to promote sustainable progress of farming and farmers. If such policy-changes are not taken up, the irrational and harmful drain of government resources towards the promotion of ecologically harmful farming practices would continue endlessly.
III. Specifying Policy-changes
We need policy-changes which can combine and reconcile five important objectives: (i) adequate production to meet the essential supplies of healthy food and essential raw material (like cotton), (ii) protection of basic soil and water resources and protecting environ-ment, (iii) resolving the economic crisis of farmers and reducing rural poverty, (iv) reducing GHG emissions and contributing to climate change mitigation, and (v) climate change adaptation and increasing the capacity of farmers to increasingly face erratic and extreme weather conditions.
What is most important is to emphasise that all these five objectives can be pursued in harmony and conformity with each other. Conflicts appear only when false assumptions are made, for example, when it is assumed that eco-friendly farming methods cannot produce adequate food. Such false assumptions not at all based on actual facts should be avoided. For example, official date on food crops productivity in India indicates that the rise was higher in the pre-Green Revolution years compared to the Green Revolution years. (See Appendix 1) A former Director of the Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack, Dr R.H. Richharia, repeatedly said that the possibilities of increasing rice productivity based on indigenous rice varieties are far greater and better compared to exotic Green Revolution varieties. There are numerous examples within India of farmers using eco-friendly, mostly organic methods to maintain or even increase food crop yields on a sustainable basis while incurring low economic costs and also contributing in a significant way to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Of course, the achievements in this direction have been limited to a few areas and initiatives as the government policies (as well as policies of some influential international aid agencies) were not favourable for such initiatives. Once these policies are favourable, the five objectives listed above can be pursued together in conformity with each other on a much larger scale.
• Overall budget for agriculture, animal hus-bandry and related activities, food security, forestry, disaster prevention and manage-ment, rural health and rural energy with emphasis on renewable energy should increase very significantly as all these need to be prioritised greatly in times of climate change.
• Agricultural development plans should be aimed mainly at promoting organic, eco-friendly, low-cost and self-reliant methods. In India’s case organic and eco-friendly must also necessarily be very low cost and self-reliant. Low cost is achieved by making best use of more or less free local resources, including all compostable material, bio-mass, bio-diversity and knowledge relating to difficult and intricate use of different plants and seeds, crop rotation and mixed farming systems. Scientific farming needs to be completely redefined as earlier in official language the Green-Revolution technology was very wrongly equated with ‘scientific farming’. (See next section for a more detailed discussion on this issue.) Further, the export-oriented model with heavy certification costs is certainly not the kind of organic farming that India needs. We need organic farming which is necessarily low cost and improves health quality of food while also improving the self-reliance of farmers and farming commu-nities. Farmers, who wish to move from chemical intensive agriculture to organic agriculture, should be helped in various ways to make this transformation.
• Mechanisation should be guided very carefully so that machines, which make unnecessary and wasteful use of fossil fuels, which are too costly, wasteful and destroy livelihoods, should be avoided. On the other hand, smaller machines and improvised tools, which promote local livelihoods, reduce drudgery, replace/save fossil fuels and reduce costs, should be promoted. (One example is the Mangal turbine which is described later in this paper.)
• Rural energy systems with close linkages to agriculture and related activities should be based as much as possible on the concept of decentralised mixed renewable energy systems combining various renewable energy systems according to specific area conditions and based as much as possible on promoting local skills for installing and maintaining these systems.
• Rural decentralised research should be strengthened with emphasis on agriculture and bio-diversity research and traditional knowledge systems in all villages/ panchayats capable of responding quickly to any abrupt changes in weather. Diverse traditional seeds and knowledge relating to these should be carefully collected and preserved. Rural inno-vations, aimed at encouraging climate change adaptation and mitigation, should be specifi-cally encouraged.
• Land reforms should be strengthened and as far as possible land should be made available to all landless peasant households.
• Agricultural policies should always prioritise the needs and requirements of small farmers.
• Significant contribution of women farmers should be recognised, respected and encou-raged. Women farmers are more receptive to organic, self-reliant, low cost and eco-friendly farming practices.
