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
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.
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
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
Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
University of Connecticut
Doctor of Philosophy Dissertation
Empowering Small Farmers in India through Organic Agriculture
and Biodiversity Conservation
Anna Marie Nicolaysen, B.A., M.A.
Major Advisor __________________________________________
Associate Advisor ________________________________________
Associate Advisor ________________________________________
University of Connecticut
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
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.
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.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Title ...…...……………………………………………………………………………...… i
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
Global Warming and Farming 8
False Solutions 10
Gender Inequality and Health 14
Motivation for this Study 16
Getting Access to the Farmers 22
Ethical Issues 27
Organization and Selection of States 29
CHAPTER TWO: HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 33
Early Agriculture 33
Empires Built on Agriculture 35
Revenue and Landownership 36
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
CHAPTER THREE: PUNJAB 55
The Green Revolution and its Discontents 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
CHAPTER FOUR: UTTARAKHAND 111
Mountain Agriculture and Agroforestry 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
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
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
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
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
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
Ryotwari Tax system where peasants pay tax directly to the government
Quintal 1 quintal = 100 kilogram
Rs. Rupees (Rs. 50.00 ≈ $1.00)
MAP OF INDIA
The four fieldwork states: Punjab, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
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
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.
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
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
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
(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
of agriculture not as farming, but as a dangerous and consuming beast of a social system”
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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,
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.,
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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,
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.
CHAPTER TWO: HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
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
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;
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),
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.
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
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;
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
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).
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
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
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
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
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
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
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
started to decline, and the food aid imports were increased, making India gradually more
dependent on these (Patel 2007).
In 1964, following Nehru’s death, there were food riots in several parts of the
country, as food became scarce. Nehru’s successor was Lal Bahadur Shastri, who was
critical of U.S. policy and U.S. bombing in Vietnam. The Johnson administration feared
this indicated a turn towards communism in India, and decided to change food aid to be
organized on a month-to-month basis, rather than on a yearly foundation, as it had been
until then. The Americans offered to continue food aid on a more stable basis again, and
also to assist with new agricultural technologies, if Shastri would demonstrate a more
agreeable attitude towards the U.S. foreign policy in Asia, and abandon Nehru’s ideas
about redistribution of land (Patel 2007; Perkins 1997). Other conditions for India
included signing an agreement to purchase fertilizers with foreign exchange, with the
amount spent on that to be used to determine the size of the Food for Peace deliveries, as
well as the loans from the USAID (Belair Jr. 1965). Private actors like the Rockefeller
and Ford foundations were also instrumental in preparing for future investments and
trade, as the agriculture of developing countries became tied into capitalist national
economies. During the five-year plan period from 1966–71, the Indian government
purchased GR related technology and inputs for about $2.8 billion, or about six times
what they had spent on agriculture in the previous five-year period (Brooks 2010; Sethi
2006:78). Seen against this background, the GR became a solution that would increase
food production and feed the poor, support U.S. business interests, and at the same time
the Indian Congress could avoid pursuing controversial social- and land reforms.
Several peasant organizations protested the argument of the government that the GR
was the only way out at the time. They felt that radical change in the agrarian structures
was necessary to challenge the tremendous social inequalities arising from unequal
access to means of production, in this case land. After fighting, often violently, for land
reforms for years, they saw the GR as a defeat to domestic and international conservative
forces. The GR was therefore perceived by many as a substitute for the red, and a
strategy specifically to avoid the need for land reforms and institutional change (Frankel
1971; Griffin 1989).
The Green Revolution
The GR was first introduced in the plains of the North West, in the states of Punjab,
Haryana, and the western parts of Uttar Pradesh in the mid–1960s. One reason for this
was that this area had a canal system connected to the rivers, and the constant access to
irrigation was necessary for this to work. Later electric tube-wells and pump systems
were constructed. Other assets of this region were that it was not as densely populated as
other states, the institutional framework was better developed, and the landholdings were
larger than anywhere else. The Indian state made credit, regulated markets, and
agricultural extension and research available, and improved a rural road system and
energy inputs. This way commercial agriculture was established, and the use of imported
High Yielding Variety (HYV) seed, farm machinery, pesticides and fertilizers began (Gill
1994; Sethi 2006). The previous low-cost, low-input agriculture was supplanted by a
capital- and chemical-intensive system, where the external inputs were produced with
fossil fuels, and the World Bank (WB) provided the credit required to make it work (Patel
2007; Sethi 2006). The new hybrid seed did produce a higher yield—under optimal
conditions with their required input—than the traditional varieties, but some have argued
that any seed variety would probably have produced a little more with equal amounts of
water, fertilizers and pesticides. While Punjab and Haryana experienced annual yield
growth rates of above eight and six percent, respectively, during the first decade of the
GR, from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s, the arid and semiarid central and southern regions
of the country had annual yield growth rates of just one, and 1.5 percent. The HYV
wheat and rice technology did not have the same progress under those conditions. In the
eastern region of the country, including Assam, Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal, the
annual yield growth rate was 1.4 percent during the first decade, but declined to 0.5
percent from the mid-1970s. Although not lacking in rain, this region is more densely
populated, deficient in infrastructure, and is fraught with annual flooding (Patel 2007;
Sharma and Poleman 1993; Shiva 1992).
The WB helped to subsidize the imports necessary for the GR, but at the same time
they negotiated import liberalization, removal of domestic price control on staple
products like milk and grains, and attractive terms for foreign investment in the growing
domestic fertilizer and seed industry. The Terai Seed Corporation, for example, received
a loan from the WB in 1969, of $13 million, and in the latter part of the 1970s, the
National Seed Projects obtained $41 million, for projects that would develop state
institutions that could provide the infrastructure necessary to support the growing
production of GR seed varieties. These projects were the beginnings of corporatization
and homogenization of agriculture in India. This shift entailed a turn away from
agriculture as a family matter and a way of life, with implications for the social and
ecological system it was situated within, towards an industry, or a science of food
production, with the more narrow production goal to maximize profits. After a fourth
loan in 1988, of $150 million to the seed sector, the WB recommended that India
privatize their seed industry. The new seed policy allowed multinational seed companies
like Cargill, Ciba Geigy, Continental, Hoechst, Monsanto and Sandoz, to freely enter the
Indian market, and today these large companies are present with mayor interests in the
Indian seed sector.
These developments were defended by pointing to the large growth in crop output at a
time when India was facing food shortage. After a few years the national food security
concerns were relieved and grains stored, but widespread hunger and malnutrition in rural
areas persisted. In this new scheme the farmers produce commodities for the global
market, rather than food for the local market (Sethi 2006).
Critique of the Green Revolution
About a decade into the GR, in the mid-1970s, criticism of the new production model
began to emerge as proof of detrimental environmental impacts and negative
socioeconomic consequences of the GR increased (Freebairn 1995; UNRISD 1975).
Only farmers who were able to receive credit could afford fertilizers and the resources
required to access irrigation. The need for rising levels of fertilizer to maintain the same
level of crop output caught many farmers in a vicious circle of soaring costs, leading to
poverty among a third of the region’s farmers in the 1980s and 1990s (UNDP 2004). The
level of debt among farmers in Punjab is nearly four times the national average. Many of
the small farmers who went bankrupt were forced to sell or lease their land to more
wealthy neighbors, or companies, who had the economic and technical resources, and this
has led to a steep reduction in smallholdings in Punjab (Brar and Gill 2001; Patel
2007:126), down 41 percent just between 1990 and 2000 (IFPRI 2007). Many argued
that this model had been intended, not primarily to assist the farmers or feed the poor, but
rather to produce cheap food for the urban consumer. This urban consumer may be
unaware of the environmental degradation, bankruptcy, and displacement in rural areas,
and how this relates to for example higher urban crime rates and social costs (Sethi
Norman Borlaug, the founding father of the GR, and many with him, have trivialized
the environmental consequences of the GR, and argue on the other side that the GR
preserved millions of hectares of forests and other wildlife habitat from being cultivated,
thanks to the increased production on existing farms (Borlaug 2000). That may be the
case, but this type of increased production cannot continue forever on the same land area.
The World Resources Institute (WRI) and others point out that about 8.5 million hectares
of agricultural land had been left infertile already by the early 1990s, from environmental
pollution and falling groundwater levels, leaving higher salt deposits in the soil (Byerlee
1992; Patel 2007; Shiva 1992; WRI 1994).
The majority of expenditures on GR technologies were invested in Punjab, which had
the most fertile land in India and the largest average farm size. The government
disregarded the marginalized majority of farmers with smaller pieces of land, living in
resource scarce regions and states with fewer resources. They constitute 75 percent of all
farmers in India, cultivating on just above 30 percent of the land (Patel 2007:128).
Agricultural Policies and Poverty
The trend from earlier years of focusing on urban areas continues in India today, and
there has even been a reduction in the government’s expenditure on rural development
from 14 percent to less than six percent from the late 1980s to 2000 (Patel 2007). These
funds are much needed in rural areas. Many irrigation systems are inadequately
maintained, there is lack of extension services in many districts, and the extremely poor
road system in many regions makes it very difficult, or sometimes impossible, for
farmers to efficiently access markets, especially with perishable produce. There is also
great need of storage facilities, especially cold storage. Grains have sometimes been lost;
rotting in humid storage conditions, or eaten by rodents. There are of course advances as
well, although some are due to changing ways of measuring improvement, rather than
real change on the ground, or in the lives of the people who work the land.
Based on government statistics, between the early 1970s and the early 1990s, the
number of poor people reported in India had seemingly declined from over half, to about
one-third of the population. Sadly, this shift did not indicate that important advances
were being made in poverty alleviation, but rather reflected a governmental change in the
official poverty line from 2,400 calories per day to 1,970 calories per day during that
same time-span. In 2000 this threshold was lowered even further, to 1,890 calories per
day, at which point just over one-quarter of the population was designated as poor. If the
calculations of how many people are living under the poverty line had used the 2,400
calorie intake level, the number of people living in poverty in India today would be 75
percent, and not about 27 percent, which is the official figure (Patel 2007:30).
During the 1990s, the average calorie intake actually went down among the poor, and
malnutrition became more widespread. As of 2007, at least 233 million Indians are
considered to be lacking in protein/calories and micronutrients. The hardest affected are
children, especially those below the age of three among whom 46 percent are suffering
malnutrition, compared for example to eight percent among the same population sector in
China (Patel 2007:128; Sen 2011). Despite these dire figures of poverty in rural areas,
the Indian government has continued the same model in agriculture for the last decades,
supported by international financial institutions like the WB, which has focused its main
activity in agricultural projects. Since the 1950s the WB has financed 130 agricultural
projects in India, with about $10.2 billion (Sethi 2006:80). Many of these projects are not
visible in rural areas, because they were invested in banking institutions and used to
finance industrial agriculture and the fertilizer industry. Other projects focused on
launching the new HYV seed, or constructing systems for extracting groundwater with
pumps driven by gas or electric power.
For some years after the GR, it seemed like India was on the way to obtaining food
security, with the new increased crop outputs, the government supported Minimum
Support Prices (MSG), subsidies for agricultural inputs, and a closed market. After
embracing liberalization; the imports of cheaper agricultural produce and the removal of
much of the agricultural subsidies for domestic agriculture, food security may be even
harder to ensure. If the Indian state does not see itself as having the central role in being
responsible for food security, but leaves this to market forces, it may explain the dramatic
and persisting level of malnutrition. It is not promising for increased access to food for
the majority of poor Indians in the near future (Sethi 2006).
As mentioned in chapter one, several organizations and hundreds of thousands of
farmers are not willing, or able, to continue with a business model of agricultural
production. They have for some years tried more sustainable ways of producing food,
both for nature and for the small farmers. In the following two chapters I will look at the
situation for a number of these farmers, and also for several of those who continue with
GR production patterns, starting in Punjab.
CHAPTER THREE: PUNJAB
The Green Revolution and its Discontents
In this and the following chapter I discuss the main themes identified in the
introduction as they pertain to each state. For Punjab, these include non-sustainable
agriculture; the environmental consequences for soil, water, and air, implications for
agriculture; loss of biodiversity, a new seed regime, effects on human health, and finally
economic and social implications; inequality, indebtedness, suicide. Then I proceed to
talk about sustainable agriculture: farmers’ organizations with an alternative to
agribusiness, training of farmers, conversion to organic agriculture, barriers to
conversion; economical, practical, and psychosocial, changes after conversion;
environmental, economic, and lastly continued challenges; marketing, certification, seed
saving and biodiversity conservation.
I start with a short description of the state before I continue with the above-mentioned
topics. Some issues will be discussed more in this chapter and less in the next, because
of inter-state variation. For example: the GR is emphasized in this chapter about Punjab,
because the farmers who I interviewed in this state are more involved in industrial
agriculture than most of the farmers living in Uttarakhand, and especially in the mountain
regions of Uttarakhand I visited.
Punjab is the state known for being the breadbasket of India, and an example of how
the GR and industrialized agriculture greatly increased the yield of grains. It is also an
illustration of how this pattern of production, supported by large subsidies, led to
development of infrastructure and increased wealth among some, but at the same time
environmental degradation and serious negative health consequences for many in the
population. The amounts of water and costs of inputs currently required to continue with
these methods make it unsustainable, and some farmers are trying out alternative ways of
Located in the northwestern part of India, Punjab was first divided under the dramatic
partition after independence, and then again in 1966, under the Punjab Reorganization
Act, which separated the southern, Hindi-speaking part of the state into Haryana, while
the hill areas in the northeast became part of Himachal Pradesh. With the 50,362 square
kilometers left, the state is now similar in size to Costa Rica, and the smallest of the four
states in which I did fieldwork. Punjab (meaning, five rivers), is divided into three agro-
ecological zones: the sub-mountainous region of Kandi in the northeast, with abundant
rainfall and more diverse cropping patterns than the other two zones, comprises
agricultural production that emphasizes production of fruits, vegetables, corn, and
oilseed, in addition to rice and wheat. The central region includes the districts of
Amritsar, Jalandhar, and Patiala, where rice-wheat rotation is the main cropping system
and irrigation depends mainly on tube-wells that tap underground water. The
southwestern region which includes the districts of Bathinda and Faridkot, among others,
is often called the cotton belt, although farmers there also grow other crops. It is drier
than the other two zones, with sandy soils. During my fieldwork I visited the three
districts in the central region mentioned above, Patiala in the southeast, Jalandhar further
north, and Amritsar in the northwest. In the cotton belt, I visited Faridkot and Bathinda,
both in the semi-arid southwest.
The division of the state in 1966 mentioned above was largely due to Sikhs’ wish for
a separate state, which they had failed to obtain after independence. Sikhism is the main
faith in Punjab with 60 percent of the population adhering to it, while 37 percent practice
Hinduism. About 66 percent of the population lives in rural areas and 70 percent are
engaged in agriculture, which contributes to almost 40 percent of the state’s GDP,
compared to 20 percent at the national level. Punjab comprises just 1.6 percent of India’s
land area and three percent of its cultivated area, but contributes ten percent of the
national rice production, and 20 percent of the wheat production, the two major crops
grown in three-quarters of the cultivated area. Eighty five percent of the state’s area is
used for agriculture, and 97 percent of this farmland is irrigated (Punjabgovt 2011;
Tiwana, et al. 2007).
Farmers in Punjab have a much larger average landholding than farmers in the other
three states I visited. The average holding in Punjab is about ten acres compared to the
national average of about 3.5 acres, and many farmers hire agricultural laborers to do
manual work on their farms (Indiastat 2011). Most Sikhs are of the Jat, or landowning
caste, and will do any work on their own farm, but will not work for others, because that
would mean a decline in social status. They can help a fellow farmer, but will not accept
payment for such work; hence most agricultural labor comes from out of state.
Immigrant laborers, often of the scheduled castes1
, who come from poorer states with
high unemployment like Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, and neighboring Rajasthan, now
make up 15–30 percent of a total population of about 27.7 million people (India Census
Punjab lost its position as the state with the highest per capita income to Maharashtra
and Delhi in 2000–01, a rank it had held for four decades. Today, 64.5 percent of its
farmer households are in debt. While high levels of debt are found in several other states,
including Andhra Pradesh at 82 percent and Tamil Nadu at 74.5 percent, the individual
Punjabi farmer’s debt is much higher than in these two other states (IFPRI 2007). The
average amount of debt per household in Punjab is Rs. 41,576 compared to the national
average of Rs. 12,585, which contributes to the large number of farmer suicides, which I
will discuss below under economic and social implications (Tiwana, et al. 2007). While
in many Indian states women play a central role in agricultural work, Punjabi women are
hardly visible in the agricultural fields. This practice has increased with the
modernization of agriculture, and with higher income and status women were withdrawn
to the domestic sphere. Gender segregation in the public as well as the domestic sphere
is stark today, and on the Sikh farms and in the villages I observed, women spent most of
the day separated from men including at meals2
As discussed in the previous chapter, Punjab was at the center of the GR, and over
four decades after its introduction many older farmers that I spoke with remembered their
The “scheduled castes” is the legal and constitutional name collectively given to the groups that have
traditionally occupied the lowest status in Indian society. Not a homogenous group but divided into many
castes and sub-castes, specific caste names are more likely to be used locally at an everyday level. Another
term used in official Indian terminology is harijan, while members often call themselves dalit.
The state has a skewed sex ratio, with 893 female per 1000 men, compared to the Indian average of 940
females per 1000 men. Kerala, which has the highest levels of literacy and life expectancy, is also the only
state with a “natural” sex ratio at birth of 1,084 females per 1000 men (Census 2011).
former agricultural practices and the changes that came with the GR. Some spoke of the
time before the GR with nostalgia, while others argued that intensified production had
brought higher income, mechanization, and other benefits. Many talked about the
environmental problems they experienced in terms of depleted soil, low water tables, and
polluted rivers. Several were also worried about health effects after decades of applying
chemical fertilizers and pesticides in large amounts. There are increasing rates of cancer
in a number of villages, in addition to other serious health problems.
The landscapes I visited in the Patiala district consist mostly of plains, and the
farmers have leveled their fields further for rice production. There are some trees lining a
few of the fields, but little is left of forest that once covered much larger areas before they
expanded farming here in the 1950s and 60s. After cutting down the trees, farmers
plowed and sowed pulses, wheat, and mustard. As Akalpreet, a farmer with ten acres
(and therefore would be classified as a large farmer) explained while he showed me
around on his farm, “we used to just scatter the seed and they grew without much effort.
In those days we did not need any artificial booster; the land itself used to give us a good
harvest. We kept the strength of the land by leaving the fields fallow for one season.”
Akalpreet is a former leader of the Panchayat (village council), and knows most of the
farmers in the area. I asked him if he could invite some of them to come and talk about
farming, and the following Sunday morning at least thirty farmers appeared for a focus
group meeting. They were mostly small farmers and were very interested in discussing
farming with a visitor. One elderly man commented, “We are not able to travel around in
India to see the conditions of other farmers, like some are, we are just barely able to feed
We started talking about the period prior to the GR, and one farmer sitting in front
said, “All of us are experienced, there is no way we forget that farming. We used to put
cow dung, compost, and green manure;3
everything was natural and its effect remained
for three years, and the crops were very good.” Several mentioned leaving the land
fallow, for six months or a year, and one added that in those days farming did not have
the pressure of feeding so many people. Increasing the food production and feeding the
poor was, of course, part of the idea behind introducing the new seed and farming
methods, while, as mentioned in the previous chapter, at the same time the Indian
government avoided other more controversial social- and land reforms, and the industries
producing the various inputs now needed, embarked on what was for them a
The Department of Agriculture and the agriculture universities introduced the new
seed: hybrid High Yielding Varieties (HYV), as well as new farm machinery, fertilizers,
and pesticides in the early 1960s. One farmer told me, “our indigenous wheat seed were
low yielding so the university brought new varieties of wheat from Mexico and other
places where wheat was grown. They experimented and invented HYV, which they
prescribed, saying that if you grow this variety it will give more yield.” More land was
cleared for agriculture, and the farmers were asked to grow rice, a crop that would require
increased use of water (IFPRI 2007). They started to grow wheat and rice alternatively,
two crops in one year; wheat in the winter, rice in the summer. The fields they earlier
had left fallow were now cultivated in both seasons, year after year. Some even
Green manure is a traditional way to supply nutrients to the soil and improve soil fertility. Often a
nitrogen-fixing legume crop, e.g. cowpea, mungbean, or clover is grown in a field, then cut and
incorporated into the soil, or left on the surface to decompose.
increased to three crops per year in the same field, one wheat crop, and two rice crops,
because one of the new rice varieties could be harvested after just 60 days. Explained
one farmer, “We began to use more and more urea [nitrogen] and chemicals with those
seed, so that the crop would give more yield. We started to misuse it.” There were
increased pest attacks on the new rice varieties grown outside the traditional cropping
season, and without considerable chemical use it became difficult to get rid of those
problems. Gradually, in the view of many farmers, the jan (life) of the soil was lost, as
the use of chemicals increased.
Balraj, Akalpreet’s 93 years old father, like many others was initially positive about
the new inputs. “When we were young we were using natural fertilizers along with the
cow dung, but when we started using chemical fertilizers we began to get more yield.
Everywhere I would see there was urea, and we were getting a good profit by using it.
We began to add a lot of water, and more water gave more wheat.” They used to have
animals work the soil, but as more land was cultivated they started to use tractors,
because “it became very difficult to cultivate in large fields, the tractors could do
everything and slowly people forgot the old ways.” Now Punjab has a tractor density of
106 (per thousand hectares of net sown area) compared to a national average of 22. In
other words; 1.8 percent of India’s cultivators operate 14.6 percent of the country’s
tractors (IFPRI 2007).
While not all farmers were excited about the new seed, and some resisted adding
chemical fertilizers to the soil, the Agriculture Department and the Block Development
Officers (BDOs), tried to convince them of the benefits associated with the new practices.
The BDOs came to the farms to encourage farmers to start using fertilizers, which they
initially supplied to the farmers free of cost. Explained one farmer, “They persuaded the
farmers, saying: that will give you more yield that will give you more money.” Another
farmer said that the BDO would come at night and throw fertilizers in his field. When he
thought the crop was growing healthy, the BDO said, “We have put some fertilizer to
your field at night. Now see the result.” Through these methods they convinced the
farmers, and the same pattern was repeated in other areas of the state. “I think I have
used urea and Di-Ammonium Phosphate (DAP), for thirty years,” said Charanpal, a
farmer in a southwestern district of the state. “The more urea we used the more yield we
got. Even if our yields were good we would put ten or 20 kilogram urea extra next year
just to increase the yield.” Soon, applying chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and using the
new seed had replaced traditional methods among most of the farmers. Deepinder, a
large farmer in Patiala, noted, “I don’t know of anyone who did not participate in the GR,
because it was the easiest way to make a profit at the time. The gain was larger despite
the cost of the chemical inputs, and it really compensated for your expenses.” As the
crop increased, there were immediate economic gains, but after a few years there were
signs of strain on the natural environment.
Today Punjab consumes double the Indian average use of fertilizers, consuming 163
kilogram of urea per hectare rather than the recommended 125 kg per hectare for this area
(IFPRI 2007). “We use more than 150 kilogram of urea in one acre of land, while when
we started using it, only 50 kilogram or less was used per acre,” Akalpreet said. The
farmers participating in the focus group discussion agreed that the situation has changed,
“nowadays there is a lot of strain on the fields and the quality of the soil has deteriorated.
We have to produce a lot, and we have to use chemical fertilizers to get two, three, or
sometimes four crops in the same field in one year.”
While the use of fertilizers and pesticides has steadily increased, the yield has started
to level off. The annual agricultural growth rate based mainly on rice and wheat,
averaged four percent during the 1970s and five percent in the 1980s. It fell to 2.6
percent during the 1990s, and from the early 2000s, the agricultural sector growth fell
below one percent per year, while the crops sector had a negative growth rate (IFPRI
2007). Akalpreet said, “The capacity of the soil is decreasing, and every year we have to
put more urea.” Before they had a lot of earthworms and microorganisms that provided
nutrients to the soil, now they hardly exist in the soil here anymore. “These days, if you
add urea you get a crop, if not, you cannot grow anything on these farms; the soil is
dead.” The pesticides have taken a toll on friendly insects as well, and have caused many
birds to disappear. “The way we are growing our crop we will deplete the soil and the
earth, and it is bad for everybody’s health,” he concluded. The mono cropping pattern
distinguishing the GR have resulted in a significantly reduced genetic base for crop and
livestock production (Knudsen, et al. 2005), and decreased the nutritional value of the
crop (Kataki, et al. 2001). The intensive rice-wheat rotation has deprived the soils of
micronutrients and contributed to the soil’s deficiencies (Aulakh and Bahl 2001).
The intensified production is also polluting the environment through the burning of
rice straw (23 million tons) and wheat straw (17 million tons) every year. This causes
severe air pollution in the affected areas, especially during the months of March and
April, and October and November (Tiwana, et al. 2007). Jaspal Singh, an organic farmer
in Jalandhar district, explained that the wheat straw could be fed to cattle, and the rice
straw, which is moister and tends to rot, could be returned into the soil to add nutrients.
Instead, now it is often burned, in conventional farming, to quickly make way for the next
crop. “Many of the farmers have got rid of their cattle as they have tractors, but instead
of collecting this residue, the shortcut method is to just burn it. It means millions of tons
of straw are being burnt just in one state. Imagine the pollution and the organic carbon
that is being destroyed, and not replaced into the soil,” he said. There is a law that bans
farmers from burning their crop residue, and the fine is Rs. 10,000 if you are caught, but
Jaspal said, “The police only enforce it if there is a complaint registered, but no one
complains, because everyone is burning.” The practice of burning the straw started with
the rice-wheat rotation introduced early in the GR.
Implications for Agriculture
Farming with HYV required a lot more water than the earlier method of cultivation
did. A problem in much of Punjab today is that groundwater levels have fallen
dramatically since the beginning of intensified farming. In the central region (Amritsar,
Jalandhar and Patiala districts, among others), the water table has fallen at a rate of 0.23
meter per year since the mid-1990s. Tube-wells in that area have increased in number
from 192,000 in 1970, to 1.2 million in 2004 (IFPRI 2007). One consequence of this is
elevated arsenic concentrations in the groundwater in most of Punjab, much higher than
the limits set by the WHO for safe drinking water, making virtually none of the tube-well
water suitable for drinking. The excessive amount of arsenic is caused by “the oxidative
release from sulfide and iron hydroxide minerals when alluvial aquifers are exposed to
atmospheric oxygen, due to depletion of water through tube-wells or hand pumps for
irrigation or domestic purpose” (Hundal, et al. 2007:2274). “This land soaks a lot of
water, and if there will be no rain then we cannot get a crop without pumping water.
These days we are digging deeper to pump out the groundwater, and it is getting lower
every year. If the water problem continues we would have to stop growing rice. Not by
choice, but by force,” said one farmer. In Jalandhar and Patiala districts and in the cotton
belt districts in the southwest, where large areas are being lost to water logging and
salinity, farmers I spoke with are also worried about the water situation. Water logging
and salinity are sometimes the result of inadequate drainage, but Jaspal explained that “it
is also caused by urea and other chemicals which sink into the soil and make a layer, and
in some places a hard crust forms, which prevents the water from reaching down to the
water table. It makes the land muddy, with a white layer everywhere in the fields
because of more salt, more urea, more DAP, phosphate and other inputs,” he said. He
told me how he had to dig down and crush the crust with the help of the tractor when he
converted to organic farming methods, because it was so hard he could not break it by
hand. He also described how excess water around the plant root prevents the aeration
required for proper plant growth and may change the environment and thereby the
availability of nutrients, while the salts restrict the plants from taking up water, and may
cause toxicities in the soil. Punjab is divided into 17 districts and 140 development
blocks. The number of development blocks with a water table beyond the critical level of
ten meters was 35 in 2000. If the current trend continues it is expected to reach 72 blocks
in 2030 (IFPRI 2007), and that would make farming difficult in large areas of the state.
Another serious problem of the GR and its farming methods is that many of the
traditional seed varieties adapted to different conditions and climates have been lost. At
the focus group in Patiala, one farmer said, “Our native seed that our elders were using
required much less water and they were good for our environment.” But, as another
farmer commented, “I don’t think that any farmer has saved those seed, because everyone
is buying seed from the store, our local varieties are not found here anymore.” The
farmers remember well the seed that were used before the 1970s, but as the agriculture
universities introduced the new varieties, all of them started using the new seed. “The
yield is better, that is the difference, but they also require a lot more water, and fertilizer.
We did not water those native seed as much; it was not compulsory to water them.
Sometimes when there was no rain, they still used to grow, and we still used to get
something out of it,” said Ekanjeet, a large farmer in Patiala. The BDO convinced the
farmers to start using hybrid seed by giving them away, the same way as with fertilizers.
“The hybrid varieties give higher yield and that is the reason the farmers are attracted to
them,” he continued, “but before the hybrids came we used to save and use our own seed.
Now we are dependent on the seed companies. We have no indigenous seed at home,
While hybrid HYV have been used for decades in Punjab now, a new controversial
GM seed, the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cottonseed was introduced in 2002 to control the
main pest of cotton in India, the American bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera). Bt is a
naturally occurring soil bacterium that produces a toxin, which has been used in
conventional as well as organic agriculture since the 1920s to control Lepidoptera species
(butterflies and moths). When used in its natural form it biodegrades easily and has no
harmful side effects. In the transgenic cotton a gene sequence from Bt is inserted into the
cotton genome, producing an insecticidal protein for a built-in resistance to the American
bollworm (Altieri 2004; Pinstrup-Andersen and Schiøler 2001; Srinivas 2002). One of
the first Bt cottonseed, produced by Monsanto, was the patented Bollagard cotton,
planted in the United States, Mexico and Australia in the 1990s. Since then many
varieties of insect and herbicide resistant Bt seed have been commercialized, and in
industrialized countries the herbicide-tolerant trait has been the most important. One
example is Round-up Ready, tolerant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, and there are
cotton varieties with both insect- and herbicide-tolerant traits in the same seed.
In countries like India with many smallholders, insect resistance is of most interest.
The first Bollgard seed had variable effect on the American bollworm, which was not
controlled completely, and Bt resistance was soon reported from the field. A later
Bollgard II, and many other varieties have since appeared, but success for the Bt cotton
crop also depends a great deal on sufficient water and nitrogen fertilizers. The farmers
are supposed to leave a mandatory refuge of non-Bt cotton crops around the Bt fields to
slow down the development of resistance, but this is very difficult to enforce, especially
in India with many small fields.
Mahyco Monsanto Biotech is one of the Indian Bt cottonseed producers (the
Monsanto Corporation owns about a quarter of the company). Its varieties of cottonseed
were approved in 2002 by the Indian government, and by 2010 about 70 percent of
conventional cotton in India was derived from GM seed (Blake 2010; Showalter, et al.
