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Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Posts Tagged ‘ecological

Peasant seeds in resistance

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April 17, 2014, is the international day of peasants’ struggle. With more than 100 actions worldwide, the international farmers’ movement La Via Campesina reasserts the importance of local struggles and underlines the need for global resistance and organisation between the cities and the rural areas. Actions such as land occupations, agroecological festivities, debates and seed exchanges will be carried out until the end of the month as part of these global days of action.

Via_Campesina_17_April_actionA new documentary celebrates this day of international peasants’ and farmers’ solidarity. ‘The Jakarta Call’ is a 38 minutes film featuring the exchanges, debates and reflections of the movement’s VIth International Conference that took place in Jakarta in June 2013.

This new documentary highlights the cultural diversity and the values of solidarity and unity converging in this political project. It reflects the multitude of local struggles for the defence of a food system by and for the people.

La Vía Campesina has said the movement “denounces laws and interests that seek to prohibit the use, exchange and access to peasant seeds that we consider a heritage of the people at the service of humanity, as well as food sovereignty as part of a commitment to end hunger in the world”.

To defend our seeds also means the defence of the rights of women and men farmers. Seeds in hands of peasant farmers guarantee a dignified and autonomous future in agriculture.

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For its 50th year bash, Europe’s CAP readies another dose of ‘reforms’

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The CAP at 50 website

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the implementation of the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), described rather pompously by the European Commission as “a cornerstone of European integration” – well, it is true that farming has done a lot more for the idea of Europa than the euro has.

CAP “has provided European citizens with 50 years of food security and a living countryside”, the celebratory website has explained. The CAP remains the only EU policy where there is a common EU framework and the majority of public spending in all Member States comes from the EU budget, rather than from national or regional budgets, we are told. I should have expected the EU to ignore entirely the trifling matter of the steady impoverishment of European societies, especially the second and third tier Euro societies – which is particularly those countries beyond the EU-15. What has the CAP done for them, for the relative late-comers to the European idea?

But, the Eurocrats have said that “figures show that the CAP has helped see a steady increase in economic value, in productivity, and in trade, while also allowing the share of household spending on food to be halved”. Oh, that’s all right then – we were just looking at the wrong figures. Silly us.

“The CAP is a policy that has always evolved to address necessary challenges,” the pomposity continues. For example, we are told that the reform process since 1992 “has seen a move towards much greater market orientation and away from trade-distorting support” – um, did we notice a few years ago that the average EU cow (or ox) receives more by way of subventions than quite a few of the poorer humans in ‘developing’ Asia, Africa, South-East Asia and South America? Oh, sorry, wrong figures again. Bother such troublesome data.

Being the dynamic and forward-looking CAP that it is, it has also taken “into account consumer concerns about issues such as animal welfare, and the doubling of the number of farmers within the EU (following enlargement from 15 to 27 Member States)”. There we are – that’s the first tier nod to the third tier EU lot, and said ruffians should be pleased.

In October 2011, the European Commission presented its latest proposals for further reforms – haven’t we been through all this before? more reform? are you chaps quite blind to what’s happening to your favourite currency while you’ve been reforming? or is it the very latest blend from the new ultra-snob coffee bistro in Brussels that’s to blame? – to the CAP.

What, pray, are these 50th anniversary, limited edition reforms all about? At “addressing the challenges of today and tomorrow: food security; climate change; the sustainable use of natural resources; balanced regional development; helping the farming sector cope with the effects of the economic crisis and with the increased volatility of agricultural prices; and contributing to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in line with the Europe 2020 strategy”.

Alea jacta est, and especially those so for farmers and their families who live somewhere between EU15 and EU27, for this is a signal to tighten their already painfully tight belts, and salt what remains of the day’s spud.

Milestones of History of CAP (provided by the EU)

