Empowering Small Farmers in India through Organic Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation


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Empowering Small Farmers in India through Organic Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation

  1. 1. Empowering Small Farmers in India through Organic Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation Anna Marie Nicolaysen, Ph.D. University of Connecticut, 2012 “Empowering Small Farmers in India through Organic Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation” investigates how, through conversion to organic agriculture, with its postulated socioeconomic, environmental and health benefits, and through biodiversity conservation, by, for example, creating community seed banks, local farming organizations enable and empower small farmers to become independent and self- sufficient. Local farming organizations are defined as movements to improve the economic, health, and social status of independent farmers in the face of global agribusiness through the adoption of sustainable agriculture. I explore the philosophy of these organizations; the agricultural and political ideas they transmit; the challenges they face in involving small farmers; and how farmers who become involved assess this experience. Fieldwork for this study was carried out during 2007 and 2008 in the Indian states of Punjab, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. Living in villages in these states– approximately three months per state–I completed 89 in-depth and 16 focus group interviews with female and male farmers, and with the farming organizations’ staff, for a total of 250 participants. Interviews and field observations, primarily those carried out in Punjab and Uttarakhand, constitute the data for this dissertation.
  2. 2. ii I found that farmers who get involved with these organizations do perceive that their food security is improved through conservation and the revival of traditional crops. Additionally their economic situation is strengthened with less expenditure on inputs such as seed, chemical pesticides, or mineral fertilizers. Finally, it is argued, training provided by these organizations prepares farmers, many of whom become more self- reliant and confident individuals, to stand up for their democratic rights in the midst of the formidable power of globalized corporate agriculture. This study contributes to a growing understanding among small farmers, researchers and international human rights and farming-focused organizations (e.g., the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Food and Agriculture Organization), of how reinvestment in sustainable agriculture is vital to the realization of the right to food, and to rural economic development, issues that were accentuated by the 2008 global food price crisis and current return to a pattern of rising food prices that are reaching 2008 levels.
  3. 3. Empowering Small Farmers in India through Organic Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation Anna Marie Nicolaysen Cand. Mag. (B.A.), University of Oslo, 1997 M.A., Northern Arizona University, 2000 A Dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut 2012
  4. 4. ii © Anna Marie Nicolaysen, 2012 The author has granted ProQuest/UMI a non-exclusive right to reproduce and disseminate this work through the UMI® Publishing Agreement. The author retains ownership of the copyright in this dissertation. Neither the dissertation nor extensive extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author’s permission.
  5. 5. iii APPROVAL PAGE Doctor of Philosophy Dissertation Empowering Small Farmers in India through Organic Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation Presented by Anna Marie Nicolaysen, B.A., M.A. Major Advisor __________________________________________ Merrill Singer Associate Advisor ________________________________________ Samuel Martinez Associate Advisor ________________________________________ Alexia Smith University of Connecticut 2012
  6. 6. iv Acknowledgements My first thoughts and gratitude go to all the farmers and the people working in the farmers’ organizations in India, who happily participated in my research, generously gave of their time, and accommodated me in the villages. The best part of India is its resilient people, who struggle and thrive despite abject poverty and widespread corruption. I would like to thank my major advisor, Dr. Merrill Singer, who was my professional mentor and colleague before I entered the Ph.D. program and my major advisor during most of this endeavor; his interest in my research and his contributions and suggestions have made this dissertation what it is. I would also like to thank my other committee members; Dr. Alexia Smith, for many constructive alterations and much appreciated encouragement, and Dr. Samuel Martinez. I am obliged that I was given the opportunity to work as a research assistant for Dr. Pamela Erickson and Dr. Merrill Singer, and a teaching assistant or instructor during all but one of my years at the University of Connecticut. I would like to thank the Head of the Anthropology Department, Dr. Sally McBrearty, for offering me the valuable teaching experience and Terese Andrews for making it all work smoothly with her friendly help in the office. I also extend my thankfulness to the University of Connecticut and its College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for awarding me the CLAS Dean’s Fund Graduate Fellowship in April 2011 and to the Graduate School for giving me both a Doctoral Student Extraordinary Expense Award in the summer of 2009 and the Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship Award in the fall of 2008. I appreciate the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund granting me travel funds for annual travel between Norway
  7. 7. v and the United States from the Spring semester 2009 through the Fall semester 2010, as well as travel funds for my fieldwork in India during 2008. It was my friend, and colleague at the time, Dr. Claudia Santelices, who inspired me to start taking classes while she was still a graduate student at the University of Connecticut. I would like to thank her for her personal and academic interest in and help with this undertaking. My mother, Bjørg, is the person who made this possible with her backing in all aspects and almost endless patience. My father Reidar, who was also always very supportive of my education, sadly passed away shortly after I started my M.A. program. I would like to thank my siblings, Øystein, Bente, and Atle, for their help and support and my sister-in-law, Monica, for her interest in my work. I am grateful to Dr. Kuldeep Singh Punian for his belief in my abilities, encouragement, friendship, and affection. I would also like to thank my friends Line Kampe and Erna Skaug in Norway, Gilbert Ramos, Ashwinee Sadanand, Dr. Sadanand Nanjundiah, Chris Ogolla and Dr. Evelyn Phillips in the United States, Yoko Ishikawa and Dr. Kyoko Murakami in Japan, and Josephine Packiam, Jaspal Singh and Abdul Nasir in India for their support. In addition I appreciate Abdul Nasir’s skills as a research assistant and his and Mohammad Yusuf’s efficient translation and transcription of my interviews from Punjab and Uttarakhand. Last, but not least, I would like to thank Dr. Ernesto Gutierrez-Miravéte for very useful discussions and comments during the final months of the writing process and defense preparations and his wife Sylvia Jalil-Gutierrez. All the encouragement and support is very much appreciated and I could not have completed this task without it.
  8. 8. vi Dedication To my mother, Bjørg, who made this possible with her help in every way, and to my nieces Mona and Kajsa and nephews Eirik and Mikael: may they enjoy a biodiverse future.
  9. 9. vii TABLE OF CONTENTS: Abstract Title ...…...……………………………………………………………………………...… i Copyright ..…………………..…………………………………………………………....ii Approval Page ………………...………………………………………………………... iii Acknowledgements ………………………………………………………………....... iv-v Dedication ...……………...…………………………………………………...………… vi Table of Contents .……………………………………………………….……...…... vii-ix List of Acronyms and Glossary ..………………………………………………………x-xi Map of India …………………………………………………………………………… xii CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION 1 Context of the Study 1 Hunger and Food Riots 1 Trade 3 Global Warming and Farming 8 False Solutions 10 Gender Inequality and Health 14 Motivation for this Study 16 Fieldwork 20 Getting Access to the Farmers 22 Challenges 24 Interviews 25 Ethical Issues 27 Organization and Selection of States 29 CHAPTER TWO: HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 33 Early Agriculture 33 Empires Built on Agriculture 35 Colonization 35 Revenue and Landownership 36 Illiteracy 37 Agriculture Suffers 39 Canals, Famines, and Malaria 40 Independence and Partition 42 Land Reform? 43 Continued Marginalization of Agriculture 45 Political Background of the Green Revolution 46 The Green Revolution 48 Critique of the Green Revolution 50 Agricultural Policies and Poverty 52
  10. 10. viii CHAPTER THREE: PUNJAB 55 The Green Revolution and its Discontents 55 Introduction 55 Environmental Consequences 62 Implications for Agriculture 64 Effects on Human Health 70 Economic and Social Implications 82 Farmers’ Organizations with an Alternative 91 Training of Farmers 94 Conversion to Organic Agriculture 97 Barriers to Conversion 98 Changes after Conversion 100 Continued Challenges 105 Conclusion 110 CHAPTER FOUR: UTTARAKHAND 111 Mountain Agriculture and Agroforestry 111 Introduction 111 Forests and Social Movements 120 Navdanya in Uttarakhand 124 Environmental Consequences 128 Uncertainty of Income Due to Climate Change 132 Farmers’ Experience with Organic Agriculture 136 Training of Farmers 139 Conversion to Organic Agriculture 159 Changes After Conversion 152 Activism at Navdanya 154 Hybrid Seeds 156 Seed Saving 158 Marketing Organic Crops 161 Continued Challenges 164 Conclusion 168 CHAPTER FIVE: DISCUSSION 171 Contrastive Experiences with and Reactions to the Green Revolution 171 General Overview 171 A Second Green Biotechnology Revolution 176 The Alternatives 181 Kheti Virasat and Navdanya 183 Seed Banks 183 Local Knowledge and Climate Change 186 Environmental Degradation and Organic Agriculture 188 Food Security 191
  11. 11. ix A Romanticized Past? 192 Traditional Gender Roles 196 Backward and Anti-Modern? 198 The Agrarian Question 202 CHAPTER SIX: CONCLUSION 206 Key Findings 206 Significance of Findings 211 Thoughts about the Future 214 APPENDIX: Interview Guidelines 217 REFERENCES: 221
  12. 12. x LIST OF ACRONYMS: AIIMS All India Institute of Medical Services AKST Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology AoA Agreement on Agriculture B.C.E. Before the Common Era BDO Block Development Officer BHC Benzene Hexa Chloride BKU Bharatiya Kisan Union (Indian Farmers’ Union) BSE Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Bt Bacillus thuringiensis C.E. Common Era CIKS Center for Indigenous Knowledge Systems CIS Center for Interdisciplinary Studies CPI Communist Party of India DAP Di-Ammonium Phosphate DDT Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane DNA Deoxyribonucleic Acid DRCSC Development Research Communication and Services Centre EED Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst (Church Development Service) EU European Union FAO Food and Agriculture Organization GATT General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade GDP Gross Domestic Product GHG Greenhouse Gas GM Genetically Modified GNP Gross National Product GR Green Revolution GWP Global Warming Potential HCH Hexa Chlorocyclohexane HYV High Yielding Varieties IAASTD International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development IFOAM International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements IGADA Indo-German Agriculture Development Agency IMF International Monetary Fund IMO Institute for Marketecology IMR Infant Mortality Rate IPCC Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change IPM Integrated Pest Management IPR Intellectual Property Rights IRB Institutional Review Board IT Information Technology JFM Joint Forest Management LPG Liberalization, Privatization, and Globalization MAPs Medicinal and Aromatic Plants
