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Approach Paper To Agriculture In Andhra Pradesh
Loaded with booby traps
- by P V Satheesh, Deccan Development Society
 

The Government of Andhra Pradesh has brought out an Approach Paper on Agriculture as a part of its series of approaches as seen through Vision 2020. The Approach paper starts with an unexceptionable objective :

Future pathway to agriculture has to be environmentally sustainable; economically rewarding; intellectually satisfying; happy farm family and sustainable farming systems approach.

But it is difficult to see the Paper finding ways of achieving environmental sustainability, intellectual satisfaction for the farmer or establishing a happy farm family. If at all the various measures recommended by the Paper appear to lead to exactly the opposite results.

If one were to attempt an overall assessment of the Approach Paper it becomes apparent that the Paper is strongly influenced by a model that was followed by the USA, Europe and Japan in the late '50s, an approach that decimated family farms in those countries and turned agriculture into an industry. The lessons of such an approach to agriculture is there for everyone to see : a country ruled by an agro industry which is answerable to none and rules the farmers in a mafia fashion. An industry which can twist the arms of the American government and change policies at will. An industry which can sell food of its choice and poison entire generations. And finally a policy which has resulted in the total erosion of biodiversity and environmental considerations in agriculture.

As reported on BBC last week the farmers of USA, in a legal suit, accused Monsanto of forming a cartel which has "forced genetically-modified (GM) seeds onto the market at fixed prices without sufficient testing for safety to human health and the environment". The lawsuit alleges "violations of US anti-trust law, public nuisance, deceptive trade practices and breach of implied warranty".

Today when the more enlightened understanding of their immediate past in agriculture has lead both Europe and Japan to opt for a strong revision of their suicidal farming policies, the enormous political clout of its agro chemical industry has compelled the USA to stubbornly hold on to its corporatised chemical and genetically modified agriculture.

The AP Approach Paper to Agriculture seems to have imported this US approach into its agricultural policy. One suspects that since the Vision 2020 has been drafted by the US consulting company McKenzie, this imported vision is made available to us as a solution to our problems. The probable justification is that if the American model of IT (Information Technology) is good enough for AP, why not their AT (Agricultural Technology).

This critique will attempt to examine why this approach will create an environmentally disastrous, economically devastating, intellectually emasculating, deeply unhappy farm family and an unsustainable farming approach, a situation which is in total opposition to the stated objectives of the paper.

Why this approach will be environmentally disastrous?

The Approach Paper recognises that AP is the highest consumer of chemical pesticides in the country; equals Punjab in irrigation and is next only to Punjab in its consumption of chemical fertilisers. But the paper refuses to critically analyse the quesion why with all these extraordinarily high inputs agriculture in Andhra Pradesh has fallen behind. It refuses to ask the question whether there is something intrinsically problematic in this extraordinary chemicalisation of agriculture in this State. It pans the question cursorily and quickly comes to the conclusion : It is essential to improve the productivity of these inputs.

How to do it ? The Paper finds an easy scapegoat and puts the blame on "unproductive labour" . In order to improve the productivity, the Paper suggests a series of measures which include mechanisation, specially of transplanters, harvesters, weeders etc. This is a step towards courting another calamity. Both social and environmental. History has taught us that an excessive emphasis on mechanisation will reduce the presence of animal based agriculture which in turn shrinks the organic matter needed for healthy agriculture and soil building. Consequently the farmers will be forced to depend more and more on chemicals for their agriculture. This vicious cycle can only lead to the path of environmental destruction.

All mechanised agriculture by definition is high external input oriented and unsustainable, especially in an energy-starved country like ours. The traditional farming systems in this country have very efficiently used the locally available energy (bullock power, animal refuse, crop leftovers) and have internally generated a major amount of energy needed for their farming. In comparison the energy use in the chemical system of farming has always been very inefficient.

Type of Agriculture
Input units of Energy
Output units of Energy
Traditional Agriculture
5
100
Chemical Agriculture
300
100

Thus the kind of agriculture being promoted by the Approach Paper is intrinsically unsustainable because it uses 60 times more energy to produce the same amount of energy as traditional agriculture.