• Animal husbandry based on indigenous breeds should get more importance. Protection of indigenous breeds should be prioritised.
• Pollinator birds and insects should be well protected.
• Farmers should get a fair price for their produce and a higher price for healthy organic food. All crops and food needed for local public distribution system and all nutrition schemes should be purchased from local farmers at a fair price (as far as possible). An effort should be made to ensure that all rural districts are self-reliant in terms of meeting the needs of their staple foods (as far as possible) and the needs of nearby urban centres. Food production within urban areas should also be encouraged.
• Water conservation, afforestation, protection and promotion of pastures, protection of existing natural forests and trees should be given high priority. Rural employment generation schemes should be fully uilised for this.
• In villages and small towns surrounded by villages, a diversity of cottage and small industries which avoid fossil fuels while promoting local livelihoods in eco-friendly conditions should be encouraged. One example is khadi cloth production based on hand spinning and hand weaving, using locally grown organic cotton as well as vegetable and plant-based colours.
IV. Understanding ‘Scientific’ Farming
Scientific progress implies gaining a better understanding of nature to ensure that the needs of human beings and all other forms of life are met on a sustainable basis, without disturbing too much (and certainly not destro-ying) the life-nurturing conditions of nature and her many kinds of habitats. This is achieved by improving the understanding of how the various aspects of nature exist, work and inter-act with each other.4
In the case of agriculture, perhaps the most important aspect in a scientific study of sustainable agriculture is to understand how nature works to maintain soil fertility. This is described here in the words of Sailendra Ghosh, a writer who repeatedly emphasised the need for organic agriculture. He wrote: “Let’s first take a look at the bounties of nature in an undisrupted system. Firstly nature has made ample provisions for the supply of nitrogen through the root system in a variety of ways. Rains wash down the nitrogen generated by thunder. Bacteria in the nodules of leguminous plants capture nitrogen from the atmosphere and fix it into the soil. So do some ferns, some forms of algae and some genera of free living bacteria. Various genera have been endowed with this quality so that this operation could continue under differing conditions. Probably the most important source of supply of nitrogen as also of other nutrients is the decomposition of animal and plant wastes. This is done by decomposer bacteria and fungi.”
Animals eliminate excess organic phosphorus by excreting phosphorous salts in urine. There are also a phosphatising bacteria, Sailen Ghosh says, to convert phosphorus into stable forms of phosphate salts which remain bound with the soil. At the beginning of rains, the mineralisation of organic matter releases phosphates for uptake by the plants.
Further Ghosh writes: “For the supply of all other macro and micronutrients as also of vitamin and plant growth promoting substances, there are elaborate arrangements in natural soil systems. The soil abounds in countless forms of micro organisms—bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa, yeasts, algae etc. to perform different but interrelated functions. Each produces different kinds of enzymes by which all stand to benefit.”
To enable this beautiful but complex natural system to carry out its work of maintaining land fertility we should protect the forest cover in and around agricultural fields, we should return organic waste to soil and we should choose carefully mixed cropping and rotation systems.
When all these time-honoured practices of maintaining soil fertility are neglected, soil fertility is impeded. The solution lies in correcting these mistakes, not in applying chemical fertilisers, for chemicals disturb and disrupt the natural process in numerous ways. For example, chemical farming kills earthworms, whom Charles Darwin called “the builders of civilisations” and who play an invaluable role in protecting and maintaining the fertility of land.
However organic farming should not be equated just with ‘non-chemicalisation’ as, in the words of Sailen Ghosh, “Organic farming means farming in the spirit of organic relationship. When you say this, it opens up a whole vista. In nature, organic relationship is a pervasive phenomenon. Everything is connected with everything else.... Since organic farming means placing farming on integral relationships, we have to know the relationship between the soil, water and plants, between soil, soil microbes and waste products, between the vegetable kingdom and the animal kingdom, of which the apex animal is the human being, between agriculture and forestry. between soil, water and atmosphere etc. It is the totality of these relationships that is the bedrock of organic farming.”