  13. 13. xi MSP Minimum Support Price NGO Non Governmental Organization NOFA Northeast Organic Farming Association NSDP Net State Domestic Product PAU Punjab Agricultural University PBR People’s Biodiversity Registers PKZU Punjab Khetibari Zamindara Union (Punjab Agricultural Landholder’s Union) REDD Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation RFSTE Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology SEZ Special Economic Zones UN United Nations UNFCCC United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UOBC Uttarakhand Organic Commodity Board UPL United Phosphorus Limited USAID United States Agency International Development USOCA Uttarakhand State Organic Certification Agency WB World Bank WHO World Health Organization WRI World Resources Institute WTO World Trade Organization GLOSSARY: Bigha 1 bigha = between one-fifth and two fifths of an acre Desi In the context of agriculture desi refers to native or traditional breed (of e.g. cattle) Jan Life of the soil Lassi Traditional yoghurt-based drink Paddy Rice in the field, or after harvesting before the husk and bran has been removed Ryotwari Tax system where peasants pay tax directly to the government Quintal 1 quintal = 100 kilogram Urea Nitrogen Zamindars Landlords Rs. Rupees (Rs. 50.00 ≈ $1.00)
  14. 14. xii MAP OF INDIA The four fieldwork states: Punjab, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
  15. 15. 1 CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION Context of the Study Hunger and Food Riots In the world today, almost one billion people are hungry, over 70 percent of the people suffering hunger are rural, and around 80 percent of these are either working on a farm, or are farmers themselves (IFAD 2011). These people depend upon agriculture for their livelihoods, but loss of soil fertility, climate change, water shortage and higher cost of obtaining water for irrigation where available, low rates paid in exchange for their produce, rapidly increasing prices on fertilizers, pesticides, and seed, and loss of biological and agrobiological diversity, all present critical challenges to millions of small farmers. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), there are 530 million farms in the world, where 40 percent of the world’s population make a living. Eighty-five percent of these are small farms, defined as having less than two hectares of land, but because of their considerable number they occupy about 60 percent of the world’s arable land (FAO 2008). The world population reached equal distribution between rural and urban locations in 2008, and in addition to the poor farmers, poverty in urban areas is also increasing (UNFPA 2007), despite the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals and other international bodies’ aims at reducing it. Despite the low rates paid to small farmers in many developing countries, the food price index calculated by the FAO rose by nine percent in 2006, and leaped by nearly 40 percent in 2007, a trend encompassing almost every agricultural product. The wheat
  16. 16. 2 price in the international market more than tripled since 2000, and the maize price more than doubled. In the first months of 2008 prices continued to increase, and in March 2008 rice reached record levels (von Braun 2008). Various forces drove this sharp price increase. These include higher costs for energy, increasingly intertwined with the mechanical cultivation of agribusiness and its inputs and massive shifts in cultivation towards subsidized biofuel feedstock like maize—rather than soybean and wheat— among U.S. farmers. Higher demand for grains used to feed livestock for meat production, globally, and lastly commodity speculation and poor weather also contributed to the escalation. In Australia, for example, severe drought for years has reduced the country’s generally large contribution to the total world wheat harvest (Schneider 2008; von Braun 2008). Changing patterns in the timing and amount of rainfall affect food prices, as rainfed farming makes up 80 percent of the world’s croplands, and produces about 70 percent of the world’s food (Castillo, et al. 2007). The impact of the price hike has had radically different effects across countries, and although some net exporters benefited, Argentina, China, India, Mexico and Russia among others restricted exports to protect consumers. Net food importers on the other hand struggled to meet domestic food demands. There were hunger riots during 2008 in over 25 countries, mainly in Africa, where almost all countries were net importers of cereals, but also in Asia, the Americas and the Caribbean, and the Middle East (Schneider 2008). The price hike caused political instability in Haiti, Egypt, the Philippines and Indonesia where, as in most places, it harmed the poor the most, limiting their diet and making it even less balanced, and affecting health in the short and long term.
  17. 17. 3 Discussing the food riots, Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank (WB), said to the New York Times in April 2008, “We have to put our money where our mouth is now, so that we can put food into hungry mouths. It is as stark as that” (Weisman 2008). Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then managing director of the IMF admitted in the same article that the food crisis poses questions about the survivability of democracy and political regimes; “As we know in the past, sometimes those questions lead to war,” he said, “we now need to devote 100 percent of our time to these questions” (Weisman 2008). At the same time other leaders such as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned against the dangers of protectionism in his remarks to the 12th UN Conference on Trade and Development, in Accra, (Ghana) in April 2008. According to Ban Ki-moon, “More trade, not less, will get us out of the hole we’re in” (Ban 2008). But the roots of the global food crisis are deep, and quick responses as well as a continuation of current policies could do great harm in the long run. Without appropriately diagnosing the causes of the crisis, well-intentioned treatments could fail or even exacerbate the problem. Trade Many small farmers around the world, such as the members of Vía Campesina (translates into The Peasants’ Way), a global movement of 148 farmers’ organizations in 69 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, would argue against Ban Ki-moon when it comes to trade in agricultural products. They contend that shipping more food around the world only increases the price, and the carbon footprint (Vía Campesina 2007b), and they encourage farmer NGOs to discuss and promote alternatives to
  18. 18. 4 neoliberal policies for achieving food security. For small farmers and their organizations, the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1994 provided the forum where the international trade agreements that would create major changes to the structure of their agricultural economies and rural communities were sealed. The GATT, which created the WTO, seriously altered the relationship between farmers’ organizations and the state, because from this point on control over national agricultural policies was passed on to the WTO. In 1995, when the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) came into force many countries, that until then had been producing enough food to feed themselves, were required to open their markets to agricultural products from abroad (Lyson 2005). Mexico started importing maize, Indonesia rice, and Europe soya, to mention a few examples. The United States became the major exporter of cereals, and Australia and New Zealand of dairy products. Since that time, most state regulations concerning buffer stocks, prices, production, and import and export controls, have gradually been dismantled. As a result, small farmers around the world have not been able to compete on the world market; rather they collapsed as economic units (Welch and Graham 1999; Wise 2009). The focus on export left the majority of the rural poor vulnerable to volatile market conditions and international competition with subsidized producers in the global North. The globalization of agriculture concentrated market power away from local producers and into the hands of a limited number or large- scale trade and retail agribusiness companies. Not only small farmers in the global South felt the impact of trade liberalization. Farming no longer dominates the rural economy in the United States. Between 1995 and 2000, 38,000 small farms went out of business and between 1990 and 2000, farming dependent counties were reduced from 618 to 420
  19. 19. 5 (among the more than 2,000 non-metropolitan counties) (Ghelfi and McGranahan 2004), and the debt of the U.S. farm sector was an estimated $240 billion at the end of 2008 (Harris, et al. 2009). In Europe, 20–25 percent of farms disappeared between 1995 and 2005. Central and Eastern Europe were hardest hit during this period, where new member-states in the European Union (EU) such as Poland lost 30 percent, Estonia 43 percent, Latvia 47 percent, and Lithuania 49 percent of their farms respectively. Significant reductions were also registered among the old member-states in the West, in Germany, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and France. From 1998–2003, the number of farms in Norway decreased by 18 percent (Chivu, et al. 2005). The globalization of agriculture, from the Green Revolution (GR) through the development of international structural adjustment programs, regional free trade agreements, and the WTOs Agreement on Agriculture, was officially aimed at improving productivity and making large and small-scale farming more prosperous. The idea driving these changes was that through increased trade and leveled playing fields, the competition would make the world’s food producers more effective, farmers would improve their conditions, resulting in a decrease in food scarcity and hunger. However, the globalization has led to the spread of non-sustainable industrial agriculture, the destruction of small farmers’ livelihoods, and a dramatic reduction in their incomes as they experience declining terms of trade and competition with low-cost producers. Discussing the modern transformations of agriculture, Richard Manning, in his book Against the Grain: How Agriculture has Hijacked Civilization, which is based largely on anthropological work on agriculture through time, concludes that “I have come to think
  20. 20. 6 of agriculture not as farming, but as a dangerous and consuming beast of a social system” (Manning 2004:119). In India, where approximately six hundred million people are farmers, the globalization of agriculture has been exemplified during the last few decades by small farmers affected in a drastic way by the introduction of the new paradigm of business-like food production, an approach in which indigenous crops and knowledge are being set aside in favor of monoculture practices directed by international agriculture-related industries (Shiva, et al. 2004; Upreti and Upreti 2002). In several parts of the country the village economy is in crisis. The number of landless rural farmers had already increased from around 28 to over 50 million between 1951 and the 1990s (Datt and Ravallion 2002), and almost eight million people left agriculture between 1991 and 2001 according to the last census (Kapur 2010). Loss of status, uncertainty of income, indebtedness, and unfulfilled needs are among the factors that drove mostly men and youth to search for opportunities elsewhere. While they often end up unemployed in urban slum areas, lacking skills and subsisting through the poorly-paid informal sector, women, the elderly, children and youth have been left on the margins of economic, social, and political life in the village (Akram-Lodhi 2009; WDR 2007). The Chairman of the National Commission of Farmers (government of India), agricultural scientist, M.S. Swaminathan has expressed regrets about the decades of ecological neglect and the increasing unsustainability of farming in India. He is often referred to as the father of India’s GR, but in his foreword to Raman’s Agricultural Sustainability he now admits to “a growing understanding of the harm done to the basic life-support systems of soil, water, biodiversity, forests, and the atmosphere by
