Friday, June 22, 2012

Sustainable Agriculture – Its everywhere but in practice!



There is so much pontificating words written about sustainable agriculture and I believe very little of that comes directly from someone who earns 100% of his income from existing agriculture, sustainable or not.

Why is that? The person who is a full time farmer cannot see the practical side of the concept as he cannot contemplate doing without many of the inputs he has become accustomed to. He cannot see that he can earn a comfortable income following these principles. After all he wants a life, like all of us. In my experience it is only theoretical farmers who have other income means who practice this in a serious way, and by so doing they grossly under price in terms of the market place. The reason is that if the true economic cost was charged, no one will buy. I can vouch for that as I also attempted to do the same and discovered how expensive it really is, especially to do it on a small scale.

While I believe there are merits in sustainable agriculture, there is no concerted effort to bring the two opposing factions together or to bridge the gap. The poles are so extreme that people in either camp despise those of the other. Into this argument are those who espouse green agriculture and those who term that green is greed in a veiled guise. After all the Green Revolution whilst increasing yield had as a direct result the abandonment of thousand years of practices and techniques purely in the interests of extra yield in order to save the world from starving.

So what is the bottom line? We must attempt to explain it coming from the results of existing practices (post green revolution) that are promoted or are in current use.

Well it is that our land is being severely polluted. Sri Lanka uses 10 times as much chemical pesticides and weedicides over recommended usage. I was shocked at a picture I saw in an article by the reputable environmental advocate for agriculture, Dr Ranil Senanayake, which showed a diagram of the seas of the world and the seas around Sri Lanka were the MOST polluted of all the seas. If that is not scary I don’t know what is. I was shocked into being aghast staring at it for a while wondering how we in this country got into that state of self destruction.
Now it is up to the political will of our people. Can we ban their use? Yes but not unless we have an alternative in place which is at least as acceptable. We were a country with supposedly 3000 varieties of rice. We probably grow at most 15 varieties now. We DO NOT use transplant techniques to weed and instead use pesticides and chemicals. The Govt. in their foolish wisdom, came into power by promising the continuation of a fertilizer subsidy, that is both costing the country Rs50B per annum, but which has now resulted in a huge set of medical problems from the seepage of these chemicals into the water table, and could shortly decimate our population if not checked, like malaria never did!!

The environmental lobby advocate small farming, and decry the large farms and their control over land and also labor, by making slaves out of small subsistence farmers, but that argument is very disingenuous as there is no way if the country wants a GNP of $5000 a year, that these small farmers can remotely get to even a fifth of it!!

As long as some NGO pays their airfare to Rio and they can interact and bullshit with fellow environmentalists, the farmer in the 2 acre field is left destitute eitherway and so if we advocate NO use of chemicals, who is there to guide him in the practice? He needs his hand held for a while before he can embrace the alternatives. Along with the change of direction, go obligations, expectations, and behavior modification, which we expect the poorest sections of our society to engage in when the wealthy smugly do not even budge from their inertia, but pontificate.

Unless the whole process engages a holistic change in the food chain from education of eating habits, to the need for paying more for food items with worms as being healthy for you, to methods of storage and transport that ensure that most of the benefit accrues to the farmer and not the intermediary, it will not succeed. A rational and commonsense way of eliminating the middlemen in the food chain along with the mafia who control and therefore hype the price to the consumer, whilst at the same time pressing down the price to the farmer is the only answer.

I do believe that even if we have half the yield, we can still feed the population, by changing eating habits to healthy from volume, and from mostly closely grown than from transported from afar, to reduce the carbon footprint. We must simultaneously address wastage, reduce length and cost of transport, and ensure above all, education of the consumer.

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