Back in 1962, several key dates marked the beginning of the CAP:
• On 14 January 1962, after 140 hours of negotiations (the first European agricultural marathon), the Council of Ministers of the Six took the decision to proceed to the second stage of the transition period, to establish common agricultural market organisations for each product, to apply specific competition rules and to create a European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF).
• 4 April 1962:  Following a second agricultural marathon, the texts of the regulations were adopted by the Council.
• 20 April 1962: The texts were published. The date that they came into effect depended on the start of the market season: for instance, for the common market organisation for cereals, eggs, poultry, meat and pork the date of entry into effect was 1 July 1962.
• Among the key dates since then:
• 1962: The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is born! The essence of the policy is to provide affordable food for EU citizens and a fair standard of living for farmers.
• 1984: Milk quotas – Specific measures are put in place to align milk production with market needs.
• 1992: “Mac Sharry” reform – The CAP shifts from market support to producer support. Price support is replaced with direct aid payments. There is increased emphasis on food quality, protecting traditional and regional foods and caring for the environment.
• 2000: The scope of the CAP is widened to include rural development. The CAP focuses on the economic, social and cultural development of Europe with targeted multi-annual programmes, designed at national, regional or local level.
• 2003: “Fischler/Mid-term Review” reform – CAP reform cuts the link between subsidies and production. Farmers are more market oriented and, in view of the specific constraints on European agriculture, they receive an income aid. They have to respect specific environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards.
• 2004 & 2007: EU farming population doubles, following recent enlargements with 12 New Member States. EU’s agricultural and rural landscape changes as well.
• 2012: New CAP reform negotiations to strengthen the economic and ecological competitiveness of the agricultural sector, to promote innovation, to combat climate change and to support employment and growth in rural areas.

India’s new agricultures, clean and local

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The new issue of Infochange India’s journal, Agenda, is about India’s new agricultures. I’m delighted to have edited and compiled this volume, the contributions to which you can read on the Infochange India website. It is in my view a nicely balanced volume, with insight and knowledge from practitioners and academics, government officials and activists. Here are the contents:

Infochange Agenda journal on New Agriculture, coverTowards a new agriculture – With roughly 45,000 certified organic farms operating in India, there is finally a rejection of resource-extractive industrial agriculture and a return to traditional, sustainable and ecologically safe farming. All over India rural revivalists are rejecting the corporatised, programmatic, high-input model of agriculture and following agro-ecological approaches in which shared, distributed knowledge systems provide ways to adapt to changing climate and a shrinking natural resource base. Rahul Goswami explains.

An evolutionary view of Indian agriculture – Farmers work with knowledge systems that evolve with time and circumstance. They learn and unlearn, choosing the appropriate knowledge in their struggle to earn a livelihood. While scientists rely on averages, the knowledge of local people is dynamic and up-to-date, continually revised as conditions alter, writes A Thimmaiah. The integration of scientific knowledge systems with indigenous knowledge systems is vital to make agriculture sustainable.

Tamil Nadu’s organic revolution – With chemical farming becoming uneconomical and grain yields declining, more and more farmers are switching to organic agriculture, says natural scientist G Nammalvar in this interview with Claude Alvares. Nammalvar has been training organic farmers and setting up learning centres in Tamil Nadu for three decades. Trainings sometimes need to be held in marriage halls in order to accommodate up to 1,000 farmers.

Return to the good earth in Sangli – Jayant Barve used to market chemical fertilisers and pesticides and practise chemical agriculture himself. In 1988, he switched to sustainable agriculture, and has never looked back since. In this interview he emphasises that despite much lower input costs, organic farming does give the same yield as chemical agriculture, sometimes even more. An interview by Claude Alvares.

Gulmohur trees in bloom, May in Maharashtra

Gulmohur trees in bloom, May in Maharashtra

The new natural economics of agriculture – Farmer Subhash Sharma watched the decline of his soil and agricultural yields before he let nature be his teacher and understood the agro-economics of agriculture. He abandoned insecticides and chemical fertilisers and relied instead on the cow, trees, birds and vegetation.

Climate change and food security – Rice production in India could decrease by almost a tonne/hectare if the temperature goes up 2 C, while each 1 C rise in mean temperature could cause wheat yield losses of 7 million tonnes per year. A recent national conference on food security and agriculture deliberated strategies to protect agriculture, food and nutrition security in the time of climate change. Suman Sahai reports.

Local solutions to climate change – In developing countries, 11% of arable land could be affected by climate change. Indeed, farmers are already facing the impact of climate change. The need of the hour, say Sreenath Dixit and B Venkateswarlu, is not to wait for global agreements on mitigating climate change but to act locally, intelligently and consistently, as is being done with water harvesting solutions for rainfed agriculture in Andhra Pradesh.

Tackling climate change in Gorakhpur – The people of Gorakhpur district, UP, have come to expect heavy rains followed by long dry spells as a consequence of climate change. But they are no longer allowing climate change to affect their crops. At shared learning dialogues, they are learning about the benefits of multi-cropping, alternative farming, soil management and seed autonomy. Surekha Sule reports.

