Organic cultivation: learning from the Enabavi example

M. J. Prabu

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INSPIRATION: The small village attracts farmers and policy makers. Photo: Special Arrangement.
The Hindu INSPIRATION: The small village attracts farmers and policy makers. Photo: Special Arrangement.

Is it possible to get a good yield without using chemical fertilizers? Will a shift to organic affect our food security? Can we manage insect pests without using pesticides? Will organic cultivation still be profitable for farmers?

These are some of the often asked questions by farmers when problems of modern agriculture are being discussed.

Enabavi, a small village in Warangal district, Andhra Pradesh promises to answer all these.

Situated off the Hyderabad-Warangal highway near Jangaon town, Enabavi is today an inspiration for many other villages and farmers, thanks to the efforts of the local organization called CROPS (Centre for Rural Operations Programmes Society) supported by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA).


This small village attracts visitors ranging from farmers to policy makers who want to understand the concept of successful sustainable agriculture. In the last three years more than 10,000 people have visited this village.

“Commercial crops like cotton are the main crops grown in the district. From 1997 onwards, large numbers of farmers’ suicides have been reported from this district. In the middle of this distress, Enabavi showed the resolve of a strong community which decided to take control of its agriculture in its own hands. “With just 51 households belonging mostly to the backward castes, the village started shifting to non-chemical farming about a decade ago. In 2005-06, the entire 282 acres was converted to organic farming. There is strong social regulation within the community towards organic cultivation to ensure that there are no ‘erring farmers” says Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu, Executive Director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Secunderabad.

The elders in the village take the youth along with them. They have also started investing in teaching their school-going children the knowledge and skills of non-chemical farming.

Variety of crops

The farmers grow paddy, pulses, millets, cotton, chilli, tobacco and vegetables. They process their paddy and sell directly to consumers and also through a marketing channel called Sahaja Aharam in Hyderabad.

Their average spending on chemical fertilizers and pesticides used to be around Rs.3,500 per crop per acre while it was around Rs. 500 per acre for seeds. The traders would dictate the price for the produce in addition to charging interest for the inputs supplied. Now, all of this has changed. The farmers do not spend a single rupee anymore for buying all the inputs.

Past experience

“In the 1970s this village like many others across the country, also went through the same process of using more and more chemicals to increase the productivity. By 1995 problems started showing up. Investments kept increasing but the returns were not good.

“In late 90’s pests like red hairy caterpillar caused devastating effects in this region. The initiatives on managing the pest using non chemical approaches evolved into non pesticidal management which is now widely practised in Andhra Pradesh and other states.

The confidence in using non chemical approaches, helped farmers to move away from chemical fertilizers towards sustainable solutions,” says Dr. Ramanjaneyulu.

Some farmers started looking for options like using tank silt, poultry manure, vermi-compost and farm yard manure. They set up their own compost manufacturing units in their fields and started following various ecological practices.

They also started to depend on their own seed for many crops, except for cotton. Now farmers also produce seeds for others. They have set up self help groups for men and women separately and started thrift activities too.

As the farmers moved into more and more sustainable models of production they realized the importance of natural and common resources for sustaining their own livelihood.

Social rule

As a result the tank in the village was desilted and is presently being managed by the community. A cooperative called Enabavi Organic Farmers Cooperative was formed for supporting the several activities and to improve their collective bargaining power in the markets.

“Today, Enabavi has many valuable lessons to teach other farmers, not just on how to take up sustainable farming. They also have lessons to share on social regulation, learning from each other, the benefits of conviction born out of experience and most importantly, the way out of agricultural distress by taking control over one’s own farming,” adds Dr. Ramanjaneyulu.

To visit and learn more on Enabavi interested readers can contact Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu, Executive Director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, 12-13-445, Street no-1, TarnakaSecunderabad-500 017, ph. 09000699702, email:, facebook: ramoo.agripage, website:

Water in half of India’s rivers is undrinkable – report

Source: Mon, 19 Aug 2013 12:05 PM

hum-wat hum-dis
A boy throws a banana after collecting it from the polluted waters of river Sabarmati, in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, July 18, 2013. REUTERS/Amit Dave

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – More than half of India’s rivers are so polluted by human and industrial waste that the water has become unfit for human consumption, the Hindustan Times reported on Monday, quoting a study by the country’s pollution watchdog.

The Central Pollution Control Board, which tested samples from 445 rivers between 1995 and 2011, said the water was not only undrinkable but also unsuitable for bathing in.

“The quality of river water has fallen dramatically between 1995 and 2011,” said the newspaper report, adding this was largely due to the growing amount of untreated human waste that is being discharged directly into rivers from cities.