2009). India is the world’s second largest cotton producer after China, and the largest
producer of organic cotton. A concern for the organic cotton producers is the risk of
cross-contamination of their locally adapted crop varieties from the Bt cotton fields via
cross-pollination (Lalitha, et al. 2009). The Bollgard was sold around the world to
countries where the growers would sign license agreements and pay a technology fee to
use the Bt seed, but Monsanto was afraid that would not work in India, so they made it
available only in hybrids, to deliver and protect the Bollgard technology. Each
succeeding generation of the hybrid loses a certain percentage of the yield advantage and
any transgenic traits, such as the Bollgard gene. The cost of hybrid seed production
would normally have been prohibitively expensive because it relies on pollination by
hand, and therefore many laborers to do this at specific times. India and China are
therefore the only countries that use hybrid cotton to a significant extent. An estimated
25 million children are employed in the agricultural sector in India and the seed
companies keep production costs down for the hybrid seed by employing female children
at very low wage rates (Majumdar 2001; Qaim 2003; Venkateshwarlu and Da Corta
2001). The area planted in Bt cotton in Punjab increased by ten times from 2003 to 2005,
and Bt is now grown in almost 30 percent of the total cotton area there (Tiwana, et al.
Organic farmers argue that to introduce the Bt toxin into the crop is neither necessary
nor a good solution, since most butterfly and moth species that damage the cotton crop
are pesticide-induced secondary pests, allowed to flourish because the beneficial insects
which controlled them have been reduced by pesticides. They would rather see the pests
controlled through crop rotation or intercropping with other plants (Altieri 2004). But
that was not initially on the mind of the farmers in Punjab, when the “worm-period,” as
they called it, began in the mid-1990s, and the American bollworm became immune to
the pesticides they had used to control it. One farmer explained how “generation-by-
generation the bollworm became stronger, and slowly so powerful that the pesticides
would not affect it.” They applied heavy loads of pesticides for some years, without
getting much crop. One farmer described the situation as “very miserable, we would not
get a reasonable yield even with the pesticides, and they were so costly that sometimes
we had to pay from our pocket rather than getting a profit from the cotton crop.” Some
said they started growing Bt cotton because they had to. “We had no option because our
traditional crop was a failure every time because of those insects.”
Although the farmers were content with the resistance to the bollworm, the resistance
had already started to decrease in some places. Farmers do spray much less pesticides
than before in this area, but since Bt cotton is resistant only to the American bollworm
(and rarely 100 percent), and the Bt toxin does not have any significant effect on
secondary pests, most still spray once or twice for aphids and other insects. There have
been serious attacks from other pests, like the mealy bug, that have destroyed large
amounts of Bt cotton. Other insects are likely to become a more serious problem for Bt
cotton production, due to the decline in the bollworm populations and changes in crop
ecology. Some farmers said growing Bt is too costly for them; “We used to grow cotton
here, but the last ten years we have been growing rice instead. We changed, because the
American bollworm was destroying the crop, and Bt cotton is expensive to grow; it
requires a lot of water and laborers, which also is expensive. Bt costs a lot more than rice
and with rice you don’t have any labor.”
The price for the Bt seed has gone down from what it was initially, but as one farmer
said, “We still think it is expensive to buy Bt cottonseed, because we have to pay for it.
Once you grow Bt cotton you cannot use its seed for the next crop as we used to do with
our traditional seed.” There are counterfeit seed in the market, and that could be
contributing to lower cost, but also to less resistance and less yields. Still, those who
could afford the seed, and the increased water and fertilizers, have had better income
from the cotton crop these first few years of growing Bt cotton. Before the American
bollworm came the farmers said their yield of conventional cotton was around 800
kilogram per acre. Then for a few years it was negligible, during the “worm-period”
when so many pesticides were used. These days they get between 800 and 1,600
kilograms per acre, with an average yield of 1,200 kilograms per acre. However, the Bt
cotton carries a lot of uncertainty because of the variation in output, and the continued
need of high-cost input in fertilizers and pesticides.
Effects on Human Health
There was controversy around Bt cotton before it was introduced, and today several
farmers’ organizations and many in the general public, in India and around the world, are
still discussing potential risks of GM crops in the environment, and potential effects on
the health of humans as well as of animals (Aris and Leblanc 2011; Burke 2003; Seralini,
et al. 2007; Spök, et al. 2004; Torres and Ruberson 2006). A frequently expressed
concern is the desire for further research on the ecology of the Bt plant, such as its
interaction with various ecosystems and the possibility of adverse impacts on non-target
species like beneficial insects, in order to make an informed decision regarding use of
In the past, the farmers would extract the oil from the cottonseed and feed the seed to
the cattle, but now many farmers sell the seed along with the cotton to the factories; they
dare not feed those seed to their animals because they fear the poison could negatively
affect their health. One farmer said, “The leaves and other products of Bt cotton is not
good fodder for the cattle, since it has the poison.” Another farmer mentioned that rashes
affect dogs that roam through the Bt cotton fields, and that several people who work in a
Bt cotton field complain about rashes, itching, and other skin problems. One cotton
picker said, “It affects very badly on the skin, we have rashes and sometimes the skin just
tears off. Even when we pick up the dry stems we have rashes on our hands, it emits
something that affects the skin.”
Bt toxin is present as long as the plant residue is present, and while the farmers’
comments on side effects of Bt cotton should be investigated further; one fear has been
that the gene may produce unintended toxins and allergens. There are conflicting reports
from field and laboratory studies where Bt crops and herbicide resistant GM crops show
great diversity of impact on non-target organisms and plants (Altieri 2004; Burke 2003;
Torres and Ruberson 2006), and some argue that basic experiments related to
environmental impacts are still missing (Snow, et al. 2005).
One area that does have a lot of research clearly indicating its detrimental effects on
human health and the environment in general is the use of chemical fertilizers and
pesticides, and that is something that greatly affects the lives of many of the farmers I
talked to. “Here in our district people get diseases, so there are side effects. We know
the harms of these chemicals but we have no other option,” one said. They were
convinced that if they did not use the chemicals their crop would fail. In Faridkot district,
part of the cotton belt, one farmer admitted that, “I’m aware that doctors and even the
government tell us to use less chemicals and pesticides, and people know that they will
get health problems from these chemicals, but still they use them because they want a
In addition to people getting poisoned through contact with the chemicals and
contaminated water, ingestion of farm produce with residue is also a health risk here.
India has one of the highest rates of residue on farm produce in the world, and the results
of several studies in Punjab, by the government, NGOs, and various researchers, indicate
residues of chemical pesticides at levels dangerous for human health. Unsafe levels have
been found in humans, milk, water, vegetables, and other food products (Battu, et al.
1978; 2004; 2005; Chattopadhyay 1998; Joia, et al. 1978; Kalra and Chawla 1980; Kalra,
et al. 1994; Mathure, et al. 2005).
From 1976 to 1996, Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane (DDT), Benzene Hexa
Chloride (BHC) and Hexa Chlorocyclohexane (HCH) were the major pesticides used in
farming in Punjab. While DDT was banned from agriculture in 1989, which lead to a
reduction of its contamination of milk and butter, it is still used in public health programs
and is found in river water used by humans and cattle, with potential continued adverse
health impacts (e.g., liver and nerve system damage) (Longnecker, et al. 1997). The
frequency of contamination by less persistent, but more toxic organophosphates and
carbamate pesticides (organic compounds derived from carbamic acid) are on the rise in
the state (Tiwana, et al. 2007).
Some farmers avoid using any chemicals on the vegetables they grow for their own
consumption, even if they use it on crops they grow to sell in the market. They say they
do it mainly because of the taste, but also because they perceive the chemicals as a health
hazard. Many people also buy vegetables in the market, but as one woman told me,
“After eating those vegetables from the market, we do not feel energetic.
Psychologically, or whatever, in the morning we don’t get up fresh, because they spray
chemicals on them.” She said after eating her own vegetables, she feels ok. “I do feel
that is the effect of those chemicals, indeed, and I think washing them doesn’t help,
because it is still inside.” Studies suggest that she is right because apart from the residue
left on the plant itself, the source of pesticide contamination of vegetables is mainly the
soil where they are grown. The amount absorbed differs greatly between crops; carrots
are not as sensitive as chili plants, for example, and hence chili plants can also be used as
“catch plants,” to absorb residue of HCH from contaminated soil, and to prevent leaching
to ground water (Karanth 2002).
One of the potential harms from pesticide use is increasing rates of cancer (Alavanja,
et al. 2004). A study comparing cancer rates in Bathinda district, part of the cotton belt,
and Rupnagar (now called Ropar) district in the sub-mountainous region, found 103
cancer cases per 100,000 population in Bathinda compared to 71 in Rupnagar, while
cancer deaths per year were 52 and 30 respectively (Kumar 2005). Conventional cotton
production is much more pesticide dependent than rice and wheat. This has led to
popular concern about cancer; as one farmer said, “Wherever they grow cotton, the
percentage of people having cancer has increased, and it is finally coming up in the
news.” Even if farmers have reduced the spraying of pesticides on the Bt cotton to one or
two sprayings per season, a lot of pesticides have percolated into the groundwater,
because the soil is sandy and the water seeps through the ground to the groundwater
below. One farmer told me they know the facts and they can very well see it in their
health, “everybody is sick, everyone is suffering from some disease, so everyone is on
medication.” Another study analyzing pesticide residue in human blood samples from
villagers in Punjab, found up to 12 types of pesticide residue. The average pesticide level
in the blood samples was four times higher than the short-term exposure limits for
humans set by the WHO and FAO (Mathure, et al. 2005). Many farmers mentioned “the
cancer train,” a regular train that has been carrying cancer patients from Bathinda to
Bikaner’s Prince Bijoy Memorial Hospital in Rajasthan, for chemotherapy or
consultation for the last four years. There are government cancer treatment facilities in
several districts in Punjab as well, and a cancer department opened in 2010 at the Guru
Gobind Singh Medical College in Faridkot, near Bathinda (Menon and Mukherjee 2011).
Several people mention that they have trust in that hospital in Bikaner because people
they know had recovered after treatment there.
Balraj, Akalpreet’s father mentioned above, had changed his views about the food
they have been producing during the last several decades: “There is an effect on the
health of those who eat food grown by chemicals and urea, of course. They will for sure
get weaker; there will be no strength. It will be bad food, you don’t know what you are
actually eating with the bread, what has really been put in it.” He said nowadays people
are getting so many health problems you cannot count the numbers. When he was
younger they used to have fever because of mosquitoes, but otherwise he never heard of
any other disease. “Many used to get fever and we did not have a cure for it or use any
medicine, but it used to go away by itself, maybe by drinking lassi, (a traditional yoghurt-
based drink), we had no access to a doctor.”
Farmers and laborers working on the farms are the ones most at risk for direct
poisoning by pesticides. “There is still a lot to be learned among the laborers,” said a
farmer, “sometimes they don’t even wash their hands with soap after spraying, they just
rub their hands with sand and then start eating.” But a study on farmer knowledge
surrounding pesticide use in Jalandhar and Moga districts in the central region found
there is much information needed among the farmers as well. Twenty eight percent of
the respondents were not aware of the instructions written on the pesticide containers, and
more than 50 percent did not follow these. Sixty four percent said they were not aware of
the recommended dose, and 75.5 percent said they did not dispose of the empty
containers after use, but rather reused them in household activities (Sharma, et al. 2005).
“Sometimes we inhaled the pesticides while standing by the field and it made us sick
several times,” said one farmer, who also mentioned examples of laborers getting drowsy
after inhaling the chemicals while spraying, and one laborer who got sick and was
hospitalized for a month. He said masks to protect the respiratory system were not
available at the time, and although they are now available he did not think that the quality
of them is very good. The farmers often hire laborers to spray chemicals in the farm.
Charanpal, a farmer who hires sprayers said, “We usually stay away when they spray the
chemicals, so we don’t have any problem.” The work is done on a contract basis, and the
laborers specialize in this. One person can spray several acres in one day by starting
spraying early in the morning. They charge Rs. four or five per drum (20 liters), and in
one acre they spray four or five drums, so the cost is Rs. 25 ($0.50) per acre. “We also
feed them and give them lassi to drink,” Charanpal said. It is believed here that eating
before working with pesticides is important. Charanpal continued; “they eat well before,
because if you are spraying on an empty stomach, then it would affect you more than if
your stomach was full.” The laborers are given soap, and after spraying they take bath
and wash their clothes. They also provide them with lemon and salt. That is the local
formula practiced everywhere in Punjab, Charanpal said. “If somebody is getting drowsy
he takes lemon. Whenever there is some effect of pesticides, the worker feels better after
drinking lemon juice with salt.” Charanpal has two permanent workers on the farm, but
they will not do the spraying. Those who spray, do only that work. Some do get sick,
and some have eye irritation and other health problems, Charanpal explained. “There are
some people who look like drug addicts afterwards; they look drunk or intoxicated.
When you see their strange appearance for the first time, you get scared, such ugly
figures, but when you live with them… we see them every day, they don’t seem that
scary to us,” he said.
Fateh is a 40 years old laborer in Bathinda district who works picking Bt cotton and
spraying pesticides in the cotton fields. He works with his whole family in the fields,
including women and children. He said the children go to school, and that they come and
work in the field if they want to, after school. He does not really have a problem after
picking Bt cotton, he said, if he takes a bath afterwards to wash off its effects. The Bt
cotton harvest is ready a little earlier than the traditional cotton used to be. While it was
chilly when they picked cotton earlier, now the crop is ready for harvest in the summers,
and it is quite hot. If it is very hot, he gets some kind of rash, and itching on his body, but
he said it may be because of sweat. Before the Bt cotton came, when they used to spray
again and again, they applied the local prevention method which is to rub mustard oil on
the whole body before spraying, and then to take a bath immediately afterwards. “If
sometimes a mask, protecting clothes, or gloves are included in the package with the
pesticides, then I use those. If it is not there, then I just spray without any protection,” he
told me. Once he was spraying and the pesticide container he was carrying on his back
was leaking and he felt the aftereffects of that. “My eyes swelled, my body became stiff;
the whole night I could not get up and I was feeling drowsy. Later I got better, and I
recovered.” He said he plans to continue with his work because this is what he can do.
Even if negative health effects are clearly visible, some farmers still expressed
uncertainty. “We do not know what harm may be caused by these chemical sprays, we
just do whatever the Department of Agriculture suggests,” one said. This statement could
be an example of “toxic uncertainty” as discussed by Auyero and Swistun (2009) and by
Singer (2011). In these two cases, as well as among some of the farmers in Punjab, there
is uncertainty and confusion among the ones who suffer the consequences of toxic
pollution concerning the facts and seriousness of the problem. This is caused by the
contradicting messages given by state officials, companies, health professionals or
journalists, for example, about the dangers of pollution, and their explanation of the
origin of the health problems experienced by the population.
All of the farmers from the focus group in Patiala grew conventionally, using urea
and DAP as well as pesticides and herbicides. One said, “When we go to the shops
where they sell pesticides, the shopkeepers tell us to use more pesticides because they
have their own benefits in this. The more they sell the more commission they get.”
Another said that it is not very labor intensive to add the pesticides and herbicides, “but I
mixed herbicides with urea or DAP, and then just scattered that in the field, so I would
have no other plants or weeds.” Many times it is the farmers’ own mixing of different
products which creates especially hazardous situations (Sharma, et al. 2005), in addition
to overuse. One farmer described how, “initially we were using pesticide spray if there
were insects on the crop, but later we sprayed three or four times just as a precaution,
even if there were no insects,” and thus increased the use of pesticides unnecessarily.
Some argued that this is also because the effects of the products are less than what it used
Charanpal explained that the government used to spray from planes, when the whole
area around his farm was a cotton-growing area. Then someone started cheating the
pilots and they sprayed only water, and the original pesticides that they were supposed to
spray were sold in the market. After that, people started spraying on their own. Several
farmers told me they are suspicious about the quality and authenticity of the pesticides.
They said widespread corruption has made them doubtful of whether the products being
sold to them have the original content. “People in the Department of Agriculture who are
involved with the pesticides business used to recommend only certain pesticides, and to
increase the rate on those,” one farmer said, “I guess they keep the money in their pocket
and supply inferior quality, because people who drank it didn’t die.” He talked about two
farmers in his neighborhood that had tried to kill themselves by drinking pesticides, but
after sleeping for a few hours they got up again. “They got really sick, but were given
some first aid; water mixed with lemon and salt, and after drinking that they vomited.”
The farmer claimed that if the pesticide had been genuine, they would have died; “this is
how we have seen the lack of authenticity of the pesticides, on the effect it had on these
and other men.” There have been accidents where the workers inhaled the chemicals
while working and died. “Those who get the proper medication may recover, but their
health does not become as strong afterwards.” He said that some years ago the pesticides
were so powerful that if somebody inhaled while spraying they used to get sick. They
used to mix 20 milliliter of pesticide per 20 liter of water and spray on the fields, “now
we increased that mixture to 100 milliliter per 20 liter, but it doesn’t affect the humans
the way it used to,” he contended.
Charanpal compared his drinking habits with the habit of adding pesticides and urea
in the field. “We read in the newspapers, listen to the radio, and even the government
officers and the Department of Agriculture, doctors and other people, talk about reducing
the use of urea and pesticides.” Nevertheless, he said, it is like alcohol; people drink a
little when they start, but then they get caught in the addiction and drink more and more.
In the same way people are addicted to using urea, and even if they listen to everything
said, they do not follow it. “These chemicals will harm our soil the same way too much
liquor has harmed my heart, but people will not listen, they need an output.” He agreed
that the condition of the soil has deteriorated with excessive use of pesticides and urea,
but that many people are not concerned with the deterioration of the soil. “They would
do whatever it takes, they don’t care what happens next year; they cannot afford thinking
about a future plan,” he said, “Because their need is now.”
In Punjab, some do care about what happens now, and in the future, and one of them
is Surinder Singh, a 44 years old man working with the organization Kheti Virasat
(Heritage of Farming), in Nabha, Patiala. Kheti Virasat is a NGO that teaches
environmental awareness among the general population, and works with farmers on
conversion to organic agriculture, marketing of organic produce, and certification.
Surinder has worked with Kheti Virasat since its beginning in 2000 when it started
highlighting the environmental health problems related to chemical farming, as the
community experienced increasingly poor health and environmental pollution. In 2003,
Kheti Virasat cooperated with Greenpeace India on a study of the impact of pesticides on
the mental development of children. Conducted in six cotton-growing states where the
use of pesticides was very high, and reports of pesticide-related problems had emerged,
the study Arrested Development (Greenpeace 2003) revealed that children exposed to
pesticides displayed lower abilities in cognition, memory, stamina, motor skills and
concentration—significantly lower in some abilities, and marginally so in others, but
consistently lower abilities—compared to those in the control population in less polluted
areas. Surinder said there had already been a few reports indicating that cancer was
reaching alarming rates in the farming community in the Bathinda area. These problems,
as well as other health problems farmers are facing such as anemia, infertility, fetal
malformations, premature ageing, early graying of hairs, and a lot of neurological
problems, were observed in the villages during the course of this study. When the study
was published in 2004 it got a lot of media attention. Surinder said one consequence was
that United Phosphorus Limited (UPL), a global chemicals and seed company
headquartered in Mumbai, filed a defamation case against Kheti Virasat; a doctor who
worked with them (from All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi, AIIMS), and
himself. Unfortunately that doctor became frightened and withdrew, claiming he had not
done any study. “Nevertheless he has given very good evidence to us, and on that basis
we are fighting in court,” Surinder said. Agricultural input companies threaten them
regularly, but they are not planning to withdraw. “It’s a long battle,” he said, “you know
the structure of our judicial system; there are a lot of cases pending for ten or fifteen
years. Maybe we also have to wait that long,” he said, “but these are very important
questions.” He continued by saying how unfortunate it is that scientists, doctors, and
others who can help the people affected are frightened and withdraw. But Kheti Virasat
is going ahead, and there are a lot of people who are supporting them, in the lawyer
community also, so they have not had to pay anything yet. “One lawyer who knew us
from earlier who is working in the Mumbai High Court is dealing our case free of cost.
When I had to travel there, an organization in Mumbai sponsored my trip and my stay.”
Punjab provides a large market for the pesticide companies, and Surinder said the
companies fear loss in sales, and do not want any negative publicity, providing an
incentive to stop Kheti Virasat’s activities by filing these types of cases. When the
findings from the study were published, the pesticide companies formed their own group
for protecting their products and countering the results, he said. They published a lot of
research arguing that pesticides do not cause cancer or the other types of diseases Kheti
Virasat observed, and they spent a lot of money delivering this material to the media and
the farmers. According to Surinder, “companies like Monsanto and other big
multinationals are supportive of such universities who teach their chemical agenda and
they wouldn’t like if it changed”, which is why, he believes, the Punjab Agricultural
University (PAU), and the government of Punjab are not promoting organic farming.
While some scientists are working at the university they are also working for the
pesticide companies, and when they retire from the PAU, they move to work directly for
the pesticide companies. Recently the PAU hired a person who used to work with
Monsanto. “It’s a close connection, but now the situation is changing, and also the
mindset of people. People are thinking about this as a problem, and people listen to these
problems in the media,” he said.
Economic and Social Implications
Economic and social transformations following the GR, and the even more recent
agrarian innovations, like GM seed, have benefited those sectors of rural society who
already possessed land and capital. Marginal and small farmers had less or nothing to
gain, and many have not been able to sustain their farms. While the initial economic
success of the GR has had a large impact on the socio-economic structure of the state and
increased per capita income for the largest farmers, what characterizes the farming
economy now is the record high debt the farmers are struggling with. Farmers’
outstanding institutional loans increased from about 25 percent of the Net State Domestic
Product (NSDP), from agriculture and livestock, in 1990, to more than 38 percent, or Rs.
124 billion, by 2006. But this is just half of their debt, as non-institutional sources,
mainly commission agents, meet around 50 percent of the credit needs of the state’s
farmers. Farmers with large landholdings have the benefit of institutional credit facilities,
while marginal and small farmers more often depend on commission agents or
moneylenders for both their agricultural and social credit necessities (Tiwana, et al.
2007). There have been policy measures from the central government (Union Budget of
2008–09) for reducing the debt of marginal and small farmers who owe money to state,
commercial, and regional rural banks, as well as cooperative credit institutions, but most
farmers are not helped by this aid, since that is not where they have their loans (Rediff
2008). The reason they take up increasingly larger loans, and struggle with repayment, is
that the prices of farm inputs, and expenses like diesel, have increased manifold
compared to the price they get for their crop. During the last ten years diesel has
increased from Rs. 10 to Rs. 30 per liter, urea from Rs. 70 to Rs. 250 for 50 kilogram,
DAP from Rs. 180 to Rs. 450 for 50 kilogram. Tractors used to cost from Rs. 6,000 to
Rs. 7,000, but for that amount you do not even get a trolley, or trailer, to the tractor now.
A trolley costs Rs. 50,000 and a tractor around Rs. 400,000. One farmer said, “we
bought a good tractor a few years ago for Rs. 176,000, now that costs about Rs. 800,000.”
Every time there is a new state government, it announces a better rate for farm produce,
the farmers said, but it is not comparable to the cost of the input, which is increasing
almost day by day. The cost of cultivation of rice increased by five percent from 2001 to
2006, and for wheat the increase was eight percent during the same time period (Tiwana,
et al. 2007). Another farmer analyzed the situation this way: “our income has gone
down; we continue to add urea in the fields to get a crop, but the yield is decreasing
because the soil is depleted, due to the same inputs we pay a high price for.”
The farmers I talked to in the southwestern cotton belt all do their transactions with
the commission agents or moneylenders. The agents lend them money, sell them seed,
fertilizers, and pesticides on credit, and later buy their crop. When the agent sells their
crop he gets two percent commission on the produce. Lack of storage, the need to pay
debt, or selling through the commission agent, all make the farmers vulnerable to price
fluctuations on their crops. This year, when the cotton was fresh in the market, they sold
it for Rs. 1,800 or Rs. 1,900 per 100 kilogram. Shortly after, when there was no cotton in
the market, the prices increased to Rs. 2,600 per 100 kilogram. A similar price jump
affected wheat. The government procured wheat for about Rs. 600, and when farmers
had all sold out, the wheat was sold for Rs. 1,200. One farmer complained that, “if we
don’t find a buyer, we end up selling it to the moneylender for much less than regular
price, and then he can keep it and sell it later when the price is up.” They have this
economic flexibility that can give them an extra income. Normally the government
procures the wheat and rice and pays the moneylender, and then he would settle the
accounts with the farmer.
Capital and current expenditure on farming matters are the largest cause of
indebtedness, and account for almost 60 percent of outstanding loans. Family events like
marriages are the next largest cause, accounting for 11 percent of debt, while medical
expenses contribute 3.4 percent, and education 0.8 percent (Tiwana, et al. 2007).
Marriages are expensive because of the dowry system, and “there is a lot of social
pressure to have large weddings, and give a generous dowry. We spend more than we
can afford,” one farmer admitted. The moneylenders are not regulated, many operate
without formal written records, and the potential for their practices to be regarded with
suspicion is therefore large. When the farmers ask for a loan for a marriage or another
ceremony, with no security in the crop, the moneylender will sometimes ask the farmer to
sign a blank piece of paper, called a pro-note, where the amount and the date of the loan
is not mentioned. Several farmers said the moneylender does the accounting later, and if
there is some discrepancy between the farmer and the lender, he could fill in these blank
pro-notes with double the amount, and ask the farmer to pay. “Because farmers have
given a signature on the document the lender can take us to court any time,” he said.
Those who have land for security can get loans in the banks, where the interest rate is
seven to 12 percent, compared to the 24 to 36 percent rate of the moneylenders.
If a famer cannot get a loan on the land or from the moneylender, they may try to get
a loan to buy a tractor or other equipment, which they say are quite easy to get. Then
they sell that tractor at a loss to a landowner who can give them cash. This is one way a
farmer with poor credit may get into deeper debts problems when they do not have a
moneylender they can rely on. One farmer said, “I was short on paying a moneylender
after selling my crop. I still owed him Rs. 5,000 ($100), and he refused to give me
further loans for the next crop.” Like most of the farmers, he depends on the
moneylender for the inputs for his crops. He said that his dealing with the moneylender
had been very good; he always used to repay his loans. “I think he refused giving me
money because some third person had told him that I would not repay my loan. The
social system has become very bad here; people pull each other’s leg.” Then he went to
another moneylender, but that year it was not easy to change moneylenders. “I didn’t
have any money for the household expenses, but finally some other moneylender lent me
money to do farming, so I carried on.”
The Bharatiya Kisan Union, (BKU) is an independent farmers’ union, formed by
politically engaged farmers who deemed the state’s political leadership did not
effectively address their economic concerns linked to the GR. The Punjab branch of the
BKU became a separate organization in 1980, but had been active under the banner of its
predecessor Punjab Khetibari Zamindara Union, (PKZU) established in 1972 (Gill 1994).
While the BKU has participated in some seminars organized by Kheti Virasat on widows
of farmers who committed suicide and on the effects of agrochemicals, Surinder Singh,
and some of the farmers I spoke with argued that their main concern was that the
government should raise the minimum support price, and that they did not have much
interest in organic farming. Surinder said, “A lot of our farmers in Patiala district
participate in BKUs one or two annual demonstrations, but BKU does not have regular
activities.” In Bathinda district, the small farmers I met there were not members of the
BKU, although they said there are branches in almost every block. The BKU are fighting
against price increase on inputs while there is no comparative increase in the price the
farmers get for their crop. “The union is very active and has a very strong lobby,” the
farmers said, but “now the union has started pressurizing the moneylenders and telling
the farmers not to repay the loans, and supporting them when they don’t.” The farmers I
talked to in this area felt that this was too drastic, and said that instead of having a benefit
from being a member of the farmers’ union, “rather we lose, because this way the union
spoils our relationship with the moneylenders, whom we need, to sell our crop and to buy
inputs. When we don’t have good relations with the moneylender he may try to cheat us,
or he could take revenge.” They said the moneylenders would avoid lending money to
farmers who are members of the union. “He will not even help us to sell our crop if we
have relations with the union.” This is because the moneylender fears that these farmers
could say that they would not repay the loan later on. “The union doesn’t offer economic
help or loans, but they help the farmers to not return the loans to the moneylenders.” In
cases of farmer suicides, the union supports the farmers’ families by accompanying them
to the police station to register a case against the moneylender, whom they may accuse of
having threatened the farmer if he did not repay a loan. They said the union blames the
moneylenders for the farmers’ suicides, and sometimes the moneylender opt to pay the
union some money and waive the loan to the farmer, to avoid police and courts.
The suicide rate among farmers in Punjab was higher than the general suicide rate
from 1988–97, and reached 3.17 percent between 1991 and 1997, but has since declined.
The general rate rose from 0.57 percent in 1988, to 2.04 percent in 2001, according to a
report funded by the Punjab State Farmer Commission in 2006 (Kumar, et al. 2006).
This report also indicates that the districts in the cotton belt, including Bathinda and
Faridkot, were highly prone to farmer suicides from 1991 to 2005, and that the actual
numbers could be much higher, as not all suicide cases are registered as such. The
farmers said there are various causes behind suicides, but many may be related to crop
failure. From 1997 to 2002, during the “worm-period” when hardly a single crop
survived the American bollworm, the farmers spent a lot on chemicals. After this period
with negative budgets more people committed suicide. In addition to the cases where
famers have killed themselves because of heavy debt, the farmers said there are also
some suicides because of personal problems in the home, health problems, or problems
with alcohol, drugs, or medications. Quite a few argued that the government’s policies
are also responsible for many of the suicides that have been committed, whether due to
debt or for other reasons. With an agricultural system where those who are producing the
food need to acquire debt just to do their job, something is wrong, they said. “This new
kind of farming requires a lot of money to grow a crop and if you don’t get that money
back from your crop for any reason, then people have no option. They have to feed their
families, their workers, and if there is no income in addition to a heavy debt, some
despair.” Some farmers complained that the esteem for farming as a profession had been
lost, especially among the younger generations, during these last decades of structural
and cultural change imposed by the new farming methods. An enterprise that had been
based on family labor on the land is now largely replaced by machinery and external
While many marginal and small farmers in Punjab, with less than five acres of land,
hardly get by, there are also large farmers, with ten acres or more. Many of the marginal
and small farmers have been bought up by the larger ones, increasing the average size of
the landholdings from 9.4 to 10 acres from 1995 to 2001, and decreasing the total number
of landholdings in the same period from 1.09 million to 997,000 (IFPRI 2007). Some of
the families leaving the smallest farms probably end up in the urban slums, while the
majority of slum dwellers are from out of state. In Punjab the average slum population in
the 28 major cities and towns is almost 14 percent, just below the national average of 15
percent, of urban populations. Ludhiana has the highest number with 314,000, followed
by Amritsar with 307,000 (Tiwana, et al. 2007). In 1961, in the infancy of the GR, the
number of agricultural laborers in Punjab constituted 9.65 percent of the state’s total
work force. That number increased to 23.31 percent in 1991, but has since decreased to
16.32 percent. Only 6.22 percent of the agricultural laborers are females. Numerous
laborers are employed during the sowing and harvesting seasons, and then laid off when
the season is over. The total agricultural work force, laborers and the cultivators, has
decreased from 62.8 percent in 1971 to 38.95 percent in 2001 (Tiwana, et al. 2007),
mainly due to mechanization and the rice-wheat crop rotation.