This is the scientific approach, but motivated interests intervene in policy-making so that only those policies which favour chemical fertilisers are promoted.
A leading economist of India, Ashok Rudra, noted: “The policy of the Government of India with respect to soil nutrients since the beginning of the sixties has been one of vast and continuous expansion of the use of chemical fertiliser by all possible means. All the policy instruments in the hands of the government, such as import control, industrial licensing policy, fiscal policy, price control policy etc. have been applied in a concerted manner so as to achieve that aim.” Further he said: “There has however been no noticeable effort whatsoever for the maximum mobilisation of organic manurial resources.”
Even the government’s own Economic Survey admitted: “The easy availability of chemical fertilisers has tended to reduce the attention which farmers, agricultural scientists and administrators must continue to devote to organic manures and plant materials.”
The Green Revolution phase has generally involved the spread of intensive monocultures, but this is harmful for the long-term fertility of land. As the World Resources Report (WRR) says, “Soils under intensive monoculture tend to lose organic matter and their ability to retain moisture thus becoming more susceptible to erosion and ultimately losing their fertility and productivity.” Spread of intensive monoculture generally involves a higher reliance on chemical pesticides. A very small part of the pesticide applied on a field—less than 0.1 per cent in many insecticides—actually reaches its target organism. The rest plays the role of polluting the land and water poisoning birds and other forms of life. As the WRR says, “Wholesale elimination of helpful soil dwelling insects and micro organisms that build soil and plant nutrition sometimes occurs, essentially steri-lising the soil.”
V. Examples of Integrating Farmers’ Concerns with Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation
In this section we give specific examples of projects and programmes which were aimed mainly at resolving the farmers’ problems in eco-friendly ways. Incidentally, however, it is clear that these projects also made considerable achievements in climate change adaptation and mitigation. We first describe the intended achievements of these projects with examples of inspiring success of some hard working and innovative farmers. This description is on the basis of the writer’s visit to the project/ pro-gramme areas at the time of implementation-
(a) INSAP in Vidarbha (Maharashtra)
The Vidarbha region has been repeatedly in the news due to the acute distress and high number of suicides by farmers. However, this tragic situation could change significantly. In at least a few hundred villages due largely to the expanding impact of a project called the Integrated Sustainable Agricultural Programme (INSAP). This project was implemented by YUVA-RURAL (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action) with the help of Swiss-Aid India. Nitin Maate, the co-ordinator of INSAP, said that in over 200 villages a majority of farmers are practising a mix of low-cost, sustainable, environment friendly technologies which have provided a new hope to the farmers of this area by reducing costs, debts and economic tensions.
The technologies followed by INSAP are essentially local variants of known environment-friendly technologies like composting, plant- based pest-repellants and watershed manage-ment. Keeping in view the economic crisis of indebtedness of the farmers of this region, from the outset a lot of emphasis was placed on making the best possible use of local resources available right there in the village. Cattle dung, cow urine, tree leaves etc., which were being wasted earlier, suddenly became very important resources for a farming system which could be economically viable for the region’s distressed farmers.
In the villages of Washim and Akola districts that I visited, farmers happily talked in detail about the improving viability of their farms and that too in sustainable environment-friendly ways. They also said giving up indiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and replacing these with compost and tree leaf-based pest control has proved helpful for those insects and birds that are known to be friends of farmers. Thoughts of depression and suicide seemed to be far, far away from the minds of these farmers as they talked cheerfully about the various innovations they are trying, the cheap implements for water conservation evolved by them, their bio-gas plants, kitchen gardens and their manure mixtures found most nourishing for crops and soil.
Sanjay Bhagat, a farmer of Washim district and a co-ordinator of INSAP as well as the local farmers’ organisation, says that before he came in contact with this project he had given up all hope in his life. He had been contemplating suicide for quite some time, he said. The reason was that his family had become highly indebted.