It is true that once in a while the Paper remembers to talk about Integrated Nutrition Management and Integrated Pest Management. But the very fact that the measures needed for them like steps to increase on - farm biomass production is not discussed in the paper, makes one doubt whether these issues are mentioned in passing or there is a possibility of serious thought being given to them.

Why will this Approach be economically devastating?

The key principle behind the AP Agricultural Approach Paper appears to be an assumption that Small Farms are not viable. Three clues are available in the paper towards this end.

  1. A definitive statement has been made that "It is not possible for very small size farm to absorb various inputs".
  2. The Paper seems to make a prescription that farmers must produce for the market and not for household food security/self sufficiency. In other words, according to the Approach Paper, control over the decision of what to produce should not stay with the farmer. It should be decided by the market. The paper laments that The producer sells what he wants rather than producing what the customer wants.
  3. In the part dealing with Broad based agricultural services, the Paper says that in the present paradigm an assumption has been made that " A small farmer cultivating his own land would be more productive" but feels that this does not serve the state's purpose of making agriculture "export oriented" since the export oriented agriculture needs large investments "which can only come through an organised system of agricultural production rather than existing system of fragmented and marginal production".

Thus, without openly saying so, the Paper concludes that the present small farm system is unviable, and proceeds to prescribe solutions to the problem.

To shift to new paradigm (which) involves ………Policy changes permitting leasing of land for consolidation and expansion in the size of units is essential. We should also encourage voluntary consolidation (emphasis mine) of fragmented lands with proper incentives……….

A surprising fact is that AP which claims itself as the most forward looking state in India takes a very regressive view of agriculture and sustainability while dealing with the issue of small farms. Globally the understanding of small farms has shifted dramatically and more and more people have started looking at small farms as strong and viable units of farming. Europe and Japan which had gone along with the US in undermining small farms a few decades ago, have retraced their steps and become strong proponents of the small farm norm. Even the United States Department of Agriculture in a recent study of small farms has come up with an affirmative support.

The 1998 USDA paper A Time to Act described public value of small farms to include elements like

  • Diversity of ownerships, cropping systems, landscapes
  • Environmental benefits
  • Empowerment and community responsibility
  • Personal connection to food
  • Economic foundation

Thus, just when the industrial world is rediscovering the huge importance of small farms our state is trying to travel a reverse path. Any student of the history of agriculture will be able to predict that if we adopt this approach we will be compelled to retrace our steps before the end of Vision 2020. Then the process will be very painful since, at that point of time, we will be forced to rebuild millions of devastated farm families. This scenario has no relationship with the slogan at the beginning of the Approach Paper : "environmentally sustainable; economically rewarding; intellectually satisfying; happy farm family and sustainable farming systems approach"

SMALL FARM PRODUCTIVITY

The conclusions arrived at by the Paper (even though not stated openly) about the productivity of small farms are unfounded. If small farms have apparently failed it is because of wrong parameters used to assess them and wrong anti-small farm institutional financial policies pursued by the state for the last few decades.

It may be easy to condemn small farms as unviable. But the facts speak otherwise.
Quoting some of these facts in his seminal article The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farms, a leading development thinker Dr Peter M Rosset, Director, Institute for Food and Development Policy, Oakland, USA, urges us to take a new look at Small Farms.

For more than a century, pundits have confidently predicted the demise of the small farm, labelling it as backward, unproductive, and inefficient -- an obstacle to be overcome in the pursuit of economic development. But this is wrong. Far from being stuck in the past, small-farm agriculture provides a productive, efficient, and ecological vision for the future.

Expanding his argument Dr Rosset points out to the essential elements like biodiversity, crop rotation, personal attention etc. that make small farms productive in opposition to the moonocultured industrialised large scale farms.

Large farmers tend to plant monocultures because they are the simplest to manage with heavy machinery. Small farmers, especially in the Third World, are much more likely to plant crop mixtures -- intercropping -- where the empty space between the rows is occupied by other crops. They usually combine or rotate crops and livestock, with manure serving to replenish soil fertility.

Such integrated farming systems produce far more per unit area than do monocultures. Though the yield per unit area of one crop -- corn, for example -- may be lower on a small farm than on a large monoculture farm, the total production per unit area, often composed of more than a dozen crops and various animal products, can be far higher.