Homes and industry in India’s urban centres generated an estimated 38 billion litres of wastewater daily in 2011 — double the amount recorded in 1995, said the report. But less than one-third is treated before being discharged into rivers.

The report said the projected amount of wastewater from urban centres could surpass 100 billion litres daily by 2050, with rural India generating another 50 billion litres.

Contaminated water and poor sanitation are responsible for a large number of preventable deaths in the country, experts say.

Around 638 million Indians, more than half the population, do not have access to proper toilets and are forced to defecate in the open.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says diseases related to poor sanitation and contaminated water are a common occurrence in India, especially among children. Diarrhoea and respiratory infections are the number one cause of child deaths.

New state of poverty

#Telangana #EcologicalPoverty

Author: Richard Mahapatra @Richard20711534 

Posted on: 14 Aug, 2013

It’s time we acknowledged ecological impoverishment as one of the poverty indicators

imageSource: Prashant Ravi

On the face of it, the release of India’s latest poverty estimate and the decision to create the 29th state, Telengana, seem to be two unrelated developments. The media and public dialogues also, though hyper on both developments, did not see any link between the two. The discussion over poverty mostly revolved around what one can buy with Rs 28/day decided as poverty line figure for rural areas. As far as Telengana is concerned, the focus was on how prominent the demand for small states has become. And, of course, some talk about how small states aid development. Ecological poverty, however, failed to find any mention in these discussions. This is how the debate on governance issues in India consistently fails to acknowledge the centrality of ecology.

To join the dots, most of the demands for new states come from areas that are rich in natural resources but high on poverty index. Of the 20 areas demanding state-status from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, 15 have distinct socio-economic profiles. These areas predominantly depend on natural resources for sustenance. Or, one can say, they are biomass-based economies. Unlike immediately after Independence, now the demands for a separate state are not entirely based on linguistic or ethnic identities. Invariably, poor regions inside a state tend to demand separate administrative units, which could either be a separate state or a new district. Such regions, for years, have been citing regional development disparity as the main reason for their demand for a separate identity. It is a way of redrawing India’s ecological map—resource-rich areas do not want their assets to be used as raw materials for development elsewhere. But does having a separate state guarantee better access to local resources for communities? This is an important question because in such areas most of the poor depend on resources like forests and farms for survival.

Now, let’s look at the three small states created in 2001, when India last created new states after sustained demands. All the three—Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand—are rich in forest, water and land resources. Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are suitable for analysing of whether new identities helped in better access to natural resources. This is because in both the states local ecology has been the economy of the impoverished and the two states together account for a significant proportion of India’s poor population. How have they performed in poverty alleviation as separate states?

The latest poverty estimate shows that despite a sharp drop in poverty, both the states have nearly double the poverty level of national average. Segregated data shows that tribal, forested and other mineral-rich districts contribute up to 70 per cent of the two states’ total poor. Chhattisgarh emerges as the country’s poorest state with around 40 per cent people below the poverty line. This is the same level of poverty that was reported before 2001 when the new states were created. This despite the fact that the state’s economic growth has been more than the national average. However, this is a pan Indian trend—states are reporting high economic growth but not a proportionate decline in poverty levels.

This brings into debate the ecological nature of India’s poverty. Current debates focus on impoverishment entirely as income poverty. Poverty in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand or, for that matter, rural poverty in general, is ecological since poor depend on the environment for survival. According to various income surveys, close to 70 per cent earning of a poor person comes from ecological sources. In forested areas, forest products contribute 80 per cent of the local people’s income.

With the creation of new states in 2001, India had its first brush with ecological states. Many hoped that control over natural and ecological resources would help redefine the state of poverty in these states. Everybody believed that the new states would, at least, frame policies that reflect the ecological reality. In an anti-climax, both the states first declared industry policy to exploit the vast mineral resources and sold land at cheap rates as a bonus. This reflects in the current state of affairs in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Just like before their formation, there is a sharp division within the new states: two warring groups are fighting over resources. The same old model of development continues. Naturally, the residents of resource-rich areas feel further marginalised. No surprise they continue to be poor.

This is where those euphoric over Telengana need to pause and review the past experiences. The debate over poverty line must get real and accept ecological poverty as the real poverty indicator.

Banks may write off Rs 7200 crore debt to microfinance institutions

MUMBAI: Banks that restructured Rs 7,200 crore of debt to microfinance institutions are staring at a possible write off as several of these institutions are finding it difficult to recover loans in Andhra Pradesh.

