Dr M S Swaminathan, the Father of India’s Green Revolution and currently UNESCO Chair in Ecotechnology, delivered the GITAM Foundation Endowment Lecture 2012 in Visakhapatnam on Saturday. Following are excerpts from his speech.
The year 2012 marks a historic transition in India from a ship- to- mouth existence to conferring the legal right to food based on homegrown food grains. This historic transition was achieved partly through what is popularly known as the green revolution. As early as January 1968 before the term green revolution was coined by Dr William Gaud of the United States, I warned Indian farmers about the need for mainstreaming ecological principles in farming practices.
Ever-green revolution is the only pathway available to developing countries with small farms and a large malnourished population. The smaller the farm the greater is the need for marketable surplus. Unlike in UK, and other industrialised nations, nearly two thirds of the population of India depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Therefore in India, as well as sub-saharan Africa, agriculture is not just a food producing machine but is the backbone of the livelihood security system of a vast majority of population.
This is why the efforts to produce more food, fodder, fiber, fuel and other farm commodities should be based upon environmentally sustainable practices. This can be achieved both by organic agriculture and evergreen agriculture. Organic farming is more feasible if the farmer has adequate livestock population.
It is well recognized that the hunger prevailing in the world now is largely due to inadequate purchasing power. The food security challenge can be related to the famine of jobs rather than the famine of food in the market. One of the easy methods of overcoming malnutrition is mainstreaming nutritional considerations in farming systems research and development. This will call for the development of a Farming system for Nutrition programme (FSN).
The other area which requires attention is anticipatory action to meet the challenges arising from global warming and climate change. Steps will have to be taken to face the problems of drought, flood, high mean temperature and sea level rise. In all these areas we will need an interaction between public policy and technology.
Price volatility is one of the important causes of hunger. 2008 witnessed a sudden increase in the price of rice, wheat and other foodgrains. India’s strategy for containing price volatility in major staple grains is to purchase adequate quantities of foodgrains from farmers at an assured minimum support price. At present, globally prices of food commodities are tending to rise. The situation will get worse with the increased frequency of occurrence of drought and floods, whether or not associated withclimate change and global warming. It is clear that the future belongs to nations with grains and not guns.
Our population is growing and is expected to reach 150 crore by 2030. The population size would have thus increased by five times since 1947. The Ecological Footprint as measured by the demand made by each individual on natural resources is also increasing,while the biocapacity to meet the growing needs is shrinking. In a democratic society like ours there is greater need for public and political understanding of the scientific facts underpinning events of great significance to the future of humankind, such as biodiversity loss and climate change. Recent examples in relation to differences in perception and apprehension are in the areas of genetic engineering and nuclear energy. While medical biotechnology has not generated fears about biosafety and environmental safety, food and agricultural biotechnology has evoked strong opposition.
An area in medical biotechnology which is controversial is cloning. Generally, therapeutic cloning is acceptable, while reproductive cloning is not. In the case of crop biotechnology, the fears relate to biosafety and environmental safety, adverse impact on biodiversity and long term impact on human and animal health. The controversy relating to Bt brinjal and the moratorium on its release imposed by the then Minister for Environment and Forests are examples of the lack of confidence in the existing regulatory procedures.
The Supreme Court of India has also raised several issues of public importance with reference to genetically modified crops and foods. Several State Governments have imposed a ban on the testing of GMOs. The Kerala Government has not allowed even the testing of genetically modified Rubber, although we need urgently rubber clones tolerant to higher temperature.
Another recent example of the need for greater interaction between scientists and local communities is the concern expressed by the public in relation to the Kudankulam and other Nuclear Power Plants. Nuclear power is environmentally benign since it does not add to the green house gas burden. On the other hand, there are concerns about the safety of the Nuclear Power Plants, particularly in the context of what happened at Chernobyl many years ago and Fukushima recently.
The tsunami induced Fukushima tragedy has given a big setback to the spread of nuclear power plants. Nuclear waste disposal is another area which needs careful consideration. The situation observed at Kudankulam where technical experts and the general public have been living in different worlds, emphasizes the need for fostering continuous interaction between the nuclear power plant authorities and the local communities. Such interaction and conversation should begin from the very early stage of the conception and construction of a nuclear power plant.
Citizens’ Consultative Councils will help to promote more enlightened and informed discussions on the issues involved. Parliament has recently approved an Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority Bill. The Bill provides for an autonomous and professionally credible and competent Regulatory Body. It is obvious that a Regulatory Body should not be under the control of the persons to be regulated, which was the case until recently. Ultimately, regulation alone will not be adequate for achieving public acceptance. Education and social mobilisation through elected Local Bodies are equally important.
The statement Mahatma Gandhi made over eigh decades ago that “India lives in its villages” is valid even today. The 2011 census has shown that nearly seventy per cent of our population of 120 crore live in villages. Rural poverty is more serious than urban poverty since most of the rural women and men depend on agriculture which is a high risk profession for their livelihood. According to the Economic Survey of India 2012, the contribution of agriculture to GDP has come down to nearly 15 per cent.
On the other hand, the onus for employment still remains with the farm sector. This explains why there is widespread poverty in the country. There is a limit to what the farm sector can contribute particularly under conditions where only 40 per cent of the cultivated area has irrigation facilities and extreme weather events like drought and flood are becoming more frequent. There is fortunately considerable scope for enlarging opportunities in the services sector.
To cite one example, the introduction of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (MGNREGA) has created scarcity of labour foragriculture. This is therefore an opportune time for the technological upgradation of small farm agriculture using relevant machinery. Agricultural mechanisation will help generate more jobs in the services sector. Apart from ensuring timeliness of operations, mechanisation will also help attract youth in farming and reduce drudgery for women.
Going by past experience, drought in most parts of the country and flood in Assam are the usual meteorological events of public and political concern during the month of July. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) classifies monsoon behaviour into 5 categories – Deficient (less than 90% of Long Period Average or LPA). Below Normal (90 to 96%), Near Normal (96-104%), Above Normal (104-110%) and Excess (above 110%).
This year, the July rainfall nationally has been 20 percent less than normal and the Government of India has announced a ` 1900 crore relief package, besides arrangements for drinking water supply. Diesel subsidy and subsidised seed distribution are two major components of the package. Diesel subsidy will help those who have tube wells or lift irrigation facilities, while seed subsidy will be meaningful if the right kind of seed, fit for late sowing, is available.
Andhra Pradesh has a long coast and hence opportunities for sea water farming and for establishing “Fish for All” research and training centres are great. All the halophytes occurring along the Andhra Coast should be conserved in “Halophyte Genetic Gardens”.Finally, the GITAM University could become a pioneer in initiating a “University Social Responsibility (USR)” programme on the lines of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes being undertaken by business and industrial houses.
Under its USR programme, interested faculty and students can help in programmes like WAR for Water, providing technical input for MGNREGA, Rural Health Mission, establishing computer-aided Village Knowledge Centres, overcoming malnutrition etc.