It was at this stage that Sanjay came to know about INSAP and decided to give it a try. As his first experiments with the INSAP technology proved successful, he adopted it wholeheartedly and became an enthusiastic messenger for spreading this idea. Now his wife complains smilingly that he comes home only for eating. Such is his enthusiasm for spreading the message of INSAP to more areas.
That this is not an isolated story was confirmed in a study by Raghav Narsalay. This study using a sample of 90 farmers found that irrespective of farm size, the INSAP technology proved highly cost-effective. As many as 88 per cent of the respondent farmers who have adopted sustainable farming (INSAP) techniques said that they want to continue farming because they have regained their confidence to farm. On the other hand, 67 per cent of the farmers practising earlier techniques said that farming in increasing debts and they’ll like to get out of this if an alternative is provided.
The respondents who had taken up sustain-able (INSAP) farming said that they now feel at peace as they are eating healthier food, there is growing cooperation among villagers to imple-ment the new ideas and there is more self-reliance.5
(b)GEAG Programme in Gorakhpur (UP)
The Gorakhpur Environment Action Group (GEAG) has been working for several years in many rural areas of Eastern Uttar Pradesh (with special emphasis on the Gorakhpur district) to promote organic farming, specially among women farmers. As migration from villages has increased, the role of women in agricultural work has become even more important than before; but this generally did not get adequate recognition. However, GEAG accorded a lot of importance to encouraging women farmers, and this brought very good results.
This work has emphasised improved scientific use of local resources, reduced dependency on costly market-purchased inputs like chemical fertilisers and pesticides, protection of environ-ment, particularly soil health, and encouraged the innovative creativity of the farming commu-nities to evolve farming (and related) techno-logies most suitable to them.
The results on the whole have been very encouraging in terms of reduced costs, maintenance or increase of production, improve-ment in the quality of produce, improvement in income, reduced burden of debt etc.
In areas of GEAG’s work, women farmers are very confidant about the technology choices they have made (mainly in favour of organic farming practices). They are able to articulate this very well, and appear to be very confident of what they are saying as this is backed by what they learnt from GEAG’s work and their own experience in implementing it in their fields. The confidence they get from the field learning is particularly strong in villages where GEAG’s work goes back to more than five years.
It was truly a pleasure to visit the garden and farm cultivated by Prabhavati and her husband, Suryabhan, in Dudhai village (Sardar-nagar Block). They own only 1.5 acre of land, but use this small piece of land very intensively (while practising organic farming) and wisely to grow a wide variety of crops.
Satyendra Tripathi, a co-ordinator of GEAG, said that counting all seasons Prabhavati is able to grow 52 crops on her small patch of land in a year.
Prabhavati said that her family, her farming and village have benefited hugely from the interaction with GEAG ever since this organi-sation came to her village about 15 years back. Earlier also she used dung as manure but this was done arbitrarily so that a lot of its nutritive value for the farmland was lost. “GEAG taught how dung should be put in a trench and composted, how green manuring can be done in a better way, how cow urine is very useful and how we can do vermicomposting, how NADEP can be prepared. If we could not afford wood and cement for NADEP, we used home-grown bamboo and tree branches. Similarly we learnt to use produce from various local trees and shrubs to prepare pest-repellents.” She also has a vernicomposting unit, one of the earliest in this region.
The extent to which the agricultural practices promoted by GEAG can benefit small and marginal farmers is evident from the results achieved on the farm of Ramrati. This 50 plus woman (along with her husband, Rambahal) is reputed to grow a diversity of about 32 crops in a year (not mentioning fruit trees). According to accounts kept by GEAG activists, during last year her expenses and earnings were in a ratio of 1:13. On a farm of just one acre owned by her family (sometimes she also leases in half acre or less of land) she has been able to earn about Rs 33,633, apart from feeding a nutritious, organic diet to an 11-member family (including four grandchildren).