A few of the larger farmers I met in Patiala district hire laborers from Bihar during
the harvesting of sugarcane. One farmer said, “Local Punjabis are not so willing to work
in the fields, and they would charge much more salary. The Biharis, on the other hand,
don’t have any source of income in their home state, and they need to work for whatever
they are paid.” The farmers also admitted that they do not want to pay much for the
labor. One of the farmers said he does give them quite high salary, Rs. 20 more than the
rest of the village. “Then maybe they are more loyal,” he said, and confirmed that,
“whenever I need them to work, they come to me.” The average pay for a day laborer is
Rs. 100 ($2.00) to Rs. 120 per day, and some farmers include food while others do not.
The farmers who include food give them the raw materials and they cook themselves,
sometimes living in a small hut on the farm during the seasonal work. The same farmer
said, “I give the labor from Bihar for sugarcane harvesting a little extra raw materials for
cooking, and I give them food even when there is no work in the fields, because then they
don’t have anything to eat. It is social work at the same time.” Cotton pickers are paid
per weight, Rs. 10 to Rs. 12 ($.20–$.24) for five kilogram of cotton. They pick around
60 to 65 kilogram of cotton a day, and can make around Rs. 120 to Rs. 150 ($2.60–$3.00)
a day, a little more than the regular labor salary. Since 2005 the number of migrant
laborers has decreased, and the state has faced a shortage of labor during the paddy
season since then (Tiwana, et al. 2007).
The subject of laborers, and bonded labor, in the growing Indian economy is vast and
I will not go into it here, mainly because the farmers I worked with, in all four states,
were primarily marginal and small farmers. These farmers cannot normally afford to
have laborers, albeit some of the small and medium sized farmers in Punjab do. I will
just add here that the growth of capitalist agriculture and the GR in Punjab has been
based in part on large Punjabi landholders’ exploitation of laborers from other states as
unfree labor, and that the perpetuation of these social relations has probably been a key to
finance their production (Brass 1999; Singh 1997).
There are several subsidies for farmers in Punjab, and during 2003–04 the total input
subsidy for the state was about ten percent of the state’s GDP from agriculture. The
largest portion, 59.7 percent, of the subsidies is given towards electricity, and electricity
for agricultural purposes was therefore free from 1997–2002, and again from 2005.
Much of the electric power was used for water extraction, contributing to the decline in
the water table. Fertilizers are subsidized with 37.6 percent, and probably a partial cause
for nitrogen fertilizers being applied above recommended levels, while 2.7 percent is
given for irrigation. The government of India, like many other governments around the
world, thereby subsidizes the fertilizer manufacturing industry, especially the urea, or
nitrogen products in this case, by reimbursing them the difference between the price the
farmer pays, and the retention price which the manufacturer receives. These subsidies
have also been accentuating regional and personal income disparities in Punjab,
providing proportionally more to the central region, and to the larger landholders, rather
than smallholders. The marginal and small farmers who operate eight percent of
agricultural land, with five acres or less each, receive about two-thirds the level per
hectare of cropped area compared with medium and large farmers, who operate 70.2 of
the area, with ten acres or more each (semi-medium farmers operate on the remaining
21.8 percent of the area, and their landholdings are between five and ten acres in size).
Subsidized fertilizer, canal irrigation and power are also being disproportionally applied
towards rice, in particular, and wheat (Tiwana, et al. 2007).
Awoken to the fact that the rice-wheat rotation monoculture is harmful to the natural
environment and the state’s economy, the state government is exploring diversification
towards less water intensive crops, like citrus, horticulture, and organic farming. Four
“Councils” for this purpose were set up in 2006, of which one is Organic Farming
Council of Punjab. It has set up a model farm for demonstration of organic farming in
the northeastern district of Ropar, and is supporting commercial vermi compost4
production, and has provided a small subsidy for bio-fertilizers5
. In addition to this
recent government initiative, a few NGOs, like Kheti Virasat, have been working on
environmental awareness, water conservation, and organic farming practices for a decade
or so. There is also a Faridkot-based NGO doing similar work under the name of Kheti
Virasat Mission, as well as some smaller organizations in other regions of the state.
Farmers’ Organizations with an Alternative
All the small farmers I met in Punjab who had converted to organic agriculture or
were in the process, and most of the larger ones as well, had been in touch with Kheti
Virasat before or after conversion. Most of these are living in the district of Patiala, near
Nabha, where Kheti Virasat has its offices and a research farm. They employ extension
workers that go to the farms and teach the farmers in this and other districts, and arrange
trainings for the farmers at their research farm.
Inderjeet Singh is a 52 years old organic farmer and the chairman of Kheti Virasat in
the Nabha block of Patiala district. He converted to organic in 2004, and is one of the
Vermi compost is composting made by earthworms that can turn almost any type of organic matter into
worm manure; a rich, dry vermi compost that contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium among other
micronutrients. It also contains organic carbon, and can increase the soil’s content of organic matter. The
worms consume their own weight of residue daily and one kilogram of worms may produce ten kilograms
of worm casts in 45–60 days.
Bio-fertilizers are microorganisms that have a symbiotic relationship with the plants and produce organic
nutrients for the soil. The living microorganisms increase microbial activity and enrich the fertility of the
soil, for example by converting ambient nitrogen into forms that the plants can use (Nitrate and Ammonia),
like the Rhizobium bacteria that live in the root nodules of legumes and fix nitrogen from the air. Blue-
green algae are used to fix nitrogen in rice fields. The bio-fertilizers are applied to the seed before planting,
or directly to the soil, and they also increase soil porosity and help to defend against pathogens.
few who converted all his land at once. In addition to wheat and rice, he grows some
maize and sugarcane and has a kitchen garden, as well as cows for production of organic
milk. Explaining why they started Kheti Virasat, he said most of the farming in Punjab is
conventional, and farmers are using far more chemical inputs than what the universities
recommend. As a result of exposure to chemicals, people started to get sick. Some had
problems with their eyesight and others with internal diseases, which were not noticed
immediately, but took as many as four or five years for symptoms to develop. Inderjeet
and some neighbor farmers arranged a meeting where they asked, “Why should we not
get rid of these chemicals and save our health by using a poison free farming system?”
They talked to many farmers who attended the meeting, and everyone agreed that
chemical farming is harmful, but nobody dared to give up their current way of farming.
Then Inderjeet took the step and converted all his land into organic farming. He said he
had less yield the first couple of years, but soon it stabilized to what it used to be. Now
he is actively involved in giving trainings to other farmers, and arranging meetings for
farmers and consumers.
At the Kheti Virasat’s research farm and demonstration center for organic farming
staff hopes to soon be giving trainings on organic farming for farmers from all over
Punjab and from other states as well.
In addition to working with the farmers, Kheti Virasat focuses on awareness
programs among consumers. They organize a weekly farmers’ market in the town of
Nabha, and try to inform consumers of the benefits of eating healthily. Selling their crop
at this market, or through other organic markets Kheti Virasat has arranged, has helped
the farmers to get a better price for their organic crop. “We have not done any
certification yet, but we still sell products on the local market as organic for a higher
price. People are aware of the issues in this city,” Inderjeet said, “and many people opt
for buying organic produce when available.”
Surinder, also one of the founding members of the Kheti Virasat, explained how he
joined this work, and said that when he first learned about the bad state of agriculture,
and farmers’ communities under debt, being a Punjabi and being an agriculturist, he
became very concerned: “Some of us came together and discussed these issues, and said;
we are Punjabi, we belong to this earth, we must do something for the people of Punjab.”
After talking to a lot of people, including meeting Vandana Shiva and others from
Navdanya, they decided to work full-time on these issues. “If somebody is dedicated and
very honest in his job, there are few obstacles,” he said. “Even with the defamation case
against us, I am not feeling uncomfortable.” The local university is supportive, he
explained, and Kheti Virasat is engaged with it. The agriculture university’s scientists
have visited Kheti Virasat, and many of the farmers they work with. Another
government agency, the Farmers Commission, is more skeptical, and their scientists have
argued that Kheti Virasat “are not benefiting Punjab, and that promoting organic farming
means less production,” Surinder said, “but we show them, and tell them to go and see
the farmers and their results. Our farmers are well satisfied with their own work.” But
“the Agriculture Secretary didn’t know that organic farming is increasing,” he said, “and
after having faced questions in the Punjab Assembly, the state government, he called
Kheti Virasat, and asked about their work; where are you, what are you doing there?” and
they went and talked with him. There are a lot of central government funds for organic
farming, Surinder said, but the funds for Punjab are not reaching them. “The Punjab state
government uses the funds badly, and the money disappears,” he argued, and said that the
government is not doing anything for an organic market, they just purchase for a regular
price. He said that there is no policy for organic farming, and that the government and
the politicians are not convinced, because the chemical companies give them money.
Surinder told me that politicians are quite corrupt in India, and that the north is worse
than the south, in terms of government corruption, but it is not a problem specific to this
area, he said, it is all over India. “We do get very frustrated and angry at the corruption,
but there is nothing we can do.” Surinder said Kheti Virasat now has a name on its own,
though, and does not have a direct connection with any government agency. The number
of farmers adopting organic farming is increasing, and they are successful in “changing
the mindset of the people.” Many want to convert, he said, but they do not have adequate
funding to support rapid expansion, because there is a need to support the farmers already
Training of Farmers
To the farmers who say, “I would like to change but I cannot afford it because I have
so much debt,” Kheti Virasat tells them that initially they have to change for themselves.
They encourage all to grow an organic kitchen garden as a start with the vegetables they
need for their own consumption before they continue with the rest of the farm. It is easy
to convince the farmers to set aside a small area, half an acre or one fourth of an acre, and
then they can expand gradually. Surinder said, “There are a lot of our farmers who
initially started with one acre, and now they have converted their whole land, with their
own efforts, and with their own experience.” Kheti Virasat tells them to convert little by
little, because it is difficult to start in a large area, but it is not hard for a farmer to
increase the area. When they adopt organic farming, and gradually convert, the economic
aspect should not be an issue, Surinder argued. He said, “Now we have a lot of
experienced farmers, and those we have taught can teach and make other farmers aware.
When the farmers see the organic fields in their own area, they are more easily
convinced. Inderjeet explained that they start by telling the farmer about the harm that is
done by pesticides and chemicals, and how they can purify their environment by using
organic methods of farming. During meetings, or trainings with the farmers, they also
show documentaries and educational films about environmental topics and their health
hazards, to not use too much written material and lectures. “Some of the farmers we
work with are educated, and they can understand the reason for organic farming, but on
average farmers are less educated, and among the illiterate farmers there are those who
need to be taught the relation to the environment.”
First Kheti Virasat informs people about the environmental and the health problems
Punjab is facing, which is directly connected to conventional farming practices. Then
they discuss the international issues related to farming, because indirectly that is affecting
the Indian farmer as well. They give practical advice on how organic farming is done;
how organic pesticide can be made, how to use all the organic waste to make compost,
and how, for example, vermi compost can make the soil recover faster. “The small
farmers here do not have many years of education, but they understand us.” Most can
read and write in their own language, Punjabi, while some also understand Hindi and a
little English too. The farmers they work with have from three to seven acres on average,
which is considered to range from marginal and small to semi-medium in the Punjabi
context. At present, they are working with about 150 farmers of whom some have
converted and some are in the processes of converting. Kheti Virasat has funding to help
them; they cannot compensate farmers for their losses during the conversion period, but
they are providing some inputs, initially, for preparing bio-fertilizers, manures, and bio-
, until the farmers are able to prepare all inputs on their own.
Kheti Virasat has some conditions they want the farmers to follow, in order to work
with them. First the farmer has to own or borrow a desi (native) cow. A lot of farmers
have cows, but if they do not have one Kheti Virasat will give them a cow, or just dung
from their research farm, and cow urine, which is used as a pesticide to spray on the
crops. Kheti Virasat teaches biodynamic agriculture, which, in short, is a type of organic
farming that, in addition to the use of manure and compost, adds fermented herbal and
mineral preparations to composts and bio-fertilizers. The sowing and planting is based
on an astronomical calendar indicating the rhythms of the sun, moon, planets, and stars.
Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, a philosophy that postulates the existence
of a spiritual world that is accessible to direct experience through inner spiritual
development, developed the biodynamic principles in the 1920s in Germany. Kheti
Virasat and the farmers who used the biodynamic preparations argued that the damaged
soil would come alive again faster with a formula of fermented cow urine and dung that
works both as manure and as a soil treatment. One of the farmers convinced about the
beneficial and powerful effects of biodynamic preparations is Jaspal, who is discussed
Bio-pesticides control pests in a nontoxic way through the use of compounds that are obtained naturally,
for example with microorganisms such as bacterium, fungus, or a virus as the active ingredient. Bio-
pesticides will most often affect only the target pest, and generally decompose without polluting or
affecting other organisms.
Conversion to Organic Agriculture
Jaspal, who lives in Musewal village, is one of the large organic farmers in the central
region. His father, now retired, used to regularly visit Punjab Agricultural University in
Ludhiana at the time of the GR in the early 60s. The university would give them seed,
and on one acre of his farm they had a demonstration plot. Jaspal said his father took
courses at the university and acted as a link between the university and the farming
community. He was one of the pioneers of the GR. Today Jaspal said his father is very
glad that his son converted to organic methods; “he knows that it’s right and of course he
feels that he was misled. I always tell him that you have been doing what you thought
was best. You brought money out of the farm to educate us, and today that I am educated
I have the capacity to understand all this and undo the harm which you unintentionally
did to the farm.”
Some argue it is the larger farmers who can convert to organic farming without
economic assistance, because they can afford to have a loss for a couple of years, or they
can do it gradually, while still producing enough to cover the costs of running the farm
and keeping up with debt payments. But I met medium size farmers who had converted
all their land at once, without much loss, and many smaller farmers who converted
gradually with minimum, if any, economic loss, because they reduced their spending on
costly inputs simultaneously. The farmers who have started converting, and have learned
about the effects of chemicals on the environment have also started to used much less
fertilizers in the fields that they are yet to convert. Because they now have more
knowledge of a proper dose, they do not add excessively like many of them used to.
They believe that by using this approach the conversion will be easier as the fields will
have a little less contamination than previously. The conversion process differs from
farmer to farmer, and also depends on the quality of the soil, and how much restoration is
needed in each area.
Barriers to Conversion
The biggest obstacle for farmers who would like to convert is that most of them have
so much debt to manage that they need a certain cash income each year, and therefore
have very little flexibility to weather a slightly smaller income for a year or two. Already
living with few means and high debts, they are understandably hesitant to enter any risky
undertakings, as one farmer explained: “Farmers are not financially strong; we have to
keep taking loans in order to continue farming. Most of us are in debt, and therefore we
are not motivated to convert even a part of our land into organic, despite our concerns
about health. We do not have any extra money to do something else or to think about
anything else.” Especially the smaller farmers are afraid of entering conversion, at least
without some guidance and moral support from others, like the extension workers of
Kheti Virasat. The majority of the small farmers I met, both in Patiala and Bathinda
districts, had yet to see that kind of support though, and the large majority of farmers in
this state are conventional, or “chemical farmers,” as they call themselves. They were all
very interested, however, in learning more about conversion when we discussed organic
methods versus conventional farming, and some asked if we could show them a farm
where organic farming is done and how it is done. Many said that if someone else
converts first, or if many others do it, they will join in. Charanpal is one of those, he said
he would do what all the other farmers are doing, but he does not know anyone who does
organic farming in his area. There is much uncertainty and lack of knowledge, but a
willingness to try conversion among many of the small farmers exists. Kheti Virasat’s
extension workers said the farmers are knowledgeable about the traditional natural
methods of their elders, but not of the current organic farming methods. After decades of
chemical farming and advertisements only from chemical companies, they would also
need to be educated on the benefits of change for the environment, biodiversity
conservation, and their own health. Many farmers said they feel positive towards
conversion as such, but “we are concerned about the economy in the first three years,
after that we are of the view that the yield would be similar.” One farmer said, “If there
will be an income without urea and pesticides, then we would prefer to convert to
organic, of course, it will be good for our soil. If we will be supported for those years
then we will grow organic for sure.” Others agreed, “If there were help available for
converting to organic, then we would definitely grow it, then everybody would start
doing it.” They said that anybody, it could be the government, or a NGO, should help the
farmer economically, “then he will adopt it, and he can change quicker; if it will give us
Rs. 10 thousand to Rs. 15 thousand ($200–$300) a month, we will go for it.” While we
talk, some start calculating how much they will save if they stop buying urea, fertilizer
and pesticides in the shop, and one said, “If we don’t buy all these chemicals and
pesticides then it will save us money, the price of input would be less, and we could be in
Changes after Conversion
Although there is not a program assisting the farmers economically Kheti Virasat is
assisting many with conversions, and I met and talked with some of these farmers, with
land of various sizes, who were in the process of conversion. Akalpreet is one of the
farmers with a medium size farm who had recently started conversion. He said he had
too much debt to convert all at once, but has started with one of the ten acres of the
family farm that are his, to see how it would go. Akalpreet said he got around 95 percent
of a conventional harvest on the crop the first time he used compost and cow dung as
fertilizer. “If we work hard and improve our compost and dung fertilizers, I think we can
get an equal crop even in two years. If a farmer adopts this farming with a proper plan
and preparation, then there is not really a loss in his income, because of less cost for
inputs, and a higher price, at least for organic wheat for now, in the market.”
While some farmers said they found that already in the second year there is not a big
difference in the yield compared with the chemical way of farming, Inderjeet said he did
feel the economic impact during the first two to three years. “I have only five acres and
converted all my land to organic at once, so my income went down.” He used to have
around 18 quintals (one quintal is 100 kilogram) of grain per acre, but after he converted
to organic he got only five quintals from the first crop, but next year it went up to 15 and
in the fourth year he got around 16 quintals per acre. “For the first year I had no grain to
sell in the market, only for the family’s consumption.” Next year he expects at least 16
quintals again, and the price of the 16 quintals will be double that of the conventional
wheat. “I am not worried about the economic aspects of organic farming, because what
prompted me to convert was to save people’s health and to save our environment. I read
the Greenpeace study, Arrested Development, and am convinced that pesticides affect our
memory and physical power, our health,” he said.
Deepinder is another farmer who is convinced about the needs of changing for the
environment. “We have to save planet earth and I would like to carry on with organic,”
he said. He learned about organic farming from Ricchpal Singh Grewal, one of India’s
famous organic farmers, from Sirsa in Haryana. Then he studied it further himself, and
learned from those who came to do the certification of his fields. He also said that just
“talking to old people you get many clues, it’s very educating; interacting with them, they
tell you what they used to do before 1965, when India was organic.” Whenever he meets
people he tells them about the health hazards of conventionally grown food in Punjab.
“People get the message, but still, it’s about money, and they are not ready to convert.”
Deepinder said the many large farmers around are also reluctant to convert to organic,
because they do not see it as economically viable, unless the government supports them.
He said the government is supposedly supporting organic now, but not much is actually
happening. “For these things to survive you need active government support,” he said,
“The government should come willingly forward to help the farmers. Right now Punjab
and the whole country are divided on this issue, and families are being divided, so a very
bold political step is required of people to come forward and do organic farming.”
Gunbir is one of the few large farmers (60 acres), who had started conversion. He
began with eight acres in 2007 and added another eight acres in 2008. After that he has
increased four acres a year, and said he will continue at that phase. The soil structure is
not very good on his land, so the yields decrease a lot, and that is why he is converting
slowly, he said. "I didn’t talk to anyone about changing to organic; it just came from my
inner voice.” Four years ago he was doing the same as most other farmers in Punjab.
“Then I started thinking how we are putting high loads of poison in the crop we are
eating, and how at least a person who is educated should not go the same way, and that
changed my mind.” He is concerned with farming in a more natural way, closer to
nature, because, he said, “we have to take care of the environment; it is our duty to do it
and people should be made aware about it.” One day he heard an interview on the radio
with a person from Kheti Virasat, and the next day he contacted them. Now he receives
seed and information from them. “This year I used traditional seed in the organic field.
The taste is better when we use traditional seed; in crop from the hybrid seed there is no
taste. In chemical farming or in hybrid seed, the size is quite good, they look very
beautiful, but the taste is not there.” Many people comment on the lack of taste in
conventional crop in Punjab, and how that has prompted many to grow their own
vegetables, as a minimum, which they had often left years ago when the focus became
more on wheat and rice only. Ekanjeet, another large farmer said, “I started converting to
organic in 2000, and I actually started because my father said that the quality of the food
is not good; it is not tasty, not healthy.” He said his father thought about the taste,
because originally they had been doing farming without chemicals in the 1960s, and he
remembered the taste and quality of that produce; and he realized that what he was
growing now was not comparable to that. Ekanjeet believes more people will convert to
organic farming; “as people are realizing that they are getting a lot of diseases from
polluted food, slowly they are coming toward organic” he said.
Hargun, a 50 years old farmer working with Kheti Virasat, said, “I used to talk to the
neighbor farmers about organic farming, but they did not care, because they were used to
doing chemical farming.” In the beginning they called Hargun foolish for doing organic
farming, they told him, “if you are growing organically your production will decrease,”
but nowadays people are convinced when they see his crop; they come to learn about it
and some farmers nearby are converting to organic. “I am fully trained and totally
convinced that organic farming is better,” Hargun said, “I did not have much problems
converting to organic.” In the first year the yield decreased, but now there is balance, he
said, “it’s the same as the other yield, and I produce all the input on the farm.” He has
three desi cows, and three buffalos. “We use cow dung and cow urine as fertilizers, and
vermi compost. In a few years I would have everything organic.” He also gets
traditional seed from Kheti Virasat. “I use those local seed for everything, also in my
One of Hargun’s neighbors, also working with Kheti Virasat, is Ikhtiar. Ikhtiar has
seven acres, and said, “Already now, two years since I converted, the yield is very good.
I will convert the remaining land, but conversion is labor intensive, so I convert slowly.
If I did all at once, that would be costly.” While he admits that some organic methods
require hard work, he sees an almost day-to-day improvement in the structure of the soil.
He is working with his son, and he has one permanent laborer. Ikhtiar proudly showed
me an article about him and organic farming in the Hindustan Times, an Indian daily
newspaper. “I am very happy that I converted, and I’ve learned a lot and keep learning
every day.” He said that he feels secure about the knowledge he has, and he feels
confident about telling others that he successfully converted. “I am not very educated,
but I have good knowledge of all this because we are doing it on our own. I would grow
organic even if there is no good price for it, I would do it for our own consumption.” He
continued, “These chemical companies do not want anybody to follow organic, but all
this land should be organic. I am late to start this. We didn’t know. I should have
started earlier, but it’s better late than never, and now our son is also convinced about
organic farming.” The son replies, “Yes, it is very good.” The whole family is working
together, and Ikhtiar, directing his head towards his wife said, “I have help of her also, all
the milk is organic, and we grow vegetables for domestic consumption.” Ikhtiar had
gone to trainings with Kheti Virasat, and he commends their fieldworkers who are
visiting that day. “These two boys keep coming and tell us all the new things, they tell us
all about organic farming, and if we have a problem with something, they give technical
Many of the farmers talked about the changes they observe in their fields after
converting, for example; as friendly insects are increasing, many birds return. Surinder
said farmers realized the importance of this. “They now understand that with organic
farming we preserve our biodiversity, flora and fauna, our nature.” He continued, “We
are very confident that the farmers are happy with our work, and we see this every day,
when they enthusiastically report their progress.” The first change they see, even while
the yield may be lower, is a change in the soil. The texture of the organic soil is soft and
humid; there are earthworms and insects. In the conventional soil, insecticides have
killed the earthworms and most of the small living organisms. When the soil is
increasing its fertility, the crop is healthier, and there are also fewer pest attacks
according to organic farmers. The soil also smells very good to them when it becomes
organic, after two, three years. One farmer said natural plants are stronger and more
resistant. “Before we converted we were getting many more diseases in the plants, and
the weed problem is also less now, we are very happy about that because we are doing
both manual weeding and chopping; cutting the weed and putting it back in the field.”
Soon the converted fields also require less water. “We even save a lot of water, and on
the cost of running the pumps.”
In many places there is no marketing of organic produce and the price is not higher
than for the conventional produce. Kheti Virasat has a network of buyers in Nabha town
and in the surrounding towns like Govindgahr and Patiala, and industrial areas nearby.
People living there do not mind paying more to get organic produce, and the demand is
not met yet. “That’s why more farmers are doing organic farming here, because they
have the market,” Surinder said. They also sell organic wheat in Chandigarh, the state
capital Punjab shares with Haryana, where there are a several organic shops, and the price
difference between organic and regular processed rice, for example, is almost three times.
Last year the government price for wheat, the MSP, was Rs. 1,200 for one quintal.
Surinder said, “Kheti Virasat’s farmers got above Rs. 2,000, approximately Rs. 2,200, for
organic rice and wheat, that’s almost double rate.” In other places the farmers said they
have buyers only for organic wheat, not for the paddy, or rice, so they sell that in the
market for the conventional price. Often there is market for organic wheat, but not rice,
because rice is a not a traditional crop in Punjab and local people, especially the elderly,
Currently, there are no modern processing machines for organic produce in Punjab.
The only way available to make flour organically is a mill operated with water, a very
slow process to make flour, but in 2008 Kheti Virasat had received funding from the
Nabha Foundation to buy the processing machines. The Nabha Foundation7
, which is
supporting sustainable rural development and heritage conservation in Punjab,
approached Kheti Virasat in 2004, and expressed its wish to support their work. Kheti
Virasat developed a proposal for their projects, and was funded from 2007 on. Surinder
said, “Earlier we were facing financial problems, but we had gained useful experience
while working with the farmers, trying to teach and assist with conversion with few
means. Our experience shows that it is possible to convert with no economic support, but
it is great to get funding for the processing machines, because buying those would
otherwise not have been possible.” They need separate processing for organic produce,
and the machines will be installed in their locales in Nabha, one for making wheat flour,
one for abstracting oil, and a small one for spices. Surinder said farmers and consumers
would be able to use the processing machinery free of charge, and run it themselves.
“They will run it in their own way. It will be a place where consumers and farmers can
meet, and the farmers will sell their own produce. They will both benefit, farmers will
get more and consumers will pay less for a good produce.”
Another aspect Kheti Virasat’s work is assisting the farmers with is certification.
Some of the larger farmers do their own certification separately, while Kheti Virasat
organizes certification for several of the smaller farmers jointly. It is expensive, and they
save on doing larger areas at a time. Kheti Virasat is helping with the cost, and they have
The Nabha Foundation is an affiliate of the Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation, an Indian public charitable
been working with Institute for Marketecology (IMO)8
an international certification and
inspection agency founded in Switzerland in 1990. They have machinery for packaging
their certified organic brand, which they sell from a small store in their locales in Nabha.
They currently have 45 acres of land in certification and hope that this will aid in the sale
of organic produce. Rice, in particular, will be easier to sell to other cities and states
when it is certified. Kheti Virasat teaches the famers to grow organic in a way that will
qualify their produce for certification. This includes requirements such as growing seed
of crops that can pollinate themselves; no organic certifying agency allows the use of
hybrid seed, and definitely not any GM seed. IMO requires buffer zones between organic
and conventional crops on neighboring farms, uncontaminated water sources, and control
of all inputs and preparations on a certified organic farm.
In 2004 Kheti Virasat also started a seed bank. They have not found many
indigenous seed left in Punjab, but in neighboring states to the north, where traditional
seed are still used, they have collected seed that they are now growing in Punjab. Some
of the farmers Kheti Virasat works with grow several of these varieties and have started
to store the seed for distribution to other farmers. Ikhtiar, one of the participating farmers
said, “We are very happy, Kheti Virasat are helping us with the seed, and they have
booked our wheat for seed purpose, we store it collectively with them.” There are many
reasons for returning to the use of traditional seed. The farmers want to be able to save
their own seed, and not buy hybrids. The hybrids also require much more water and
fertilizers, and the farmers contend that the hybrid varieties are more exposed to pests
IMO is one of the first international agencies for inspection and certification of organic production and
handling. They also do quality assurance of other eco-friendly products, and social accountability
than the traditional varieties. Inderjeet said that the hybrid sugarcane variety, for
example, is very high yielding, but it is plagued with the stem borer, an insect the farmers
are spraying pesticides against up to six times on one crop, and still they cannot get rid of
that pest problem. He has a 50 years old local variety that does not have a borer problem.
While the traditional seed disappeared, the cattle of Punjab are still alive, although in
smaller numbers than previously. As agriculture intensified, there has been a decline in
diversity and number of livestock. The total cattle population decreased by 22.7 percent
just between 1997 and 2003, while the indigenous cattle among this population decreased
by 37.3 percent in the same time period (Tiwana, et al. 2007). Many of the farmers say
that a practical problem regarding conversion now is lack of cow dung. One farmer
explained that “we have to use cow dung cakes as fuel, so we cannot use it as fertilizer,”
and another farmer said, “We are using cow dung, but we have to buy from other people
who have more cattle.” A few of the farmers have installed a biogas generator, which
provides clean, renewable gas for use in the kitchen, or for lighting or other needs, while
still leaving liquid dung for compost use. The cost of this generator is too high for many
of the farmers, they said, while it would certainly make a good investment, not least for
the health of the women, and the environment, they believe. In rural areas women often
cook with wood or dung, either outdoors or in kitchens that become filled with unhealthy
smoke. Cooking with biomass has been strongly related to tuberculosis (Mishra, et al.
1999), and lung cancer (Gupta, et al. 2001) in women, and reduction in pulmonary
function for children (Behera, et al. 1998), who also often spend time near the cooking
area. Indeed, global health research has found that indoor use of biomass fuels for
cooking and heating is a significant source of global respiratory problems (Smith and
Akalpreet’s brother, Jagdesh, said “If there is a dairy or poultry farm you can get a
constant supply of the waste, but here people do not have as many cattle anymore. We
have only six cattle, enough to supply milk for the family, but their dung is not sufficient
for the whole farm, just for one or two acres.” Some think that without manure the
organic farming cannot be successful, but Navdanya and other organizations teach
farmers how to do organic farming without cattle; as there are many types of composting.
Kheti Virasat still recommends dung in the initial stages of conversion because there is
little forest litter to harvest for use in compost, and it would take more time to grow green
manure, or cover crop, and add nutrients and organic matter to the soil that way, because
the soil is often very depleted in Punjab. For small farmers who have cattle, two or three
animals are sufficient to provide fertilizer for their land, something most households
have. The compost is most needed in the newly converted land, and less in what is
already converted, because after three years not too much compost is required to maintain
Although a small organization, Kheti Virasat, along with many of the farmers
working with it, is helping to make important changes for people, their health, and the
environment in Punjab. The farmers I met there were satisfied with their work, and many
had suggestions of things that have to change in Punjab, to make it a more sustainable
place to live. They mentioned that more awareness and education is needed in the
general population, not just among the farmers. Surinder said they are developing a
network of farmers and consumers in the whole state, called the Punjab Organic Farming
Association. “I am very confident that the future is bright for organic farming in Punjab.