In fact quoting evidences from the mecca of corporate farming, the USA, Dr Rossett concludes that This is now widely recognised by agricultural economists across the political spectrum, as the "invererse relationship between farm size and output". Even leading development economists at the World Bank have come around to this view, to the point that they now accept that re-distribution of land to small farmers would lead to greater overall productivity."

The Farm Size versus Output in the United States illustrated by Dr Rosset should be an eye opener to all thinking people. According to Dr Rosset's statistics, while the Average Net Output of a four acre farm is US is $1400 per acre, a 27 acre farm averages $139, just about 10% of the smaller farm. As the farm size grows bigger the average plunges. A 694 acre farm averages $51, a 1364 acre farm averages $ 39 per acre and a gigantic 6709 acre farm just averages $12 per acre, ten times less than the productivity of a traditional dryland farm in AP. This statistics blows up the myth of the productivity of a large farm and any honest policy analyst should be able to see the truth in this.

A new way of looking at agriculture is needed if we are to be in tune with the most modern understanding of agriculture. As said earlier, the policy reforms currently advocated by the Approach Paper are precisely the ones followed by the USA, Australia and Japan since 1950s. However the enormous social and ecological costs of the industrial approach to farming are forcing governments in Europe and Japan to rethink their basic assumptions.

Key Functions of Agriculture according to FAO

Multifunctional character of Agriculture and Land as defined by the FAO (the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN) tells us that the key functions of agriculture are

  • Food security;
  • The Environmental, including the enhancement of positive effects and mitigation of negative effects;
  • The economic, including primary production (of food and other goods) and products and services related to farm/enterprise capacity, multiple activities with wider economic effects, and their direct and induced effects on economic systems;
  • social, including the viability of rural communities and livelihoods, culture and cultural values.

The combined effects of the four functions contribute to achieving rural development.

The Vision 2020 seems to forget all these and concentrates on export agriculture and commits the same mistake which Latin American countries and some East Asian countries committed a decade ago.

Contract Farming

By far the most dreadful aspect of the Approach Paper is its advocacy for a Contract Farming system. A new legislation for different crops to promote contract farming may be needed. …..Exemption under APAP and LSM Act 19
may have to be given to promote contract farming subject to paying the market fee states the Paper.

Read in combination with an earlier paragraph in which the Paper says Policy changes permitting leasing of land for consolidation and expansion in the size of units is essential. We should also encourage voluntary consolidation (emphasis mine) of fragmented lands with proper incentives……… it becomes immediately apparent for a discerning eye that the direction in which the AP government is moving will certainly eliminate small farmers and consolidate their holdings to bring in Contract Farming to support national and transnational industrial houses to produce export oriented crops. This is an approach fraught with grave danger. Farmers have been decimated by contract farming worldover as global evidences tell us time and again.

Multinational companies such as Del Monte, Dole etc. have discovered that free market practices are better and have changed their strategy from direct control over land to control over the production process via "independent farmers under exclusive or tied up contracts. The company provides seeds, credit, and detailed technical instructions to the farmers (for which they are latter billed), on the condition that they sell only to the company, at a price unilaterally imposes by the company. In the process of turning petroleum and industrial products (fertilisers, tractors..) into canned vegetables sold to Hyderabad or London supermarkets, the least profitable step, the one where all the risks of bad weather and pests are concentrated, is actual farming. Thus small farmers assume all the risks of crop losses., whilst the company keeps the profits from farm chemical sales, shipping, processing and wholesale distribution.


Contract farming in the USA has had (still has) disastrous impacts of farming communities and the environment. Take poultry farming. The production contract was the means through which corporations like Cargill, Continental Grain, Ralston Purina took control of chicken production in the United States beginning in the 1950s. Within 10 years the percentage of US chicken production under contract went from 4% to 92%. A USDA study in 1967 concluded that chicken farmers were pauperised because of their lack of bargaining strength in dealing with the corporations. Companies blacklist growers who try to organise resistance against unfair practices , -- these growers are often ruined by making certain they can never again receive a contract.