As we asked her about the various crops grown by her, Ram Rati replied, smiling, that there is hardly anything she doesn’t grow. While earlier, before coming into GEAG, she had concentrated on rice and wheat, now in addition she has been growing sugarcane, banana, turai, potato, cauliflower, cabbage, ramdana, rajma, bakla, latra pulse, moong, peas, methi, spinach, carrot, radish (up to 2.5 feet long), parval, kundru, karela, lobhiya, maize, cucumber, kakri, okra, mustard, garlic, ginger, guava, mango, anar, kathal, groundnuts, dhaniya, Jimikand, arbi..... She has four animals—one bullock, one buffalo, two buffalo calves. All the cultivation is done using organic manure and home-made pest repellants.5
(c) SVA’s work in Kalahandi (Odisha)
The Kalahandi region of Odisha has been in the news generally due to extreme poverty and malnutrition. But recent initiatives of an organisation, Sahabhagi Vikash Abhiyan (SVA), have led to the adoption of organic, eco-friendly, low-cost and self-reliant practices by many farming households. Many of them are organised in farmers clubs and groups. These efforts have led to increased yields of a wide diversity of crops and production of good quality healthy food which fetches better price in the market. In the case of Suresh Mallick and his wife, Shobhavati, this success is even more remarkable as this has been achieved on what was earlier considered to be the lowest category land on which hardly anything was likely to grow. Today this land, once considered barren, is smiling on almost every inch with greenery brought by highly diverse plant species.
Suresh has a very innovative mind which could think of many brilliant applications of the technology of organic farming propagated by the SVA, the organisation with whom he is closely associated now as a leading member of its farmers’ club in Chata village (Naupara district). He gives equal credit to his wife Shobhavati who works equally hard with him on their farm.
Suresh believes firmly in organic agriculture. This is an essential principle of this farm which also helps to reduce the farming costs. A lot of attention is given to preparing adequate com-post, vermi-compost and organic sprays which help to keep away pests and diseases while also helping the growth of plants. The use of plentiful, high quality composts has made the once unproductive land so fertile now.
Suresh places a lot of emphasis on growing a very wide diversity of food crops and plants including cereals, pulses, vegetables, fruits and spices. As all these have to be grown within a small plot of land, a lot of emphasis is given to making the best possible use of scarce land and water. Ginger and turmeric are grown under the shadow of mango trees to protect them from heat stress and also make good use of available space.
On their two acres Suresh and Shobhavati have been able to grow paddy, pulses, mangoes, oranges, bananas, papayas, coconut, lemons, jackfruit, anvla, beans, bitter gourd, carrots, sugarbeet, onions, turmeric, ginger, chilly, coriander, supari, pomegranates and other crops.
Bhaja and Savitri cultivate their four-acre farm on the outskirts of Reng village in such a productive way that it not only provides highly nourishing and healthy food to the five-member family but also fetches a net income of over Rs 15,000 a month.
Earlier Bhaja and Savitri used some agri-chemicals but now they’ve shifted entirely to organic farming on their farm. As Savitri says, “Organic food is definitely more tasty and also more healthy. There is more demand for organically grown produce.”
Organic farming has enabled this Sabar household to reduce its costs. They make compost and pest-repellent liquid on their farm using largely the resources available free on their farm or in the village.
Another reason for the improvement of their net income is the diversity of crops and animals on their small farm. On their four-acre farm this Sabar (tribal) family grows paddy, moong (a pulse), onion, tomatoes, sugarcane, pumpkin, maize, coriander, blackberries, lemons, mangoes, tamarind, papaya, bamboo, subabool (for fodder), radish, beans, belfruit, aanvla, bananas, mustard, turmeric, local green leafy vegetables and several other produces. This farm gets dry fruit from chiraunji, oil from karanj oilseed (also from mahuwa seeds), medicine from bahera and other plants and toothbrush from babool trees. They have three cows, two bullocks and two calves. Introduction of the SRI technology for paddy cultivation has helped to improve yields. Irrigation is available from well as well as a farm pond.