I think more and more people will convert; we have no other alternative.”
In this chapter I have attempted to give a glimpse of the state of conventional and
organic agriculture in Punjab, through the farmers I interviewed and the people working
with Kheti Virasat. It seems clear the intensive rice-wheat rotation cropping system
reached stagnation in the beginning of the 2000s (IFPRI). The potential of the new seed
varieties has been exhausted; additional doses of fertilizers do not bring extra output
anymore, and declining soil fertility and water tables are the reality in increasingly larger
areas of the state. Some marginal and smaller farmers, and a few large farmers, are
learning alternative ways of producing food, after years of chemical agriculture. The
state government of Punjab has slowly started supporting alternative ways of food
production, with a growing demand for organic food due to increasing awareness of
health and environment issues in conventional agriculture and pressure from local
Punjab and its experience with the GR stand out compared to the other three states I
visited. The other state I will discuss here, Uttarakhand, has had almost no encounter
with the GR, and recently declared itself an organic state. That does not mean that all the
famers there are growing organic, yet, or that the marginal and small farmers do not have
their share of challenges. Still, it is one sign of the level of movement toward organic
farming and away from the GR and all that it represents in terms of industrial farming in
CHAPTER FOUR: UTTARAKHAND
Mountain Agriculture and Agroforestry
In this chapter, like in the previous, I start with a description of the state, and then
proceed to discuss the main topics, here as they pertain to Uttarakhand state. I begin with
a brief history of the role of forestry and social movements in the state and Navdanya’s
work here. Then I discuss non-sustainable agriculture: the environmental consequences
and implications for agriculture and biodiversity. In this state climate change and its
impacts on farmers is significant, and I include a section about that, before I proceed to
talk about sustainable agriculture. I describe the farmers’ experience, training of farmers,
conversion to organic agriculture; environmental and economic changes, activism, hybrid
seed, seed saving, marketing of organic produce and lastly continued challenges;
economic sustainability, and migration.
Uttarakhand is a state primarily composed of relatively homogeneous small family
farms located in a still largely inaccessible mountain region. Farmers here participate in
a traditional agro-forestry system that developed over centuries of coping with the
challenges and opportunities presented by the local environment. The topography is a
barrier to significant mechanization in the hilly areas of the state, but modern farming
methods have entered this region to some extent. Local farmers still maintain a rich
biodiversity, both in crop species and other plants grown or collected from the wild, such
as those with medicinal and herbal properties. This state has not seen much use of
agrochemicals, and consequently fewer environmental and health effects of these,
compared to many other parts of the country. Local farmers do face other challenges,
such as how to employ a growing population and how to counter the effects of climate
Uttarakhand (which translates into north country) is located east of Punjab, and used
to be the northern part of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh (with a current
population of 199.6 million). It became a separate state in 2000, with 10.1 million people
on its 53,566 square kilometers, just 3,204 square kilometers larger than Punjab, and the
next in size of the Indian states (Indiastat 2011). A majority of its population, around 85
percent, practices Hinduism; while roughly ten percent follow Islam and about two
percent adhere to Sikhism. Uttarakhand is part of the Western Himalayan region of
India, bordering Himachal Pradesh in the northwest, Tibet in the north, and Nepal in the
east, in addition to Uttar Pradesh in the south. The state is about 90 percent mountainous
and includes the second highest mountain in India, Nanda Devi, at 7,816 meters. The
state consists of two regions: the northwestern Garhwali region, which includes the
districts of Chamoli, Dehradun, Haridwar, Pauri Garhwal, Rudraprayag, Tehri Garhwal,
and Uttarkashi, and the southeastern Kumaon region, which includes the districts of
Almora, Nainital, Udham Singh Nagar, and others. Nine of the 13 districts are located
entirely in the hill region, while Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar and parts of
Dehradun and Nainital are in the plains, which constitute only about ten percent of the
state’s geographical area. The rivers Ganges and Yamuna originate in the southern slope
of the Himalayan range in the northern part of the state. Forests cover about 60–65
percent of Uttarakhand’s area, and only 14.5 percent of the land is cultivated (Mittal, et
al. 2008; Sati 2005; Singh 2009).
The climate and vegetation vary greatly, from snow covered mountains, glaciers, and
bare rock at the highest elevations, to moist forests in the plains at just 300 meters above
sea level. Alpine shrub and meadows are found at 3,000–5,000 meters and the subalpine
forests start below the tree line. There are five distinct agro-ecological zones, and the
highest is the cold zone from 2,400–3,600 meters, where barley, potato, wheat, and other
crops are grown in the summer season only. In the cold zone the forest consists of birch
and blue pine at the highest elevations, followed by fir, spruce, cypress, rhododendron,
chestnut, and oak at lower elevations. In the Upper and Middle Garhwal-Kumaon zones,
from 1,200–2,400 meters, finger millet and rice is cultivated in addition to the three crops
mentioned above, and the temperate broadleaf forests grow here in a belt from 2,600–
1,500 meters. These forests consist of oak, blue and chir pine, rhododendron, deodar and
sal. Further down are pine forests, in the Upper Dun, Bhabar, and lower Shivaliks zone,
where finger millet, maize, rice, and wheat are grown. The lower Dun and Tarai zone
constitute the plains, with moist deciduous forests, drier savanna, and grasslands. The
plains have largely been cleared for agriculture, and wheat, rice and sugarcane are the
main crops here. Together with other cereals, like maize and finger millet, these crops
are produced in 80 percent of the cultivated area (Guha 2000a).
On most farms in the hills they grow between three and five varieties of grain (wheat,
rice or millets), two to three pulse crops, and supplement their diets and income with
vegetables, fruit, and animal husbandry. While agriculture with mixed crops and animal
husbandry is the main livelihood for more than three quarters of the state’s population, it
contributes only 22.4 percent to the state’s domestic product.
Most of the farmers own their land, which is largely farmed with family labor, and
there is hardly any external labor involved. The farmers often work on each other’s fields
in turns for labor-intensive tasks such as sowing of paddy, weeding, hoeing, and
The majority of the farms are small and fragmented subsistence holdings, often sited
on steep land where many of the slopes have been made into field terraces. Irrigation is
difficult with the fields in the hillsides located high above the rivers, and merely 10.2
percent of the agricultural plots in the hills are irrigated, while in the plains, 88.8 percent
of the fields are. A total of 43.6 percent of the net sown area in the state is irrigated, a
little above the national average of 40.3 percent (Indiastat 2011; Mittal, et al. 2008; Singh
2009). Land distribution is relatively equal with rare cases of land holdings of over 5
acres, and landlessness is low. The average landholding size is only 2.3 acres, compared
to the national average of 3.5 acres, and almost 70 percent of the holdings are marginal
(smaller than 2.5 acres, with more than half of these being smaller than 1.2 acres): 18
percent of the holdings are small (2.5–5 acres), 12 percent of the holdings are semi-
medium or medium (5–25 acres), while only one percent are large, or above 25 acres.
The larger landholdings are in the plains, where 56 percent of the population resides.
Forty-seven percent of the female population and 42 percent of the male population
reside in the hills, and the majority of the population, 78.3 percent live in the rural areas
(Mittal, et al. 2008).
Traditionally, land distribution in the hills has been more equitable than in the plains,
and while socio-economic differentiation has increased in recent years, the communities
in the hills are still relatively homogenous. “The (attenuated) presence of caste
notwithstanding, hill society exhibits an absence of sharp class divisions. Viewed along
with the presence of strong communal traditions, this makes Uttarakhand a fascinating
exception which one is unable to fit into existing conceptualizations of social hierarchy in
India.” observed Ramachandra Guha in The Unquiet Woods (Guha 2000a:14). He
explained this in terms of the geography and ecology of the mountains where there is
limited access to arable land and virtually everybody depends on the monsoon for
irrigation. These constraints and the limited amount of surplus production have
contributed to solidarity among the majority of small landowning farmers, rather than
sharp class divisions. Production for the market also has been limited historically due to
the lack of infrastructure and transportation; this situation remains into the present, with
over four thousand villages still not connected by road (Guha 2000a; Singh 2009).
Eighty percent of rural households earn over a third of their income from livestock,
mainly from the sale of meat and milk. In addition to the economic benefits, animal
husbandry provides substantial energy and protein nutritional gain, and supports
improved soil nutrition through manure, widely used as a natural fertilizer. The animals
are mainly fed leaves and crop residues in addition to cultivated green fodder and grasses
from permanent pastures. Geographic inaccessibility, remoteness, environmental
diversity, and ecological fragility have maintained this historic agro-ecological
production system, which is mainly sustained with inputs from the forest. Agriculture in
the hill areas is not as mechanized as in the plains, but some farmers own a tractor, or in
some cases three or four farmers share one tractor, instead of hiring in times of need.
Bullocks are easier to maneuver in undulating and hilly terrain, and none of the farmers I
interviewed here used a tractor, compared to all I had met in Punjab. Horses and mules
are the core of the rural transport system, especially in Uttarkashi, Garhwal and Chamoli
districts. On the whole, the hills are significantly less developed than the plains in terms
of infrastructure like roads, electricity, and irrigation, but also with respect to education
and health services.
In the four districts located wholly or partially in the plains, on average 70.1 percent
of the households have electricity, compared to 50.4 percent of the households in the
hills. While 60.3 percent of the households in the plains have toilets inside the dwelling,
only 29.9 percent of the households in the in the hills have this facility. Drinking water
amenities inside the dwelling is found in 67.2 percent of the households in the plains, but
only among 22.2 percent of those in the hills. There is more than double the length of
paved roads per thousand square kilometers in the plains (799.9 kilometers) compared to
in the hills (318.8 kilometers), and only 58 percent of the villages in the hills districts are
connected by road (Kar 2006). Increasingly, an income disparity has been growing
between the hills and the plains, and of the 47.2 percent of the state’s population who live
below the poverty line; the majority is located in the hilly areas. The average income in
the hills is less than two thirds of the average income in the plains (Kar 2006; Rais, et al.
2009; Subrahmanyeswari and Chander 2008). The presence of banks remain limited in
the hills, and most farmers there do not take out loans for agricultural purposes at all;
indeed only 7.2 percent of the state’s farmers have loans through official financial
institutions (Singh 2009). Self-help groups and micro-finance institutions are the main
providers of credit to the people in the villages of the hill districts (Mittal, et al. 2008).
Subsistence agriculture is the main economic activity in each of the hill districts, but
in this difficult terrain, cultivation and cattle rearing are not enough to live on, especially
when the holdings are divided with each generation. As a result, there is extensive
migration from remote rural areas to the state capital, Dehradun, to the more developed
plains, and to Delhi or Mumbai. A secondary remittance economy has emerged that is
helping to sustain many communities (Jain 2010).
One consequence of many men leaving for work elsewhere is that women often are
solely in charge of agriculture. Women have traditionally had an important role in hill
agriculture, and the ecological constraints here have created the need for multiple
economic activities. However, many would call the division of labor here oppressive,
because women not only work equally with men in the fields and in looking after
domestic animals, or do so alone when needed, but they also take care of the family.
They are responsible for collecting fodder for the animals, fuel for cooking and water for
drinking and other uses, and, in addition, for cleaning and childrearing. These chores
often give them a hard day’s work comprised of about 17 hours. The men living in the
villages work far fewer hours than the women, and I often observed them sitting around
talking, while their wives worked hard from early morning to late evening. The state has
a sex ratio of 963 females per 1000 men, a little above the Indian average of 940, but still
far below the more “natural” sex ratio at birth of 1,084 females per 1000 males found in
Kerala (India Census 2011).
The state’s urban literacy rate is 80.0 among females and 89.8 among males, while
the average rural literacy rate is only 66.8 percent among females, but 87.6 among males.
In Uttarkashi district where I conducted research, the literacy rate among females was
just 46.7 percent, the lowest in the state. The teacher-pupil ratio varies by district, but the
state average is one to 50 up to class eight. The national literacy rate is 74.0 percent, 82.1
for males and 65.5 for females (India Census 2011; Mittal, et al. 2008).
To make the most of the tradition of the state’s farmers using natural farming
methods—for economic and ecological reasons among others—the state government
identified organic farming as an arena for future agricultural development, and declared
Uttarakhand as an organic state, the first in India. This does not mean that pesticides or
chemical fertilizers are forbidden, or even that they will not be sold there, but their use
has been reduced since 2003 (Singh 2009), and the government encourages and supports
farmers who want to use organic methods. The government established the Uttarakhand
Organic Commodity Board in 2003, to coordinate and promote organic farming
throughout the state, and emphasized the importance of the forest for rural mountain
agriculture. The forests and their associated grasslands provide fodder for livestock and
regulate the hydrological and nutrient cycling for the sustainability of the fragile hill
agro-ecosystems, located just below the forest ecosystems. Millions of tons of leaf litter
are available every year after the ecological needs of the forest are fulfilled, and leaf litter
collection is an old practice that together with traditional manure systems can maintain
the nutrients in the soil in the hilly areas.
The state has an exceptionally rich biodiversity, with farmers in some villages
growing up to 40 different species in a year, and at least 175 species of aromatic and
medicinal plants are known to grow there (Mahajan 2009; Mittal, et al. 2008).
As mentioned in the previous chapters, the western region of Uttar Pradesh was part
of the initial area, together with Punjab and Haryana, where the GR was introduced. The
area of today’s Uttarakhand that is located in the plains used to be part of western Uttar
Pradesh and its highly fertile Gangetic plains, prior to the separation in 2000. The
farmers in the plains have therefore been familiar with chemicals and hybrid seed since
the first decade of the GR, and there is still widespread conventional agricultural
production there, despite the state’s declaration of Uttarakhand as an organic state.
Bija Vidyapeeth, Navdanya’s research farm and training center, is located half an
hour by car southwest of Dehradun, the state capital, in the Doon Valley. The hills rise
up just north of the city, and I focused my research on the hill areas and mountain
agriculture in this state. Because organic farming training for farmers and coordinators
and other meetings takes place there, I stayed several weeks at Bija Vidyapeeth and
attended a course there given by Navdanya in 2006. I also visited farmers in the nearby
areas. My other field sites were villages in the hills, in Uttarkashi, the northernmost
district of the state. In addition I traveled to the three hill stations Mussoorie (in
Dehradun district, where I studied Hindi and Urdu for ten weeks), Ranikhet (in Almora
district), and Nainital (in Nainital district), and the pilgrimage towns of Rishikesh and
Haridwar on the bank of Ganges River, in Dehradun and Haridwar districts respectively.
Forests and Social Movements
The management of the extensive forests has long been central to social and
economic organization in these hill societies. Large-scale felling of the forest in this area
began with the railway construction under the British colonization, and a forest
department was set up in 1864, initially to identify strong and durable timber such as
deodar, teak, and sal, which could be used as railway sleepers (Gadgil and Guha 1992).
In order to control the right to the forests, a comprehensive all-India act was introduced in
1878, to provide for establishment of closed forests, where the people living nearby were
deprived of their rights to use the forest, so that it could produce timber for the state, and
its imperial needs. Working plans for the forests were introduced to regulate the
extraction, and gradually the entire forests of the state came under these plans, and
became valuable items of revenue. The farmers soon began protests against this so-called
scientific forest management by the state—which in effect was commercial forestry—
disrupting their patterns of resource utilization, and against their loss of community
ownership of it. They started not obeying the restrictions on their customary use of the
forest for fodder, grazing, and construction. Over time the protests grew into rebellious
movements using new means of protest in the form of attacks on forest officials or arson
directed either at blocks of forest valuable for the administration or at official buildings
(Guha 2000a). Among the many post-colonial forest movements in Uttarakhand, the best
known is the peasant protest against commercial forestry, Chipko, which started in 1973.
Villagers, and among them many women, often in leading roles, protested the state’s
forestry policies that restricted the small farmers customary use of the forest for
subsistence and the state’s commercial exploitation of the trees. Despite women’s central
role in this movement, important decision-making positions within the movement
remained mostly with men, except in a very few cases, and women’s domestic work
burden, rights in property or other gender relations were never included as a part of group
goals. Women are responsible for the collection of fodder and firewood, and sometimes
water, from the forests. They often have to walk far to accomplish these tasks, and would
be burdened by restrictions to their use of the forest. Their daughters would sometimes
be asked to assist them, even if this would negatively affect their school attendance
The protest was part of a centuries old conflict between scientific forest management
and village management, on ecological and social grounds, and the villager’s dependence
on the forest for their continued existence as farmers in this environment (Guha 2000a).
One problem was that the Forestry Department started to grow monocrop conifer
plantations for commercial purposes, while the traditional mixed deciduous forest was
more useful for the farmers for fodder, fuel, timber and other basic requirements.
Another point of dispute was the Department’s use of outside contractors, depriving the
locals of employment and income (Rangan 2000). Population growth had also placed
increased pressure on the forests, and resulting reduced forest cover and density had
contributed to soil erosion and weakened the forests’ capacity for water storage. Large
floods in 1970 made people in the region more aware of the relationship between
deforestation, soil erosion, floods and landslides (Baviskar 2005).
Ultimately, Chipko succeeded in obtaining a fifteen-year moratorium on clear felling
above 1,000 meters through the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, and restrictions on
conversion of forests to non-forest uses were also included. The opponents to the act
argued that these changes came at the cost of local infrastructural development and
employment opportunities. New national parks were also constituted, where traditional
activities of grazing and collection of fuel and herbs were prohibited (Guha 2000a).
Many of those who had played a prominent role in Chipko went on to oppose the
construction of Tehri dam, and to develop a movement for regional autonomy. They
formed the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (Uttarakhand Revolutionary Party), which, like
Chipko, critiqued the ecological and social policies the government of Uttar Pradesh had
implemented in their hill areas, as well as the fact that in their opinion state policies
benefitted the plains over the hills. They fought to protect hill ecology in order to
maintain their subsistence agriculture, and after protests and demonstrations through the
1980s and 1990s, they succeeded in obtaining a separate state in 2000 (Rangan 2000).
Nevertheless, many argue that the historic inequalities between the plains and the hills
perpetuated by previous governments have not been reduced in the new state (Kar 2006;
Mittal, et al. 2008; Singh 2009).
The state government of Uttarakhand has continued in a pattern similar to what
Chipko and others protested in the former state, namely continued forest exploitation and
dam construction. About 70 percent of the state’s forest area is controlled by the Forest
Department, while the villagers only manage 11 percent of the forest area through Van
Panchayats (forest committees), which were established back in 1931. At that time, the
communities were granted the use of the forests surrounding their villages after protests
against the British management of the forest resources. In 2001, after the formation of
the new state, the Forest Department was given a larger role in the functioning of the Van
Panchayats, but it is still considered by many as a good example of a state-people
partnership. Today there are 12,067 Van Panchayats, found only in Uttarakhand, which
are managing small forest resources, and in addition there are some privately owned,
community managed forests (Mittal, et al. 2008). Some of the functions of the Van
To develop and protect forests by preventing indiscriminate felling of trees and to fell
only those trees that are marked by the forest department and are useful for
silviculture. To ensure that there is no encroachment on Van Panchayati land and no
violation of rules … and that no land is encroached on for agricultural practices
without prior permission. To distribute its produce amongst right holders in an
equitable manner. 20 percent of the area of the forest must be closed for grazing each
year. [Mittal, et al. 2008:75]
In addition to the Van Panchayats there are Joint Forest Management (JFM)
Programs, which encourage partnerships between villages or fringe forest-user groups
and the Forest Department. Based on mutual trust and jointly defined roles and
responsibilities, they work to protect and develop the forests in a sustainable way. About
50 percent of rural households in Uttarakhand depend on village commons and the forests
for their basic needs (Mittal, et al. 2008).
One project that the Chipko activists and others initiated but lost was against the
construction of Tehri dam, started in 1978. The Tehri dam was built on the Bhagirathi
River, one of the main tributaries of the Ganges, and submerged Tehri town and 37
villages. The land of an additional 13 villages was acquisitioned for the project works,
which involved relocating over 100,000 people. The government of Uttar Pradesh had
proposed the dam construction in 1969 and phase one was completed in 2006, while the
current government continues phase two and three, which will submerge nearly 50
additional villages (Adhikari 2009; Mittal, et al. 2008). The dam project is controversial
on many grounds. These include the displacement of so many people and the
resettlement policies, the submerging of the town of Tehri, a historical capital, and other
towns and villages. Archaeologists lament the destruction of archaeological sites once a
dam is constructed. There are also concerns regarding the construction of such a large
dam, the 8th
tallest in the world, in a region vulnerable to earthquakes (Mittal, et al.
Navdanya in Uttarakhand
Vandana Shiva had been volunteering with the Friends of Chipko after returning from
her education in Canada. In 1987, over a decade before Uttarakhand was separated from
Uttar Pradesh, she started Navdanya. Darban Singh Negi, a 39 years old farmer from
Pauri Garhwal district was one of the first to join Shiva in her work in the spring of 1990.
Negi had been working with Mira Shiva, Vandana Shiva’s sister, in another NGO prior to
joining Navdanya, and had heard about their work with seed conservation in Uttarakhand
through her. Negi has been part of the work at Bija Vidyapeeth since Navdanya bought
the farm, and now divides his time between Bija Vidyapeeth and his own small farm in
Garhwal and the coordinator work, training farmers in biological agriculture in local
villages. At Bija Vidyapeeth, he stays a couple of weeks during transplanting and
harvesting, and participates in the courses they teach, in addition to doing research in
both locations. The eight-acre farm produces, and keeps in a seed bank, diverse varieties
of millets, pulses, oilseed, vegetables and medicinal plants, in addition to around 30
wheat varieties and over 250 rice varieties. There are several courses taught there during
the year, where those who are interested, both from within India and from abroad, attend
classes. They also have large meetings and trainings for their coordinators and
participating farmers, and celebrations like that of Biodiversity Day, where politicians
and other leaders are invited to participate.
Negi recalled the earlier days when they started the work at the farm, and said, “Many
people used to tell me that Vandana and I were wasting time and money, and that we
needed more food fast. You are going back, they alleged, to traditional ways; organic is
not the future. Now, many NGOs are working on organic farming and seed saving and
we are working in 16 states in India, so I travel a lot.” He noticed today people are
talking about organic and seed saving everywhere. “For me, this is the success of
Navdanya, that they withstood that critique and have inspired so many to do similar
work,” he mentioned proudly. “In some regions we are working alone, like in these hill
areas where we can reach the farmers easily, while in other states we cooperate with local
organizations and share information. We cannot go everywhere,” he adds, “and there are
people with local knowledge in their areas.”
The director of Navdanya, who works both at Bija Vidyapeeth and at Navdanya’s
office in Dehradun, is Dr. Vinod Kumar Bhatt. He came to the organization in 1997 after
teaching botany and working in a NGO called Environmental Economics. He has a
degree in botany and “a doctorate in mushrooms, the poisonous as well as the edible
family,” he told me. When they first met, Shiva had asked him to write an article about
his perception of biodiversity conservation: the importance of biodiversity in his field,
and how it can be conserved. He came back after one month with an article, and started
working with Navdanya. He has conducted various research projects over the years, the
first of which was a three year study of the productivity potential of traditional crops;
specifically whether local varieties in a customary farming system are able to produce
more than commercial varieties. He also looked at the overall production of a mixed
cropping system. “I found that even in the worst conditions when it was a drought year,
some of the crops did very well, although one or two failed. The farmers were never at a
total loss, although they had some loss. The farmers actually did quite well, because the
drought resistant varieties performed very well,” he said. “That was as learning
experience for me too,” he continued, “had it been a monoculture system the farmer
could have been in a 100 percent loss.” Other studies have also found that local varieties
show greater resistance in tolerating water and cold-temperature stress. For the farmers,
these qualities in the grains are crucial to avoid financial and environmental risks, and
therefore provide a more robust agricultural production system. In addition, valuable
genetic resources are conserved in the cultivation of local varieties (Rais, et al. 2009).
Some traditional varieties of rice produce 23 percent higher yields compared to the
conventional hybrids in Uttarakhand (Panneerselvam, et al. 2010). In a comparative
study, greater grain yield was found in rice plots treated with cow manure, which
contributed to greater nutrient availability, less pest infestation and improved soil quality,
than the conventional plots treated with chemical fertilizers. This study also found that
organically grown rice is richer in total iron and magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium
contents than crops from conventional fields (Saha, et al. 2010). Others have reported
that the concentration and uptake of iron by rice is significantly higher with organic
manures (Mishra, et al. 2005), maybe because cow dung sustains the supply of iron in
soil (Saha, et al. 2010). When farmers in the irrigated areas of the GR convert to organic
agriculture, their yields reach about the same, or sometimes a little less than crops from
conventional systems, after the initial conversion period (Kler, et al. 2002; Rajendran, et
al. 2000). In traditional rainfed agriculture with few external inputs, organic agriculture
has shown the potential to increase yields (Ramesh, et al. 2008; 2010).
Bhatt talked about how he learned about farming, in his father’s kitchen garden. “My
father was a skillful farmer, and also had a government position as an Ayurvedic doctor.
I’m from Rudraprayag district here in Uttarakhand, and my mother is also a competent
farmer. She tried urea once, but thought it was going to harm the land and the insects in
the field,” he remembered. “I used to plough and work in the field during my childhood,
and I also worked with my father in his kitchen garden.” Wherever his father was posted,
he made his own kitchen garden. “We asked him, why are you doing so much hard work,
you could buy that. He told me, it’s not that I can’t buy it from the market, but it is
always better to grow your own, and I have plenty of time, so if I can produce something
and my successors see it, they can also benefit from it.” They never bought vegetables
from the market, Bhatt said, and people used to come and see the vegetables in their
garden. “Now I’m doing research and I look after the agricultural projects here at Bija
Vidyapeeth, that is my primary responsibility.” He also travels to the fields. “I love
teaching, and I love working in the fields. That’s my passion. I want to make things
easier, as my own teacher used to do. I want to make farming techniques very easy to
understand, and easy to use. My mission is to make farming fun, not an obligation or a
difficult or boring job.” He admitted that he never liked fungi while he was doing his
B.Sc., but he still did his doctorate on fungi. “Fungi are fabulous, they are very diverse in
nature; you can also call them one of nature’s scavengers. They convert the worst things
into the best things. They can convert your biomass into very nice compost. They can
make it fragrant.”
Many farmers in the hill areas of Uttarakhand practice what can be termed organic
agriculture by default, because they live in remote areas and their fields are far away from
transport facilities. These ecological and social factors notwithstanding, there is still
widespread sale and use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the state, although in the
hill areas the use is much less than in the plains. A change in cultivation towards
vegetable cultivation, with increased use of agrochemicals, started in the mid-nineties.
Initially the chemical fertilizers were used as a supplement to manure, and their negative
effects on soil fertility was therefore greatly reduced. It is more recently that the use of
fertilizers and pesticides has increased, and I did therefore not observe the environmental
degradation in Uttarakhand that is very widespread in Punjab. For many farmers there
had nevertheless been changes, and like in Punjab, the farmers here easily recalled the
farming they had practiced during the last decades. Surbeer is a 51 years old farmer who
lives in Sour, a village in the northernmost district of Uttarkashi, with a spectacular view
of the Himalayas. The 75 houses on the hillside are made of wood, some with decorative
carvings, and all have stone roofs. The neatly terraced plots and fruit trees surrounding
the village make it an idyllic sight. Surbeer told me, “our farming in the past was natural;
we applied cow, sheep, and goat dung in the fields and we used to farm only by plough
and hands. The road was built in 1975–76 and means of transportation to the village
became available little by little. A few people started to use chemical fertilizers to grow
potatoes from the 1980s.” Sour village farmers first started to use chemicals when the
village became linked with the road to cities further south and a state cooperative was
opened there. The Department of Agriculture began providing the cooperative with
fertilizers and hybrid seed, and the members of the cooperative gave the farmers inputs
on credit. When the farmers would sell their produce they paid for the inputs they had
received earlier. “By using chemical fertilizer the production increased,” Surbeer said,
“and the local people started to make more money.” After planting one sack of potatoes
they could harvest 10–12 sacks, so people sowed potatoes, but after four to five years the
yield started to decrease and they had to move the crop to a new field. “We found out
that the whole farming got ruined, and the soil on the top became like ash, as if the soil
had burned and the crop completely stopped,” he said. “When Navdanya came to the
village and talked to us in 2002, we told the coordinator, Raghubir Singh Rawat, that our
farming is dying,” Surbeer said. “The chemical fertilizers burned the soil, and no more
potatoes were growing in that land. Now many people have stopped to put these
fertilizers,” he added. In a study about fertilizer use in four of the hill districts of
Uttarakhand (Singh and Singh 2004a), almost half of the farmers (46 percent), said that
they are decreasing their use of chemical fertilizers, and climatic conditions such as
insufficient rainfall is cited as one cause for this.
In more accessible parts of the hills, government interventions introduced HYV, and
distributed fertilizers for free, e.g. in a project organized by the Indo-German Agriculture
Development Agency (IGADA) in the 1970s. Many farmers continued to buy the
fertilizers, but 65 percent of the farmers in Singh and Singh’s study expressed that they
would have to reduce their present level of fertilizer consumption if the subsidies were
removed and the cost increased (2004a). A third of the farmers who use fertilizers (33
percent), said they felt that the chemicals have a negative impact on their fields, such as
causing loss of soil fertility and change in the soil structure. Other effects on the soil
mentioned were; creating a hard upper crust which requires a heavy plough for tilling,
and declined porosity and water holding capacity (Singh and Singh 2004b). Farmers also
argued that the fertilizers do not give the proportionate returns, and that they are looking
for alternatives, because they found that the price of the agrochemicals increased the
input costs in an excessive way (Singh and Singh 2004a). Comparing the input output
ratio, paddy is the most profitable crop—because it does not require fertilizers—followed
by pea, potato, capsicum, tomato, cauliflower and wheat. Between 1997 and 2003, the
returns decreased in almost all the crops, mainly because of increased use of chemical
fertilizers (Singh and Singh 2004b).
Even if the inputs of the GR came late, especially to the hill districts of Uttarakhand,
agrochemicals are used throughout the state today. With a slowly improving
transportation and road system, the farmers in the hills are becoming connected, and both
the government and some NGOs have focused on changing their production towards cash
crops such as off-seasonal vegetables and fruits. This diversification towards cash crop
vegetables is part of a strategy to increase the income of the hill farmers, but these
introduced crops are hybrids, which require fertilizers. In the vegetable belt, the use of
fertilizers is therefore comparable to that in the plains. These hybrid crops would also
more often have pests, than native varieties, so the use of pesticides has also increased
considerably (Singh and Singh 2004a).