Lenders had bailed out microfinance institutions (MFIs) such as Spandana Sphoorty Financial, Asmitha Microfin, Share Microfin, Trident Microfin, Future Financial Services and Basix in 2011 after the Andhra Pradesh government passed a law to regulate MFIs.

“MFIs have not been able to recover any loan. The restructuring has failed. They have not been able to recover any money from Andhra Pradesh,” said a senior banker close to the development.

MFIs had sought the Reserve Bank of India’s nod for a second round of restructuring, but the regulator rejected the request. “If banks were to restructure loans of troubled microfinance institutions for the second time, they will not get any benefit in terms of provisioning,” RBI Deputy Governor Anand Sinha had said at a recent banking conference. “We do not stop second restructuring. But what we say is that asset classification benefit will not be available to banks. The RBI does not stand in the way of second time debt restructuring.”

RBI prescribes that if a borrower, who is already into corporate debt restructuring, has to avail of loan recast again, then its banks will have to provide 15% of the recast loan amount as provision. This has increased the trouble for banks and MFIs.

Banks may write off Rs 7200 crore debt to microfinance institutions

“Banks are staring at a possible write off unless the state government changes its stance and conveys the message that it is the duty of every borrower to repay debt. There are about 92 lakh defaulters in Andhra Pradesh, which has affected their credit history,” said Vijay Mahajan, founder and chairman of Basix, a livelihood financial services group.

“The average ticket size of the loan is around Rs 7,000. We had also offered to waive off the interest charged on loan after October 2010. This would mean an interest loss of three years. Borrowers would have to repay only the principle. It is for the government to decide,” he said.

Mahajan said the legislation passed by Andhra Pradesh has several provisions that make it difficult for MFIs to recover their dues.

“It requires MFIs to take government permission for every fresh loan granted. This is cumbersome. We are also not permitted to visit the borrower’s house or work place for collection of loan. We have to meet the borrower at a public place or panchayat office,” Mahajan said, adding that there have been no recoveries in the past two years.

Andhra Pradesh-based MFIs have been facing repayment pressures after the state government in October 2010 passed the Microfinance Act to check alleged coercive recovery practices of these institutions. The Act, apart from other provisions, also mandates MFIs to collect loan payments on a monthly basis as against the earlier practice of weekly collections, which has further hit their collections.

The real cost of credit constraints: Evidence from micro-finance

In December 2010, the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh passed a law that severely restricted the operations of micro-finance institutions and brought the micro-finance industry to an abrupt halt. We measure the impact of micro-credit withdrawal in this unique natural experiment and find that average household expenditure dropped by 19 percent relative to a control group after the ban. The largest decrease was observed in expenditure on food. There is some evidence of higher volatility in consumption after the ban. All households were affected and not just the borrower households, which may suggest general equilibrium effects.


Taste for organic foods

Himani Chandna Gurtoo , Hindustan Times
Mumbai, August 19, 2013

The lifestyle of software engineer Karan Suri, 37, changed after he underwent a surgery to remove a cancerous cyst in his stomach. After the surgery, Suri decided to purchase only organic foods – rice, cereals, pulses and even pasta – for his family. “One needs to develop a taste for organic foods. But I feel safe that I am eating pesticide-free, natural food.”

Many other consumers have started buying organic foods that have not been farmed using synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilisers. Nearly 62% of high income households prefer organic products due to rising awareness, higher disposable incomes and easier availability in the market, according to an Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) survey. “Organic farming was one of the fastest growing industries last year,” said DS Rawat, secretary general, ASSOCHAM.

A growing list of farm-fresh and organic foods is hitting retail shelves briskly. The demand for them has grown sharply in recent years; in earlier years, they were primarily exported to Europe and the US.

And then there is Tata Chemicals which offers farm-fresh, unpolished dal varieties and besan made from unpolished channa dal, under the Tata I-Shakti brand. The pulses, says the company, are directly procured from reputed Indian farms supported with Tata’s Good Agricultural Practices, or from NCDEX-associated farmers.

Ashvini Hiran, COO consumer products business, Tata Chemicals, said, “Consumers, increasingly health conscious, choose food  products that not only taste great but are also fortified with health benefits. To reach out to them and let them know of I-Shakti dals’ delicious taste and quick cooking, we roped in Sanjeev Kapoor, one of India’s quintessential faces for high quality cooking, as our brand ambassador.”

From very few categories, natural and organic foods have extended to tea, coffee, biscuits, pasta and sauces, among others, indicating growing consumer interest. Most big retail chains stock these products, including Godrej Nature’s Basket, Food Bazaar, More, Nilgiris, Spencers and Tesco-Starbazar.