Now let us see how the changes taking place in these villages, although intended to benefit small farmers to improve their livelihood on a sustainable basis, are also important from the point of view of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Such programmes increase the knowledge-base of farmers, including women farmers, regarding how they can use local resources to improve farm yields without having to depend on expensive market inputs. This can be built upon further to increase their ability to respond to sudden changes in weather by making use of their knowledge of diverse seeds as well as better water and moisture conservation within the village. Also low cost and mixed farming systems help to minimise risk. Steep reduction in agri-chemicals lead to much lesser imprint of fossil fuels.6
VI. Links of Organic Farming with Climate Change Mitigation
This brings us to the wider links between adoption of organic farming and climate change mitigation. As already noted, the fossil fuel intensity of agriculture can be greatly reduced if chemical fertilisers, based on oil and gas as well as other agri-chemicals, can be given up or reduced significantly.
In addition, as the organic content in soil increases over a vast area, its capacity as a sink of carbon dioxide increases. As Mukti Mitchell has written (Resurgence, November/December 2009), “Micro-organisms and organic matter in healthy soils ‘store’ carbon, and initial research suggests that farmland may have the potential to sequester as much CO2 per hectare as a forest. But not farmland is healthy: much of it over the years has been denatured by industrialised agricultural practices.......It is the microbes that make the humus, storing carbon in the soil and preventing it from re-oxidising to the atmosphere. Humus also provides nutrition to plants and, like a sponge, holds on to the water content of the soil. Rich-soil farming increases soil organic matter and microbial life by maintaining a balance between the organic matter removed from the land as crops and that returned to the land as compost or manure. Nitrogen-fixing crops are used to fertilise the land and support soil life, and their high growth rates rapidly sequester carbon. Natural pest controls avoid poisoning microbes and promote insect and animal diversity, in turn sequestering more carbon dioxide because the very bodies of Earth’s life forms are made of carbon. Maintaining soil cover and adopting minimum tillage avoids the oxidation of carbon from the soil and keeps microbes alive with a constant supply of food from plant roots.......A 2007 study for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate estimates that if world agriculture adopted best practices to increase soil organic matter content, it could mitigate 6 to 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2030......”
VII. Role of Grassroot Innovations
If a decentralised system of scientific research, with emphasis on organic farming and renew-able energy, is set up all over the rural areas of the country with encouragement and incentives for climate change adaptation and mitigation, then very significant achievements by farmer, artisan and other rural innovators can emerge. Here we give the example of just one innovation, called Mangal Turbine. See the booklet on Mangal Singh: Rural Innovation—High Potential.
Mangal Singh from Lalitpur district (Uttar Pradesh) is an outstanding example of a highly accomplished rural and farmer innovator whose work in the from of Mangal Turbine could get a patent and the admiration of many highly placed scientists and officials of the Government of India.
Mangal Singh has created the potential of saving millions of litres of diesel per year and the accompanying reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, apart from helping millions of farmers to irrigate their crops at a low cost. This can become a reality very soon if the government takes the necessary steps for installing Mangal Turbines wherever these are useful.
Mangal Singh is a farmer of Bundelkhand region who was known at a very young age for his enterprising and innovative farming methods. He used to see regularly that small farmers with low resources have a lot a difficulty in buying diesel for lifting water from streams and rivulets. He started thinking a lot about the possibilities of lifting water from small rivers, nullahs and canals without having to depend on diesel or electricity. After a lot of thinking and experimentation, he came up with a device which could lift water using the energy of flowing streams without depending on diesel or electricity.
This invention was named Mangal Turbine. It was first demonstrated in 1987. Mangal Singh was 40 at that time. Later it was patented as “Mangal Water Wheel Turbine Machine” (Patent No. 177190 dated 13-11-1997) as per the Govern-ment of India Gazette Notification dated November 30, 1998.
This technology is described by Mangal Singh in the following words: “The water wheel turbine machine consists of a water wheel which is firmly mounted on a steel shaft and supports on two bearing blocks fixed on foundation supports. The shaft is coupled with a suitable gearbox through universal couplings for stepping up speed of rotation. Output shaft of the gear box is coupled on one end with a centrifugal pump for lifting water and the other end is mounted with a suitable pulley for deriving power for operating any machine. Design of the water wheel turbine is simple. It is available in different size to meet the varying requirements. Operation of water Wheel Turbine Pump-cum-PTO Machine is very easy as anyone can operate the machine by opening the wooden or steel gate valve, the machine is stopped by stopping the flow of water through the gate.”