  21. 21. 7 ecologically insensitive technologies and public policies” (Raman 2006:xiv). He also coined the term “Evergreen Revolution,” defined as improving productivity without associated ecological or social harm, in order to emphasize that yield improvement should be environmentally sustainable (Raman 2006). One expression of the crisis in Indian agriculture is that almost 200,000 farmers committed suicide between 1995 and 2009, many as a result of rising debt from increased cost of cultivation, and the resulting economic and existential despair (Posani 2009; Sainath 2007). In the last week of January 2010, the Indian president, Pratibha Patil, called for a “Second Green Revolution” to stem spiraling food prices and declining supplies (Kapur 2010). Is this possible, or even the best way to go? Many among the more than 400 scientists, experts, and development specialists who worked on the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD) think not, and rather call for a change in current mainstream farming practices (IAASTD 2009). An initiative of the FAO and the World Bank, this international assessment of agriculture started in 2002 as a global consultative process, and the IAASTD published reports in 2009 (accepted by the governments of 58 countries) that draw lessons about which agricultural systems have been positive or negative for humans and ecosystems. The reports formulate potential opportunities to move away from destructive and chemical-driven industrial agriculture, and rather to focus on environmental, modern methods, which could benefit biodiversity and local communities, and improve the situation for poor rural people (IAASTD 2009:viii). The reports were not fully approved by the large monoculture producing countries, Australia, Canada and the United States, and the biotechnology industry left the process a few months before the signing of the reports
  22. 22. 8 took place, in April 2008 in Johannesburg. Representatives from Canada, for example, say in their reservations “there remain a number of assertions and observations that require more substantial, balanced and objective analysis” (IAASTD 2009:12). The move of these large countries and the biotechnology industry had no effect on the overall acceptance of the reports, which, similar to the World Climate Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is a global scientific stocktaking of the state of agriculture, an evidence-based guide for policy and decision-making that can provide the basis for designing agriculture in a way that mitigate detrimental development dynamics such as growing disparities and the degradation of ecosystems (IAASTD 2009). Global Warming and Farming The global food system produces almost half of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, partially due to the fossil fuel used for food processing and transportation, and is therefore the single most important factor driving global warming (IEA 2006; Vía Campesina 2007a). While carbon dioxide is the most prevalent GHG, causing more than 80 percent of GHG emissions related to human activity, agricultural practices contributed to about 15 percent of the global emissions, primarily as a result of nitrous oxide release, mainly from nitrogen fertilizers, and secondly because of methane release from enteric fermentation in livestock and flooded rice fields (IAASTD 2009; Smith, et al. 2007). Global agricultural emissions increased by 17 percent from 1990 to 2005 (US-EPA 2006). According to the global warming potential (GWP) concept, which uses carbon dioxide as the reference with a value of 1, methane and nitrous oxide have values of 23
  23. 23. 9 and 296 respectively, so these gases trap much more heat in the atmosphere and contribute many times the impact of carbon dioxide to global warming (Massey and Ulmer 2010). The increased pressure on agricultural land is likely to lead to more deforestation and thereby add further to GHG emissions (Nabuurs, et al. 2007). Over the last 50 years the use of fertilizers, primarily nitrogen fertilizers, has increased rapidly, and while this has contributed to an increase in crop production (IFA 2006), only a portion of the nitrogen supplied is taken up by crops; the remainder is lost in to the environment and causes progressively serious environmental problems (MA 2005). In the same time period there have been great investments in irrigation systems, but aquifer depletion and groundwater pollution now threaten the livelihoods of millions of small farmers in South Asia, for example (Shah, et al. 2007). In the United States, agriculture is the main cause of pollution in rivers and contributes to 70 percent of all water quality problems identified in rivers and streams (Walker, et al. 2005). The destruction of the forests and environmental degradation caused by the agricultural sector are products mainly of industrial agriculture. Large agribusiness plantations and vast monoculture fields make extensive use of oil-based chemical fertilizers, pesticides and machinery. They convert carbon-rich forest and prairie into “green deserts,” called so because they are poor at retaining soil and water and unproductive, compared to the original vegetation, and in the end depend on a long and energy consuming chain of secondary processing and transport links (Smith, et al. 2007). In addition to implications for the environment, agribusiness, or “factory farming,” has been shown to have negative impacts on both humans and animals; not only in the form of producing unhealthy food, or severely mistreating the animals, but by being a source
  24. 24. 10 of deadly pandemics, like the recent swine flu (H1N1), which possibly had its origin on large pig farms in Mexico (Singer 2009). In the cases of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in cows and avian flu (H5N1), transmission was linked to low standards in the animal feed industry and the increase of antimicrobial resistance arising from the use of antibiotics in industrial farming systems (Taylor, et al. 2001). Three- quarters of the new human diseases that have emerged over the past decade have arisen from pathogens originating in animals and animal products. Complicating this situation, many countries lack effective public health or veterinary systems, and even less the multi-sector environmental health practices, to prevent the spread of this type of disease (WHO-VHP 2010). False Solutions As scientific predictions of climate catastrophe continue to grow, world leaders met in Copenhagen in December 2009 for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and discussed “solutions” that will continue to allow large energy consumers to pollute with impunity, while paying others to implement projects intended to capture carbon (Lohman 2010; Smith, et al. 2007). Previously, the Kyoto protocol and the market mechanisms it implemented had failed to reduce GHG emissions and to slow down climate changes. In the eyes of many climate scientists, the situation is urgent, but the Copenhagen convention failed to radically question the current models of consumption and production. Instead carbon, for example, has become a new privatized commodity for trade in the hands of speculators, who use it as a new product in the same economic pattern that lead to the current crisis (Kill, et al. 2010; Lohman 2010). For
  25. 25. 11 many small farmers around the world, some of the solutions proposed during the climate talks at the UNFCCC meeting in Copenhagen, for instance “the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation initiative (REDD), the carbon offsetting mechanisms and geo-engineering projects are as threatening as the droughts, tornadoes and new climate patterns themselves,” according to Vía Campesina (2009). Other proposals that were considered, such as producing biochar, or charcoal, by burning crop-residues, manure or wood, and genetically modified (GM) seed, are those of agribusinesses, that many analysts believe will only further marginalize small farmers (Vía Campesina 2007a; 2009). Genetic modification can be done through various methods. One is to incorporate a small piece of DNA “in a bacterium that has the capacity to insert its own genes into another plant genome,” and incubate this with tissue from the target plant. The DNA can also be “coated onto small particles of metal and shot into the target plant tissue at high velocity” (Tripp 2009a:11). An important issue in the GM debate is food safety. There is very limited data available concerning effects of long-term nutritional consumption of GM foods, and potential concerns include allergenicity, for example when proteins are transferred across species boundaries into completely unrelated organisms, or toxicity, antibiotic resistance, or just alteration in nutritional quality of foods (Arregui, et al. 2004; Seralini, et al. 2007). While concepts and techniques used in evaluating food and feed safety have been outlined (WHO 2005), the procedures for authorizing GM crops are considered insufficient (Spök, et al. 2004), and often left to the industry itself. The general discourse of seed companies is that industrial GM and hybrid seed are the best solutions, in that these seed will have the capacity to respond to irregular climatic
  26. 26. 12 conditions, and feed future generations. But these seed, called “stable and uniform” by the industry, are not well suited for adapting to varying conditions, because they are reproduced as the exact same specimens. Tested for use in a research station or other atypical favorable locations, these seed have demonstrated to be poorly adapted to small- scale farmer conditions and environments. They also often do not meet the farmers’ need of multipurpose use, e.g. fodder and seed, or postharvest characteristics like ease of threshing, good taste or good storability (Curran, et al. 2004; Witcombe, et al. 1998). The seed the farmers replant each year, on the other hand, are continuously improved through their selection in the field, and these seed’s variability and diversity are what make them better suited for adapting to their environments (Witcombe, et al. 2001). The hybrid seed, produced by artificially cross-pollinated plants, lose some of their yield potential in the second generation, and this makes them not worth saving. The farmers who start using hybrid seed must therefore purchase new seed each year from the industry. The seed companies also have other mechanisms that provide intellectual property protection and control access to their crop varieties such as the GM crops, including patents, purchase agreements and seed laws (Tripp 2009b). When the farmers stop replanting their traditional seed, the biodiversity of crop varieties grown is reduced or eliminated. This reduction of biodiversity reduces societal capacity to adapt to the challenges of climate change. In addition the seed sold by the industry are tied to industrial forms of production, require energy use in the form of chemical fertilizers, more water, and are destructive to the fertility of the soil. These crops have much lower capacity to sequester carbon because it is the organic material in the soil that stores important quantities of carbon (Matthews, et al. 2000). Industrial forms of agriculture, by
  27. 27. 13 impoverishing the soil and replacing the organic matter with synthetic inputs, liberate the carbon stored in the soils, thus increasing the level of carbon dioxide in the air (Wassmann and Vlek 2004). Agricultural systems collect carbon when organic matter is accumulated in the soil, or when above-ground woody biomass acts either as a permanent sink or is used as an energy source that substitutes for fossil fuels (Pretty and Ball 2001). To address global warming by subsidizing and encouraging conversion of maize, sugarcane, and other food products into substitutes for oil is another controversial solution. Competition between land for food production, energy and environmental sustainability (Kojima, et al. 2007) can already be seen for example in Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia, where expansion of crop plantations for biofuel production have led to deforestation and draining of peat lands (Curran, et al. 2004). The development of biofuel monocultures on lands previously occupied by forests or by small-scale farming practices weakens the capacity of the soil to store carbon because younger plantation forests have lower capacity to store carbon than older natural forests (Dauvergne and Neville 2010; Smith, et al. 2007). Consequently, many climate scientists believe that the solution to the energy crisis and to climate changes is not to substitute fossil fuels with biofuel and that it is therefore necessary to change our production and consumption methods and patterns and, in industrialized countries, to drastically reduce our consumption of non-renewable energy (Nabuurs, et al. 2007). The heavy promotion of industrial monoculture plantations and biofuel as solutions to the crisis actually increase pressure on agricultural land and available water resources as massive afforestation grasslands may reduce water flow into other ecosystems and rivers (Jackson, et al. 2005), change soil fertility and properties, contribute to soil erosion (Carrasco-Letellier, et al.