Sresta Natural Bioproducts started producing organic foods in 2004. For the first two years, it found no buyers. “Then retail chain Spencers agreed to sell our brand. Now we sell across 36 cities, growing at over 70% annually,” N Balasubramanian, Sresta’s CEO, said. Sresta works with 12,000 farmers across 14 states.

“Urban, more mature people, 30-55 years old, are the primary consumers who are shifting to organic foods,” said Mohit Khattar, MD, Godrej Nature’s Basket. “The number of categories will continue to grow as people develop a taste for organic foods. But they will not attract many youth customers in the near future.”

Besides modern retail networks, organic foods are also available through exclusive, producer-owned stores in the bigger cities. “Awareness and acceptance of organic products has increased manifold in urban India. Many organic food suppliers are now opening stores across the country,” pointed out Ankur Bisen, VP retail of leading management consultancy, Technopak.

For instance, Organic India, which does organic farming in Uttar Pradesh, is setting up its own chain of exclusive retail stores.

The high prices of organic foods – around 40-60% higher than regular foods – could be a deterrent in runaway growth. Dr. Divya Choudhary, former dietician at Fortis Hospital, said, “I prescribe organic food to most of my patients but they don’t follow the advice as the food is not yet pocket-friendly.”

The cost of production of organic foods over traditional foods is higher, as the yield per acre is lower because the crops do not use fertilisers or pesticides. “As more consumers gravitate towards organic foods, in time, costs will come down,” Balasubramanian predicted

One village. 60 millionaires. The miracle of Hiware Bazar

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CAN A poverty-ridden village where alcoholism and crime are rampant turn into a showpiece of change and prosperity? Seems highly unlikely. In Hiware Bazar in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, however, you will see such a miracle in progress.

Hiware Bazar conjures up images of a bustling marketplace, but a few years ago, it was one of the most drought-prone villages of Maharashtra. Today, the rich and prosperous village is a shining example of how sustainable development and change can be brought about with common sense and determination. In 1995, the monthly per capita income was around Rs 830. Now, it is Rs 30,000. The village, which has 235 families and a population of around 1,250, now also boasts of 60 millionaires.

The cement houses along well-planned, clean roads are pinkish brown. There is a sense of discipline and order. Liquor and tobacco are banned. So is open defecation and urination. Every house has a toilet, a fact that few Indian villages can boast of.

The fields are lush with maize, jowar, bajra, onions and potatoes. Hiware Bazar is an oasis in a drought-affected area.

But, it was not always like this. Let us rewind to its dark past. “We lived in a poor village, but were happy with our simple lives,” recalls Raosaheb Rauji Pawar, 85. “But after the drought of 1972, the peace was shattered. People became irritable and restless as the struggle to stay alive became severe. Petty reasons were enough to trigger-off bitter quarrels, as there was so much despair and frustration. Villagers started consuming liquor and it added to our ruin. Many residents migrated to nearby cities to work as daily wage labourers.”

The local economy collapsed. So did the social fabric that held the village together in spite of its backwardness. Ninety percent of the villagers migrated. Despondency, hopelessness and unaddressed anger punctuated the villagers’ lives.

As India ushered in economic reforms, showing perceivable changes in both urban and rural areas in terms of opportunities, the youth in Hiware Bazar wondered if they were fated to remain in the shadows. There was no governance worth the name. Or leadership. The sarpanch was just a figurehead, too old to function. As the youth discussed the state of affairs, they felt it was worth experimenting with a young sarpanch who could bring in a whiff of fresh thinking and visionary zeal.

Popatrao Pawar, 52, was the only postgraduate in Hiware Bazar. So, the youth pleaded with him to contest for the sarpanch’s post in 1989. But Pawar was not interested. In fact, his family totally disapproved of the idea; they wanted him to go to the city and get a white-collar job. Pawar wanted to become a cricketer as he was a good player and his family also thought he had great promise and would play in the Ranji Trophy someday.

But as the youth persisted, he agreed to contest. He was elected unopposed. Pawar realised he had got the chance of a lifetime to usher in change.

Pawar began by asking the villagers to become proactive towards creating their paradigms for development. The village was caught in a pincer of alcoholism leading to frequent brawls and violence. There were 22 liquor shops in the village. He got them closed after convincing villagers that alcoholism had made them poor and addicted. He got the gram sabha to tie up with the Bank of Maharashtra to grant loans to poor families, including those who were brewing illicit liquor earlier.

“Ours was a simple village with happy families. But lack of water turned our fields barren,” remembers Laxman Pawar, 71, a farmer. “Out of desperation, people started to drink, gamble and fight. Liquor had ruined us. When the illicit dens were closed, we knew there was hope.”