Countries like the Phillippines which got into the trap of contract farming ten years earlier show today telltale scars left on their body economic as a result of such ill advised steps. According to a number of case studies produced by the respected development research organisation IBON Foundation in the Phillippines, farmers who got into contract farming, instead of making profits, have contracted huge debts resulting in loss of lands, social security and violent upheavals in the countryside.

IBON presents case studies of farmers whose dreams of making it big though contract farming was broken even before the dream had begun. Some were poorer by P1.2 million (about Rs.1.25 million) while some others lost all they had owned before entering into contract farming. A frequent method adopted by the Contract firms to bring such impoverishment to farms was to abandon the contracts midway. In one case, IBON notes, Tropifresh, a multinational, abandoned 107 asparagus farmer-growers who had been planting asparagus in an estimated 60% of the 1,299 hectares previously planted with rice, corn and coconuts.

"Their case clearly illustrates that the contracting company, Tropifresh, at will, can terminate the contract and abandon production after it has converted the crop, introduced technology suitable only to the crop grown, and forced growers to indebtedness.

"In the grower's contract, however, the farmer-growers also have to effectively mortgage their lands to gurantee the loan. Their land titles have been with the DBP for "safe-keeping". In short, as a result of bankruptcy from contract growing arrangements, the farmers face impoverishment and a reversal of the CARP, a situation that is much worse than before".

The other method employed by the companies to hoodwink farmers was through unilateral grading of the produce, a process where farmers had no voice whatsoever.

" Every harvest, farmer-growers were only paid P11 per kilo of Dole Grade asparagus priced at P50; P9 for every Mountain Grade priced at P40, and P8 per kilo of eight-inches up to Class D asparagus priced at P33. At present, Tropifresh is purchasing asparagus at P52.50, Dole Grade; P42.50, Mountain Grade; P38 for eight -inch and seven-inch; and P33 for Class A, C, D.

"The growers complain that their harvested asparagus were classified solely by the company, which has been classifying the farmer's produce below what the farmers expected. In Balen's two-period harvest, the company classified more than half of his produce under the eight-inch and below classification , while those classified as Dole Grade was only 26.47% of the total harvests".

Closer home, near Zaheerabad in Medak District operates a food processing firm which has its roots in making cigarettes. Several small and marginal farmers who were lured into growing gherkin for this firm have been devastated. They grew gherkin on the promise of the company contractor who promised to come and carry their produce. But when the promised pickup never came and the gherkins started to rot on the farm, the farmers were forced to plough back the produce into their land and lose all the crop.

One or two farmers who dared to take it to the local market found to their dismay that even the carting expenses to the market were not recovered. Of course some bigger farmers who can afford large inputs and irrigation are happy with the contracting firm. But the dalit farmers who got the raw deal and found their dreams shattered would never venture into it again. In the meanwhile, it will take a very long time for them to recover from the trauma they have undergone.

The point I wish to make is that the Contract firms will constantly be manipulative and twist the arms of the small and the marginal. The small peasantry will b trapped by the supposed advantages of the system. But when the results hit them very badly it will be too late for them to retract.

Such examples of tyranny abound in the contract farming systems in Latin America. Mr Solon Barraclough, the venerable director of United Nations Research Institute for Sustainable Development (UNRISD) does not mince words when he describes contract farming as a "dangerously authoritarian system".

The Contract Farming being thought out as an answer will, in the days to come, turn out to be the question itself. The innumerable examples from the Phillippines which took to the model a decade earlier than us prove that the approach has crashed.

Participation vs Contract Farming

As the above quote from the Director of UNRISD illustrates, nothing can be more authoritarian than Contract Farming where TNCs will dictate their terms ruthlessly. Does it match the vision being projected by the AP government that it is SMART and Participatory with treble underlining on Participation ? Is this duality of approach sustainable ?

Fake land reforms vs real land reforms

Another interesting theory being propounded by the policy makers and senior bureaucrats in AP is that land reforms may not have been all that beneficial to the poor. Without openly saying so, they seem to be suggesting that land reforms achieved very little since not much agriculture took place on these lands.