  28. 28. 14 2004), and reduce biodiversity (Wagner, et al. 2006). The economic competitiveness of biofuel is also debated, and depends on local market conditions and production methods. Even in Brazil, the world leader in efficient ethanol production, biofuel is competitive only under particular favorable market conditions (Kojima and Johnson 2005). It has already led to massive “land grabbing,” or the purchase or lease of agricultural land by transnational companies, foreign investors, or other nations. From 2006 to 2009 around 40 million acres of farmland was secured for the production of biofuel, but also of food, in poor developing countries, in order to produce crops for export, while expelling the local farmers from their land and pushing indigenous communities, sometimes with non- traditional land titles, out of their territories (Borras Jr., et al. 2011; Shepard and Mittal 2009; 2010). To these farmers, rather than being a solution, the development of industrial biofuel is a peril. The land grab that is going on today is only increasing the food crisis, displacing food production and its producers. Instead of promoting an agriculture that can feed everyone, it focuses on large-scale monocultures that eliminate plant biodiversity and on fossil fuels. It gives priority to feeding cars over people, and will enrich a few, but not alleviate poverty for the many. Further, investment is channeled towards huge farms controlled by a few large owners, instead of the local markets and the four billion rural people globally that currently produce most of the food consumed on the planet (McMichael 2010; Shepard and Mittal 2010; Zoomers 2010). Gender Inequality and Health Gender inequality is a central issue in agriculture, as it relates to poverty, hunger, nutrition, health and natural resource management. Women and men have different roles
  29. 29. 15 and responsibilities in productive households, and these vary widely by context and culture, but while women often have a key role in agricultural activities, they tend to have limited access to and control of productive resources, such as land and capital. In Asia women produce at least 60 percent of the food, and in Africa it is as high as 70 percent, but their work is underestimated and does not normally appear as part of the Gross National Product (GNP) (CED 2003). Proportional representation is nowhere the rule, and financial dependence and lack of access to political processes often excludes women from participating in public life. Agricultural developments have often strengthened patterns that are not favorable for women, for example in rural extension systems, where men generally act for the state and its agencies, control information and communication, and represent the farming household in public matters. Industrial agriculture implies more investments, which again often exclude women, who sometimes are not eligible for credit (McC Netting 1993). Less than ten percent of women farmers in India, Nepal and Thailand own land, for example, and even if these women live and work in close association with natural resources, their power to make decisions regarding these resources is socially restricted (FAO-Gender 2010). Health is also a major concern. The fatal accident rate in agriculture is twice as high as in other industries, and exposure to pesticide and other agrochemicals constitutes one of the main hazards leading to illness and death. The WHO reports a rough estimate of between two and five million cases of pesticide poisoning each year, some unintentional poisoning, others suicide attempts, in either case leading to at least 40,000, but maybe up to 220,000 fatalities (WHO 1986). In developing countries there is widespread use of toxic chemicals banned in other countries, often accompanied by unsafe application and
  30. 30. 16 lack of information to the farmer about safe use and storage (ILO 1999). Living and working conditions may raise the threat of environmental spillover from pesticide use in the form of contaminated groundwater, food, or diversion of chemically treated seed for human consumption. South-Asian countries like India and Bangladesh have the highest mortality and morbidity rates of diarrhea and malnutrition attributed to climate-change, and these are expected to increase (McMichael, et al. 2004). In general their often extremely rudimentary living and working conditions, frequently without adequate food, water supply or sanitation, let alone health care, determine the morbidity-mortality pattern among poor farmers. A poor diet combined with the presence of diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, gastrointestinal disorders, and anemia create a vicious circle of poor health, reduced working capacity, low productivity and shortened life expectancy, especially among those in subsistence agriculture, or who are wage workers in plantations, landless laborers, migrant workers or child laborers. It is estimated that around 175 million children are engaged in labor on farms and plantations around the world, and national policies to prevent agricultural child labor are lacking (ILO 2006). Motivation for this Study Since the mid-1980s, several social movements and farmers’ organizations have opposed the farming trends driven by agribusiness by promoting the conversion to sustainable, organic agriculture, and the re-validation of indigenous knowledge. In 1987, for example, Navdanya (translates into nine crops, representing India’s collective source of food security), a social movement led by Dr. Vandana Shiva, a physicist,
  31. 31. 17 environmentalist, and agricultural activist from India, engaged in the struggle against neoliberal economic globalization and the industrialized model of agricultural development. Navdanya started as a program of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE), a participatory research initiative founded in 1982 by Dr. Shiva, “to provide direction and support to environmental activism” and undertake “independent research to address the most significant ecological and social issues, in close partnership with local communities and social movements” (Navdanya 2009b). Navdanya started to work with local farmers, educating them about chemical free organic agriculture, creating local seed banks, fighting against the establishment of intellectual property rights (IPRs) on traditional knowledge, and defending their food rights and food sovereignty in the face of national and international agribusiness (Shiva 2003). As a member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), I attended their annual summer conference in Amherst, Massachusetts in August 2004. Vandana Shiva was invited to give the keynote speech at that year’s conference, and she talked about organic farmers as “the heroes of tomorrow” and why industrial agriculture cannot feed the world. Food production has to be addressed, she argued, not by a few corporations, but by millions of microbes and millions of people. She caught my attention, and I became curious to see her organization’s work in India, and learn more about conversion to organic agriculture among small farmers there. In March 2006, I traveled to attend a course on organic agriculture organized by Navdanya at its research farm, Bija Vidyapeeth (translates as School of Seed, or Seed University), outside Dehradun, in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India.
  32. 32. 18 I wanted to look more closely at how this, and similar organizations work, how they teach small farmers about organic agriculture and biodiversity conservation. The course gave me a glimpse into Navdanya’s work, and the opportunity to meet some farmers, and the Navdanya employees at their research farm and those who worked in the nearby districts. I decided to go back and do fieldwork in some of the states where Navdanya works, because even though a growing body of research indicate that the farmers using sustainable, organic methods are better off, both economically and in terms of health (Brandt and Molgaard 2001; Gala and Burcher 2005; Magkos, et al. 2003) little research has been conducted on the work that social movements like Navdanya have done in facilitating this conversion in India, and more importantly on how the local farmers perceive, and adopt or reject this “traditional,” now called “alternative,” farming philosophy and strategy. I wanted to focus on understanding the socio-economic and political conditions that led small farmers to accept an alternative model, how and to what extent they have converted to it, or more importantly, who has adopted it and who has not and why. Some key questions: Are they actively and consciously resisting mainstream industrialized agriculture through the Navdanya model? How do they view their role in an increasingly globalized agricultural economy? How do they view their futures? I also wanted to look at the scope of the rural grassroots resistance directed towards the adjustment programs, the free trade agreements, and the patenting of plants. Who are the ones taking part in this resistance and who is opposing it, how does this type of resistance manifest itself? There are many types of social movements, but most have in common a collective identity, and their efforts through organized protest or resistance to obtain or prevent a
  33. 33. 19 certain social change (Hamel 2001). Navdanya is one of several new social actors, such as women’s organizations, environmental or human rights groups or peasant organizations, that create new structures of collective action among traditional social actors and a space where their concerns and demands can be articulated, negotiated and accommodated in the context of a contested globalization and a continuing debate over development (Escobar and Alvarez 1992). In this political struggle for greater control over their traditional means of production, the farmers also fight a cultural struggle, for traditional knowledge and indigenous beliefs. Rejecting the notion that neoliberal globalization is the only possible framework for development, Navdanya seeks to construct an alternative, sustainable path, where the farmers convert to organic agriculture and maintain community seed banks to protect themselves from the regime of chemical, industrial agriculture and GM seed. Navdanya proclaims the farmers’ right to biodiversity, and to not cooperate with imposed intellectual property rights systems that make seed saving and exchange a crime. This research examines how Navdanya is working with the farmers to conserve biodiversity and establish community seed banks, how they advocate conversion to organic agriculture at the farmers’ level in India, and how their effort to empower the rural community through promotion of indigenous knowledge is implemented. Do the farmers perceive that their local food security is improved through biodiversity conservation and control over their own seed and other inputs? To answer these questions, I examine how Navdanya’s and other organizations’ work are affecting small farmers and their communities, why their work is having the effects it is, and I explore the nature of the social and political economic context in which this is occurring.