One of the first things the sarpanch did was water conservation and management as it helped farming and brought in some money. He got the villagers to voluntarily help in rainwater harvesting. Soon, the villagers built 52 earthen bunds, two percolation tanks, 32 stone bunds and nine check dams. “We used state government funds. The volunteer labour programme cut costs and also ensured quality work. It was as if we were building it for ourselves and for our children,” he says.

The idea was to harvest every raindrop as it fell. Being in the rain-shadow region, Hiware Bazar received just about 15 inches of annual rain. Ponds and trenches stopped rainwater from flowing out of the village. After the first monsoon, the irrigation area increased from 20 hectares to 70 hectares. “In 2010, the village got 190 mm of rain, but we managed well because of water management,” says Habib Sayyed, who works on water issues in the village.

Water management helped them harvest multiple crops. Before 1995, there were 90 open wells with water at 80-125 feet. Today, there are 294 open wells with water at 15-40 feet. Other villages in Ahmednagar district have to drill nearly 200 feet to reach water.

In 1995, only one-tenth of land in Hiware Bazar was arable. Out of a total of 976 hectares, 150 hectares was rocky. Nature was against them as there were recurrent droughts. Now, even the stubborn land is being tamed with the rocks being removed and ploughed so that sowing can start when the rains come.

Anshabapu Thange, 45, had two acres lying fallow 15 years ago. But when water became available, he was back to farming. Today, he has 25 acres growing maize and fodder. He also has 30 buffaloes yielding 250 litres of milk a day. “Earlier, we did not have a grain to eat. It is water that helped us become rich,” he says.

There are success stories all over the village. Raosaheb Raouji Pawar, a former wrestler, cycles to the village square to sit and chat with friends. Today, he owns 45 acres, one tractor, one harvesting machine and three motorcycles. His annual turnover is now Rs 15 lakh.

School students at the primary level go through a compulsory course on water management. To ensure that water is not overused, water budgets are designed to estimate its use by measuring water levels and then prescribe cropping patterns. Monthly readings are done to calculate the amount of water available.

In 2007, the village won the National Water Award for community-led water conservation. The water audits determine which crops can be grown in a season, says Shivaji Thange, who works with the watershed committee.

With the water level in the wells rising, farming became a full-time activity. It immediately created conditions for prosperity to bloom. In 1995, as many as 168 of its 182 families were below the poverty line. Today, government estimates put it at only three. But sarpanch Pawar says that by Hiware Bazar’s definition, there are 12 BPL families. The village defines a BPL family as one that cannot have two full meals a day, cannot pay for children’s education and afford healthcare.

“We just need one more year to make Hiware Bazar a BPL-free village,” says Pawar, as the panchayat is already working on a strategy to draw them out of poverty.

In the mid-1990s, a five-year plan was drawn up for ecological regeneration, integrating available government schemes. Around 10 lakh trees were planted, increasing the forest cover and raising the water table. The temperature also fell by two degrees. Babool trees used to be cut for fuel, but now, it is being protected as villagers harvest gum from them, which is priced at Rs 2,000 per kg. The Forest Department is now assisting villagers making it a new commercial proposition.

As villagers were pulled in to make decisions and then implement them, there was no opposition as they had the feeling of ownership. The village was not divided by narrow politics. “We monitored everything we did so that funds were utilised properly. We had audits of all the work we did,” says Pawar.

There is a different gender sensitivity that one sees here. The gram panchayat has now decided that the second daughter’s education and marriage expenses will be taken care of by the village. In the seven-member panchayat, three are women. Sunita Shankar Pawar is the sarpanch this year but Popatrao Pawar as deputy sarpanch is the cynosure of all eyes.

To improve farming and livestock production, the villagers took bank loans. Last year, the disbursement touched Rs 38 lakh.

As farming increased, so did work. Getting labour was expensive, so Popatrao Pawar introduced the idea of collective farming. When a farmer is sowing, others join in to help so that he saves on labour. This practice has caught on and has created a new sense of belonging among the villagers. He says it is not money that can bring in rural change, but people working together to reach common goals without caste, creed and politics playing spoilsport.

Pawar turned to concentrate on another activity that had the potential of bringing villagers additional revenue. He got them to stop cattle from grazing in the forest as it had ecological implications. Instead, he persuaded them to grow more fodder. The focus on livestock resulted in the gradual increase in milk production bringing in steady revenue. In the mid-1990s, milk production was just 150 litres a day. Now, it has touched over 4,000 litres a day.