We can examine the outcome of every land reform programme carried out in the Third World since World War II, being careful to distinguish between genuine land reforms -- when quality land was really distributed to the poor and the power of the rural oligarchy to distort and "capture" policies was broken -- and "fake land reforms" -- when the poor have been relegated to the poorest, most remote soils. In every case of genuine land reform, real, measurable poverty reduction and improvement in human welfare has invariably been the result.

Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Cuba, and China are all good examples. In contrast,
countries with reforms that gave only poor quality land to beneficiaries, and/or failed to alter the rural power structures that work against the poor, failed to make a major dent in rural poverty. Mexico and the Philippines and India to a large extent are typical cases of the latter.

Export Orientation

An obsessive engagement with export orientation and value addition (which is almost used as a synonym to production of commodity crops in the Paper) to agriculture pervades the Paper. This again is an outdated view of agriculture which is now characterised by enlightened analysts with what is called its Multifunctional Character. More and more development thinkers around the world have begun to realise this aspect of agriculture and have steered away from the commodification mode of agricuture. During the FAO/Netherlands conference called Cultivating our Futures held at Maastricht in September 1999, the focus was sharpened on the Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land. The conference said :

The concept of multiple functions builds on:

  • widening focus to include services from the agricultural sector to society as a whole;
  • providing a framework for comparative appreciation of trade-offs and synergies between the different functions of agriculture and related land use;
  • examining the dynamic relationships between rural and urban areas at different scales;
  • incorporating the global range of conditions, from predominantly rural societies with emphasis on primary production for food or other goods,
  • to highly industrialised nations with a small rural population and limited importance attributed to primary production in the national economy.
    Thus the concept facilitates understanding of the complex interactions between agriculture and related land use, the multiple goods and services (food and non-food) produced by agriculture, the contribution that these goods and services make to the achievement of wider societal goals, and, in turn, the impacts on agriculture of the environmental, economic and social domains, including demography and the increasing globalisation of markets and trade.

In its global assessment of the implications of commercialisation of agriculture to make it export oriented, the FAO conference focussed on the Asian experience and stated:

In Asia, there were high expectations that agriculture would play a declining role in national development as countries rapidly industrialised. With the Asian economic crisis, many countries are reconsidering the role that agriculture can play in meeting domestic consumption requirements, providing agro-industrial inputs, and serving as a cushion for rural employment.

It is sad that all these valuable learnings available to us as a part of our contemporary experiences are being lost on the policy makers in AP who seem to have slid back fifty years in time to promote an outdated agro-economic philosophy.


Rice Obsession

Another worrying statement that comes out of the Approach Paper under the influence of the "commodification mindset" is to think of industrialising jowar. The Paper says:

Maize and jowar cultivation can be made remunerative only if we can link them with industry and add value to them. Therefore, the strategy for these should be promotion of agro-industry and animal & poultry feeds, starch, industrial alcohlol, syrup etc.

After thus advising the jowar farmer to convert his grains into animal feed, the Paper adds insult to injury by saying that Inspite of small areas in Rayalaseema and Telangana Districts, rice assumes importance from the point of food security as well. Thus rice should be considered the number one crop of AP on considerations of food supplies, food security, providing livelihoods for large number of people…..

Nothing can by more laughable than this. Jowar and other millets grown in large parts of Telangana, North Karnataka and Marathwada has given rise to a great living culture in the areas. Jowar is an unique crop which needs very little inputs and gives back plenty. In Telangana it is called Satyam Panta, Crop of Truth. Nutritionally also jowar is richer than rice. A simple look at the nutritional chart tells you this.

Protein
(gms)
Minerals
(100 gms)
Calcium
(mg)
Iron
(100 gms)
Bajra
11.6
2.3
42
5.0
Ragi
7.3
2.7
344
6.4
Jowar
10.4
1.6
25
5.8
Rice
6.8
0.6
10
3.1

As we can see, Jowar has 52% more protein than rice, 166% more minerals 150% more calcium and 87% more iron. Still the myopic policy makers would think of converting jowar into animal feed and prefer rice for food security. A fundamental understanding that the food consumed by people should not only give them food security but also nutritional security (especially in the case of the poor who are generally single cereal consumers) is completely lost on them.