  34. 34. 20 I will also discuss the critique Navdanya and similar organizations are facing from several quarters. In addition to agricultural related industries, producers of chemical inputs and hybrid and GM seed, which dismiss organic agriculture and other natural ways of food production as ineffective and something that would create widespread hunger and scarcity, there are critiques from scholars who argue that what they call the “new social movements,” like Navdanya, are romanticizing pre-capitalist society and being backward looking (Brass 2000; Guha 2000b; 2002; Rangan 2000). Some suggest that the small farmers are being convinced to continue a rural lifestyle with few amenities, while others argue they are distracted away from more important and basic class struggles (Brass 2006; Das 2007). There are also those who critique what they see as the new social movements’ lack of grappling with gender inequalities, for example concerning property rights, especially in land, economic rights, and the division of labor and also for situating women in a special relationship with nature (Agarwal 1998; Cochrane 2007). I would like to take part in this ongoing debate by attempting a more nuanced analysis. While I think the critique is very useful to consider for the new social movements, and much of it is on target, I would challenge the analysis that dismiss traditional agricultural knowledge as backward, and emphasize the important environmental perspective of movements like Navdanya. Fieldwork Following my initial visit in March and April 2006, I returned to start fieldwork in February 2007, and during the next two years I spent twelve and a half months in India, and divided my time between field sites in the states of Punjab, Uttarakhand, Tamil
  35. 35. 21 Nadu, and West Bengal. Living in the villages, I interviewed farmers and staff from Navdanya and other farmers’ organizations, and data from these interviews and field observations are the basis for this study. Specifically, I recruited a total of 250 participants for my study, and conducted in-depth and focus group interviews with female and male farmers, and social movement and farmers’ organization staff. I completed 89 in-depth interviews with 62 farmers (15 female and 47 male) and 27 social movement/farmers’ organizations staff (six female and 21 male), some of whom are also farmers. I conducted 16 focus group interviews with a total of 51 female farmers, 100 male farmers, and seven female and three male social movement/farmers’ organizations staff. In addition I carried out informal conversations with many farmers, community members and social movement/farmers’ organizations staff on the 77 farms in the 56 villages, and in the three towns and five cities, where I did interviews. I had planned to work first and foremost with Navdanya, but it was not always possible. This did not create a problem though, because it was informative to get to know and work with other organizations that cooperate with Navdanya, or had done so in the past, in addition to independent organizations with similar concerns. In Punjab, where Navdanya used to work, an organization called Kheti Virasat (The Heritage of Farming) has taken over at the local level. In Uttarakhand, Navdanya is heavily involved, and has several “Navdanya Villages” that sell their organic produce through Navdanya’s distribution net, locally, and to Delhi and other large cities further south. In Tamil Nadu in the south, Navdanya has worked with several organizations in the past that now do similar work independently. One of them is the Center for Indigenous Knowledge Systems, (CIKS), which I worked with in the coastal areas of northeastern Tamil Nadu.
  36. 36. 22 In the highland district of Nilgiris in the central part of the state I worked with the Earth Trust. In West Bengal in the east, Navdanya has field coordinators in several villages, and I also met with the organization Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, (CIS) which used to work with Navdanya, and Development Research Communication and Services Centre (DRCSC), an organization based in Kolkata. Getting Access to the Farmers I had discussed with Dr. Vandana Shiva my interest in doing this study during my first visit in 2006, and she agreed to give me access to her organization’s network of coordinators in the villages where they work in Uttarakhand and West Bengal. The Navdanya coordinators are farmers in the respective villages themselves, but often hold additional leadership roles in the village, like being part of or the leader of the Panchayat, the village council. Some of the coordinators had higher education and were involved in agricultural research, independently, or in cooperation with Navdanya, while others were involved in activities like trekking and mountaineering in the Himalayas, or herbal farming for export. The Navdanya coordinators worked part time for Navdanya, got a symbolic compensation of Rs. 1,000 ($20) a month, received training at their research farm, Bija Vidyapeeth, in Dehradun, and were reimbursed when traveling there for training and regular coordinator meetings. Lodging and food were included. (As a reference, a teacher salary e.g. could be Rs. 15,000 a month). I attended these coordinator meetings a few times and also trainings at Bija Vidyapeeth, which lasted from one to three days. There I had the opportunity to meet and talk to several of the coordinators, and make arrangements with them for later travel and stays in their villages.
  37. 37. 23 I also did some individual interviews there with coordinators I would not be able to visit in their home village, and organized a focus group interview with some coordinators working for Navdanya in Uttarakhand. Several of the coordinators spoke English, and that was a huge benefit for me in the villages. In addition to traveling with a translator, it was very useful to have at least one more person in the village that spoke English, although some places there were many who did. In the village, the coordinators would introduce me to farmers, and often suggest farmers that could be interviewed, for example based on their involvement with the organization, or their engagement in farmers’ issues in other ways, and also farmers who thought organic agriculture was not viable or not possible for them. As I got to know the place and people, the farmers themselves often referred me to people who they thought would be interested in talking to me about their farming, and I also approached people myself, after getting to know them a little through staying in the village. I talked to conventional farmers, those in the process of converting to organic farming methods, and those who had been organic farmers, for a few or several years, in all four states. I mainly talked to small farmers, but in Punjab and Tamil Nadu I also met and interviewed a few medium sized and larger farmers. In Punjab and Tamil Nadu I would approach the farmers in a similar way as I had done places where Navdanya was present, initially through the staff and coordinators of the local farmers’ organizations. The organizations were often helpful in finding appropriate housing for me at one of the farms, with a family who had an extra room, and also very generous in providing me with the support from the English proficient among their staff as translators.
  38. 38. 24 Challenges Translation was sometimes a challenge, as I worked in four different states, each with their own language; Punjabi in Punjab, Hindi and Gharwali in Uttarakhand, Tamil in Tamil Nadu, and Bengali in West Bengal. That said, many people speak English in India, and for some urban residents, English is their first language. Although I had taken one semester of Hindi at my university just prior to traveling to India, and studied the language full time for ten weeks at Landour Language School in Uttarakhand in the early part of my fieldwork, most of the time I traveled with a translator. A good translator was often very hard to get, since it was difficult to find someone who would be available to travel for weeks and agree to stay in the villages in sometimes simple conditions, and at the same time not charge too much. It was also a problem finding female translators, which would make housing issues at the farms easier. Most women are married, and therefore could often not leave husband and children to travel, and in some places those unmarried are not supposed to travel alone, or with an unrelated woman. I had to leave a male translator behind once, when a coordinator who had agreed to have me live at his farm would not accept a male translator on the farm, because of his unmarried daughters living there. I worked at one field site, in northern Uttarakhand, with a young woman as my translator, whose mother worked with Navdanya, and she trusted her to travel with me, also because she knew the coordinator in the village we were going to live. The remainder of my fieldwork, with one other exception, in Darjeeling, where I worked with two local young women who spoke very good English, I worked with male translators. Transportation was another challenge. Travel can be very time-consuming in India, and also risky. The roads are often in a poor condition, and in the mountain areas it can
  39. 39. 25 at times be rather “exciting,” with steep hillsides, and rarely a fence of any sort on a narrow road between the car and the deep valley below. I used both buses and trains, especially for longer distances, but often it was necessary to hire a car and a driver to get around in the area where I was staying. The farms could be located miles apart, and sometimes there were no buses in rural areas. Interviews I had developed my interview questions after my first visit to India, and the University of Connecticut’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved them prior to the start of the fieldwork, (the complete lists of interview questions can be found in the Appendix, p. 217–220). I used the same list of questions during my whole fieldwork. During an interview, a participant would often talk more about a certain topic than another, and in some instances I would not ask a question from my list, because I would be familiar with the likely response (if for example I knew the person and the situation after staying some time in the village). Otherwise I did not find that I wanted to change the interview questions in any significant way. In the in-depth interviews with the farmers I would start asking about their personal, historical background with focus on their connection to farmland and agricultural activities, household composition, and type and size of the family’s farmland. Then we would discuss types of changes; demographic, socio-economic, political, ecological and agricultural; land reforms, use of technology and agricultural input and output, as well as gender roles and changes in relation to agricultural work. I would ask specifically if agricultural work provided for their families, whether they received any help from the state or other institutions (e.g.,