In a study undertaken by Rai et al. (2008), to determine residue levels of carbaryl, an
insecticide used on a variety of crops, collected from different places in the Kumaon
region of the state, residue was found in water, meat, poultry eggs, in milk, and in grain
and green fodder. This study looked at residues both in the hills and the plains, and
found that the percentage of positive samples for carbaryl residues was higher in plain
areas than in the hilly regions of the state (Rai, et al. 2008). According to this study none
of the sample contained residual concentration above the maximum residue limit as per
guidelines of FAO/WHO (1986) for humans. Carbaryl is lethal to many non-target
insects, including earthworms and honeybees, however (IPCS 1992). Farmers growing
vegetables argue that the incidence of pest attacks is increasing and that new pests are
appearing. They increase the frequency of spraying against pests every year, and some
pests are developing resistance against their pesticides. The friendly insects who are the
natural predators of crop pests are often killed by the pesticides instead of being able to
aid in the control of the destructive pest population (Singh and Singh 2004a).
This development model applied to the hill region has not increased self-reliance or
livelihood security in the agricultural community, but has changed the whole value
system. From being a self-sufficient agricultural system with very few if any external
inputs, where agricultural traditions were intertwined with social practices, rituals and
festivals, it has now to a large extent become a commercial activity, where farmers are
supposed to make an investment, and hope for profits. The farmers regarded the soil as a
living medium, that they would feed, and in turn the soil would feed the plants. Biomass
from the forests, or residue from the crop, went via livestock back to the cropland as
manure. Keeping land fallow was also a practice to prevent drainage of soil nutrients,
and to let the land rejuvenate. With the high yielding varieties, there is less straw, and
therefore less fodder, and with the new vegetable cash crops, the same problem occurs.
Many farmers now find it hard to feed several cattle, and the reduction in available
manure encourages the use of chemical fertilizers. Di-Ammonium Phosphate and urea
makes up 90 percent of the total fertilizer use in the hills. While urea is used in most
crops, DAP is applied more often in vegetable crops such as tomato, cabbage, potato,
cauliflower, capsicum and pea. In the cereals or other traditional crops, neither of these
chemicals is used to a large extent. The use of urea increases after rainfall in the rainfed
areas, and a new way of applying urea is to promote grass growth for cattle on vacant
land (Singh and Singh 2004a). Singh and Singh found that 43 percent of the farmers they
interviewed apply from 0.25 to 40 kilogram of fertilizers per acre, while 24 percent apply
between 40 and 80 kilogram per acre. Thirteen percent of the farmers apply more, while
17 percent do not use fertilizers at all (Singh and Singh 2004a). According to this study,
only about 25 percent of the hill farmers apply similar amounts of fertilizers to what is
the average in Punjab, about 65 kilogram per acre, and the remaining 75 percent of the
farmers apply less or nothing. Fertilizer use in the plains of Uttarakhand is similar to that
in Punjab. In addition to negative effects from chemical fertilizers and pesticides on this
sensitive agro-ecological system, the farmers in this state are vulnerable to the effects of
Uncertainty of Income Due to Climate Change
There are four seasons in Uttarakhand: the southwest monsoon from June to
September (with August traditionally being the month with most rain), the post monsoon
in October and November (the driest month), the cooler winter from December to
February, and the hot weather from March to May. Less than 20 percent of the annual
precipitation falls in the winter, most of it as snow at the higher elevations in the hills
(Pande and Akermann 2010).
There is evidence of climate change in various areas of the Himalayas, for example
studies indicating a greater warming of this area than the global average of 0.74 degrees
Celsius during the last century (Lal 2004; Pande and Akermann 2010). These changes
have induced longer dry periods and severe heat spells, and as recorded in meteorological
data in the state capital Dehradun, the mean daily temperature there for the winters has
increased by 0.7 degrees Celsius, and that for the summers by 0.6 degrees Celsius, from
1990 to 2008 (Devial 2010). Forest fires have also increased in frequency, range and
severity during the last two decades (Singh 2010).
In the Hindu-Kush Himalaya, many rivers are sustained by glacier melt throughout
the summer season. The ice mass has started decreasing during the last two decades, and
with higher temperatures there will be increased melting, causing long term loss of this
natural fresh water storage of the region. The Gangotri glacier (the source of Ganges
river), located in Uttarkashi district, is India’s longest with its 26 kilometers, but currently
retreating at an unprecedented rate. As this and other glaciers in the Hindu-Kush
Himalaya retreat, the river flows will first swell, before diminishing over the subsequent
decades. This will potentially have very serious impacts on millions of people who
depend on this glacial water supply, both in India, Pakistan, and in China. Projections
about impacts of increased temperatures in Asia include concerns about water supplies,
both flood and drought, and increased frequency of other hazardous weather events. This
is expected to adversely impact the agricultural output as well, with up to ten percent, and
put millions at risk of hunger in less than a decade (Barnett, et al. 2005; Freeman and
Guzman 2009; Singh 2003).
Rawat and Dobhal (2010) monitored annual trends in rainfall in several districts in
Uttarakhand from 1992–2009, and found a sharp decreasing trend in annual rainfall:
District Average Annual Rainfall
Less Than Average Annual
Bageshwar 1169.6 mm 20.0 mm
Chamoli 1334.1 mm 630.0 mm
Nainital 1546.9 mm 430.0 mm
New Tehri 961.9 mm 105.0 mm
Rudraprayag 759.5 mm 50.0 mm
Uttarkashi 1393.8 mm 15.0 mm
The current, and any further reductions in the rainfall patterns, cause droughts, and
prevent a healthy growth of the winter crops. They also delay the planting of spring
crops if there is lack of moisture in the soil (Pande and Akermann 2010). Vinod
Chamoli, a 36 years old farmer from Rudraprayag who has been working with Navdanya
since 1999 as a part time farmer fellow and a coordinator, explained how this affects the
economic condition for most of the farmers in the hill areas. “They don’t have much
land, but an added factor to their economic uncertainty is the changing climate. We see it
mainly in the monsoon,” he said, “sometimes the monsoon comes earlier and sometimes
it is very late, or it doesn’t rain at all. Sometimes there is very heavy rain, sometimes
very little rain. It is warmer now, and not snowing as it did in the past.” In areas where it
used to snow it has not snowed at all in the last two or three years. In the higher areas the
snow used to stays for two or three months, but now it melts in weeks.
Farmers in other districts of the state report similar experiences. In Chamoli district,
farmers alleged that the rainfall pattern there had become erratic during the past few
years, with occasional, heavy showers during the rainy season, but fewer days with rain
overall. The precipitation during the winter was also considerably less, causing drought
problems. Many farmers expressed that the rain now had changed season, and instead of
coming in the winter, from December to February, it would come as heavy showers in
March, something which did not use to happen earlier (Jain 2010). In Kothi village,
farmers said that the frequency and quantity of snowfall had also declined. This caused
some local springs to have less water flow, to dry up earlier in the summer, and thereby
adversely impacting the local vegetation. Some elderly residents of Kothi village who
talked about what they perceived as hotter summers and warmer winters, explained how
they had to wear less warm clothes now, especially during the summer months (Jain
In Tehri Garhwal district, west of Chamoli, farmers had many of the similar concerns
about the weather’s impact on the agricultural productivity. In Takoli village, the whole
winter crop of 2009 was lost due to drought, and not even the cost of the seed had been
recovered. The farmers in this district also reported the water in the streams in their areas
had declined significantly during the summer, leaving little for irrigation. A few farmers
in Takoli village also expressed more frequent pest attacks in recent years, but they were
most concerned with the warmer and drier summers, which caused a decline in vegetable
production and their income from that (Jain 2010).
Vinod said, “The future is going to be harder in the hills because the water level is
going lower, and all the agricultural land depends on the monsoon.” When he was 15
years old the summer monsoon used to be in June and July, he remembered, but now it
rains in the end of July and in August. It is less rain for a shorter time; earlier it used to
rain a lot during the whole monsoon time, but now it rains a little, then it stops for two
weeks or so, and it rains less. If it does not rain on time it is very difficult to get a good
yield, he explained. “The winter monsoon used to be two to three months long, but it is
changing also, it is shorter, and two months late. We sow wheat in October/November,
and the rain would come in November/December, but now it comes in February instead,
and this affects the wheat.”
Rawat noted the same occurrence in Uttarkashi district, northwest of Rudraprayag.
“The rain is very irregular. July is the rainy month here, but last July was dry, there was
no rain,” he said. In the winter there was no rain from October to February, for four
months. “In the upper region of the hills it rains almost every day, in the Gangotri area,
while in lower lying areas it is hot and dry, and in some areas, some pockets, there was
no rain for four months. These types of changes I have noticed only for the last ten years,
before that it was not so erratic. Nowadays it is totally unpredictable,” he concluded.
The structural differences between women and men, and the gender specific roles for
domestic life and work, make women much more vulnerable to some of the effects of
climate change. The activities they are involved in and the resources they depend on are
closely connected to availability of water, fuel wood, and vegetation for fodder. In
Uttarkashi district, for example, 20 percent of the population is lacking drinking water
(Mittal, et al. 2008). This means that women need to spend more time and energy to get
water for daily household use, and it may have a negative effect on health issues, and the
care given to dependent children and elderly, also women’s responsibility (Mirza 2003).
Farmers’ Experiences with Organic Agriculture
Raghubir Singh Rawat is a 45 years old farmer who has been the Navdanya
coordinator for the district of Uttarkashi and part of Dehradun since 2001. He works
part-time with Navdanya, as do most of the coordinators, and is joined by four field
coordinators, whom he supervises. Rawat explained, “some villages located near the
roads were using urea and DAP but these were few, because at the time the economic
conditions in the area were not good and farmers did not have money to buy fertilizers.
There was also not much knowledge about it.” When he started working among the
farmers it was at a time when nobody was willing to convert to organic farming.
“Everybody wanted to be a more productive farmer with new technology and new
fertilizers.” Rawat said that later on these were the farmers who joined Navdanya first,
because in their experience of using chemicals for a few years they had seen the effect on
the hill environment. This whole region is rainfed, and there is no irrigation. Rawat
explained what happened when the farmers used urea and DAP; “if there was no rain
everything would be dry and the chemicals would burn the crop, including the potato
tubers.” This happened many times, because the climate is changing, he noted. “If it
rains, the crop is good. If it is not, then the crop is bad.” The farmers could not
understand why it was happening, he said. “They thought that the fertilizers were not
good; that the cooperative sold them a bad type of fertilizer that was not giving results,
but later on they understood the connection, because we held some meetings and
explained it to them.” Navdanya suggested that they stop using chemical fertilizer
completely. Surbeer said, “We added cow dung and compost and fertilizer in the field, to
get back the fertility.”
Vinod argued that the government policies are the biggest challenge to their work.
Earlier there were more subsidies for farmers, he said, but after India signed the treaty
with the WTO in 1995 the government reduced the subsidies for farming so there are less
bank loans and other assistance. Between 1996 and 2001 the central government
removed trade protection for agriculture, and during that five-year period the prices of
primary products like food grains, sugar, cotton and jute fell by 40 to 60 percent (Walker
2008). “Maybe the government would help with chemical farming, but never with
organic farming,” he thought. “The WTO has been putting pressure on our government
to reduce the subsidies, while the cost of seed, pesticides and fertilizers are increasing.
Farmers have to invest a lot of money and if there is no rain on time or if there is a
disease in the crop then a farmer will be at loss.” He explained how these are the
challenges for the farmers, while the challenges for the NGOs are to inform the farmers
and to help them stop using chemicals. “The cost of the conventional crop is high,” he
argued, “and compared with organic farming you are spending a lot more money to get a
little more crop. The government’s policy towards chemical farming is a big challenge
not only in the hills in our state, but for the whole country.” The problem in Uttarakhand,
he continued, is that the state government’s policy is not clear; it is a “dual” policy. On
the one hand they declare it an organic state, and, on the other hand, they support
cooperative societies selling chemicals and hybrid seed and the Department of
Agriculture gives money to buy fertilizers and hybrid seed. “If we invite some
government people they talk of promoting organic and how it is good for health and the
community in general. If there is a seminar by a chemical company or a seed company,
then the same government people would talk about chemical farming and how the
modern world can face the challenges in farming,” he explained. Vinod argued that the
change in state government policy since they declared Uttarakhand an organic state is
that the state government representatives in their statements and actions present local
farmers with a contradictory message: they are supporting the use of native seed and they
are promoting chemical fertilizers at the same time. The Uttarakhand Organic
Commodity Board recommends a variety of practices to support organic agriculture and
they are involved in training farmers in organic methods and initiating programs designed
to facilitate the sale and marketing of organic produce. The state’s extension programs
also provide information on conventional agriculture that applies chemical fertilizers and
pesticides (Rais, et al. 2009).
Training of Farmers
Vinod, the coordinator in Rudraprayag, is also involved in advocacy work, and
among his other tasks are organizing farmers’ meetings, training programs, and work on
the People’s Biodiversity Registers (PBR). The latter is a program initiated by the
Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions in several Indian states to record
folk knowledge about the status and use of biological resources. Since 1995 several
NGOs, among them Navdanya, and members of the academic community, have been
involved in setting up registers where local information is recorded with full
acknowledgement of the sources, so that any benefits that may come from future
economic use of the registers can be shared. While in some areas the focus is on
recording folk knowledge of medicinal uses of plants, Navdanya and other farmers’
organizations are also recording the occurrence and management practices of land races
of cultivated crops to support their on-farm conservation, and to promote farmers’ rights
(Gadgil, et al. 2000). Vinod explained that, “awareness programs are different in each
area we work. It depends on the particular village, and its crops.” In the villages he
works personally, Vinod keeps track of how many farmers have been diverted towards
chemical farming and are buying pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and hybrid seed from
the market and of how many farmers are using native or hybrid seed. He also reports to
Navdanya on how many farmers are saving and exchanging seed and if farmers have lost
their seed. They regularly arrange meetings with the farmers and give advice. “I appeal
to them to save their seed and to not use chemicals, but rather use cow’s manure, make
vermi compost, and if someone has lost their seed and does not have any native seed left
we give them seed,” he said.
There are hundreds of NGOs working in Uttarakhand, and Vinod indicated most of
them get funding from the government. They work in diverse fields like health and
hygiene, educational programs, or water issues, and some in organic agriculture. Vinod
said the NGOs normally work in a village for one, two, or three years, and then their
projects are over. Navdanya sometimes cooperates with other NGOs, “if some NGOs
invite us and ask us to give them information about organic farming, then we go there
and support or train them.” The other NGOs sometimes give money to farmers, Vinod
said, and he does not approve of that. “Because we think that the farmers should not be
given money, they should be given training. Giving money is making them dependent,
and that is not our philosophy. We educate the farmers, we empower them, we give them
information, and we give them inputs, but not money.” In his experience the farmers
who join other NGOs still normally remain with Navdanya. “They can be part of both,
that is not a problem, the only thing is that those who are members of Navdanya won’t
compromise with the chemicals,” he alleged.
While Vinod is officially working in more than 50 villages that he goes to regularly
and works according to a plan, unofficially he works in about 200 villages, he explained,
because sometimes they visit some villages on their way through an area. “Whether we
are visiting a village, celebrating a ceremony, or going to visit our in-laws house, we
always sit down and talk to people about our work, farming issues, and the themes of
Navdanya.” He said he feels that the work of Navdanya is important and that is why he
wants to share it with other farmers. He emphasizes that he is doing this work because he
has an interest in this field, not for the Rs. 2,000 he is paid per month. “It requires a lot
of time and energy, but because we are farmers and we have some land, we survive.
Otherwise the money we get would never be enough for anything. It is worth it to work
with Navdanya to get a positive experience, not to get any financial benefit, but it gives
you a lot back.”
Concerning the government there is no problem, Vinod explained, “we have two
different ways, they follow their path of chemicals and we follow our way of organic.”
He admitted, “Sometimes they do not like us, or our work; we are their biggest hurdle
because we oppose their policies and we ask the farmers not to use their seed or chemical
fertilizers or other chemicals.” He explained how the government sometimes holds
meetings in the area where he works, and once he went to a meeting and asked them what
they wanted to promote, and what types of seed they wanted to sell. He told them, “If
you want to suggest to farmers that they buy hybrid seed then we will protest that, and
you are only welcome if you have native seed.” He said the extension workers know that
if Navdanya is working in a particular area, the government cannot be successful in their
“Most people are positive about Navdanya’s work and they want to be members,” he
said. Since 1999, around five thousands farmers have joined Navdanya in Rudraprayag
district. Vinod said farmers are normally not hesitant to give up using the hybrid seed,
but that there have been those who have continued using a little urea. “We go back and
talk to those farmers and ask why they are using urea. Sometimes they would say that
they just wanted to try it, and see the results, and then we tell them to use vermi compost
and natural inputs instead, because they contain urea and nitrogen naturally.”
Another coordinator who said he enjoys working for Navdanya is Negi, who, as
mentioned above, has been with the organization for two decades. “This work comes
from my heart and my interests: organic farming, and forest and water conservation.”
Negi argued, as others, that the water resources are shrinking with the declining snow
cover in the mountains, “we need management of water, and we are losing a lot of forest
also. There is replanting, but normally only of one type of tree, but we need to bring
back the variety of trees, diversity plantation, for both timber and medicinal use, and for
the animals to have something to eat.” He explained how he starts by talking to the
farmers about water and forest issues first. “If you don’t have any moisture in your land
how can you grow anything? The forest gives moisture, as does organic farming. If you
have good forest behind you, you will get moisture. Oak, for example, takes water up
from the ground and provides water to the surrounding area.” He emphasized that they
need to transplant the types of trees that will give them a variety of benefits. Oak wood is
strong and hard, provides lasting building material, is good for firewood, and in addition
bears and other animals eat the fruit or acorns. “Medicinal plants also grow well under
the oak,” he said, “but the government policy is to grow bamboo, to get money fast for
their own pockets,” he claimed.
While Negi does not see any real obstacles preventing the small farmers from
converting to organic agriculture, he argued, “We need to give them alternatives to stop
them using chemicals.” He argued that the government should actively give the farmers
an organic alternative to the chemicals. “Without a substitute it is difficult to change the
farmers’ mind.” He said it is important to explain that if they would use these
alternatives they would save on their inputs since the natural things are free. “We need to
teach them the methods practically, then we do not need to go and tell them again and
again.” He believed with practical demonstrations in the village, the farmers learn very
quickly, but if you give them lectures they will forget it. “Lectures are difficult for them,
but practically they can learn after one crop, and when a farmer would see how they can
do it and how much benefit they can get from it then they will change their mind,” he
In some of the so-called Navdanya villages, where about 70 percent or more of the
farmers are growing organically, they have organized what they call biodiversity groups.
These groups get training from Navdanya, and then train other farmers in their village,
and beyond. Surbeer is the president of the biodiversity group in Sour, and told me about
how he and the group share their knowledge in the village. He said they arrange
meetings and in some places they hold dramas. “We explain people through drama and
songs what harms we get by the chemicals. We tell people not to use fertilizer and to use
manure instead, we have dug up the land here and we teach them about earthworms and
compost.” Surbeer said that Sour village has 75 families, but they teach in other villages
as well. “We don’t get money for this work but I like it. We teach the farmers about
practical things, and when we talk about not using fertilizers, we tell them why it is not
good for them and what the advantages of the compost and green manure are. We teach
to save your land, the environment, your seed, and your health,” he explained. They also
teach villagers to keep the village clean, not to pollute the river, about the dangers of
plastic, and to throw garbage in a hole in the ground and bury it. Further down the river
valley, in Purola town, I saw a lot of garbage thrown in the river. Surbeer said people
throw garbage in the market and in towns, but not in the villages. “We tell people it is
harmful for the farming, and we collect the garbage and burn it. The government should
ban plastic bags completely. A ban has been imposed on the sale of plastic bags by the
district administration, but it has not been enforced, and people do not obey,” he
complained. In addition to garbage, plastic bags can often be seen along the roadside or
floating in rivers. They cause damage when clogging up drains, creating overflow of
water or sewage.
Surbeer told me, “I do feel that I have gained a lot of knowledge after working with
Navdanya and their coordinators. When we went for a meeting in Delhi we got to know
about patents on seed, so we tell the other villagers about that as well. Navdanya also
had a meeting to make people in the village aware of these things,” he said. While many
of the villagers never migrate for work and rarely, if ever, leave their area, Surbeer, by
contrast, has gone to meetings and trainings by Navdanya in various places. “I even went
to Delhi three or four times for conferences, and I attended meetings and went to a rally
from Haridwar to Delhi, a safe water rally,” he explained.
Kala is a 47 years old farmer born in Sour, but now living in her in-law’s village,
Jakul, a few hours walk away, in the home she is married into. “My husband and I are
both farmers, both our families have been farming for generations,” she relayed. Kala is
the president of the biodiversity group in Jakul, and has been a member of Navdanya
since 2001. “I learned about Navdanya from the coordinator who came visiting, and in
this village we all grow organic now.” Navdanya organizes meetings and distributes
pamphlets and literature, and one of their areas of focus has been how the farmers can
protect their seed. Kala explained, “I have learned from Navdanya how our seed are in
danger, and further information about saving and protecting seed, and also making our
own natural fertilizers.” In the village farmers have cows, oxen, sheep, goats, and mules.
The mules are used to transport cow dung, potatoes, and firewood, all the heavy things.
“We have more than enough dung here,” she smiled, “these big trees we have been
chopping down for the fodder for goats and sheep,” pointing to some trees lying on the
ground with the branches full of leaves. She said she now understands why organic is
good, “it is better for our health and the environment. I feel better having this
knowledge, and I would like Navdanya to give more trainings; information is important.
When we get training, then we will pass this information on to others, we can teach our
neighbors and other women,” she held. Kala went to school for a few years in her
childhood, but not for long. “Later with a literacy program here I learned to write my
name. For our generation the average years in school depended on the family, and it was
very difficult to study, some could not afford sending their children outside the village.”
Today it has become easier to have education, she reported. Normally people go six
years at least, and some go 12 years. “But there are many ways of getting knowledge, for
example through Navdanya,” she noted, and then, speaking to the Navdanya coordinator,
Balbeer, from Sour village; “you come here month after month and endure cold water
and cold air and teach us how to put fertilizers and how to farm.” In this area there are no
other NGOs or organizations that are working with the farmers apart from Navdanya.
“We did not have any farming organization before, but we made an organization after
Navdanya came,” she explained. Kala has planned many times to go to Dehradun to visit
Bija Vidyapeeth and even to Delhi, but it was always cancelled. She has a lot of work,
and there seem to be no one willing to take over her duties for a few days.
To the south of Sour and Jakul villages, and at a lower elevation, in Purola, Navdanya
is also popular among the farmers. In Chara village in Purola, I meet Lakshana, a 53
years old farmer and a member of Navdanya since 2002 who also is active in a local
women’s welfare organization. She has not gone to school. She was born in this village
where she has 18 bighas and a seed bank and said, “We are farmers generations back and
farming provides for the family.” A bigha is the local measure of land, and varies by
region from one-fifth to two fifths of an acre. Lakshana and her husband started organic
farming after joining Navdanya. “In the past I used a little of urea for potatoes, peas, and
tomatoes, but I didn’t use any other fertilizers or pesticides, so it was not so much
change,” said Lakshana. “The potatoes used to grow bigger, but they did not have much
taste. Now this has changed, but they are a little smaller.” She sells paddy rice and peas,
but not the potatoes, so it does not matter if their size is smaller. The Purola area is
famous for a variety of organic red rice, which they sell through Navdanya. The
cultivation of certain crops and combinations of these have been developed by the
farmers and adjusted to the varying micro-ecological niches in these deep valleys for
centuries (Singh 1998). However, the change in the cropping system in the past few
years with emphasis on conventional vegetables as cash crops has prompted farmers here
in the Purola region in Garhwal, as well as for example in the Garampani region in
Kumaon, to grow pea and potato during the winter, and beans, capsicum, cauliflower, and
tomatoes during the summer. This change in the cropping model has reduced the
diversity in the food production and lead to a market driven agricultural production.
Although the farmers observe how the chemicals used deplete the soil, many continue,
because it gives them larger economic gains for the time being (Singh and Singh 2004a).
Lakshana said Navdanya taught her to get a good crop throughout the year, but added
that, “the tradition that we had learned from our forefathers is also good.” Lakshana told
me she had traveled down to Dehradun to attend a course at Bija Vidyapeeth once.
“They told us not to use chemical fertilizers, but make our own compost to use as
fertilizer.” Lakshana felt that because of the training she is now better prepared to make
decisions about farming and they have sheep and three buffaloes, so they have enough
fertilizer for their fields.
One of Lakshana’s neighbors is Madhusree, an 18 years old farmer. She, her mother
and three siblings do the farming, while her father has a government job in the water
supply department, so they have an income from that in addition to farming. They have
many small fields, around 30 bighas in total, which gives them a semi-medium sized
farm, among the largest in this area. People have different size parcels of land, but most
farmers have less than Madhusree’s family. Madhusree’s mother has been a member of
Navdanya since 2002, but she did not change her farming methods since she became a
member, because in this area many people never used chemical fertilizers. “Historically
we have not been using chemical fertilizers, even in potatoes, we get a lot of manure and
that is enough for our fields,” Madhusree concluded. Her mother attended a course at
Bija Vidyapeeth last year, and Madhusree said, “I would like to go to trainings at
Navdanya and learn more about this type of farming, but now I have no time to go there.
I am so busy farming every day, and I go to school too. I’m in inter-school, 12th grade.”
She is in the second year in High School, and said she would like to go to college after
that. “I will just study more and see what happens. I am already a farmer. I would like
to do some other job also if I get one.” Madhusree explained, “We learn about the
environment and pollution in school. I know that is why it is good to do organic
agriculture. I like to do farming. My mother taught me. Here women are better farmers
than men.” The coordinator in Purola commented, laughing, “Many men are also lazy.”
After having stayed some time in the villages, my impression was that the women
worked considerably more than the men, an issue discussed further in the next chapter.
In addition to the coordinators who visit villages at varying intervals, Navdanya has a
system of training some farmers in organic methods, who then teach others in the village.
Dr. Bhatt explained why he thinks this is so important saying “the farmers who we have
worked with who converted to organic several years ago, all have seen changes. They
are healthier now and wealthier also. Their knowledge has increased, they understand
and they are also teaching.” He gives an example of Nandrani who lives in a village not
far from Bija Vidyapeeth. “She was one of the first persons we taught about organic
agriculture, and she has now converted almost the entire village to organic,” he
concluded. Bhatt argued that, “once you have converted to organic you feel the change
in the taste, and then you think, why should you waste money in buying chemicals? Even
if the crop is a little less sometimes, it’s not a harmful production.” He alleged many of
the farmers, like Nandrani, feel inspired and share it with others. “All the time she’s on
the move, on campaign, and she is not getting any money out of that, she is doing it
voluntarily,” he said. “In addition to work in her own fields she brings farmers to work
in the fields at Bija Vidyapeeth, she says that Navdanya has given her so much, and that
it is her duty to contribute to Navdanya.” He continued, “Once a farmer is convinced,
then I’m sure that he or she won’t go back to chemical methods, but it’s a big challenge
to convince them at first, because they’re in a dilemma. They don’t know whom to
believe.” Bhatt explained that the advertisements by Monsanto and Cargill, and
advertisements by the government agencies all promote the benefits of chemical farming.
“The farmers say that they are skeptical; they are not sure who is correct. It’s hard for
them to judge or read more about it themselves. That is why in the new villages we work
we select a few farmers and ask them to demonstrate,” he said. Navdanya asks them to
start with a small plot, and experiment on it, and then the other farmers can come and see.
“The other farmers will come and ask how they do things and what techniques they are
using, which seed they are you using, and it starts like that.”
Conversion to Organic Agriculture
In his home district, Pauri Garhwal, Negi works with farmers in more than 100
villages together with three local Navdanya coordinators, and over 50 of these villages
are now completely converted to organic methods. “I started to talk to people in 1993,
and the following year we started to sow organic. More converted in the last part of the
90s, so they have been growing organic for more than ten years. Most of the farmers
were using only a little amount of chemicals earlier, and those who converted completely
have not gone back to using chemicals,” Negi held, and gave an example of an incident
that made many farmers convert. A few years ago the farmers lost almost the whole crop
of onions and had to import from Pakistan. Onions, a basic ingredient in Indian cooking,
which normally sell at a rate of Rs. 4 per kilogram increased to Rs. 40, end even, for a
while, Rs. 60 per kilogram. The conventional farmers had sold the few onions they had
for the regular rate, because they could not keep the produce for long before it went bad.
The organic farmers had onions for three months, and could benefit from the price
increase. The farmers became interested in how the organic onions lasted so much
longer, and several stopped using fertilizers, Negi said. “If you don’t use chemicals, the
vegetables can be stored much longer, they keep better. Onions can be stored for six
months. With fertilizers they stay fresh for only one and a half months.” Several
comparative tests in various countries have reported that the quality of organic produce
after storage is better than that of conventional produce (Benge, et al. 2000; Raupp 1997;
Reganold, et al. 2001). Negi believed farmers in the hills are going to convert to organic,
because they are more aware of the harmful effects of chemicals and fertilizers. He told
me that the village leaders of Kotdwara have gone to visit the Uttarakhand Agriculture
Department to talk with the government along with Navdanya and expressed that they do
not want urea or other chemicals in their area, and they asked the government to stop
distributing these. They also invited the Minister of Agriculture of Uttarakhand to the
village to meet the farmers. The farmers came and talked to him, and explained that they
are converting to organic. They expressed that they did not want chemicals and
fertilizers or hybrid seed to their area, but that if the Agriculture Department wanted to
give them seed, they should give them native seed. The farmers organized a big
campaign along with Navdanya and told the government to do other projects, like
planting trees, but not distributing chemicals. Negi admitted he sees the state
government’s proclamation of Uttarakhand as an organic state more as a thing on paper
than on the ground. He said the farmers in the plains, for example in Udham Singh
Nagar, practice wheat-rice rotation cropping and they are still using chemicals like they
had been doing before Uttarakhand became a state. Negi said this is partially because in
the districts spanning the plains like Dehradun, Haridwar, Nainital and Udham Singh
Nagar, the landholdings are larger, and the land was initially fertile, like in Punjab. The
size of the farms here reaches 40 acres or more, and these farmers are using only hybrid
seed and chemical fertilizers. “We cannot call Uttarakhand an organic state as long as we
have these large exceptions,” he said. “If the state government has declared it an organic
state they should ban the sale of hybrid seed and chemicals, and provide the farmers with
organic products. But some of the government extension workers who are monitoring
organic farming have no idea about organic at all,” he said. He further argued that the
farmers who chose not to adopt hybrid seed and chemical fertilizers do it because
organizations like Navdanya are working with them, not because the government is
In Uttarkashi district, Rawat is more positive about the government’s work for
organic policies, and how Navdanya contributed to that. “I think our efforts worked
because when this state was formed we talked with the government officials. Navdanya
expressed their views on how mountain agriculture may survive, and some people in the
government agreed with Navdanya’s view. Soon after they declared it an organic state
and an herbal state,” he said. After declaring Uttarakhand an organic state, the extension
workers have been given training about organic methods, and the government has started
various programs, such as one designed to make pits needed for preparing vermi
compost. “In every block they have chosen 20 to 30 villages where they are giving
farmers almost 75 percent subsidy to build these pits.” The government is also involved
in a program of certifying land through the Uttarakhand State Organic Certification
Agency (USOCA). “Farmers are given support for buying bio-fertilizers, and bio-
pesticides, and they are being trained on how to prepare vermi compost and other organic
inputs.” He said this shows that the government is willing to invest in organic
agriculture. “It is great they are doing what we do, so they are helping us. Now we do
not have to make pits for the farmers because the government has already supported a lot
of pits in the villages.” But Rawat explained that the government’s people do not go to
the villages to check whether the farmers are actually using the pits or not. “We have to
keep asking the farmers to keep it up with these things, but the government is providing
them facilities that we can’t, and the farmers are benefited by these polices,” he said.