To champion rice for the food security in Telangana and Rayalaseema is to be blind to glaring realities. The State of AP through its PDS policy (wherein it sells only rice), has created rice dependence in Telangana and changed an entire millet eating culture into rice eating culture. Now to present this State-created-situation out of context and make rice assume more importance from the point of food security is simply perverse.

To think that jowar cultivation can be made remunerative by turning it into cattle feed is a harmful imitation of the American model where all crops ultimately get converted into cattle feed to produce meat. In order to produce one kg of meat in this fashion at least ten kgs of cereals will have be fed to animals. This is an highly unsustainable model of producing food using scarce land resources.

Similar anti-jowar state policies over the last two decades have systematically killed jowar - based agriculture by rendering jowar growing lands into fallows or cotton producing lands.

Area under crops ('000 Ha) in Andhra Pradesh

Year
Ttl
Rice
Plse
Jowr
Ctn
80-81
8756
3600
1440
2054
419
90-91
7762
4036
1630
1190
655
94-95
6879
3637
1602
944
2176

The disastrous consequences of this shift on the food security of the poor and on the environment of the region is recorded history now. Mass suicides by cotton farmers is the most macabre evidence of this disaster. Jowar production declined in this period from 1082000 tonnes to 642000 tonnes resulting in a sharp drop of 40%. Cotton climbed from 750000 tonnes to 1426000 tonnes : a whopping 90% increase.

Now, under the new policy, if jowar is intended to be converted into cattle feed to earn cash, we can visualise the new dimensions of misery it will bring to the poor. With more and more reform-dictated restrictions on PDS and other welfare measures sure to be imposed on us in the next couple of years, the poor can only be food secure if they are food sovereign i.e. if they can eat what they can grow. But the lopsided policy being advocated by the Approach Paper that jowar should be grown as cattle feed for the market and the cash earned should be used to buy rice from outside will end up in an economic, agricultural and cultural subjugation of the people of Telangana.

Subverting Agricultural Education

Another point of great concern is the proposed re-formation of the governing bodies of agricultural universities. The Approach Paper talks about restructuring the ANGRAU board. It says "The board of management of ANGRAU may be expanded duly amending the Act to include more private sector representation preferably from agro business"

It does not need a crystal ball to see what kind of agricultural education will be imparted by such university bodies which are influenced by agri business. Chemical fertilisers, herbicides and GMOs will dominate the subjects of study and ecological agriculture which is already abandoned by universities will be buried under the new curricula. Many prestigious organisations like MANAGE are already funded by TNCs to research on subjects like Marketing strategies for Roundup herbicide. (Roundup is a herbicide manufactured by the notorious agro chemical major, Monsanto). When the new dispensation as envisaged by the Approach Paper is put in place, we will be subjected to hundreds of such research themes and our agriculture will completely be out of the hands of our farmers.

Extension System

The argument being put forward by the Paper is that there should be paid consultants in agriculture. Agricultural diploma holders and graduates should start working in rural areas on a consultancy basis and farmers must pay them for their consultancy. Such a system is being compared to the existing private practice in medicine. Prima facie nothing wrong with it. Until you start thinking about the implication of this system on the farmer.

This approach shifts the entire agriculture into a new paradigm. This has happened in the field of healthcare by bringing in allopathic doctors and decimating folk healthcare systems. The IMA regularly forces the government to punish the non allopathic practitioners in villages. Time and again folk healers are branded as quacks whereas the real quacks are the allopathic killers working in rural areas who administer for as simple a disease as fever at least a couple of injections, one or two drips of glucose and fleece people. Noone keeps a check on them.

Imagine the fate of our countryside if it starts crawling with a large number of agricultural quacks who will prescribe toxic chemicals for farming at the stroke of a pen and devastate entire agricultural ecology and landscape. Their presence will deskill farmers totally as has happened in Brazil and Argentina. Another strong and rich knowledge system will be assassinated in this process.

The Working Paper on Agriculture is crowded with such booby traps. How do we avoid them and raise the voice of sanity? Would it be good if we demand a referendum on this issue since the policy will impact millions of farmers and the oldest and the most cultured profession in this State?