  40. 40. 26 loans to buy fertilizers, pesticides, seed, or farm machinery). We would talk about indigenous, traditional farming methods, and conventional agriculture, and benefits and negative aspects of either. Conversation focused on whether they had converted to organic agriculture, how it worked if they had, and the benefits or negative aspects in socioeconomic, environmental and health terms. I also asked about cooperation with other farmers in the community, and the local farmers’ organization. We would discuss how the local seed bank functioned in the community where they had one, and potential impact on biodiversity conservation. I would ask them about their experience and relationship with the local farmers’ organization or NGO, whether they perceived the organizations as useful to them, disagreements with the NGO, and needs, for training, for example. Finally I would ask about patents on seed and plants, international trade in agriculture, and GM seed, whether they had tried them, the results, use of water and inputs with such seed, and how that would differ from cultivation of traditional seed. In the focus group interviews I would ask the participants to describe their community in terms of connection to farmland and agricultural activities, their level of participation in local farmers’ organizations, and what challenges they experienced and how they confronted these; and how and to what extent these issues were addressed by the state, the local government, or their local organizations. We would discuss the level of cooperation among farmers, and I would ask them to evaluate the role of the organizations in their area, and what motivated farmers to work with these. Interviewing the organization staff or the coordinators, I would focus on their work with the organization, what had motivated them to join this work, and the challenges they experienced. I would ask them to describe the community they worked for including its
  41. 41. 27 attitude toward the organization’s program and assistance. I also inquired about how many people their organization reached, and relationships with other farmers’ organizations, and the state and local government. Finally I would ask them to evaluate the success of their organization, and their views on the future of farmers’ organizations and small farmers in India. All of the interviews were digitally recorded. Most of the interviews were between 45 minutes and an hour in length. However, a few of the interviews were relatively short, ten to 20 minutes, if it turned out that the participant did not have much to say, while other interviews lasted for one and a half hours or more. In some cases, I would do two interviews with the same person on different days. All the interviews were translated into English, and transcribed, by two of the translators I worked with in India, and the brother of one of them who works as a teacher. Ethical Issues In some regions of India converting to organic agriculture is controversial. If a farmer stops buying seed offered in the local shop, for example, it might exclude him or her from buying anything on credit, or receiving loans for other purposes. Some farmers said they had been laughed at by other farmers, or considered the “crazy” farmer of the village, when they first starting converting to organic farming, or even talking about it. I did not, of course, want to add difficulty to any farmer’s life, and when I encountered farmers who were in a controversial or challenging position in the village, I always discussed with them potential positive or negative aspects of their participation in the study, before doing a recorded interview or taking a photograph. I did have a consent
  42. 42. 28 form for them to read, sign, and keep a copy of. Since some of the participants were not able to read English, the IRB agreed that, in such instances, I could have a consent- discussion with the participant, using a translator, and then get their oral consent instead of a signature prior to conducting an interview. All the farmers I approached were happy to talk to me about their experience though, and nobody declined to do an interview. They seemed glad that I took interest in their work and situation. Most of the names of persons are pseudonyms, except for some of the people working in the farmers’ organizations who agreed that I use their names. People were also eager that I take pictures of their farm, their produce, and themselves, and gave me permission to use these. I therefore have pictures of all the farmers and other people I interviewed, in addition to many more I met, and countless children who enjoyed looking at themselves afterwards in the digital camera. Some female farmers in Tamil Nadu commented, while laughing, during a focus group, that they had never had so many visitors to their village interested in agricultural questions, as after they had converted to organic agriculture, and they said they found that a pleasant and unexpected side effect. Sometimes people working with farmers’ organizations would be very frank with me about negative as well as positive aspects of their organizations. One of them emphasized that I not use all he said, because he was afraid it would harm “the cause.” I will avoid “internal” organizational matters, because that is not my focus here, and rather try to portray the situation of the farmers.
  43. 43. 29 Organization and Selection of States I kept in contact with Navdanya after my initial visit, and we discussed potential field sites. I realized that I wanted to include places where Navdanya was not present and the decisions to include Punjab, and Tamil Nadu were mine. I was encouraged to visit Navdanya villages in several other states, but since traveling is time-consuming, and I wanted to stay for a few months in each state, I limited myself to four states. I had two “main” field sites in each state, and spent roughly half of the time allocated to that state in each place. I say “main” sites, because I also talked to people I met while traveling, and on several occasions we would stay a day or more at a farm on the way to the next site, and I would sometimes use the opportunity to do an interview or at least talk informally with the farmers, and look around while there. The order in which I traveled to the different states was arranged ahead of time, but plans changed due to availability of translators to travel with, presence of coordinators in the villages, and other situational factors. I started in Punjab, the breadbasket of India and the cradle of the GR, and I also returned there over a year later, at the end of the fieldwork. From Punjab I traveled to Uttarakhand, where I stayed long periods at Bija Vidyapeeth because of all the activity there, and the ease with which I could visit other farms nearby. The second field site in Uttarakhand was high up in the hills, at the entrance to the Himalayas, and a few villages we visited on the way going there. I returned several times during the two-year period to Uttarakhand, where I studied Hindi in Mussoorie during the first year, a beautiful hill- station with spectacular views of the mountains. After Uttarakhand, I flew to Kolkata, in West Bengal, but while travelling experienced a general strike there due to the unrest concerning Special Economic Zones (SEZ). The state government in West Bengal was
  44. 44. 30 involved in distributing farmland for industrial development, and there were protests and discussions regarding prices paid to the farmers for the land, and other issues. No one could leave the airport, and there was no transportation into town; I was able to get another flight going further south to Tamil Nadu, and therefore changed the order in which I visited these two states. I was able to go to West Bengal the following year, for three months during the spring, before I again returned to Tamil Nadu, and Punjab, later that year. I spent some time in urban settings as well, when I visited the offices of Navdanya in Delhi, Development Research Communication and Services Centre (CDRCS) in Kolkata, and Center for Indigenous Knowledge Systems (CIKS) in Chennai. The four states where I did fieldwork not only differ in terms of landscapes and agro- ecological zones, but also in language and traditions. They have quite different cultural and political histories as well as place in India’s political economy. In Punjab, the farmers have landholdings three times the size of the national average and are much more mechanized. They therefore have a very different relationship to credit and subsidies from that of farmers in many of the other states and small farmers are a minority there. Uttarakhand, on the other hand, is a relatively new state, separated from Uttar Pradesh in 2000, where small farmers abound. West Bengal and Tamil Nadu both have greater diversity in their agricultural economies. Given this complexity, and the fact that I cooperated with a number of farmers’ organizations, each with their way of working with the communities, I made the decision to present in detail here two of the four states I visited; Punjab and Uttarakhand, and therein two of the six organizations I cooperated with; Kheti Virasat and Navdanya. In terms of conversion to organic agriculture—the farmers’ attitudes towards this and the barriers they encountered—the trend was the same
  45. 45. 31 in all four states. The farmers are positive towards conversion, but most small farmers feel that there is a need for support for the first few years of conversion, if not always economic, at least in terms of practical education in the alternative methods, and help in producing inputs and acquiring seed. Punjab and Uttarakhand are very different in many aspects and therefore allows for a comprehensive presentation of the variations existing in the ecological environment, farming practices, as well as in socio-economic structures, and the contrasting of these. I also think the presentation of my findings will be clearer when discussing two, instead of all fours states here, especially because comparing the work of six organizations in one act could easily become repetitive. I will therefore present the work from Tamil Nadu and West Bengal separately elsewhere. The remainder of the dissertation therefore proceeds as follows: Chapter Two provides a brief review of the history of agriculture in India. Agriculture has been practiced on the Indian subcontinent for thousands of years, and the Indus Valley civilization was one of the pristine states. The colonial period saw radical changes in land and agricultural matters, and the purpose of this chapter is to show briefly the background for much of the state of agriculture in India today. In Chapter Three, I focus on the place where my fieldwork started, in Punjab. In Post-Independence India agriculture was modernized, and in the mid–1960s the GR was introduced in Punjab and in neighboring Haryana and the western parts of Uttar Pradesh, of which Uttarakhand was carved out. It later spread to other states, to varying extent. While it started with imported seed, India soon began its own GR production of plant breeding, and agrochemical production. Punjab is a state of large, mechanized,
  46. 46. 32 conventional farms, and many farmers explained the viewpoints of those who do not convert to organic practices, for various reasons, such as the struggle with cost of conversion and of certification and not least political and structural constraints. This chapter shows evidence of the lack of sustainability of conventional farming, at the individual farmer level, as well as on the larger environmental level. Chapter Four continues in Uttarakhand, also in the north, east of Punjab, and a self- declared “organic” state. Many social movements and NGOs started their work here, concerned with forest use, dam constructions, and the new agricultural paradigm. I focus on Navdanya, and peasant activism, in this chapter, and some of Navdanya’s main issues, such as farmer control over seed and food sovereignty. In Chapter Five, I compare and contrast Punjab and Uttarakhand in terms of their particular conditions, and social and ecological environments. I discuss the impact of social movements such as Kheti Virasat in Punjab, and Navdanya in Uttarakhand. I address the questions: Are these social movements able to help empower small farmers and create social change? In this chapter I also discuss the critiques against the new social movements, mentioned above, and relate these to my findings. Chapter Six, the final chapter, draws together the threads of my work; reviews key findings, and presents thoughts about the future of agriculture and small farmers in India. As part of this discussion, I review the significance of my findings in a world of rapid globalization and growing food insecurity.