Changes After Conversion
Negi and Dr. Bhatt have studied farmers who converted to organic methods. They
looked at the changes in the farmers’ life, and each year’s expenditures and savings.
“Every year they saved a lot, and made more money,” reported Negi, “especially on
crops like ginger, onions, and other vegetables.” Most of the farmers they studied have
between half an acre and ten acres. “There are so many that are doing great, the small
farmers also, when they are getting good prices,” explained Negi, adding that “they don’t
know about import and export, because they stay within their state and district, but they
are aware about what’s going on here.” Surbeer in Sour village argued Navdanya had
saved them from taking loans and getting into debt. “They told us about a better way of
living and to do farming, and we are even saving our money by growing organic.” He
explained that even if they could get loans from the state to do agriculture, he would not
like to do that. “So far I have not taken a loan, how would we pay it back?” he asked.
“They gave us subsidies, we got fertilizer for half price, and initially they even used to
give us fertilizer” he said. Some in the village used to get loans from the government to
buy fertilizer, maybe ten years ago, before they converted to organic, but after they
started working with Navdanya they do not want or need loans for fertilizers. “We had to
pay a heavy interest on that money,” Surbeer said, “We had to take up loans, because it
was so expensive. Now we are completely independent economically, we do not need
any loan and we are self-dependent.” First they reduced the use of fertilizers, and then
they stopped completely, he said. From 2002 the whole village of Sour has been organic.
“Organic farming has saved some of our farming, but the production has been reduced,”
he noted. He mentioned there are other villages further up on the hills where they cannot
take cow dung and they are still using chemical fertilizer. “People depend on farming
and they do not manage to get a good price for organic. If they could get good price for
organic produce, then they would stop conventional farming completely,” Surbeer said.
“Their main source of income is farming. They had to give up farming other crops, but
they make their living out of potatoes. They use fertilizer in potato only, because with
fertilizer they get more crops,” he admitted. Kala in Jakul village nearby said they had
also used fertilizers previously for potato, but not for grains and beans. “Now we are
using compost and cow dung as fertilizer for the potatoes as well, and the potatoes are
tasty and they have no disease. I had noticed a change in the soil in the last four to five
years when I used chemical fertilizers; it turned hard like cement,” she said.
Activism at Navdanya
Dr. Bhatt explained that Navdanya recognizes that organic agriculture is closely
related to larger institutional and policy questions. They therefore engage in activism to
build awareness and try to change policy. This is done in a number of ways, for example,
by organizing protest marches, seminars, signature campaigns or public hearings. The
issues include water rights, patenting, hybrid and GM seed, and the preservation of
traditional crops. “We teach the farmers because they must know about these things in
order to know about their rights. We provide them with the information and tell them
that if they think it is ok, that’s fine. If they feel that it is not good, they should fight it.”
Bhatt argued that in order to teach the farmers, especially those who have less education,
they have to make it simple for them to understand. “If I say that this seed will stop you
from saving your own seed, that is very simple. Then farmers will come and say no, they
can’t do it, and they will resist that.” That’s what happened in the campaign they
organized against the Seed Bill 2004, which they were able to fight after submitting half a
million signatures to the Prime Minister of India, together with several other
organizations. “In this Seed Bill there was a provision for compulsory registration of all
seed by the farmers. Whatever they were growing, they were supposed to register all the
seed, which is impossible,” Bhatt alleged. “It is a farmers’ country and the farmers have
a right to save their seed, but this was proposed with the aim of replacing the farmers’
seed faster by seed from outside, sold by the seed companies.” This also implied that the
farmers’ seed were not good, he argued, and should be replaced with new ones, which
may not work so well for the farmers as the ones they had developed over time. “There
was also a proposition that the police, or a seed inspector, in the presence of two people
could search your storehouse to see if your seed were registered,” he said. The bill was
not implemented, and in this case that was due to Navdanya’s cooperation with other
organizations. Bhatt explained, “We have networks for different things; we have a
network for campaigning, we have a network for advocacy, and for agriculture. Some of
the other organizations just do campaigning, and some of them just do agriculture. But
we are into both; we are right from the grassroots level to the highest level.” In 1995,
Navdanya joined the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements
(IFOAM), and other organizations in mounting a legal challenge to a patent on the
fungicidal properties of the neem tree, by the W. R. Grace Company. The European
Patent Office in Munich revoked this patent in 2005, backed by countless signatures
collected by Navdanya and many others who supported the case. The neem tree,
indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, has been known and used for its fungicidal
properties there for centuries. Farmers apply neem to treat various illnesses, and not least
for pest control on their crops. In two other public interest litigation cases filed in the
Supreme Court, Navdanya and others have challenged a patent on basmati rice by
RiceTec Inc., and a patent on a wheat variety, which was based on a traditional Indian
variety, by Monsanto (Sustainet 2006).
Bhatt explained that Navdanya’s financial support comes from various sources,
among them Bread for the World, and EED9
. “Now we have Bija Vidyapeeth and we are
making some money from people who stay there and the courses we run. When Vandana
Shiva goes abroad to give lectures, she gets a fee for that and she is putting all that money
into Navdanya,” he said.
Negi said he had seen big changes in the awareness of hybrid seed among the farmers
during these last several years. When the government distributed hybrid seed, the
farmers started to adopt those, he recalled. “Then we started to teach them about the
climate and about the resources hybrid seed needed to be viable. In many villages now
they have their own seed, and they’ll ask you a hundred questions if you bring a new
seed. They may try the seed in a very small patch, but they have become more careful in
adopting new seed, because they have lost many times,” he said. When the hybrid seed
were introduced, there was often no information given to the farmers about the fact that
they could not save and use them the next season. Vinod, the coordinator in Rudraprayag
alleged, “government policy is incomplete; they develop a seed and give it straight to the
selling agencies without proper information and no training for the government workers
or the farmers. Even I didn’t know.” At the time Vinod became a member of Navdanya,
he was the chief of the cooperative society and selling chemicals and hybrid seed to the
farmers. “I became a member of Navdanya as a farmer. My mother and I were using a
Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst (EED), or Church Development Service, in Germany, which receives
funds from German Protestant churches and from the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and
Development of Germany.
little bit of urea in those days. We also used manure, but not vermi compost. When we
joined Navdanya, we learned the techniques of vermi compost and all these things that
we do today and we slowly reduced the amount of fertilizers.” He explained that he
wrote to the government and asked officials to stop its chemical promotion policy,
especially in the hills, because the fields are located at high elevations, far from water
resources and agriculture depends on rain, and the use of chemicals and fertilizers
requires more water. The farmers in his area have their own land, mostly small fields,
less than half an acre, typically one bigha. He did not get any response, but in the
cooperative society he gradually sold less chemicals, and later also stopped selling hybrid
seed. “When I noticed that the farmers had their own traditional seed, enough for the
next crop, I stopped selling hybrid seed.” He observed the crop from hybrid seed were
getting pests, so farmers bought pesticides. “The government reminded me several times
how poor my society was doing by not selling chemicals, and alleged I was losing
The position as a chief of the cooperative is not paid, but elected by the village. The
government has a paid staff that runs the society. The farmer members have a share in
the society, depending on the income they make, and the money is shared among all the
members of the society. Vinod recalled they asked people from the government to come
to the villages and see the fields, “when they visited, we showed them that some farmers
used the hybrid seed and saved them for the next crop and how that crop was a complete
failure.” The farmers also told the representatives that they had received no information
about the hybrid seed from the government and that villagers were not aware of the
qualities of these seed. “Then they stopped to put pressure on us to sell their seed,” he
said. Only when he joined Navdanya and got training about seed did he understand the
cause of the farmers’ inability to use hybrid seed from a previous year. He explained to
people in the villages how hybrid seed work and asked the farmers to stop using hybrid
seed and to use their own native seed instead. Farmers still have native seed in that area,
because not everyone had started to use hybrid seed. Some who could afford to save a
large amount of seed had done so. Vinod explained that his problem in teaching farmers
about hybrid and native seed is that many people have little prior information, not only
about hybrid seed, but agricultural politics, economic reforms, and multinational
companies’ involvement in agriculture in India. “We give them the example of the
British East India Company, and how they came to do business in India but ruled us for
200 years. We make the farmers aware that these companies have the same intentions,
and that we should follow a policy of self-dependence.” Vinod said, “I have an
impression that they do not instantly understand when I tell them these things, but
gradually.” He mentioned he discusses these topics both with educated farmers who are
somewhat aware, and those who live in interior areas, far from the roads and “other
modern things” as he put it. “Basically, as I have observed, farmers know more or less
about the seed, because the seed are the most important things.”
Seed saving is one of the practices all the farmers I spoke with in Uttarakhand were
familiar with. In Uttarkashi district there were many old seed banks, some smaller ones
on individual farms and other larger ones maintained by whole villages; some of the latter
were embellished with decorative woodcarvings. Most were constructed with thick wood
walls and stood on a base of stones. Kala in Jakul village said that her community has
had seed banks for a long time. “We never used to buy seed from the market. We did
not learn to save seed from Navdanya; we have been saving seed historically.” She
showed me the seed bank in her village, and as a leader of the biodiversity group, she
kept the key, a large black iron key, in her home. They store their grain and other food
items in the same unit. “We have made shelves to keep different seed; each upper part is
for the seed,” she said, pointing, “we also keep the potato seed in here. We had a loss
from our seed, so we exchanged with another village. Now we are self-dependent in
terms of seed again.” She continued, “sometimes we sell seed, but not between us.” If
the villagers have no seed left Kala will give them some. “We give the seed only on
good relation and on friendly values.” She confirmed she does not charge farmers from
any of the surrounding villages for seed. “We have a crop and seed as well and we will
see whether or not we get this crop, and then we will sell those seed when we get the next
crop,” she explained. Community seed banks not only make farmers independent, they
also recognize women’s knowledge as valuable, because women are often in charge of
the seed bank. This gives women greater influence in village affairs and the opportunity
to participate in the broader seed conservation movement.
In Sour village, Surbeer explained they also exchange seed and borrow from each
other, and when the crop is harvested they return the seed to farmer that provided them.
“Some places the seed banks are old, other places Navdanya has started new seed banks,”
he said. “We have many seed banks, we keep seed for three or four years and they don’t
get bad.” He emphasized they are concerned about having variety, and keep the seed of
pulses, vegetables, paddy, and wheat; all the crops that grow in their area. “We think
saving seed and biodiversity is good for us and for the whole country.” He noted most of
the seed they have had for many years and adjusted to the environment here. “This is
what we have been doing from our ancestor’s time in the whole area. These are all our
seed from many generations back; we do not even recall when we started to use these
seed.” Surbeer said they never bring seed from outside. If they have to buy seed,
villagers buy from other local people and the area. Some seed, which were becoming
scarce, are now exchanged through Navdanya. As an example, he cited “the Rajma
(kidney beans) from Chakrata, famous in Garhwal for good quality kidney beans, and
they also gave us ginger seed.” Vinod, the coordinator in Rudraprayag explained that
they encourage farmers to save their seed and exchange them with others, “we approach
the farmers who have more seed than their need and encourage them to save these extra
seed, and share with those who have no seed.” In Purola, the farmers have seed banks on
each farm. “We have seed banks from long ago,” Madhusree noted. “I know about
hybrid seed, but we have decided to use the traditional ones, and I know it is important to
save the different traditional seed, to conserve biodiversity. Since we have our own seed,
why would we buy seed from the market? We do exchange seed with our neighbors, but
we do not buy seed from the market,” she said. Lakshana also showed me their seed
bank, and explained, “Our grandfather built that seed bank, and it is more than 100 years
old. When it gets too old, we will build another one. Even when there is not enough for
food, we still save grain for seed; rice, wheat, mustard, all those seed we have.”
Lakshana said there is a shop in Purola town that sells both chemical and organic
fertilizers and hybrid seed for peas and tomatoes, but she does not know anybody who
buys seed there. “Sometimes if there is crop failure we take seed from our relatives and
neighbors. We exchange seed. There is good cooperation between people here," she
explained. Similarly, the coordinator in Purola reported that most farmers in his area do
not buy hybrid seed and he has not had to teach people about them, because people have
their own seed. “When somebody brings a new seed, the farmers ask to save some of it
for them. Nobody pays any money for the seed; they exchange them,” he said.
Marketing Organic Crops
One challenge for the famers is to get a higher price for their organic produce, and to
get it to the market in the first place. Surbeer said, “We sell our produce here in the
village mostly; sometimes Navdanya buys from us, and the rest we just sell here.
Navdanya gives us an okay price. They buy our Rajma (kidney beans), paddy, wheat,
and organic vegetable seed from us, but they do not have a market for our potatoes.”
Surbeer added they now sow Rajma and get good rates for those beans, and that they
have reduced growing potatoes. When the wheat is harvested, they sow Rajma in the
same field. “That way we get two crops in a year. In one field we have pulses and
potato, for example, and in another we have rice and wheat and then some vegetables
separately, in a kitchen garden. We grow vegetables like peas, tomatoes, potatoes, chilies
and beans that we sell to Navdanya,” Surbeer explains, who distributes further to their
sales network. The closest market is in Dehradun, which is ten hours away with the local
bus. Organic potatoes are sold there at the same rates as what the fertilized potatoes are
sold for. “People do not recognize their value,” said Surbeer. “They grow less,
compared with fertilized potatoes, but our potatoes last longer, they do not rot quickly
and they are very tasty.”
Navdanya has a network for selling organic produce in Delhi and Mumbai. They buy
directly from the farmers, and Vijay Bhatt, 32 years old from Rudraprayag district, has
been working with Navdanya doing that since 2003. He said, “I joined them as a
volunteer in 1999 when they made a Jaiv Panchayat, a biodiversity related village
festival, in Rudraprayag, because I liked their work; it is good for the state and good for
our farmers. Now my job is to go and buy the produce from the farmers,” he explained.
Madhusree is one of the farmers who sell some of the produce they grow as organic
produce to Navdanya. She noted, “We also sell it in the village in Purola, but there
organic produce is sold at the same price. We don’t even inform the customer whether it
is organic or not, people don’t know or care,” she commented.
Navdanya pays one or two rupees more for organic produce than what the farmers get
in the village. Vijay travels to the farms, to villages like Sankari and Purola in Uttarkashi
district. He stated, “I travel with bus, and sometimes in the office Jeep. I only go and
check the produce, while the coordinators later collect it in a Jeep. I talk to the farmers,
check the quality of the produce, and decide the rates.” Navdanya is not an official
certifying agency, but they have their own type of Navdanya certification. Vijay
explained, “I go with the certification agency and check the field, and their soil. We
collect soil samples and check the location of the field.” He commented that they
currently have some farmers under certification, and next year they are adding a lot more
farmers. He does the Navdanya certification, and then he recommends the names of the
Navdanya members for organic certification by the Uttarakhand State Organic
Certification Agency or other national or international agencies. All farmer members of
Navdanya are Navdanya certified members. “I do the certification for Navdanya when I
talk to the farmers,” said Vijay. “In the certification process various forms are to be
checked, but the farmers are not doing all the steps. They are supposed to do those
themselves, but then they don’t do it, and many things are done wrong so I have to do it
again when I go to see the farms. Other problems are the rates,” he continued. Navdanya
pays ten percent more than others, he explained, “but sometimes the farmers say we give
them a low price. We have had farmers meetings where the farmers have decided on one
rate, but sometimes some farmers want more.” Vijay mentioned he always works with
the coordinators, “I don’t go separate from them. I like to go out in the field and buy
from the small farmers.” Navdanya also buys from larger farmers, where it may collect
50 quintals from one farmer and 100 quintals from another, but Vijay admitted he prefers
to go to the farmers where he will buy one or two quintals. “It takes longer time, and we
often buy only 20–25 quintals in one day because we buy a few quintals in each farm, but
I like to buy from small farmers because I want them to receive a good price. I want to
support them so they can live from agriculture. The big farmers can sell in the market,
and they have contacts,” he added.
Navdanya buys some of the surplus in each area they have members. For example, in
the Chakrata area there is a special type of bean the farmers grow which Navdanya buys,
and from Sankari it buys many types of kidney beans, amaranth, and other crops. Vijay
explained, “The price of the end product is excessive because of the transport and
package, but people are interested in buying organic in the cities, mainly Delhi and
Mumbai, and it is possible to sell more. We have plans for expanding, next year we are
taking various farmers in certification. I think it is going to grow every year.” He said he
thinks organic farming has a good future.
Dr. Bhatt is also very optimistic about Navdanya’s work. “People used to laugh at us
and say, how is it possible, why are you anti-development? Why are you sticking with
the old things? Do you not want people to become wealthy, or modern and developed?
But now people are realizing,” he emphasized, “and the government of Uttarakhand is
also supporting us, because it is a big success. The government has decided to go
organic, and also to be GM free, so that is a big victory for us. They have not banned the
selling of chemical input yet, but slowly I think they will ban it.” Bhatt argued that what
is happening internationally concerning agriculture is not very good. “I think the only
solution is if the farmers do biodiversity based organic farming. That is the only way for
their sustainability and it is also better for the environment, and biodiversity.” He
thought the best solution for small farmers who live in the countryside, is to continue
living there instead of moving. “They should continue with what they were doing earlier,
and of course they should continue doing innovations. Even the small scale farmers can
afford sending their children to school, because up to 12th standard it is almost free in
government colleges, even if now the fees are increasing, so it is has become tougher to
manage,” he admitted.
Many of the farmers I met were balancing various activities to earn enough income
for their families but all wanted to continue family farming, even if some members of the
family look for work outside of farming. In many of the higher lying villages, like in
Sour, the farmers grow fruit in between their fields. “The land we have is barely enough
to get an income for the whole family, but these days we are also getting some money
from apples. We have goat and sheep, so we are busy, we don’t want more to do,”
Surbeer said, laughing, “we make some wool clothes from the sheep wool, and that dung
is also used for fertilizers.” Their sheep and goats are taken for grazing to alpine pastures
during the summer and lower hills during the winter, while the cows and buffaloes graze
in areas near the villages. Kala in Jakul village said the farming is enough to provide
economically for the whole family, and they only buy paddy from outside. “We are
selling French beans and potato and other local crops, and buying rice. We don’t need
any help from the government. We get enough food supply from our farm, except for
rice.” They do not grow rice in her area because climatic conditions are not right for
paddy growing they explain. It is because the water is very hard there, and the hard water
changes the soil and makes it different from that of Sour village. “Because Sour is so
close, one would think it is the same,” she said, but it is not so. Their fields are better for
pulses and buckwheat, and buckwheat is the specialty of the place. “We are selling
buckwheat to Navdanya who put it on the market in Delhi and Dehradun,” she explained.
The variety the small farmers in the hill areas grow, like rice, pulses, vegetables, spices
and fruits, makes it easier for them to be self-sufficient in food than for the farmers in the
plains that are more prone to grow just wheat and rice. Negi said that in his region some
farmers produce enough to provide for their family, while others buy food from outside.
In general, in the hill areas, women work in the fields and men go out to do some other
jobs where they earn the cash. Only when they have time, the men come to help the
family in the fields. “Like me” he said, “I help my family to plough the fields and with
sowing, and then my wife looks after the fields until the harvesting time when I go back
to help her.”
Throughout the world, people living in mountainous regions face geo-physical
challenges that traditionally have triggered migration. In Uttarakhand, the districts of
Almora, and Pauri and Tehri Garhwal have had parts of their population migrate since the
1870s (Singh 1990). Initially some men migrated to join the British Army, and this
created a tradition of migration among young men that is still going on today. Chamoli
district has also been supplying young men to the Army for more than 100 years, and
having a member of the family serving in the Army contributed to a good reputation.
This probably gave a positive perception around the idea of basing livelihoods on
migration (Jain and Nagarwalla 2004). Today, most of the migration in Uttarakhand is
seasonal and rural-urban, while a very small extent is international. In 2001 about 38
percent of the population of the state migrated, roughly two-thirds of this number (3.1
million) was women who migrated for marriage or moved with their households. The
majority of men migrate to work, and the largest group are between 20 and 29 years of
age at migration (Jain 2010).
Although most of the migrants work as semi-skilled laborers, some do acquire skills
and work as teachers, drivers, or in the hospitality industry. In a study on migration from
Uttarakhand, Jain found that although many wives of migrants (63 percent) see the need
for the economic input, and agree with their husband’s migration, their workload has
increased by an average of four hours per day. In 2006, the Indian government
implemented a National Rural Employment Guarantee Program to deter seasonal
migration, which guarantees rural households 100 days of paid work per year in and near
their villages. Many women alleged that this only added to their drudgery, because they
were pressured by the family to do the daily wage labor under this program in addition to
their household responsibilities in their husband’s absence. Migration was also found to
have negative effect on women’s health because of the increased workload. There is
often little attention to their health concerns, and access to healthcare may be difficult.
Women reported to be shy to access care at health centers when the husband was not
present (Jain 2010). In addition to marginal landholdings with a small agricultural
output, some of the main push factors for migration today are lack of infrastructural
development, inadequate education, and alternative employment.
Climate change is also seen as one factor driving migration in recent years, because
changing conditions, such as less rainfall have contributed to a decline in agricultural
productivity. Complementary income from seasonal migration is the main source of cash
income for subsistence agriculture households. This income, generally ranging from Rs.
3,000–10,000 for a season, is not enough to keep the household above the poverty line,
though (Jain 2010). The commercial vegetable farming taken up in the last couple of
decades has reversed the migration trend to some extent, because it has created more jobs
for men. Organic cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) is a fast growing
activity that can increase the income for marginal farmers in a more sustainable way.
Rawat has had his own NGO for the last eight years working with organic farmers
who cultivate medicinal plants. “I have my farmers in this area and in other parts of
Uttarkashi. I am working with organic farmers and I’m growing in certified fields. We
help farmers to grow by giving them seed and then we buy back their produce,” he
explained. The state of Uttarakhand is developing several MAPs projects for increasing
this cultivation. Another area the state could pay more attention to is healthcare services.
There is a serious lack of services in many of the rural areas, and in Sour, Surbeer
talked to me about their most pressing needs. “Mainly we have childbirth related
problems, delivery cases,” he said, “the government is supposed to help, but it doesn’t
help us. They must have visited the village only at the time of election.” There is no
hospital in this area; the closest is in Dehradun, almost a ten-hour drive away on a very
bad road. “In the higher areas there are not even immunization programs for the children,
which is supposed to be a national program,” Surbeer said. Uttarakhand has high infant
mortality rates (IMR) in all districts, but Uttarkashi district has the highest IMR at 98 per
1,000 live births, more than double the lowest IMR at 40, in Almora district (Mittal, et al.
Uttarakhand is a relatively new state, with a long history of social movements, like
Chipko, working for the rights of farmers to the forests resources they need for marginal
mountain farming. Navdanya has been working with farmers in Uttarakhand, as well as
in several other states in India, for almost three decades, with the aim to teach the farmers
to be self-sufficient through organic agriculture and biodiversity conservation, in order to
maintain sustainable livelihoods and preserve the ecological resources.
The state has suffered some negative effects of chemical fertilizer use on soil fertility,
but not to a comparable extent of that in Punjab, or other similar mono-cropping areas.
Climate change is an increasing problem for farmers in Uttarakhand, especially
decreasing rainfall and erratic patterns of the monsoon, which make rainfed farming
difficult to control. Navdanya and other organizations working on sustainable farming
methods see that multi-cropping, use of locally adapted seed—which require less water—
and natural fertilizers in the form of dung and forest litter to replenish the soil, are the
best way to adapt to these changes. Navdanya staff carries out research on organic
farming methods, natural pest-controlling mechanisms, and economic and environmental
effects of converting to sustainable farming and water conservation in their villages.
Moreover farmers are involved in political aspects of sustainable farming, and take part
in courses, meetings, signature campaigns, and other forms of activism related to issues
such as international trade, patents, and GM crops. They learn about the real cost of
using hybrid seed, and are encouraged to use local varieties and keeping seed banks.
Marketing organic produce and securing a good price for the farmers is a challenge
here as in other states. A growing demand for organic produce, and a potential for
expanded sale, enable many farmers to support their families through sustainable farming
and livestock. Navdanya has a network for distribution, and buys produce from their
member farmers at a slightly higher rate than what they would get in the regular market.
Uttarakhand has declared itself an organic state, focusing on organic agriculture,
herbs and medicinal plants as avenues for niche-products and to diversify, but the state
faces many challenges in supporting a growing population with mainly rainfed mountain
agriculture. At the same time the state continues to support conventional agriculture, for
example through the development of cash-crop production of off-seasonal vegetables,
which require chemical fertilizers and irrigation. This is to create more income
opportunities and employment in rural areas, and to reduce the high seasonal and out of
state migration for work. There is a large need for improved infrastructure; roads,
electricity, and water, in addition to better education and healthcare. There are
considerable, and increasing, social and economic inequalities between the hills and the
Agricultural production in Uttarakhand is very distinct from that in Punjab in so many
respects, such as the size of landholdings, the degree of mechanization in farming, mono-
cropping versus multi-cropping systems in the fields, and in the use of agrochemical
inputs, to mention a few. In the following chapter I will discuss some of these
differences, and also the critique that organizations like Kheti Virasat and Navdanya
encounter from various sources.
CHAPTER FIVE: DISCUSSION
Contrastive Experiences with and Reactions to the Green Revolution
In this chapter, I review the characteristics and considerable differences between
agricultural practices in Punjab and Uttarakhand states. I then discuss key issues about
contrastive experiences with and reactions to the GR, as these are the main areas of the
work of Kheti Virasat in Punjab and Navdanya in Uttarakhand. I also discuss some of
the negative appraisals of these and similar organizations, which are criticized as being
backward not only by those convinced of the of the superiority of technology-based
agribusiness methods of farming but also by some intellectuals for being part of a
conservative populist movement or for promoting traditional gender roles of inequality
Punjab and Uttarakhand states are similar in size and both are located in the
northwestern part of India, but otherwise they differ in most aspects, as described in the
previous two chapters. Punjab has almost three times the population of that of
Uttarakhand, and a much more developed infrastructure. This is especially seen in a
better road system, statewide access to electricity, and not the least in irrigation of almost
all of its farmland. Eighty-five percent of Punjab is cultivated while only three percent of
the state is forest, whereas in Uttarakhand less than 15 percent of the predominantly
mountainous terrain is cultivated, and forests cover more than half of the state’s territory
(DFWP 2011). Input-intensive plains agriculture with mechanized production on large
landholdings characterizes farming in Punjab, in contrast to primarily mountain
cultivation in Uttarakhand with the use of animals and manual labor on small plots. The
integration of agriculture with forest use has prevented soil erosion, and preserved agro-
biodiversity as well as the natural biodiversity. Although both Tamil Nadu and West
Bengal also have hill agriculture within their states, in addition to larger plains areas, tea
plantations developed for commercial production by the British East India Company
characterize the hill areas of both these states. Tea production never became large scale
in Uttarakhand, and the state produces less than one percent of India’s tea crop, while
West Bengal and Tamil Nadu produce 21 and 15 percent respectively, although the
largest producer is the state of Assam, which is the source of 53 percent of India’s tea
harvest (Mauskar 2007).
Punjab is dominated by a rice-wheat crop rotation system, and many landholders hire
laborers to do manual work on the farms. In Uttarakhand, there is mainly multi-cropping,
and the farming is largely done by women and other family members and rarely with
hired labor. Whereas Punjabi women normally do not work in the fields, women in
Uttarakhand are heavily involved in agriculture, in addition to their domestic duties and
childcare, and therefore work several hours more per day than their male counterparts
(Guha 2000a). The two states are currently close in per capita income (Unidow 2011),
but farmers in Punjab have much higher debts, and about two thirds of the farmer
households are in debt, whilst in Uttarakhand less than ten percent of the farmers have
loans through official institutions.
Punjab was one of the main areas of implementation of the GR, and has, since the
1960s, been a center of the use of HYV, chemical fertilizers, and irrigation to produce a
crop. This has significantly increased agricultural production, and the state contributes
large amounts of rice and wheat to the national distribution system. Like most regions of
marginal and small-scale farming in India, Uttarakhand was not a central area for
distribution of GR technologies. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides were introduced
there one to two decades later than in Punjab, and never to the same degree. The GR
apparently increased social inequalities in Punjab, as seen in a pattern of larger farmers’
purchases of smaller farmers’ land (IFPRI 2007). There is less socio-economic
differentiation between the farmers of the hill regions of Uttarakhand than in other parts
of the country, due in part to limited access to land, and the fact that the farmers depend
mostly on the monsoon for irrigation. The income disparity is large between the hills and
the plains within the state of Uttarakhand, though, and also in terms of health services
and education. There is migration from rural areas in Uttarakhand, and the men often
seek work in the cities, and support their families with remittances.
As more and more farmers started using the new seed introduced during the GR in
Punjab, their traditional seed fell into disuse and was not saved. In Uttarakhand there has
been some transition to hybrid seed, but to a much lesser extent than in Punjab. There are
many old seed banks still in use, some over a century old, and more have been initiated in
recent years. One of the areas Navdanya and other organizations focus on is in assisting
in the protection seed biodiversity and retrieval of farmer seed varieties. They arrange
seed exchange programs and organize seed fairs, where they spread information among
the farmers. Farming with multiple crops is also beneficial for household nutrition,
contributes to food security and protects the livelihood of farmers. Mountain agriculture
with its blend of forest use, horticulture, and agriculture with animal husbandry, has been
able to preserve a high level of agro-biodiversity. This include traditional cultivars of
grains and pulses, fruits and vegetables, often specific to the temperate climate in the hills
and not found many other parts of the country, as well as many species of medicinal and
aromatic plant resources that are grown as a supplemental-income by farmers (Rais, et al.