Thus apart from lifting water, the Mangal turbine can also be used for several additional tasks. In the words of Mangal Singh, “This is used for pumping water from the rivulets and water streams on which it is installed. The machine can be used for several rural works such as operating atta chakki, sugarcane, crushing, threshing and winnowing, oil expelling, chaff cutting, etc. The machine provides a clean alternative (non-conventional) source of energy in remote rural areas for increasing agricultural productivity, income and employ-ment”. By linking it to a generator, this machine can also provide electricity.
The Maithani report, prepared for the Ministry of Rural Development, has explained the idea and functioning of Mangal Turbine: “Shri Mangal Singh of village Bhailoni Lodh, Block Bar, district Lalitpur, UP invented a fuel- less water-lifting device in 1987. This device is known as ‘Mangal Turbine’. There are several variants of the Turbine but the standard device contains a water wheel of two-meter diameter with 12 blades radially fixed to the rim. The shaft is coupled with a suitable gear box for stepping up of rotation to 1500-1800 rpm. The output shaft of the gear box is coupled on one end with a centrifugal pump for lifting water and the other end is mounted with a suitable pulley to operate any other machine like crusher, grinder etc. By using the energy of flowing water in a stream, Mangal Turbine enables lifting of water for irrigation/drinking purposes and also produces mechanical power that can be used for various other purposes.”
The value of Mangal Singh’s work has increased further in recent times as the need to curb fossil fuel consumption and the related greenhouse gas emissions has increased.
It has been estimated that if one unit of Mangal Turbine runs for 11 hours in a day, then it saves 44 litres of diesel in a day (on the basis of use of 4 litre diesel per hour by 25 HP diesel pump). Again, assuming irrigation by MT on 190 days in a year, a single unit of MT can save 8360 litres (44x190) in a typical year. Over a lifetime of 15 years one unit of MT can potentially save 125400 litres (8360x15). In terms of greenhouse gas emissions (using assumption made in US Environment Protection Agency fact sheet) this works out to 335 tonnes. This estimate by Dr Jai Shankar Singh is made on the basis of the assumption that one unit of MT will lift water from a stream which is equivalent to 25 HP diesel pump set and irrigate a command area of 50 ha.
Reduction in diesel consumption and related GHG emissions can further increase significantly to the extent that the MT is used also (in addition to water lifting) for processing of various farm produce and other work.
A report titled, ‘Problems and Potential of Bundelkhand with Special Reference to Water Resource Base’, was prepared in 1998 by the Centre for Rural Development and Technology (CRDT) IIT Delhi and Vigyan Shikshan Kendra (VSK). This report examined MT carefully and recommended it for its great utility. This report said: “Most significant aspect is that the entire system designed by Mangal Singh is easily fabricated in the village itself, using available material and local workmanship. Besides, it requires minimal maintenance compared to other types, expertise for maintenance is available in the village itself.”
“Using his engineering skills (through he had no formal training in engineering), Mangal Singh coupled a sugar cane crusher to the main shaft using a belt drive. Simultaneously, both water pumping and crushing could also be done. Similarly, the energy generated could be used for running a grain thresher, grinder etc. He uses this energy for operating the machines tool of a local workshop. Effectively water wheel becomes a source of rotational energy which can be used for any purpose.”
“Thus, Mangal turbine would prove a boon for fulfilling the energy need of irrigation, agro processing etc. in the rural sector wherever low water head exists in the rivers/Nallah.... Preliminary study of this system conducted by IIT personnel has indicated that its efficiency can be further improved by using some modern scientific-technical inputs.
“This turbine is a fine example of common people’s inventiveness, and should be encouraged by all means for people’s benefit. It is unfortunate that in the pervasive atmosphere of ‘foreignomania’, this device has not got the recognition it deserves.”