WHILE VILLAGERS are migrating to cities in the rest of the country, here is an excellent example of how reverse-migration is demonstrating the importance of villages becoming sustainable and consequently, prosperous. Ninety-three families have returned to Hiware Bazar since 1997. They had earlier left for nearby cities such as Ahmednagar, Pune and Mumbai to work as daily wage labourers for around Rs 50 a day. More importantly, aspirations have increased with a better and peaceful lifestyle back home.

Pawar did not rest on his laurels. He got the school, which was almost non-functional, working again. He started a children’s parliament that monitored if teachers were regularly attending school and if the students had any complaints. As students completed school, the desire to study further is now taking them to a nearby college. In fact, 32 students are now studying medicine.

There is no doctor in the village. “There is no need of a doctor here as everyone is healthy. No one can fall sick when the streets and houses are clean. We do not have open sewage systems, garbage lying around or open defecation which spreads disease,” he says. There are no sweepers hired by the village. Yet, the streets are clean as everyone chips in to keep it that way. It has become a culture to live in clean surroundings.

Pawar motivated villagers to adopt family planning, take care of their health and hygiene and even advocated that couples take a HIV test before marriage. He had a different outlook and villagers did not object as he always explained ideas at meetings before taking any decision. Collective decisions have helped keep rancour away.

The village has just one Muslim family and as there was no mosque for them to offer prayers, one was built for them. Banabhai Sayed and his family take part in all Hindu festivals and effortlessly sing Hindu bhajans.

The village has always planned ahead. In 2008, the gram sabha passed a resolution requesting that cars should not be used within the village to save fuel and cycles could be used instead. If they want to go to Ahmednagar, located 17 km away, they resort to a car pool.

With basic needs taken care of, Pawar’s focus now is on energy and is looking at solar energy. He also wants to slowly ensure that every food item from Hiware Bazar is organic. “Only 20 percent of chemical fertilisers are used now, but we will slowly turn organic. We will then set up our own market for organic food,” he says.

Pawar has now been made chairman of Maharashtra’s Model Village Programme that aims to create 100 villages like Hiware Bazar. He says he succeeded because of the participatory approach adopted where people decided what they wanted and brought in need based feasible plans. “I took 21 years to transform my village. Now, I have zipped the strategy to take just two years. With community participation, we can create a new era of rural change.”

While tangible changes are visible, it is the intangible lessons like changing consciousness, redefining political goals, willingness to sacrifice personal interests for the common good and cohesiveness in decision-making that make Hiware Bazar a lesson for rural India.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, a UN report, points out how looking after nature makes both economic and ecological sense. Hiware Bazar has shown how it actually works. It has also shown what a good leader can do in a leadership-driven society like India.


EPW latest issue: Papers on Bt cotton

A response to Herring and Rao
Glenn Davis Stone Discussion, Economic and Political Weekly | August 17, 2013
Reconstructing Facts in Bt Cotton – Why Scepticism Fails
Ronald J Herring, Economic and Political Weekly | August 17, 2013
The case that the “triumph narrative” of Bt cotton in India comes mainly from economists, the biotech industry and their academic allies is a difficult one to sustain when dozens of studies show the positive effects of insect resistance in Bt cotton. Yields are driven by numerous factors, and there will be variance – field-to-field, season-to-season. Despite this, Bt cotton has been agro-economically successful because of the lower cost of production per unit and thus higher net returns – facts that are consistent with the near universal adoption of Bt technology by farmers.
Bt Cotton Yields and Performance – Data and Methodological Issues
N. Chandrasekhara Rao, Economic and Political Weekly | August 17, 2013
This article rebuts the argument that shortcomings in Bt cotton studies and divergence between yield gains and extent of adoption of Bt hybrids make it impossible to conclusively say anything about the impact of genetically modifi ed seeds. Further, it points out that there have been numerous studies that have controlled for selection and cultivation bias, and concluded that Bt cotton has had statistically significant positive yield effects.



Nip this in the bud

Genetically modified crops, whose ecological effects are irreversible, could become a mainstay of Indian agriculture thanks to collusion between the government and the biotech industry

The final report of the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC) on field trials of genetically modified crops is packed with revelations on what is wrong with institutional governance and regulation in India when it comes to GMOs (genetically-modified organisms). The report’s release late last month came days before biotech giant Monsanto decided not to submit any further applications for GMOs to the European Union; a decision forced by non-acceptance on scientific grounds and rejection by civil society.

Remarkable consensus

The TEC Final Report (FR) is the fourth official report which exposes the lack of integrity, independence and scientific expertise in assessing GMO risk. It is the third official report barring GM crops or their field trials singularly or collectively. This consensus is remarkable, given the regulatory oversight and fraud that otherwise dog our agri-institutions. The pervasive conflict of interest embedded in those bodies makes sound and rigorous regulation of GMOs all but impossible.