The government in Uttarakhand has declared the state an organic state. This means
that it has implemented some policies to help farmers who would like to convert to
organic agriculture, and also farmers who did not leave natural farming methods, to get
access to new technologies and knowledge in ecological crop production. Even if most
of the crop produced in the hills of Uttarakhand is not yet certified organic, the farmers
often get higher prices because the quality of the hill agriculture is known outside the
Animal husbandry in the small mountain households, which often lack capital
resources, adds to both income and employment, and also to nutrition and health in the
population (ILRI 2006). In Punjab, Kheti Virasat recommended that farmers keep cattle
for dung production and milk, and several small farmers returned to keeping cattle when
they converted to organic methods. In both states, each farm does not make a large profit
from the cattle, but a cooperative enterprise of dairy can produce a good livelihood
Over the years the intensive agriculture practiced in Punjab negatively affected the
environment, depleted the soil, and caused the water tables to fall. Some areas of the
state have become deserts, and the crop yields have stagnated or are falling (IFPRI 2007).
The adverse environmental effects from industrial agriculture have been significantly less
extensive in Uttarakhand, because much less agrochemicals have been used there, and
they started their use later than in Punjab. Still, the soil in some places has turned dry and
infertile, or “burned” as the farmers called it, when chemical fertilizers were added, and
the rain did not come as expected, as the monsoons appear to have turned increasingly
irregular in the last couple of decades. The ecological environment of the hills is fragile
and the soil is prone to erosion from deforestation and more intensive rainfall. Other
environmental challenges include scarcity of water and increased temperatures due to
climate change. (In Chapter four about Uttarakhand, as well as here in the discussion, I
refer to the hill areas of Uttarakhand, which comprise the vast majority of the state, and
not the relatively small areas in the plains, where farmers practice conventional
agriculture to a larger extent.)
Practitioners of conventional forms of agricultural production have a way to calculate
costs that fails to include the price of damage done to the environment and to the social
fabric or to people’s health; for example from living in and consuming the produce of the
highly chemical production methods in Punjab. Unsafe levels of pesticide residue have
been found in the water, food, soil, and in humans themselves. There are increased rates
of cancer in several districts of the state, and research has indicated developmental
problems for children living in the most chemically polluted regions. While the use of
some of the worst poisons like DDT is now forbidden in agriculture, the use of less
persistent but more toxic pesticides is increasing in the state. Knowledge about the
dangers of these chemicals and safer ways to use them are still lacking among a majority
of the farmers and laborers who apply them.
Promoted as a solution to reduce the pesticide use in cotton production, a genetically
modified Bt cottonseed was introduced to farmers in Punjab in 2002. The resistance in
the Bt plant was tailored toward the American bollworm, but not towards other common
secondary pests on the cotton plant like aphids. The farmers therefore continued to spray
against these, although in smaller amounts than prior to growing the Bt crops. Another
problem with the Bt hybrid seed in regions with mainly smallholder agriculture is that
seed need to be purchased each year, and the crop requires fertilizers and irrigation. It is
therefore a costly variety for small farmers to grow, regardless if the pest problem of the
bollworm is even temporarily solved.
The widespread and escalating use of GM seed in the United States, Canada, and
Australia, and increasingly in South America, South Africa and South- and East Asia, has
been called a Second Green Revolution. This Second Green Revolution looks to
biotechnology such as GM seed, high-tech livestock breeding and other advanced
industrial agricultural methods to increase food production and thus achieve the elusive
goal of solving world hunger.
A Second Green Biotechnology Revolution
During the GR, much of the initial research was undertaken through public efforts,
and the seed and other inputs were also initially distributed largely via the universities
and agricultural departments. The biotechnology revolution, by contrast, is mainly driven
by the private sector, often by the same multinational companies who grew large during
the GR. The result is that the technologies are tightly controlled by patents, and not
available in an affordable way to small farmers (Josling and Nelson 2001). Multinational
agribusiness corporations like Monsanto and others are deeply involved in the present
drive for genetic engineering in agriculture and see India, Argentina, Brazil, China and
South Africa as their current main target markets for GM crops and accompanying
required inputs. Many of these companies, although considered private bodies, are
already larger than countries in economic terms and have gained disquieting and
increasing power over world food production. At the same time they have demonstrated
little regard for environmental or social impacts in the communities that they are seeking
to sell their products (Paul, et al. 2004), but instead focus on controlling the farmers, the
seed markets and the resources. This is facilitated by WTO agreements, which are
designed to give corporations liberty to work where their profits are the highest (Paul, et
Agricultural (and other) research is suffering by the increasing corporate influence at
universities and in research institutes. A consequence of research dominated by
corporations is that the focus shifts towards results that can be patented or in other ways
controlled, so that they make certain they will profit from it. The exploration of
methodologies to regenerate traditional practices that are unable to ensure this aspect of
private gain is largely ignored. Farmers’ knowledge and traditional practices in farming
built up over centuries in all parts of the world accompanied by the farmer varieties and
their germplasm are considered raw material, something potentially useful when
developing the privately owned technologies, but not worthy of support or protection
unless the corporations can make use of it (Paul, et al. 2004).
As more farmers start growing GM crops, the power of these companies will be
reinforced. The choice the farmers have is therefore clear, between the safeguarding or
rebuilding of their self-sufficient local food systems and their biodiversity, or reliance on
monoculture and a food system controlled by industry. The Vía Campesina, Kheti
Virasat, Navdanya and other farmers’ organizations see as the only alternative solution
that farmers keep and grow their own seed.
While some call the increased use of GM seed and other modified organisms a
Second Green Revolution, there is doubt that this will lead to more food production, in
contrast with what the industry claims, transgenic crops do not produce higher yields than
organic or conventional crops (Gurian-Sherman 2009). This technology will therefore
probably not resolve the problem of hunger, but rather continue and intensify an
industrial model of agriculture that has not lived up to its own promises or expectations.
The Union of Concerned Scientists presented an assessment of peer-reviewed research
from almost two decades concerning the yield from genetically engineered food and feed
crops in the United States in a report called “Failure to Yield” (2009). They found that in
the United States it is only Bt cotton that has achieved a noteworthy yield increase among
all GM crops. Bt corn had a yield increase of three to four percent during the 13 years
that it has been grown commercially in the United States, but conventional corn breeding
methods had larger yield increases during the same time period (Gurian-Sherman 2009).
Some plant scientists are suggesting that experience to date with creating transgenic
plants indicate that these plants may not contribute to a sustained increase in crop yields
to the rate announced, because it turned out to be more difficult than anticipated to try to
understand how the transgenic plants interact in various environments, outside of the
laboratory (Sinclair, et al. 2004). In addition to insect resistance, the other major
transgenic quality is herbicide resistance, but this is only valuable for larger farmers who
can afford to buy expensive herbicides, and are willing to use those toxins. It is not a
good option for small farmers who would like to avoid unnecessary risks. They aim at
producing stable yields with as few external inputs as possible, and would rather avoid
methods that require additional water and are less viable during drought. The claims that
GM crops would be better adapted to marginal ecosystems or have environmental
benefits are contested and many researchers are uncertain whether costly GM seed will
make productive gains (Pretty and Ball 2001; Villar, et al. 2007). Some argue that rather
than having any additional useful properties, transgenic crops are actually contaminating
the genetic diversity of the world and exposing the planet to ecological risks that we do
not know the consequences of (Quist and Chapela 2001). To know about how genes
control important traits in plants is one thing, but to achieve consistent, sustainable
genetic improvement is a very complex issue, not least influenced by the environment
and the genetic context in which the control is undertaken (Kroymann and Mitchell-Olds
2005; MacMillan, et al. 2006).
The critique against GM crops comes from people with various distinct concerns.
The emphasis in the developed countries has been primarily on whether these crops are
safe to consume, and questions such as toxic accumulation in the food chain and whether
this is similar to that of chemicals from pesticides. The GM crop’s potential
environmental effects have also been raised. These may include the flow of, for example,
Bt genes to related plant families where they can interact with unknown outcomes on
insects that do not target the crops, on other organisms, or on the ecosystems in the soil.
Many doubt GM crop’s biological sustainability, as early on there was development of
insect-resistance to the Bt proteins present in the plants. While these concerns have also
been brought up in India, the economic performance of GM crops, and issues of food
security have been more central to the debate over their use there. A GM crop is a
possible threat to food security for small farmers for whom it is critical to maintain traits
of their own crop varieties that contain what they feel they need. These traits include
quality food with the desired taste and cooking properties, but also fodder and storage
quality, and resistance to drought. These traits could be destroyed if contaminated with
GM crops, which may lack these qualities. Transgenic flow may also create liabilities if
it results in economic damage, which could occur if an organic farmer lost certification
and therefore revenue because of contamination. There is therefore a need for border
crops and sufficient distance from organic growers, but while the transgenic flow may be
prevented to some extent by methods of physical and biological containment, it will be
hard to prevent it completely (Heinemann 2007; Kershen 2004; Shelton 2007; Smyth, et
al. 2002). If transgenic crops are to be the important contribution some think they are
destined for, there needs to be more information convincing the public that research on
safety is done and to make this more transparent, so that the public can gain confidence in
these production forms. That only the industry itself is permitted to undertake research
on these crops does not give assurance of their safety for consumption nor for the
environment (Eicher, et al. 2006; Herrero, et al. 2007; Marvier, et al. 2007). During the
GR, the farmer became “forced” to buy the chemicals the HYV needed to grow and to
control the increased pests. It turned into a costly circle of debt and smaller profit
margins for the farmers. That the same companies who produced the pesticides and
fertilizers are those who now create these GM crops does not enhance confidence in the
need for these among many farmers.
For some time the seed producers have pledged that they would develop new
generations of salt- and drought tolerant GM crops. This is presented as a completely
new invention, and they fail to mention that worldwide there are farmers growing local
varieties plants with these qualities, including in India. These varieties are safe for
human consumption, environmentally friendly, and much cheaper (Deb 2004). There are
also nontoxic and effective natural ways of controlling pests, developed by farmers who
work with the soil, its ecology and other species, instead of considering them all as
enemies. These are practiced among organic farmers and some conventional farmers
through integrated pest management (IPM) practices. The benefactors of using these
methods are the environment, the soil and water, as well as people who work in
agriculture and those who eat agricultural produce; not the agrochemical companies
however (Altieri 2004).
Many farmers, not only in India but all over the world, have started to change the
farming methods they use, searching for sustainable ways of farming that do not poison
their environment or require extensive inputs. This trend towards a change in agricultural
methods has been going on for several decades in Punjab, and about three decades in
Uttarakhand, and of course many other places in the world. Presented in the IAASTD
reports (2009) is an exchange of ideas among the around four hundred researchers who
contributed with their work on agricultural sustainability. Discussing the problems we
are facing with ecological and social crises, scarcity of food, water, energy, and the
uncertainties involved with climate change, they maintain that to continue in the same
pattern is not an option. The report expresses serious doubts as to whether a global
agribusiness with industrial agricultural methods and GM crops will be a solution to
produce more food. There is not only a need for more food, but the market needs to see
this in connection with the climate, energy and water spent. So far the market has
focused narrowly on food production, without including the whole picture of resources
and food security. The report recommends alleviating poverty and achieving food
security by adopting sustainable agricultural practices such as organic farming and other
agro-ecological approaches, and that the market should include in its calculations the
environmental services these farming methods include. It also argues there should be
incentives for taking care of the environment and securing farming being possible in the
same area in the future, not only for shortsighted high outcome (IAASTD 2009). These
could include appreciation of the multiple functions of agriculture, such as ecological
services contributing to resource conservation provided by sustainable agriculture
through its low-input and carbon sequestration, agro-forestry, watershed management,
and conservation of agricultural biodiversity. The IAASTD emphasizes focusing on the
need to educate farmers and have professionals work with the local farmers and
contribute agricultural knowledge, science and technology (AKST). There is also a great
need in many rural areas of improved health services, and education. The UN Special
Rapporteur on the Right to Food said recently in his report that “Agro-ecology or organic
farming delivers advantages that are complementary, and strongly contribute to the
broader economic development” (De Shutter 2010).
Kheti Virasat and Navdanya
Kheti Virasat and Navdanya are two, of the many organizations now working with
farmers to help change unsustainable ways of producing food. While making use of the
farmers’ experience and skills, they integrate this traditional knowledge with new
farming technology and methods. They work to improve the farmers’ self-reliance
through independence of costly external inputs, thus contributing to economic self-
sufficiency. These organizations also contribute to conserving biodiversity and
indigenous seed, well adapted to their environment, and to build appreciation of the value
of traditional farming methods. They are working to give the farmers a choice, an
alternative to a second GR, or a biotechnology revolution, because they have seen the
negative effects on people’s health in the farming communities and the dire consequences
on the environment of the first GR, and they know that there are other more viable
strategies for small farmers to survive and thrive. One way by which Navdanya and
similar organizations give the farmers another choice is by offering seed that will be
suitable and tolerant to their local conditions, and which the farmers can reproduce
During the GR, many of the crop varieties the farmers used to grow and the
agricultural diversity that had been developed over generations disappeared when the use
of HYV became more common, as seen in Punjab, and around the world in both
developed and developing countries. When these varieties are lost, we also lose
irreplaceable germplasm that had been selected and built up in each sort. In the early
1990s, a national campaign to protect seed varieties was started in India and called Bija
Satyagraha. Bija means seed, and Satyagraha means non-violent resistance and is a well-
known term in India since its use by Gandhi during the fight for independence. Initially
meant to protect farmers’ traditional seed rights from patents, Bija Satyagraha now also
includes protection from GM seed. In 1930, thousands of Indians walked to the sea to
collect salt, during the Salt Satyagraha, in defiance of the British tax on salt. Following
that same spirit of independence from foreign rule or multinational companies, the Seed
Satyagraha encourages farmers not to buy GM or patented seed, and to defy the Indian
seed patent laws. The trend of neglecting seed varieties is no less prevalent in this second
biotechnology revolution, than it was in the first GR. When the companies developing
GM crops are investing money and time in this endeavor, it is not to provide a large
number of varieties the farmers can select from, but rather to center on a very few
fundamental crops. This way they contribute to uniformity in crops and fields of
monocultures. As seen in many cases in the past, this may increase disease attacks and
pests on more vulnerable monocultures, and some of the first generation of GM crops
soon lost resistance to the pests they were supposed to withstand (Paul, et al. 2004).
Community seed banks and the continued use of a wide range of seed are therefore
crucial to conserve and prevent further loss of seed varieties, and in providing farmers an
alternative to HYV, hybrids, and GM seed. Seed banks would also sometimes be where
the villagers stored their grain for consumption. The seed banks make seed available in
an affordable exchange system, for example by letting the farmer return some seed after
the first harvest. This way, farmers can access seed without taking up loans, unlike what
is often the case when they purchase the GM and hybrid seed. When farmers are
dependent on returning a loan with the surplus from their crop, this can be disastrous if
the crop is not good, or fails completely. The cause of farmer suicides is complex, but
most agree it is related to indebtedness. Debt is closely tied to the cost of the seed, and
the inputs they require. The risk of losing the crop, for example in a drought, is higher
with hybrid or transgenic seed because these are more prone to fail in inclement weather
conditions than locally adapted seed are.
In the village, a seed bank is often central to cooperation and reciprocity between the
farmers and along with the seed, the farmers exchange information about the seed and
how to grow the various crops. In the villages in Uttarakhand there were often the
women who had the key to the seed bank and were in charge of the exchange and
distribution of seed. They had customarily been engaged in seed saving and preservation,
since women for long had been active in agricultural work on these multi-task, small-
scale farms in the hills. The responsibility of managing the seed bank would give women
certain status, but it could also be regarded as yet another chore for them to be in charge
of and include in their numerous work hours; part of their double responsibility for the
family and for the farm. As women have to ensure that the family is fed, the seed banks
are vital in conserving and storing the seed necessary for a sustainable agriculture, with
crop varieties that suit their environmental conditions, and for replacement when pest
attacks, droughts or other calamities would occur. Local knowledge about the seed and
its farming methods is increasingly appreciated, as science becomes aware that local
varieties and knowledge about growing them has valuable aspects that can be
incorporated in modern farming practices (IAASTD 2009).
Local Knowledge and Climate Change
As pointed out in the IAASTD reports, it is now widely acknowledged that
particularly in small-scale farming, agricultural knowledge, science and technology can
make use of and be based on local knowledge. The best results of agricultural
development are where the project principals have taken the time to understand the agro-
ecology of the systems they are trying to improve. From there the challenge is to develop
them to be economically worthwhile and expand them in an ecologically sustainable way.
In Uttarakhand, this is seen in conserving the natural resource base both for agricultural
and non-agricultural ecosystems such as the forests. Continued protection of the
environment is essential for agriculture in this fragile ecosystem, and also beneficial for
human health. The approaches that have integrated local, farmer-based innovations with
formal research have been the most successful. In mountain agriculture here, as in other
regions of the Hindu-Kush Himalayas, an important problem is the exodus of men and
the young from agriculture partially due to the small landholdings. Farming must offer a
livable income, and one way of increasing the productivity of farming systems is the
more intensive use of space and time, in intercropping for example, which traditionally
has been used together with agro-forestry as a way of intensification. Because the
climate varies a lot by elevation in hill regions, different varieties are grown at each level,
and varieties that are tolerant to cold and large temperature fluctuations between night
and day are planted at the beginning and end of the growing season.
Future climate change may well create new pest invasions or intensify those pest
problems already existing. With warmer winters, insects and pathogens have better
conditions to survive (Gan 2004; Garrett, et al. 2006; Gutierrez, et al. 2006; Yamamura,
et al. 2006) and this is already seen for some plant pathogens (Rosenzweig, et al. 2001).
In Uttarakhand, cropping system diversification has been successfully used for pest
control. This has been done for example by sowing a variety of beans in the same field,
in addition to the traditional practices of intercropping and planting of beneficial non-
crop plants such as flowers that attract friendly insects, crop rotation, and leaving land
fallow. When using biodiversity for pest control, friendly insects act as natural enemies
of the pest populations, and it will not be just one host plant that suffers an attack from
any one pest (Altieri 2002). If, on the other hand, we kill the pest insects off with
pesticide, we also often decrease the friendly predators that feed upon them (Winston
1997). The knowledge of how to maintain a biodiverse system that naturally achieves
this balance is often locally specific. This is another reason to carefully preserve and
learn from local and traditional knowledge when developing or maintaining diverse agro-
A meta-analysis of 66 publications comparing conventional and organic farming in
several European countries, indicates that the farming methods that most successfully
enhance species richness, especially that of plants, predatory insects and birds, is organic
farming (Bengtsson, et al. 2005). The farmers in Punjab soon saw the return of birds and
insects on their farms after converting to organic farming, and the soil fauna and local
densities of insect predators increased. Even if there is greater variety of insects in
organic farming systems, there is not more pest damage there than on conventional farms.
Rather, Bengtsson’s meta-analysis supports the notion that a higher diversity and
abundance of natural enemies contributes to better pest control in organic farms. The
farmers I spoke to in Punjab who had converted emphasized the fact that their current
pest attacks were not as serious or devastating as some attacks were when they were
growing conventional monocultures.
Environmental Degradation and Organic Farming
The soil in the hill areas of Uttarakhand has not been contaminated to the same extent
as the soil in Punjab. There is not as much residue of pesticides and the water quality is
therefore also better. Underlying factors for this are remoteness; lack of accessibility for
the industry to promote inputs, small landholdings, and lack of irrigation needed for HYV
and therefore limited returns on investment in these crops. Shortage of finances among
the farmers or a lack of interest in investing in fertilizers (which they considered they
already have in their immediate environment in the form of forest material and animal
dung) has also contributed to this situation. Nevertheless, the hill environment is very
vulnerable and some farmers have suffered loss of soil quality due to chemical use, loss
of topsoil due to deforestation, or changed character of the soil with changing climate
conditions (Maxwell, et al. 2001). There is not much room for other livelihoods in these
hills, but mountain agro-forestry is one that has been working for centuries, and can be
further improved with education of the farmers in agricultural technologies and by
improving infrastructure and access to a market. Agroforestry practices improve and
maintain soil fertility for the future (Jiambo 2006; Rasul and Thapa 2006; Schroth, et al.
2004), which is crucial for continued small-scale agriculture and food security for the
majority of small farmers in this fragile environment.
If the farmers here were to turn to HYV and hybrids, they would need external inputs,
which would have to be brought in through improved roads and additional irrigation
systems. It would be hard to maintain the crop diversity at the same time as allocating
areas for the input of intensive crops. Instead, the state is to some extent supporting the
farmers in making ecologically sound and lasting cropping practices and managing the
area’s ecosystems and natural resources in an integrated, sustainable way. Rather than
growing hybrid varieties that are probably grown better in other areas, they can make a
viable livelihood focusing on getting a higher price for their unique, indigenous varieties,
and special niche markets for beans, amaranth and finger millet, all among the sponsored
products of the Uttaranchal Organic Commodity Board (UOBC), together with fruit and
vegetable juices (Rais, et al. 2009).
Kheti Virasat, Navdanya, and other community based farmers organizations have also
been able to help the farmers come together and pool their resources to reduce otherwise
prohibitive costs, such as for certification and labeling. They also organize the
transportation, marketing and sale of their own crop. Marketing is often a key concern
for smallholders (Bernet, et al. 2005). Potential market niches for small-scale farmers are
networks of organic and fair-trade markets, although Navdanya focuses on meeting local
food security needs and local market needs first. When considering exporting food, the
local production in other countries should be considered, and only supplemented if there
is lack of a crop, or if a crop cannot be grown in that place.
When farmers convert to organic methods in the hills, they are able to sustain their
livelihoods and contribute to employment outside the farm in local processing and
marketing. This increased activity would not only have social and economic benefits, but
also contribute to less migration from rural areas (Bavec and Bavec, 2006; FAO, 1999b;
Parrot and Marsden, 2002; Halberg et al., 2007; Kilcher, 2007; Scialabba, 2007). The
UOCB is also involved in marketing strategies, and developing branding and distribution
locally, but in Uttarakhand access to the market is still limited by inadequate
infrastructure, poor road systems and lack of refrigerated storage or transport. Punjab
does not experience these same problems, as infrastructure is much better developed
While representatives of industrial agriculture argue that small-scale farming is
ineffective, there are many studies indicating that small biodiverse farms are more
productive than larger farms. In one analysis of 208 projects which examined how to
improve household food production in 52 developing countries, it was found that the
environmentally friendly, locally available, and low cost practices, where those that
contributed to most growth in food production (Pretty, et al. 2003). Yield increases have
also been achieved where farming systems have been converted to organic, low-input,
traditional practices (Halberg, et al. 2006). What is emphasized in these studies is that
small farms are more flexible in terms of improving the food availability of the
household. It also shows that modest investments in AKST give good results for these
small-scale diversified farms, and improves the situation regarding poverty and equity in
the communities, as they can contribute to the farmers being more involved in value
chains, or independent value-adding practices, that increase income-generation. The
small-scale farmers are more flexible in terms of changing to market needs. Increased
interest in food quality, safety, and traceability, all favor small-scale organic production
that can easily meet these quality needs and participate in short food supply chains in the
domestic market. As seen in Uttarakhand, small farmers with diversified production had
the potential of improving both the quantity and quality of their nutrition, while
conserving agro-biodiversity. “With organic farming you get a lot of produce in a small
piece of land. The farmers have realized the fact that organic is commercially
profitable,” said Rawat, one of the Navdanya coordinators in Uttarakhand.
Panneerselvam et al. (2010) found in a study comparing organic and conventional
systems in the states of Uttarakhand and Tamil Nadu that conventional and organic
farming had comparable yields in most cases. In Uttarakhand, intercropping in organic
systems had helped farmers increase the food available for consumption in the household.
They also found that organic farmers spent less on inputs than conventional ones, and
that this reduced their risk of debt. Organic farmers are therefore better prepared when
there are sudden climatic or economic changes, as they are not tied up in selling their
entire crop for making debt payments, as is the case of many small conventional farmers
in Punjab. It is exactly this risk of not having any flexibility in terms of income or
disposal of crop, which frequently causes food insecurity and can lead to despair among
the small-scale farmers in India (Panneerselvam, et al. 2010).
Food security was described in the World Food Summit as existing “when all people,
at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to
meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO 1996).
It is more likely that farmers in India will enjoy well-balanced diets when a variety of
produce is available, and they do not need to buy additional food from the market after
selling a crop. These qualities are beneficial anywhere, but particularly needed in small-
scale agriculture, where food security should be given higher priority than production for
a market. In terms of yield per acre, intercropping that produces grains, fruits,
vegetables, animal products and their fodder, produces much more than monocultures.
The way several crops and intercrops are grown in sequence during the season makes the
use of the land more effective.
Despite the benefits many see from conversion to organic agriculture, biodiversity
conservation and the value of local and indigenous knowledge, there are many who have
opposite views. In addition to the arguments that originate in agribusiness about the
superiority of their seed and mineral fertilizers or chemical pesticides, there are others
who perceive the teachings of organizations like Navdanya, as being backward, populist,
and not in the long term benefitting the small farmers they propose to empower. I will
discuss briefly some of these viewpoints here.
A Romanticized Past?
In This Fissured Land (1992), Madhav Gadgil and Ramachandra Guha narrate the
political ecology of India from the time of British colonialism, which they refer to as a
turning point, or watershed, in India’s ecological history. They describe the past as being
more coherent and stable, with self-sufficient village communities, but they are not
entirely nostalgic about an idyllic past. They discuss the resource usage practices
introduced by colonialism and capitalism as entailing: “the elevation of commercial over
subsistence uses, the delegitimization of the community and the abandoning of restraints
on resource exploitation” (Gadgil and Guha 1992:116). Under the British, some of the
first conflicts over forest policy were between the new state monopoly and what the
villagers and farmers saw as their customary rights. In Uttarakhand, these policies
seemed to separate forests from agriculture. Gadgil and Guha argue that here, as in other
states, the colonial policies allotted large areas of forest for increased hunting, or for
plantations growing coffee, tea, or rubber, and note that the dismantling of the traditional
forest management practices caused dramatic ecological degradation during this period.
They criticize the post-colonial governments of India for continuing colonial procedures
in forest management, benefiting the commercial and industrial sectors, while ownership
and technical expertise remained with the state and its forest department (Gadgil and
Guha 1992). They warn that further environmental degradation and increased social
conflicts will follow if the state continues expropriation of forest resources. Instead of a
continued industrial mode of production, they suggest that forest management in India
should learn from the resource allocations of the past, and reintroduce the integration and
cooperation among agriculture, livestock herding, and gathering of fodder and medicinal
plants in mountain agriculture.
Farmers I interviewed in Uttarakhand lamented the lack of sustainability in the state’s
“scientific” forestry. They argued that the state grow trees for commercial use, but not
what is needed for maintaining a healthy forest, protecting against soil erosion, and
giving fodder, much the same pattern as during colonialism. This pattern has
impoverished the farmers and provoked the many social protests that the state has seen
during the last decades. Even some forms of local resource conservation that had been
maintained during the colonial period have been lost during the recent decades of
“scientific” forestry management (Gadgil and Guha 1992).
Vandana Shiva uses many of the same arguments that Gadgil and Guha put forward
in their ecological history, in her books Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development
(Shiva 1988), and Ecology and the Politics of Survival (Shiva 1991). Critics contend that
this view of past methods that were more sustainable is simply not accurate, and that the
narratives of forest users in Uttarakhand that have been presented ignore the hierarchies
and socio-economic differences that existed. Shubhra Gururani says “There is a tendency
to view rural India, especially the Himalaya, as a model of equality and unity.” (Gururani
2000:183). She argues that the hill societies in Uttarakhand is lacking clear-cut class
division and have strong communal traditions, making this state an exception to the social
hierarchy elsewhere in India. “The largely egalitarian social organization of Uttarakhand
helps construct an image of the Himalaya as an archetype of authentic India where social
hierarchies were and are insignificant and provide the basis for sustainable resource use,”
while caste and class relations were and are very different in other areas of the country
(Gururani 2000:183). According to Sumit Guha, the caste system and class commonly
controlled Indian society and village communities, and therefore the relations would be
based on hierarchy, dominance, and inequality, rather than equality and unity. Under the
old regime, the most powerful groups would control both agrarian and highly politicized
environmental resources (Guha 2000b). Sivaramakrishnan (2009), claims that there is no
reason to think that in pre-colonial India the natural resource use was balanced or
managed in a wise way, as assumed by Gadgil and Guha. He says there is little evidence
of this customary use. A similar argument is raised by Sumit Guha, who criticizes
Vandana Shiva for not presenting historical material that indicates how earlier
communities managed their natural resources and that therefore to describe them as
balanced in their resource use, or as being careful and sensible in their land use practices
is not based in reality (Guha 2002). Another critic of Gadgil, Ramachandra Guha, and
Shiva, is Haripriya Rangan (2000), who has applied historical data to contradict what she
calls romanticized populist10
accounts of a better past in India, prior to environmental
degradation started affecting the Himalayas. Rangan argues that the populists in India
blame the environmental decay on British colonialism, population increase and economic
growth, but, she contends, there was no ecological harmony prior to the colonial era. She
says that rather than being a pristine and uncomplicated region, the Himalayas was
troubled by prolonged conflict that had started prior to colonization and that there had
also been devastations of the countryside in the form of flooding, earthquake and other
natural calamities, and famine (Rangan 2000). These natural disasters are not necessarily
connected with resource use, but Rangan contends that sustainable policies have to
expand the right to use the natural resources now, and not conserve the environment in
the hopes of restoring a past that probably never existed (Rangan 2000).
Despite these critiques from various people, Sivaramakrishnan argues that Shiva’s
portrayal of the past is still prevalent in many camps. He points to the Indian
government’s ninth national five-year plan, from 1997–2002, as an example, where the
approach to forest management reiterate some of these ideas (Sivaramakrishnan
2009:307). What is important today is not how the resources were used in the past, but
rather to apply the knowledge we have at this time about sustainable forestry, to conserve
what we have left of forests, and to let more forests grow.
Populist is here used in a derogative way; about political parties or social movements which are said to
lack in theory, the appeal to “the people” without differentiation based on class or political leanings, and to
play on religious, cultural, or national political feelings in times of change which may cause uncertainty in
the population. (Historically, as well as today, populism is part of factions from left to right, and
sometimes with fascist overtones.)
Traditional Gender Roles
In Uttarakhand, hill women are heavily involved in the work in the forests, such as
collecting firewood and fodder for the animals. The attitude among men towards women
is that women provide a form of free labor, given that they can relax and watch the
women of the family work extended hours, regardless if they were their aged mothers,
their wives, or their daughters. In her research on Panchayat forests that are managed by
the village councils, Gururani (2000) discovered that despite women’s efforts and
involvement in the use of the forests, social restrictions prevented them from taking part
in the councils, and therefore also from participating in the forest management. She also
found in her study that men regarded women as unable to grasp how to advance forest
restoration, and that rather they accuse women of being responsible for the deterioration
of the forests. Gururani concludes that eco-feminists, and some include Vandana Shiva
as one, romanticize the idea that women have a special connection with nature and are
more knowledgeable than men when it comes to insights about agro-ecological matters,
and that they are more responsible in the management of environmental resources
(Gururani 2000). Her research also indicate that the role of women in these communities
is very vulnerable, and one of severe inequality, and discrimination.