In the state of Goa, western India, new residential blocks loom over shrinking fields.

In the state of Goa, western India, new residential blocks loom over shrinking fields. The produce from such fields once fed the capital city of Panaji, which now imports food 130 kilometres from the neighbouring state of Karnataka

Agriculture at nature’s mercy – In recent decades, market forces have prompted farmers in the Sunderbans to choose modern, high-yielding varieties of paddy, oblivious to their sensitivity to salt. Cyclone Aila, which caused a huge inundation of salt in the fields, proved that this was a costly mistake: every farmer who sowed the modern seed ended up with no produce, while those who planted traditional salt-tolerant varieties managed to harvest a little rice. Sukanta Das Gupta reports.

Resilience of man and nature – Cyclone Aila seemed to have broken the back of agriculture in the Sunderbans. Most observers, including Santadas Ghosh, felt it would be years before agricultural activity got back to normal. But just three months after the cyclone, salinity notwithstanding, seeds were sprouting and the freshwater ecology stirring with life.

Animal farms – The Green Revolution impacted livestock-rearing as well as agriculture. Farmers were encouraged to shift from low-input backyard systems to corporatised capital-intensive systems. As a result, write Nitya S Ghotge and Sagari R Ramdas, there was an artificial divide between livestock-rearing and agriculture, leading to the further crumbling of fragile livelihoods of small and landless farmers. Organisations such as Anthra are now working with communities to revitalise and re-integrate livestock and agriculture.

Women farmers: From seed to kitchen – Women contribute 50-60% of labour in farm production in India. There is evidence to suggest, writes Kavya Dashora, that if agriculture were focused on women, outputs could increase by as much as 10-20%, the ecological balance could be restored, and food security of communities improved.

Local grain in Mapusa market, North Goa

Local grain in Mapusa market, North Goa

Empty claims of financial inclusion – Government has been broadcasting its success in doubling institutional credit to the agricultural sector. But these numbers have little meaning: 85% of accounts opened were inoperative, 72% had zero or minimum balance, and only 15% had a balance over Rs 100. It is paradoxical, writes P S M Rao, to talk about ‘inclusive growth’ when our policies and practices tread the path of exclusion.

Natural farming, tribal farming – In major parts of India, agriculture is in crisis, with very low returns and large-scale destruction of cropped lands. Conservation agriculture can help small and middle farmers escape the downward spiral that impoverishes them even as it destroys the soil and ecosystem, writes Vidhya Das. Tribal farmers in particular have an intuitive understanding of natural farming techniques, Agragamee discovered during its nascent initiatives in organic conservation agriculture with tribal farmers in Orissa.

The home gardens of Wayanad – Wayanad, which has been in the news for the high number of farmer suicides, is also known for widespread homestead farming. A typical home garden integrates trees with field crops, livestock, poultry and fish. Home gardens form a dominant and promising land use system and maintain high levels of productivity, stability and sustainability, say A V Santhoshkumar and Kaoru Ichikawa.

Small farmer zindabad – More than 80% of India’s farmers are small and marginal farmers. It has been empirically established that small farms produce more per hectare than their larger counterparts. It is therefore imperative to protect the interests of small farmers through measures that help promote and stabilise incomes, reduce risks, and increase profitability, and at the same time improve availability and access to inputs, markets and credit. Extract from the report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS), ‘The Challenge of Employment in India: An Informal Economy Perspective’ (2009).

The tired mirage of top-down technology – India’s large and complex public agricultural research and extension system, obsessed with the area-production-yield mantra, is geared towards harnessing technology to close the yield gap, while overlooking ago-ecological approaches entirely. This has been an error of staggering proportions, says Rahul Goswami.

The gap between field and lab – In India, publicly-funded research shapes the choices available to farmers, food workers and consumers. But farmers and consumers are only at the receiving end of agricultural research, never involved in it, says Anitha Pailoor. Raitateerpu, a farmers’ jury in Karnataka, wants to ensure that citizens are involved in decisions around science, technology and policymaking.

Kudrat, Karishma and other living seeds – Prakash Raghuvanshi has developed dozens of high-yielding, disease-resistant, open pollinated seeds, distributing them to 2 million farmers in 14 states. He also trains farmers in the basics of selection and plant breeding at his small farm near Varanasi. His aim is clear: to conserve and protect desi (indigenous) seed varieties, thereby freeing the farmer from the stranglehold of foreign seed companies and the cycle of debt and dependence. Anjali Pathak reports.