The four reports are: The ‘Jairam Ramesh Report’ of February 2010, imposing an indefinite moratorium on Bt Brinjal, overturning the apex Regulator’s approval to commercialise it; the Sopory Committee Report (August 2012); the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) Report on GM crops (August 2012) and now the TEC Final Report (June-July 2013). The TEC recommends that in general, there should be an indefinite stoppage of all open field trials (environmental release) of GM crops, conditional on systemic corrections, including comprehensive and rigorous risk assessment protocols. The report includes a specific focus on Bt food crops.

It also calls for a ban on the environmental release of any GMO where India is the centre of origin or diversity. It also says herbicide tolerant (HT) crops, targeted for introduction by the regulator, should not be open field-tested. The TEC “finds them completely unsuitable in the Indian context as HT crops are likely to exert a highly adverse impact over time on sustainable agriculture, rural livelihoods, and environment.”

The PSC report which preceded that of the TEC was no less scathing: it was “ […] convinced that these developments are not merely slippages due to oversight or human error but indicative of collusion of a worst kind […] field trials under any garb should be discontinued forthwith”.

Sound science and factual data form the basis of the TEC decisions. There is practical and ethical sense too. The TEC insists that the government bring in independence, scientific expertise, transparency, rigour and participative democracy into GMO regulation and policy. The accent is on bio-safety.

Assessment and performance

GMOs produce “unintended effects” that are not immediately apparent and may take years to detect. This is a laboratory-based, potent technology, described by WHO as “unnatural.” The risk assessment (RA) protocols for GMOs are an evolving process to be performed by qualified and experienced experts who must be responsive to the latest scientific knowledge. The fact is that GMOs involve us in a big experiment in the idea that human agencies can perform adequate risk assessment, which, it is expected, will deliver safety at every level/dimension of their impact on us — the environment, farming systems, preservation of biodiversity, human and animal safety.

After 20 years since the first GM crop was commercialised in the U.S., there is increasing evidence, not less, of the health and environment risks from these crops. Furthermore, we now have 20 years of crop statistics from the U.S., of two kinds of crops that currently make up over 95 per cent of all GM crops cultivated globally, (like Bt cotton) Bt and HT crops. The statistics demonstrate declining yields. GM yields are significantly lower than yields from non-GM crops. Pesticide use, the great “industry” claim on these GM crops, instead of coming down, has gone up exponentially. In India, notwithstanding the hype of the industry, the regulators and the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), Bt cotton yield is levelling off to levels barely higher than they were before the introduction of Bt.

It takes roughly $150 million to produce a GMO against $1 million through conventional breeding techniques. So where is the advantage and why are we experimenting given all the attendant risks? We have hard evidence from every U.N. study and particularly the World Bank-funded International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge and Science for Development Report, which India signed in 2008. The IAASTD was the work of over 400 scientists and took four years to complete. It was twice peer reviewed. The report states we must look to small-holder, traditional farming to deliver food security in third world countries through agri-ecological systems which are sustainable. Governments must invest in these systems. This is the clear evidence.

Conflict of interest

The response to the TEC Final Report came immediately, with the Ministry of Agriculture strongly opposing the report. The MoA is a vendor of GM crops and has no mandate for regulating GMOs. The same Ministry had lobbied and fought to include an additional member on the TEC after its interim report had been submitted. That ‘new’ member came in with several conflicts of interest, his links to the GM crops lobby being widely known. His entry was in fact a breach of the Supreme Court’s mandate for an independent TEC and provoked me to file an affidavit in the court, drawing attention to this. Oddly enough, he did not sign the final report, or even put up a note of dissent. This allowed the final report, then, to be unanimous; as indeed was the TEC’s Interim Report submitted by the original five members.

The Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) promotes PPPs (Public-Private-Partnerships) with the biotechnology industry. It does this with the active backing of the Ministry of Science and Technology. The MoA has handed Monsanto and the industry access to our agri-research public institutions placing them in a position to seriously influence agri-policy in India. You cannot have a conflict of interest larger or more alarming than this one. Today, Monsanto decides which Bt cotton hybrids are planted — and where. Monsanto owns over 90 per cent of planted cotton seed, all of it Bt cotton.

All the other staggering scams rocking the nation do have the possibility of recovery and reversal. The GM scam will be of a scale hitherto unknown. It will also not be reversible because environmental contamination over time will be indelible. We have had the National Academies of Science give a clean chit of biosafety to GM crops — doing that by using paragraphs lifted wholesale from the industry’s own literature! Likewise, Ministers in the PMO who know nothing about the risks of GMOs have similarly sung the virtues of Bt Brinjal and its safety to an erstwhile Minister of Health. They have used, literally, “cut & paste” evidence from the biotech lobby’s “puff” material. Are these officials then, “un-caged corporate parrots?”