This does not mean that many of the women of Uttarakhand who collect fodder and
medicinal herbs in the forest, tend to agriculture, and save seed, do not possess extensive
knowledge of the forests they have worked in all their lives. In Punjab, the relatively
wealthier Jat-caste women who never participate in agricultural work in the fields, nor are
involved in gathering from the forest, due to social restrictions on where they can work
and move, would of course have a very different area of expertise. Therefore, even if
women in Uttarakhand are taking part in agricultural work and collecting from the
forests, one cannot from those examples make generalizations about women necessarily
being caretakers or defenders of the environment, better farmers or managers of natural
The vulnerability of women in agricultural economies is primarily influenced by their
comparative lack of rights to resources and income, especially agricultural land (Agarwal
2003; Jackson 2003). Other key factors that contribute to increased powerlessness
among women are higher levels of illiteracy and social constrains on their mobility and
work opportunities (Fordham 2003). In Uttarakhand, like in many other regions, women
have the main responsibility for producing food for household consumption, while men
are more often involved in the crops produced for sale, or they migrate to cities to look
for wage work.
Gender differences in these rural communities reflect the wider patterns of structural
gender inequality. In this context of widespread disrespect and harassment from men it is
hard to work for rapid change and to try to foreground women’s perspectives. Neglect of
efforts to address gendered power structures is prevalent.
Navdanya, and other groups often argue for a protection of a farmers’ culture which
is perceived by critics as encouraging traditional gender roles and inferior status for
women, or a conventional gender role where femininity is within the limits of working
the land, regeneration, and transmitting cultural values, without giving the women an
independent voice. Navdanya does include women in their various programs, trainings,
and as coordinators in some villages. They have a gender program called Diverse
Women for Diversity, where women work in local, national and international fora to
promote biodiversity, cultural diversity and food security, and engage in non-violent
resistance to monoculture and monopolies, genetic engineering of food crops and patents
on life forms (Navdanya 2009a). They do emphasize women’s alleged closer ties with
nature, and agricultural knowledge, although these ties are more likely based on culture
than nature. Women’s considerable experience through their work has probably given
them knowledge of the use of the forest and wild plants. Navdanya celebrates women’s
work and knowledge, but might pay less attention to what would be considered
promoting radical change of women’s rights, in order to get a wider support among the
population in the traditional, rural areas they work. In Uttarakhand, I heard appraisal of
women’s work capacity, but not discussions on how to ease their double burden. The
fact is that women work longer days while they do not have the power to decide many
aspects of their lives. Navdanya mentioned ideas of how to make some tools better
adjusted, to ease women’s workload, but not to change the division of labor. Some
oppose that fact that Shiva is called an ecofeminist, or a feminist, because rather than
gender equality, they argue, she emphasizes complementary roles and preserving
tradition (Agarwal 2001; Cochrane 2007; Nanda 2003). I would agree it is hard to call
Shiva a feminist, based on the idea that feminism is about equal opportunity and
liberation, and not about protecting customs that are oppressive for large parts of the
Backward and Anti-Modern?
Navdanya and Kheti Virasat and other movements in India which claim they are
inspired by Gandhi, focus on what they see as a moral necessity of controlling resource
use, for social justice, and inclusion of the poor. They refer to the farmers as independent
and empowered when they are more or less self-sufficient; produce their own inputs such
as seed and fertilizers with compost and dung, control pests with their self-made pest
deterrents, and have food security through biodiverse multi-cropping. The alternatives
these organizations teach to farmers are based on traditional agricultural techniques, and
the use of local seed. When the farmers convert to organic methods and stop purchasing
fertilizers, pesticides and commercial seed, they avoid going into debt, because the cost
of these input have risen so dramatically that they cannot be bought without borrowing
money. When these practices are recommended by (new) social movements, farmers’
organizations, or NGOs, they are not only criticized by proponents of industrial or
conventional agriculture, but many argue that the work of these NGOs puts a damper on
and complicates class organization (Das 2007; Herring and Agarwala 2006). Their
argument is that a change of an unjust order must come through a class struggle and that
other concerns are secondary to this, but a class formation continues to be elusive.
Should the concerns about the growing number of rural people ending up in urban slums
and severe environmental degradation from conventional agriculture wait for class
conscience to develop? Or can multiple concerns be targeted at the same time, and
maybe even with more cooperation between groups that have things in common. The
agricultural sector is under increased pressure from globalization and the capitalist state
with accompanying neoliberal policies and the increasing power of multinational
companies in various aspects of our lives, such as the central one: food production. The
environment is being polluted and degraded at a fast rate, and all attempts at preventing
that and aiding survival of farming communities are commendable.
Politics are fraught with corruption in India, and many government projects for
farmers and rural poor never reach the recipients for these reason. In West Bengal,
farmers I interviewed argued that the rampant local stealing of funds from farmers took
place within every party, even, for example, the Communist Party of India (CPI) in their
case. In many inaccessible areas in Uttarakhand there were not many politicians, social
movements, or NGOs. The people there would have to relate to the very few they met, as
most were also unable to travel to seek out alternative organizations. I think the task of
converting to sustainable agriculture to improving people’s livelihoods and their
environments can be done while creating class conscience, and fighting for basic services
such as health care and infrastructure. The question is not who approaches the farmers
first, and “monopolize” them, or “prevents” them from engaging in other causes, but who
approaches them at all.
Development of varieties in crop and domestic animals has been going on since the
beginning of agriculture. People always tried to breed for increased yields, with traits of
tolerance to weather and resistance to pests. Agricultural technologies have been
invented, and many have been left again, like some types of irrigation or fertilizing,
tilling, or rotation systems that have not produced the desired results. Centuries old
practices that survived probably did so because they were beneficial, but many academics
and scientists in agribusiness corporations dismiss as backward and anti-modern the
acknowledgment that there might be something to be learned from traditional knowledge.
I found that the fact that many farmers now are opposed to the use of chemical
fertilizers and chemical pesticides has not necessarily anything to do with a rejection of
“improvement” or new agricultural knowledge, or of science or technology per se. The
farmers I interviewed in Punjab, for example, do not accept without reflection a
conversion to organic methods, based on whether the GR methods where new or old, but
rather because their soil lost fertility and became impossible to work with, without inputs
at such a high cost they could simply not afford farming that way anymore. These
farmers saw the pollution of their environment and experienced the associated health
problems in their community and wanted to leave that way of production, when there
were options for doing it in a healthier and more sustainable way. With severely depleted
soil, organic or other ecological farming methods with low external input systems can be
a way to ensure sustainable management. Conversion to organic methods in Punjab can
also be seen as rehabilitation of degraded land. Soil fertility can be improved through
various methods, and in addition people see that soil rich in hummus controls erosion
better than depleted, sandy soil. Farmers are realizing that they can protect biodiversity,
sequester carbon in the soil, and promote the natural enemies of disease, pests, and
weeds, and improve the scarce water availability in the state through organic means.
Along similar lines, the farmers’ opposition to a second GR based on a new
biotechnology revolution, with GM seed, is not based on a rejection of this technology on
principle, but rather practical factors like affordability of the seed and the input necessary
for the crop to grow, the need to purchase seed each year, and limitation of their choices
in terms of what to grow. Another aspect is that many farmers think GM seed lacks
testing for safety for human or animal consumption. Shiva has framed the debate of GM
seed and their introduction to India as something she would fight as an anti-colonial
struggle, with a focus of protecting farmers’ choice and economical rights. It can also be
seen primarily as an environmental and social justice issue. The farmers should have the
right to make their own decisions, and not be dictated by external economic factors or
outsiders. Production methods that are more labor intensive may be preferable to those
that require more capital and often high loans, because that could mean complete
dependence of the farmers on a moneylender for all their needs. To have a choice in
what to grow can also be considered a political right, for example when a farmer wishes
to emphasize growing traditional, often nutritious crops, like the millets in Uttarakhand,
rather than hybrid wheat which many said they find tasteless by comparison. Organic
farming benefits from the security of using seed adapted to local conditions, and thus not
risking the crop with input intensive seed that may succeed if the rain comes but may be a
disaster if it does not. New technologies do not automatically fit small-scale agriculture
in marginal conditions that need to produce for subsistence.
The Agrarian Question
Whether social movements romanticize the past to create change, or not, the situation
in India is that conventional capitalist agriculture or large agribusiness enterprises have
not been able to alleviate hunger or poverty. Instead, land degradation and other ills have
followed. The neoliberal policies introduced in India and elsewhere, have contributed to
increased landlessness, through forced sale due to bankruptcy, expropriation by the state
for Special Economic Zones (SEZ), industrial areas, or the loss of traditional land use
rights. These policies have therefore, directly and indirectly pushed hundreds of
thousands of rural people out of their previous livelihoods and means of survival. In
many countries there are increasing numbers of the rural population who work as
laborers. In India almost half the rural population, 45.6 percent, now work as laborers,
compared to 28.1 percent in 1951, while the remaining small majority still work on their
own land (ASG 2008). The greater parts of these laborers do not stay in agricultural
work, but end up in urban slums, as cheap, expendable labor. In classical Marxist
conceptions, the resolution of the agrarian question in Europe was via urban
industrialization (Akram-Lodhi and Kay 2010). During the 20th
century, many laborers
moved from rural to urban sectors in the industrializing global North. This strategy
worked to some extent in the past, and maybe more so in the industrialized areas or the
core countries, rather than in the peripheries (Amin 2003). In today’s India, as well as in
other parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, the enormous numbers of displaced or
dispossessed farmers, rural dwellers, workers and their families, cannot be absorbed by
an industrialization that is taking place to varying extents. Today there is no rapidly
increasing manufacturing sector or industrialization to hire laborers or farmers who leave
agriculture. The farm workers or newly landless therefore frequently end up in the slums
around cities, as discussed in Chapter 3 about Punjab.
The Information Technology (IT) industry in India, although a quickly growing and
successful endeavor for a few, needs only a tiny amount of specialized labor and not a
large, unskilled labor force. There is a growing urban middle class in India, but they
seem to live in a separate world from the rural poor. Enclosed in their own radical
consumerism, with often no more than scorn although they reap the benefits of the
exploitation of rural resources (Das 2007). On several occasions when I was asked (e.g.,
in a hotel or in one of the Western style coffee-bars in Delhi), what I was doing research
on, people expressed surprise when I said I worked on small scale farming in rural areas.
They referred to the rural areas as backward and completely uninteresting and
recommended that I change subjects, or see other parts of India. Their way of talking
about rural areas was as if it was another country they did not have, or did not want to
have anything to do with, and much less any responsibility for contributing to things like
infrastructure or schools. The author Arundhati Roy (2007) describes this as a way
Indian’s are colonizing themselves, the urban middle class plunders resources and
generates slave labor to feed their consumerism and greed. They therefore need to grab
land, water and resources from the vulnerable. Roy contends that the middle and upper
classes are withdrawing from the remainder of the country. After taking over control of
natural resources, such as coal, minerals, bauxite, water and the electricity produced by
the dams, they now want the land (Roy 2007). Land is in effect the principal form of
both peasant and working-class struggle in India, as well in other parts of the global
South today. Rather than through industrialization, the answer to today’s agrarian
questions may be to let the farmers and laborers have direct access to their means of
existence: land (Walker 2008). The population in India certainly can use the food
produced on these plots, and people need the livelihood.
Most of the rural poor will have to continue living in their marginal areas and depend
on agriculture. The industrial development paradigm is not helping these farmers to
survive, let alone move forward. Rather, sustainable small-scale farming could offer a
solution to many of today’s challenges not only India, but in the world. It puts forward
effective food-production, improved food-security and poverty alleviation, maintains and
improves the ecosystems, and stores carbon. Therefore there seems to be a need for more
sustainable farmers, not a larger unskilled workforce migrating to the cities.
Should social movements include class-consciousness and gender equality as part of
their agenda? I would argue yes, because if they do not take issue with these struggles
they could be considered actively promoting the opposite values. Whenever injustice and
discriminating situations are apparent they should be addressed.
CHAPTER SIX: CONCLUSION
This last chapter summarizes my findings and outlines some recommendations for
farm sustainability in India.
I carried out this research to learn how small farmers are coping under increasing
liberalization of global agricultural trade, with ever-escalating prices on agrochemical
inputs at a time when the rise in crop prices is not increasing comparatively. I found that
many farmers continue a pattern of conventional farming methods introduced by the GR
in the 1960s, while some farmers are converting to organic farming methods to become
more independent in terms of seed and other farm inputs. Those who convert to organic
also cite ecological reasons for this change: to restore soil fertility or manage farming
with less water and to avoid pollution of the environment and negative impacts on their
health from excessive application of agrochemicals.
In Punjab, most agricultural production is conventional, based on the use of mineral
fertilizers, chemical pesticides and hybrid seed. All of the conventional farmers I
interviewed there had problems with stagnating yields, despite high application if urea
and other mineral fertilizers. The farmers said the soil was now so depleted that it would
not grow anything without substantial amounts of agrochemical inputs and water. Other
serious problems included salination, desertification, and very low water tables in an
increasing number of blocks in several districts of the state. The farmers generally are
making a living, but most are highly indebted, and feel trapped in a system of farming in
which they are forced to take loans, often from uncompromising moneylenders, in order
to be able to buy seed and the other inputs required for continued production. Extensive
environmental pollution from pesticides exists in some districts of the state, and these
areas also see higher rates of cancer, developmental problems in children, and other
serious health consequences. The traditional seed used in Punjab prior to the GR is
believed to have been lost due to disuse. Conventional farmers use HYV and hybrid
seed, and many of those who grow cotton use the genetically modified Bt cottonseed,
which is resistant to the American bollworm, larvae of the moth Helicoverpa armigera.
A relatively minor number of predominantly small, but also some medium and a few
large farms in Punjab have converted to organic farming methods. The number is
increasing, although still less than a percent of the farmers, according to Jaspal, one of the
large organic farmers there. Some convert independently, and some do it through
cooperation with Kheti Virasat, an organization that assists farmers with training in
organic farming methods. The organic farmers use traditional seed brought in from
nearby states, which they now grow and conserve in seed banks in Punjab. When the
farmers convert to organic, they experience a period of roughly three years of lowered
crop yield while they transfer from using mineral fertilizers to using compost and dung,
before the soil has regained fertility and moisture related to enhanced organic matter
within the soil. This pattern of reduced yields is common, ranging from ten to 30
percent, depending on the crop (Badgley, et al. 2007; Mäder, et al. 2002). While yields
are lower initially, the organic farmers obtain similar levels of profit compared to
conventional farmers per given unit of land, because of less expenditure on inputs. Some
farmers reported that crops grown organically would later give a similar yield to that of
conventional methods, while others argued that they got a little more, or a little less yield
compared to conventional methods. As in any agricultural approach, the yield in organic
systems depends on the farmers’ knowledge of organic production methods and on the
quality of the soil (Bruinsma 2003).
Many farmers who converted were able to become economically independent in the
years after the transition, as they could gradually repay their loans taken up in earlier
years. Some farmers cooperated with Kheti Virasat to sell their produce locally, directly
to the consumers in some towns in the state. As part of a cooperation through Kheti
Virasat, they worked together to finance certification, buy machinery needed for grain
processing, and equipment to pack their own brand of organic produce for sale in Punjab
and in other parts of the country.
In Uttarakhand, farming is dominated by mountain agriculture on small landholdings
in the slopes and on terraces in the hills. The challenge in this region is to produce
enough food to maintain a family on a relatively small plot, while preserving a fragile
ecosystem. The surrounding forest is frequently used for grazing cattle and the collection
of fodder, firewood, and medicinal and aromatic herbs. Some farmers had experienced
depletion of the soil with the use of fertilizers, especially when rain did not come as
expected, but the influence of the GR was much less in this state than in Punjab. It is
estimated that roughly eighty percent of the farming in Uttarakhand is organic by default
in rainfed areas, and in the hills, ninety percent of the agricultural land is rainfed (Sitling,
et al. 2008).
The mountain areas are less developed in terms of infrastructure and thousands of
villages are still not connected to a road. Many do not have access to electricity or water
for irrigation, and women often walk long distances to collect water for household use.
There is contention between the state and farmers over forest use, although some forest
areas are managed in cooperation with the local population. The farmers I interviewed in
Uttarakhand all said they experience difficulties in their farming due to irregular
monsoons. Lack of rain at the right time may cause most of the harvest to be lost to
drought. Climate change with warmer temperatures in the larger Himalaya-Kush region
is causing the glaciers that feed the rivers of Uttarakhand to retreat faster than recorded
earlier and small springs in the mountains to dry up portending ever more uncertain water
availability in the future.
In contrast to the handful of organizations working with farmers on conversion to
organic or other ecological farming methods in Punjab, Uttarakhand has many NGOs
working in this field in rural areas. One of them is Navdanya, which has been working
locally and in several other states for nearly three decades. The organization trains and
supports farmers converting to organic practices and helps to improve the farming
methods of those farmers who have been using traditional, natural methods all along.
While a reduction in crop yield, especially during the conversion period, is seen in
intensive production systems such as those in Punjab, traditional, low-input production
systems often see an immediate increase in the yields after converting to organic
methods. This is because in organic agriculture, farmers make use of a number of on-
farm fertility sources including vermi compost, crop residue, and animal manure. Multi-
cropping is also a way to increase production on small plots and to reduce the risk of loss
where there is drought or other difficult climatic conditions.
Hybrid seed, mineral fertilizers, and chemical pesticides are sold and used in
Uttarakhand, but the government has taken steps to encourage and support the teaching of
organic farming. Uttarakhand has a rich biodiversity both in wild plants and agricultural
crops and there are ancient as well as new seed banks in use around the state. Local
farmers cultivate a number of traditional crops that are famous for their taste and quality;
these include for example, red rice, basmati rice, and a variety of beans, which are sold as
niche produce in Delhi and Mumbai, but there is a need to improve marketing so that
farmers can obtain stable and fair incomes.
Part of the problem in Uttarakhand is the small size of landholdings, resulting in
insufficient income from farming and resulting in labor migration from rural to urban
areas. While men leave for work outside, women do the bulk of work in agriculture.
Agro-forestry provides a means for continued rural development and organic produce
supplemented with cultivation of medicinal herbs are ways of securing employment and
increased income. Together, these lead to a diminished need for migration and the
sustainability of rural areas is enhanced. Confronted with the current challenges of
poverty, environmental degradation, threats to biodiversity, and climate change, rural
development requires significant attention to agriculture as well as to other areas of life.
The approach must include policies regarding how to maintain the vitality of the whole
ecosystem that supports rural livelihoods. This can be done through a strengthening of
the living and working conditions in rural areas, and the promotion of equal opportunities
in terms of education. Uttarakhand suffers from high illiteracy levels, a poor public
healthcare system, and underemployment. In addition there is a need for improved
transportation in the hill region. Such transportation would provide added incentives for
the young to stay.
My research indicates that it is possible for farmers to convert from an intensive
conventional system to organic farming, or to make a living on a smallholding in difficult
terrain. Both alternatives can provide a good livelihood with sustainable methods. More
importantly, the organizations that assist the farmers in this transition are crucial, because
they teach the farmers new methods and give practical and moral support during a time
when they feel uncertain making such a large change in how they make their living. The
combination of being economically independent, if still poor, and having control over the
inputs and production methods on your farm, is really empowering.
Significance of Findings
My findings are consistent with much research on agricultural systems and
sustainability in recent years throughout the world; for example the extensive scientific
literature that the IAAASTD reports and reports presented by the UN Human Rights
Council are based on. In one sentence it could be phrased as:
Reinvestment in sustainable agriculture is vital to the realization of the right to food
for all, rural economic development with economically independent farmers, healthy
environments, adaption to climate change, and biodiversity conservation.
The GR and the productivity gains of conventional agriculture gave the world more
badly needed grain as well as larger farms with increasingly mechanized production, but
this model did not solve the problem of hunger. The number of people who go hungry in
the world—a very large portion of whom live in India—increased during the decades
when the agrochemical methods and the HYVs of seed were producing more and more of
the world’s food. Progress measured in increased food production and total food
available per person did increase, but this rise in food production is not enough to ensure
that hunger is reduced. The transition from lack of food to a global surplus did not
correct the unequal distribution and the loss and waste of food in an increasingly
industrialized food system that with more transportation and trade is greater than ever.
One route to assuring that food is distributed in a better way is to have more food
producers with the resources required to produce food: land. When land is available they
can secure the right to food, or the food security of their household and community and
prevent a continued food crisis. Real political action regarding land redistribution is
something most governments, including the Indian government, strongly prefer to avoid.
As a replacement for land reforms, the general inclination, supported by new
technologies, has been for extended consolidation of land, supposedly for the sake of
efficiency based on economies of scale.
In the face of ample evidence from the last few decades that reveals the acute
environmental, social and economic failings of the first GR and intensive conventional
agriculture, much international investment in agriculture and aid is currently being
poured into a new GR for the global South, based on biotechnology and GM seed, again
with the postulation of increasing food production and reducing hunger.
Some Navdanya coordinators used the example of the British East India Company,
which started in trade, and ended up ruling India, when they explain to farmers why they
should keep their own seed, and not buy from international companies. Today’s
corporations are even more influential than the British East India Company was in its
time, and we should examine more thoroughly not solely the technology of genetic
engineering and its application in food and feed production, but maybe more importantly
the bid for power and control that it represents. It is time to scrutinize the legal and
financial structures that the corporations have developed and are taking advantage of.
Social development is increasingly driven by technology, and in agriculture
biotechnology and its technological optimism is jeopardizing the principle of scientific
skepticism (Paul, et al. 2004).
In the 1960s India needed to boost its grain production, but today it is not lack of food
per se that is the problem, rather the country faces a complex problem that combines
climate change, financial uncertainty, and a food crisis, and the key question facing
farmers is how we are going to produce our food? A new GR based on biotechnology is
likely to repeat the failures of the first, but the consequences may be even more drastic in
terms of environmental effects and loss of biodiversity. We should try to learn from the
consequences of the last revolution, and instead apply methods that have proved to be
sustainable, productive, and healthy. There is increasing evidence of the effectiveness of
ecological methods to produce food (Badgley, et al. 2007; Magdoff 2007; Pretty 1999;
2003; 2006), and research has also indicated other positive side effects of these
production forms, such as less strain on water reserves, preservation of soil fertility and
carbon sequestration, as well as preserving or enhancing the biodiversity (Albrecht and
Kandji 2003; Altieri 1987; 1999; 2002).
Thoughts about the Future
The diversity of peasant and indigenous societies in India and other parts of the
world, which constantly renew their local and traditional knowledge, constitute an
enormous wealth for humanity. Small-scale farming and the defense, not only of plant
and animal biodiversity, but also of the diversity of human cultural models, can respond
in a sustainable way to the current environmental crisis. In order to prevent the loss of
cultural wealth for later generations, the rural exodus and the destruction of farming
communities should be attended to. Millions of landless farmers and their families suffer
hunger and indecent living conditions in the shantytowns. Their labor could be used on
the farms, instead of being replaced by mineral fertilizers and chemical pesticides.
Farming must be something a family can make a living from, in order to encourage
populations to remains on the farms. Populations using forest resources must also be
protected from displacement. Giving up rich agro-forestry systems of great biodiversity
and selling the rights to exploit these areas to systems of large-scale monoculture is also a
loss of a heritage of knowledge and agro-ecological practices.
In order to adapt, seeds and animals must be diversified and variable. Only a
biodiversity conserved and renewed in the fields of small-scale farmers will permit the
development of plant and animal species that can adapt to the context and climate of
tomorrow. Instead of investing millions of dollars in the ex-situ (off-site) conservation
and laboratory research on genes, it is urgent to support field-based conservation and
participatory selection. To collect traditional varieties for storage in gene banks (ex-situ
conservation) has been one of the responses to genetic erosion, and as of today these
banks are relatively stable, most genes from crop populations can be included, and crop
breeders can access them for crop improvement (Cohen, et al. 1991). These collections
are also vulnerable, however, because the gene banks do not preserve the ecosystem that
generates crop germplasm (Brush 1993); the collections are subject to genetic drift
(Soleri and Smith 1995) and they do not include diversity that arises after collection; and
most importantly, gene banks do not conserve farmer knowledge, which is an intrinsic
part of the crops-based resource (Cleveland, et al. 1994). Traditional farmers’ varieties,
or landraces, are geographically or ecologically distinctive and clearly diverse in their
genetic composition. Being linked to humankind’s primary food supply, the landraces
are a very important genetic resource. The fact that they are managed and manipulated
by people have also made them an important research object of anthropologists, some of
whom argue that human knowledge should be included as a component of plant genetic
resources for these species dependent on human activity (Moock and Rhoades 1992).
Most of the agriculture in the world is done on small-scale diversified farms.
Research for the last several years has indicated that sustainable agricultural systems such
as organic farming, or other ecological ways of farming, can produce enough food to
maintain food security. Pretty et al surveyed over 200 projects of sustainable land use in
Africa, Asia, and Latin America (Pretty, et al. 2003), and while there were variations in
the individual projects, the main trend was clearly toward increased yield and
sustainability. These agricultural systems with low external inputs therefore increase
yield while causing less negative impact on the environment. When comparing organic
methods with conventional agriculture in various parts of the world, there is indication
that sustainable agriculture would be a better way to produce enough food for the present
population or a larger need in the future. With sustainable methods this can be done in
the same area, because farmland will not be lost to salination, desertification or other
negative impacts from chemical use and excessive water use (Badgley, et al. 2007; Bunch
1999; Pimentel, et al. 2005; Rasul and Thapa 2004; Tiffen and Bunch 2002). While
industrial agriculture is a net energy negative, small-scale agriculture produces more
calories than it consumes. The reduction of our energy consumption therefore depends
on maintaining and developing sustainable local food production, which uses more
human energy, the work of female and male farmers, and less energy derived from fossil
fuels. Sustainable farming gives employment to 2.8 billion people around the world. If
these farmers are given access to land, education and health, and are supported by food
sovereignty policies, they may keep feeding the world and protecting the planet. This
would be an important step in a wider project of planet sustainability, a critical goal in a
world suffering from multiple, intertwined eco-crises.
General Guideline for In-Depth Interviews with Farmers
Personal, historical background with focus on participant’s connection to farmland and
agricultural activities. Questions will include: household composition and type and size
of the family’s farmland. Emic description of family life at the farm. Historical
development of the community. Types and magnitude of changes: e.g., demographic,
socio-economic, political, ecological and agricultural changes; land reforms, use of
technology and agricultural input and output. Gender change in relation to agricultural
work and land property relations.
- Is agricultural work something you like doing? If yes or no, what do you like or dislike
- Does agricultural work provide for your family?
- Did you receive any help from the state or other institutions?
- Did you get loans to buy input (fertilizers, pesticide, herbicide) or seed?
- How did that go? Did it give higher yield with those inputs?
- Did you get enough help? Please elaborate.
- Did your family use indigenous, traditional farming methods before? If so, until when?
- How long was conventional agricultural practiced? What are the benefits and negative
- Have you converted to organic agriculture? Why? Why not?
- How does it work for you on this farm? What are the benefits and negative aspects in
socioeconomic, environmental and health terms?
- After converting to organic agriculture, did you return to grow traditional crop that had
been grown on this land before? Why, why not? How did that work out?
- How do your relate to neighboring farmers. Do you cooperate with other farmers in the
community? Do you socialize and help each other with work, tools, advice, and money?
- In what way are you organized in this community? (Religious, political, economic,
cultural, sport groups). Are you part of a local farmers’ organization?
- Do you have a local seed bank here? If yes, since when? How does it function in this
community? Has it been a good experience? How? Does the seed bank take care of all
your seed needs? Is the seed what you need most in terms of agricultural support?
- How is the seed bank organized? Are farmers responsible, and return new seeds to the
bank when they have had a good harvest?
- Has the local seed bank had an effect on your economic situation? If so, in what way?
- Are there farmers who are not members of the seed bank? What percentage of the
farmers would you say are members or use the seed bank?
- What do you think about biodiversity conservation? Do you think it is needed in this
area? Is it necessary for farmers to take part in this? Would you prefer to have less
variation in plants?
- If you feel that biodiversity conservation is important, do you think that your efforts
here locally are playing an important role in preserving plants for the future?
- How is Navdanya working with local farmers? Tell me about your experience and
relationship with the organization. Indicate positive and negative aspects.
- What do you think about Navdanya’s ideas? Have they been useful to you?
- Is there any part of Navdanya’s philosophy that you disagree with? Why, why not?
- Please indicate other training needs if any?
- Are you working with local farmers’ organizations? How do they help you in your
work as a farmer?
- Have they helped you understand your role as a farmer in the wider economy?
- Are you familiar with patents on seed and plants? Tell me about it. What do you think
about this? Positive, negative aspects.
- Are you familiar with the World Trade Organization, and its role in agricultural
development? What do you know about it, and how does it affect you?
- Are you familiar with genetically modified seeds?
- Have you tried them on your farm? If yes, how was the result? Did it give a better
harvest? Did you use more or less water, and inputs in the form of pesticides and
General Guideline for Focus Group Interviews with Farmers
In the focus group interviews I will ask the participants to describe the community they
are part of in terms of connection to farmland and agricultural activities, their level of
participation in local farmers’ organizations and the history of farmers’ organizations in
- How has their community evolved through the last decades?
- What challenges have they experienced and how have they confronted these?
- Has farmers’ participation in farmers’ and community organizations increased or
decreased in the last decades? If yes, why and how?
- What are the most pressing issues for local farmers today?
- How and to what extent are these issues being addressed by the state, the local
government, and your local organizations?
- How would you evaluate the level of connectedness and cooperation among farmers in
- Have you worked together in a cooperative way, like you do now with the seed banks,
before Kheti Virasat/Navdanya and other local farmers’ organizations came on the scene?
- How would you evaluate the role of Kheti Virasat/Navdanya and other organizations in
- What motivates farmers like you to work with Kheti Virasat/Navdanya and why do you
think other farmers may not do that?
Tell me about your experience and relationship with Kheti Virasat/Navdanya and other
local farmers’ organizations. Indicate positive and negative aspects.
General Guideline for In-Depth Interviews with Non-Farmers
- For how long have you been working with Kheti Virasat/Navdanya/other farmers’
- In what capacity have you been part of this organization?
- What motivated you to join this organization?
- What are some of the challenges you experience in your everyday work?
- How would you describe the community you work for: Are they receptive to the
organization’s program and assistance? Why, why not? What do you think may keep
some farmers from being part of or cooperating with Kheti Virasat/Navdanya?
- Is there any particular aspect they are more receptive to and interested in? Please
- How many people does your organization reach?
- From the time you started this work, has the number of members and people you
cooperate with increased, and to what extent?
- How would you describe the relationship between Kheti Virasat/Navdanya/other
farmers’ organizations and the state and local government? (Is it cooperative,
- How do other local organizations perceive Kheti Virasat/Navdanya’s work and role in
- What could prevent Navdanya from pursuing its objectives?
- How would you evaluate the success of Kheti Virasat/Navdanya?
- How do you see the future of Kheti Virasat/Navdanya/other organizations and small
farmers in India?
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