  47. 47. 33 CHAPTER TWO: HISTORICAL BACKGROUND Early Agriculture Agriculture is an inseparable part of India’s history, as it has been adapted to its different ecological regions for thousands of years. People are thought to have settled down to an agricultural way of life around the middle of the sixth millennium B.C.E. in the foothills of Sindh and Baluchistan, in today’s Pakistan, and there is evidence of the adoption of agriculture and domestication of animals by the Harappan culture along the Indus River, (which gave its name to India). The Harappan culture developed around 3000 B.C.E. and had a broad agricultural production based on wheat and rice, a diversity of fruits and vegetables, and cotton, which was woven and dyed for cloth (Fuller and Madella 2001; Kulke and Rothermund 2004; Vishnu-Mittre 1974). After centuries of stability, the Harappan culture declined around 1600 B.C.E., arguably due to flooding, causing soil salinity and subsequent desertification, but elements of this tradition were inherited by later cultures (Heitzman and Worden 1995; Kulke and Rothermund 2004). During the first centuries of settled agriculture, division of labor became increasingly sophisticated, and a hierarchical system that subordinated people into different caste groups developed. These castes later became hereditary, as Vedic “religion” gradually evolved into Hinduism between the sixth and second centuries B.C.E., and still exists in urban, and to a larger extent in rural India today (Leach 1990; Robb 2002), where untouchability, although now an illegal custom, persists to distress the lives of millions of people (Shah, et al. 2006). Already in the Upanishad and Brahmana texts, reference is made to wealthy men, villages and food grains, and it is believed that agriculture came to
  48. 48. 34 be regarded as the foundation for Indian society from about 600–300 B.C.E., and it likely had much deeper and older roots than that. Land control and water management consequently became important and enduring parts of social and political organization, and are still often at the center of controversy and conflict (Heitzman and Worden 1995; Robb 2002). Throughout the centuries various principles of land use and ownership have existed; one of the first written sources is found in Arthashastra, from around 250 B.C.E., authored by Kautilya, a minister in the Mauryan Empire (326–184 B.C.E.) (Heitzman and Worden 1995; Kulke and Rothermund 2004). Arguing that royal protection of agriculture is needed, Kautilya wrote: “He (the King) should allot to taxpayers arable fields for life. Unarable fields should not be taken away from those who are making them arable. He should take away fields from those who do not till them and give them to others” (Shiva and Holla Bhar 2001a:110). During the classical age (C.E. 320–550) of the Gupta Empire, agrarian conditions were documented and land taxes were introduced. Under the changing rulers the cultivators who farmed the land could own it, and taxes ranged from one-tenth to one-fourth of the produce. Prices of grain were at times fixed through regulations, allowing them to be within reach of the poorest groups of society during periods of scarcity. Agriculture improved over time as a result of new canal construction and irrigation methods, but methods of tax collection often exploited the peasantry. There were disasters when tax rates were too high, and no provisions had been made to make food available. Peasants have risen up on many occasions during the centuries (Heitzman and Worden 1995; Kulke and Rothermund 2004; Shiva and Holla Bhar 2001a; Stokes 1986),
  49. 49. 35 but while the peasantry has played revolutionary roles in various parts of the world (e.g. China, Vietnam), it has never reached that point in India. Empires Built on Agriculture In the sixteenth century, the Mughals built South Asia’s first empire based on agrarian taxation. At that time the revenue demands varied from one-third to one-half of the crop, and were stipulated according to regional customs of crop growing and soil conditions. The Mughal emperors transferred the responsibility of collecting the revenue to land-holding zamindars, who were able to keep a portion as their salary. Overall, during the Mughal period, the financial situation of peasants deteriorated; there were very few if any improvements to social structure, instead there was a general decline in cultivation during parts of the Mughal period as many peasants fled agriculture. The Mughal’s dependence on land revenue collected through dominant Hindu zamindars and village leaders, whose self-interest was not the same as that of the empire, was the beginning of the breakup of one empire, only soon to be replaced by another imposed by the British (Heitzman and Worden 1995; Kulke and Rothermund 2004; Robb 2002). Agriculture and the peasants were to suffer to an even larger extent during British rule. Colonization With arrogant authority, the British introduced harsher taxes and appropriated communal land, the fallows and the forests. These vast areas that the new government called “wasteland,” had been part of the foundation for agriculture in India, as an important source of fodder and fuel. Through control of the land the British colonialists
  50. 50. 36 controlled the economy, destabilized village resource management institutions, and subverted the country’s social process. Rather than creating a positive impact in India through Western intellectual or technological innovations, the British added to the consolidation of feudalism. The revenue was not invested in domestic economic development, or industrialization (as occurred in European feudalist states to some extent), but was shipped back to Britain, or used to expand the Empire (Agarwal 1998; Sethi 2006). The degree of impoverishment from increased taxation soon became evident, as the first of many tragic famines during the era of the British struck in the Bengal Presidency in 1769–70, after months of drought. The price of rice increased, and resulted in a famine that took the lives of one-third of the population—total of nearly ten million peasants in one year (Greenough 1983:265)—in what had been fertile and abundant provinces (Visaria and Visaria 1983:477). Rather than lessening the pressure on land revenue after this disaster, the British governor-general from 1786–93, residing at the seat of British power in Calcutta, Charles Cornwallis, was worried about the consequences of the lack of income, and made an agreement with Bengali zamindars in a Permanent Settlement system, which allowed the zamindars to continue residing on their large estates in exchange for efficiently collecting taxes for the British (Heitzman and Worden 1995; Sethi 2006). Revenue and Landownership Under British rule, peasants were completely powerless when trying to claim their traditional land-use rights; centuries old landownership arrangements concerning the land
  51. 51. 37 they lived and worked on. For the vast majority of peasants and tribal groups, the historical land-tenure system of their communities was delegitimized and replaced by the institution of private property. The land became the legal possessions of the zamindars, or landlords, in bargains facilitated by the British. The landlords could then develop their added acreage for cash crop plantations or other projects as they saw fit for the best possible economic outcome from the land and the cultivators (Heitzman and Worden 1995; Sethi 2006; Shiva and Holla Bhar 2001b; Whitcombe 1972). The zamindari system later became the template for colonially imposed feudalism in large parts of northern India, while in the south, a system called ryotwari, was often used, in which the peasants paid their taxes directly to the government. In the northern areas, the zamindars routinely acted as the moneylender for the tenant farmers, who sometimes had to borrow to pay their taxes. Often, unable to even keep up paying the huge interests on their debt, an initially small amount could go on to haunt their children to continue the toil, even after the death of their parents (Heitzman and Worden 1995; Sen and Deb 2001; Shiva and Holla Bhar 2001b). Illiteracy The British added force to the caste and class discord in society, and their education policies increased the levels of literacy and education only among the urban elite, not the rural masses. English replaced Persian as the language of public administration and instruction after 1835, and this further increased the divide between the illiterate peasants and the rulers. Education of the farmers was left up to each landlord, but among the rural elite, education of the peasantry was not in their interest. Their fear was that teaching the
  52. 52. 38 peasants “the three Rs” (reading, writing and arithmetic), would open their eyes and they would learn to resist, a pattern also seen in American slavery (Guha 1983; Heitzman and Worden 1995). Many farmers looked upon writing as a symbol of dominance, which they often had felt through their own painful experience. Any landlord, judge, or lawyer, could rob them of their livelihood and property, or claim they had a bond that could keep a farmer and his family in servitude, by referring to official papers. For the peasant, writing was therefore frequently perceived as one of his oppressor’s mysterious weapons (Guha 1983). A similar view of the written word was put forward by Lévi-Strauss: The only phenomenon with which writing has always been concomitant is the creation of cities and empires, that is the integration of large numbers of individuals into a political system, and their grading into castes or classes . . . it seems to have favored the exploitation of human beings rather than their enlightenment . . . The use of writing for disinterested purposes, and as a source of intellectual and aesthetic pleasure, is a secondary result, and more often than not it may even be turned into a means of strengthening, justifying, and concealing the other. [Lévi-Strauss, 1974:299] During the colonial era there were many uprisings among the peasants, and virtually all of these were at least partially focused on destroying written evidence of peasants’ debts, rent rolls, bonds and deeds. Ranajit Guha (1983:52) calls this “the objectification of the peasants’ hatred of the written word.” Literacy in India is still very low in many of its states, and India has the largest illiterate population in the world. The last census from 2011 reveals a literacy rate of 74.0 percent: 82.1 for males and 65.5 for females. The state of Bihar has the lowest literacy rate at just 63.8 percent, 73.5 for males and 53.3 for females, while Kerala retains its top position with a 93.9 percent literacy rate. Kerala also occupies the top ranking both in male and female literacy with 96.0 and 92.0 percent respectively. The urban– rural divide is still extreme, with rural literacy rates as low as 34.8 percent for males and
  53. 53. 39 25.0 percent for females in the most disadvantaged districts. The states I worked in have average rural literacy rates of 72.5 percent in Punjab, 73.0 percent in West Bengal, 73.8 percent in Tamil Nadu, and 77.1 percent in Uttarakhand (India Census 2011). Lévi-Strauss observed during fieldwork in villages in East Pakistan in the early 1950s, an area that today is part of Bangladesh, how moneylenders also often held the roles as the local scribes, giving them a sway over the peasant that they knew how to take advantage of. Virtually everyone with a hold over the peasant during the last centuries, from officials to landowners, used writing as a method for operationalizing this power (Lévi-Strauss 1974). Unfortunately, with today’s continued low literacy levels in rural areas, this problem is still a reality in the villages. The illiterate farmers are unable to fully understand the calculation of interests, and may be manipulated by the local supplier of seed and fertilizers when their harvest is sold. Agriculture Suffers Despite subjugating the cultivators and appropriating their land, the British did not take much interest in changing the agricultural methods or investing resources in order to increase the food production. Peter Robb argues that “the crops and methods of production in ancient India would have seemed broadly familiar to the early nineteenth- century observer, except for the introduction by that time of the New World crops such as the tomato, chili and potato” (Robb 2002:47). The focus was instead on increasing production of cash crops for exports, and this meant that subsistence crops increasingly were cultivated in less fertile areas, contributing to scarcity and increasing prices (Robb 2002). Although there is no evidence indicating that pre-modern cultivators invariably