Along with the GM-vendor Ministries of Agriculture and Science & Technology, these are the expert inputs that the Prime Minister relies on when he pleads for “structured debate, analysis and enlightenment.” The worrying truth is that these values are absent in what emanates from either the PMO or the President.

Ministries, least of all “promoting” Ministries, should not have the authority to allow the novel technology of GMOs into Indian agriculture bypassing authentic democratic processes. Those processes require the widest possible — and transparent — consultation across India. With GMOs we must proceed carefully, always anchored in the principle of bio-safety. Science and technology may be mere informants into this process. After all, it is every woman, man and child, and our animals, an entire nation that will quite literally have to eat the outcome of a GM policy that delivers up our agriculture to it: if a GMO is unsafe, it will remain irreversibly unsafe. And it will remain in the environment and that is another dimension of impact.

(The author is the lead petitioner in the Supreme Court for a moratorium on GMOs and in which case the TEC was formed. She can be reached at:

What we need is a biosafety authority

What we need is a biosafety authority

The BRAI Bill fails to address concerns surrounding GM crops at a time when opposition to GM is growing

First Published: Sun, Aug 11 2013. 07 08 PM IST
When Bt cotton was introduced, the biosafety tests conducted before commercialization claimed that contamination is not a major issue. Photo: Mint
When Bt cotton was introduced, the biosafety tests conducted before commercialization claimed that contamination is not a major issue. Photo: Mint
Updated: Sun, Aug 11 2013. 07 08 PM IST
A draft law to create a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) has been tabled in Parliament. If approved, it will replace the existing Environment Protection Act (EPA), 1989 rules and BRAI will replace the genetic engineering appraisal committee (GEAC) as a regulatory body.
The BRAI Bill fails to address the concerns surrounding genetically modified (GM) crops in India at a time when opposition to GM is growing in the country. There are two key assumptions on which the Bill is based: one that modern biotechnologies (read GM) are essential for improving agriculture, and two, their safety can be easily ensured by following certain protocols and be regulated.
Let’s see how true the assumptions are.
Almost 17 years after the introduction of the first GM crop in the world, only four crops—soybean (47%), maize (32%), cotton (15%) and canola (5%)—account for 99% of GM crops under cultivation globally. Only five countries (the US, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India) account for 90% of the total GM cropped area. The rest of the world seems to be improving agriculture even without GM.
In the past 17 years, there have been umpteen reports and research papers that highlight various biosafety problems of GM crops. In India, the first and only GM crop, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton was introduced in 2001 with the promise that it will reduce farm distress by reducing expenses on pesticides. After 11 years, we still find that 68% of the farmers’ suicides are from four major cotton growing areas. The use of pesticides initially came down due to reduction in bollworm infestation but increased again because of rising sucking pest attacks. There have been several other problems such as skin allergies to agricultural workers during the stage when the bolls burst, and a fall in soil fertility due to the impact on soil microorganisms.
When Bt cotton was introduced, the biosafety tests conducted before commercialization claimed that contamination is not a major issue. But when the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, released its version of Bt cotton, it was found to be contaminated with Mahyco Monsanto’s proprietary trait and had to be withdrawn from the market. The contamination, in hindsight, was inevitable. Given that India is a centre of origin, and a major centre of diversity for important food crops such as rice and brinjal, such contamination risks cannot be simply wished away.
The parliamentary standing committee on GM foods and the technical expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court have both pointed out these problems and have suggested a ban on further field trials and commercialization of GM crops till an improved regulatory system is put in place.
Instead of addressing these issues, the BRAI Bill only dilutes the current regulatory system, overriding the role of state governments in decision-making, and bypassing citizens’ right to information by including a clause on confidentiality of commercial information. India being a signatory to the Nagoya—Kuala Lumpur supplementary protocol on liability and redress is mandated to establish a strong liability and redress mechanism. But the penal clauses for erring in this Bill are extremely weak.
The BRAI Bill in its current format will do more harm than good. We must conceive of an alternative regulatory regime around GM crops with the primary mandate of protecting our health and environment from the risks of modern biotechnology. Such a regime should be based on the precautionary principle and must lay down protocols for independent testing, post-marketing monitoring, and rigorous assessments of long-term health and environmental impact of all GM crops.
Ramanjaneyulu G. V. is an agricultural scientist working with Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. Comments are welcome at