The Maithani Report prepared for Ministry of Rural Development says about Mangal Turbine, “it is undoubtedly unparalleled in its simplicity and utility. Its cost benefit cannot be restricted to the extent of area irrigated and increase in production and income on account of that. Its benefits are multiple and multi-demensional.”
The above example shows the great potential of farmer innovators. Rural research and innovation policies should be reformed in many ways to encourage work of farmer innovators and then also to spread the most encouraging work.7
VIII. False Promise of GM Crops
It has been propagated by certain corporate interests that the technology of GM (genetically modified) crops can be helpful in meeting the challenges posed by climate change. However, this is a completely false and misplaced promise/ assurance due to two reasons.
First, the techno-logy of GM Crop is inherently hazardous and unreliable.
An eminent group of scientists from various countries, who constitute the Independent Science Panel, have said in their conclusion after examining all aspects of GM crops: “GM crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits and are posing escalating problems on the farm. Transgenic contamination is now widely acknowledged to be unavoidable, and hence there can be no co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture. Most important of all, GM crops have not been proven safe. On the contrary, sufficient evidence has emerged to raise serious safety concerns, that if ignored could result in irreversible damage to health and the environ-ment. GM crops should be firmly rejected now.”
More recently 17 distinguished scientists from Europe, the USA, Canada and New Zealand wrote to the Prime Minister of India warning against “the unique risks (of GM crops) to food security, farming systems and bio-safety impacts which are ultimately irreversible”. This letter adds: “The GM transformation process is highly mutagenic leading to disruptions to host plant genetic structure and function, which in turn leads to disturbances in the biochemistry of the plant. This can lead to novel toxin and allergen production as well as reduced/altered nutrition quality.”
Second, in the specific context of climate change, the GM technology is completely un-viable for meeting the new emerging problems. As the letter quoted above adds: “...GM crops have led to vast increases in pesticide use, not decreases and therefore reduction of agricultural pollution cannot be claimed
“...Climate change brings sudden, extreme, and unpredictable changes in weather, which requires that a cropping system be flexible, resilient and as genetically diverse as possible. GM technology offers just the opposite.
“...Stability of productivity and production is much lower with many of the GM crops commercialised today. Herbicide tolerant GM soya is far more sensitive to heat or drought stress than conventional soya.
“...GM crops are designed to be used in con-junction with synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, which are manufactured from oil and natural gas.
“GM crops do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Recent data from the US Department of Agriculture has shown a vast increase in herbicide use since the introduction of GM crops tolerant to the application of these agrochemicals.
“Therefore, the introduction of GM crops has exacerbated rather than reduced agriculture’s carbon footprint and is clearly unsustainable.
“Alternative proven technologies that can reduce the amount of fossil fuel used in farming already exist. This includes methods for reducing fertiliser applications, selecting farm machinery appropriate for each task, managing soil for conservation, limiting irrigation and (using) agro-ecological farming techniques.”5
There is a strong case for making changes in agricultural policy which can link up and integrate the task of resolving economic crisis of farmers with climate change adaptation and mitigation.
An overview of the situation of farm productivity before and after the Green Revolution is provided in the 12th Plan document in two important tables. (See Table 1) Here we can see clearly that despite the much higher use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides etc. in the Green Revolution phase, the growth of farm yield on the whole was in fact lower.3
1. Edward Goldsmith et. al., Imperilled Planet (1990), MIT Press, USA.
2. Farmers’ Forum (Journal), April-May 2013.
3. Planning Commission, Government of India, Twelfth Five Year Plan 2012-17.
4. Bharat Dogra, ‘One Decade For Protection’ (2015), Social Change Papers, Delhi
5. Bharat Dogra, ‘14 Crucial Questions About GM Crops’ (2010), Social Change Papers, Delhi (Chapter 12 on Alternatives).
6. Bharat Dogra, ‘Protecting Livelihoods, Promoting Self-Reliance (Kalahandi)’ (2015), Social Change Papers, Delhi.
7. Bharat Dogra, ‘Rural Innovation Stifled by Avoidable Adversities’ (2015), Social Change Papers, Delhi.
Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.