  54. 54. 40 exercised wise restraint in their use of resources (Sivaramakrishnan 2009), many traditional and ecologically sound harvesting and management systems were changed during this process, and scarcity of water and manure became apparent (Shiva 1992). The commercial endeavor of the new government exploited Indian production on many fronts. During the Mughals, Indian textiles were renowned, and sold on national and international markets. The British introduced heavy taxation not only in agriculture, but also in the Indian textile- and other industries. The domestic industry became unable to compete with the textiles produced from Indian raw materials in Britain’s mills. Thousands of factory workers lost their jobs because of this, and increasing numbers had to subsist on agriculture (Heitzman and Worden 1995). A “deindustrialization” occurred within many production areas, and even if there had been landless laborers in India for centuries and the social structure was certainly already one of inequality—with oppressive caste and class divisions afflicting the poor, the lower castes, and women worst—all these aspects of society were aggravated under colonialism (Agarwal 1998; Kumar and Desai 1983). Canals, Famines, and Malaria In the 1850s, the railroad and telegraph were introduced in Bengal, and this work was then continued to connect the colonial capital, Calcutta, with other cities. The forests were cut down in vast areas, used to build ships and railways, and for construction and fuel, often causing significant ecological degradation. One example of this took place on the fertile Doab plains between Ganges and Yamuna rivers in North India two decades
  55. 55. 41 earlier. Deforestation destroyed the natural resource base and caused drought, and indirectly the famine of 1837–38. To prevent another disaster like the drought in the Doab region and to be able to effectively continue revenue collection, the British invested heavily in canal construction from the Ganges and Jamuna rivers in the 1870s, partially renewing canals built by the Mughals, but also adding many new lines and distributaries. The canal system destroyed the well-irrigation system, which had served the production of semi-dry millets and pulses—the staple crops—and instead encouraged the production of wheat, sugarcane, indigo and opium. The price of water was doubled after the renovations, and producing cash crops aided in paying increased revenue for the irrigated lands. This displacement of staple crops contributed to the famine of 1877, when drought struck again, and the canal-irrigated land was used to grow cotton, indigo, and sugarcane (Whitcombe 1972). Unfortunately, a developmental theme emerged as what was intended as sincere attempts at developing infrastructure and improving production conditions, instead often caused ecological adversity, followed by increased social suffering. The canals brought changes in the environment that the cultivators did not have resources or knowledge to adapt to. Swamping created breeding places for mosquitoes carrying malaria, which reached an alarming extent during the 1870s throughout the canal irrigated areas including Punjab. Road and railway embankments also caused water logging, and added more of the same negative consequences that the canals had created. This way, artificial irrigation and improved means of communications meant to reduce the destruction and the often high numbers of victims after erratic monsoons, instead caused deadly diseases to flourish and spread (Visaria and
  56. 56. 42 Visaria 1983). In 1936, endemic malaria was estimated to have an annual mortality of two million people, and a many times higher morbidity rate (Whitcombe 1995). Between the two World Wars, India suffered economically, as did most countries involved in the worldwide recession, the following depression, and the disruption of international shipping caused by the wars. The last full-scale famine in India was the Bengal Famine in 1943, when an estimated three million people died, and poor rural women were amongst the hardest affected (Agarwal 1990). There are several theories as to the cause of this famine: interference of the wholesale rice market (Greenough 1983), continued export of food grains, and lack of food distribution by the British government, along with accumulation among the rich, are among these. There was not a lack of rice per se, but the price was too high for starving people to buy it. Many of those were from rural areas, moving into cities to get help, but often succumbing along the roads (Sen 2004). The difficult situation in agriculture and food production during the first part of the 20th century was not going to improve soon, with independence, and simultaneously a partition of the country. Independence and Partition The partition of Punjab province in the west and of Bengal province in the east, contributed to a crisis in the food production after independence. Punjab was the country’s most fertile, naturally irrigated agricultural area, and Bengal had been among the most fertile areas before the British rule, but was now impoverished after almost two centuries of revenue extraction. The dislocation of over 12 million people during partition, which devastated the Sikh community in Punjab and caused loss of life in the
  57. 57. 43 hundreds of thousands among all religious communities, created lasting hostilities and political disputes that still rank among the top of India’s security issues (Shiva 1992). At independence, India had a semi-feudal agrarian system, with the control and ownership of the land in the hands of a relatively small number of landlords and intermediaries. The cash crop production and long-distance trade, developed primarily under colonialism, continued after independence. While this had enriched many among the Indian elite, in addition to the British, it had damaged the lives of the vast majority of the population (Robb 2002). In this system of inequality and oppression, excessive rent and uncertainty surrounding tenure, there was no economic incentive for tenant farmers or sharecroppers to try to improve cultivation methods or the soil, to increase cultivation. Agricultural production stagnated, and the repression of the tenants caused increasingly depressing conditions (Sethi 2006). Land Reform? In the years after independence, several five-year plans initiated by the central government included land reforms; targeting the elimination of intermediaries, protection for those who rented land, and limits on the size of landholdings. While certain changes were implemented in some districts, and in a few states, most of these plans were never carried out. A considerable share of land therefore remains with the large landowners, which in the Indian context means five acres of land or larger, and these constitute less than three percent of the landowners (Rawal 2008:46). There is substantial variation from state to state in terms of inequality in ownership holdings. Punjab and Tamil Nadu have the largest inequalities in landownership, and Tamil Nadu also has the highest level
  58. 58. 44 of landlessness. Most of the large landowners are found in Punjab, followed second by neighboring Haryana, formerly a part of Punjab. The three states where significant land reforms have taken place are Kerala, Tripura, and West Bengal, and in these states large landholdings occupy only minor land areas (Rawal 2008:47). Kerala is a successful exception in terms of literacy, land reforms, and healthcare, and also has the highest life expectancy in India; 74.7 years, well above the country’s average of 63.6 years (India Census 2011). On the whole, inequalities in India have not diminished, but rather amplified in the years since independence. The landholdings among the most affluent ten percent of the population are larger now than six decades ago; about 15 million acres are part of holdings of 20 acres or more. In 1951, 82.7 percent of the population was rural, while in 2001 that had been reduced to 72.2 percent, and the class structure and landownership within the rural populations changed even more. Whereas 71.9 percent of the rural population was farmers and 28.1 percent landless agricultural laborers in 1951, the proportion of farmers had been reduced to 54.4 percent, and that of landless laborers had increased to 45.6 percent, by 2001. This is a large rise in a very vulnerable and uprooted part of the population, often without any representation, and landlessness continues to increase with roughly half a percent every year (Herring and Agarwala 2006; Rawal 2008:47). These figures indicate that there is room for land reforms in several states, but the farmer lobby and the rural landholding class of today is no more likely than their predecessors to agree to redistribution of land if they experience it as a “loss” of property. In addition, increased agricultural exports have created a new group of middle-income farmers with newly required status and economic influence that they are not willing to
  59. 59. 45 share with the less fortunate. Land reforms have largely been left aside by the government and the urban, educated elite, who are the decision makers. Their new focus is on “liberalization, privatization, and globalization” (LPG) (Sethi 2006:74), where land is investment, infrastructure, and housing for the privileged. Land as a basis of livelihood such as subsistence farming is struggling in this battle. Agriculture’s part of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has dropped in recent years, but almost 58 percent of India’s population still depends on agriculture for their livelihood, and the larger part of these (nearly 63 percent) are peasants, with tiny holdings; less than one acre in size (Sethi 2006:75). Continued Marginalization of Agriculture In the last couple of centuries, agrarian life has played an important part in the formation of nation-states in many parts of the world. People of the countryside often are part of the “origin myth” of many nations’ rural-based, national identity. This image of a national rural identity also exists in India, but many people living in urban areas today are very detached from, and often simply disinterested in the problematic reality of poor rural dwellers or small farmers, land reform policies, or how the use of land in rural areas is connected to the wider economy (Sethi 2006). The image of a romantic countryside has unfortunately not contributed to improving the life of rural populations. At independence, the new government of the Congress Party had extensive plans of eradicating poverty, in the spirit of Gandhism, and of creating economic progress and development. Nehru was, despite what is called “Nehru socialism,” more like his predecessors and not in favor of allowing just anybody to participate in governance, but
  60. 60. 46 saw that as the responsibility of the privileged. His government continued the trend of the British, who had focused on developing the cities and educating the urban elites during their rule. These policies marginalized the villages and agriculture, while the brunt of investment was in industry. It was assumed that the majority of the country’s population could carry on in a traditional lifestyle and produce inexpensive food and raw materials, without even basic infrastructure or proper education in the rural areas (Omvedt 2005; Sethi 2006). Political Background of the Green Revolution In the political climate of the 1950s, the United States was wary of India’s ties with Russia, and feared a move towards communism. Given the impoverished situation after independence and the conflicts after partition, India was in need of food, and the United States could provide food aid. In China, land reform was implemented after the Chinese revolution, and this had increased their agricultural production. Nehru proposed to the Indian parliament that they could try out a cooperative land management system in India, between the landowners and the tenant farmers, but this never caught on among the landowners or their representatives. Even if the vast majority of the country’s population was in favor of land reforms, the government did not dare oppose the politically powerful landowners or urban upper classes. The food aid from the United States did not encourage increased food production domestically. Indian farmers were in no position to compete with the American subsidized wheat, and Indian investments were still focused on urban industrialization, not rural development. During the 1960s domestic production