SUBMITTED BY SMITA JACOB ON WED, 12/21/2011 – 10:21
On Development In A Changing Climate
Suhasini is one among over 1.2 million farmers across 9000 villages that are practicing a cheaper and more sustainable method of agriculture across 1.2 million hectares in the state, even as more farmers are becoming part of what is termed a farmers’ movement for sustainable agriculture in Andhra Pradesh. The program named Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) is essentially an alternative to the conventional-input intensive-agriculture model. It promotes the use of locally available, organic external inputs—including cow dung, chickpea flour, and palm sap—and the use of traditional organic farming methods such as polycropping and systems of rice intensification (SRI).
The key reason for the success behind this program compared to similar initiatives by the Government of India is the fact that the entire program is led, supported, and monitored by the 930,000 self-help groups (SHGs) of poor, rural women across the state. This platform of women’s community institutions is the result of over 11 years of work by the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), a state-government support structure, aided by the World Bank, with a mandate of rural poverty eradication through social mobilization and empowerment of poor, rural women.
Climate change, as an issue, is often imagined as being the realm of the academic and policy making elite. However, a single visit to any of the CMSA villages in Andhra Pradesh would dispel this assumption. Women discuss, with both simplicity and clarity, how the recent increase in temperatures and lower rainfall has been depleting the basic resources for rural life—soil, water, fodder, and food. In fact, they confess that they themselves are possibly responsible for this state of affairs. Lakshmi, an SHG member in Chinnaramachella village elaborates, “Since the Green Revolution in 1960s, we discarded our earlier techniques of organic farming and started practicing methods such as mono-cropping and excessive use of pesticides in the hope of higher yields and better profits. We have now realised that this depleted the ‘health’ of our soil.” Small and marginal farmers, some owning as little as half an acre, were the worst hit by the crop failures leading to a huge debt crisis for farmers in the state.
Surprisingly, it was not only the promise of better profits that attracted the Andhra women to CMSA. The key reason, in fact, was the growing concern with health and nutrition. With entire farms being devoted to rice, sesame, maize, or cotton production, green vegetables and fruits remained inaccessible to most families due to scarcity in local markets and high prices. With recurrent exposure to harmful pesticides, women particularly suffer from a number of ailments. The women point out the problem in a very simple statement, “My mother and mother-in-law are much healthier compared to me. This worries me since I know that the next generation—my children—will enjoy even lesser health since they don’t have access to even half the quality of nutritious food I received in my childhood.” In fact, some of the women also reported that they noticed that pesticide-free fodder was much more palatable to the cattle they reared. The women thus upheld the health and nutrition agenda while motivating entire villages to move to the CMSA model.
Of course, the women claim that the journey has not been easy. Agriculture in India, although female-labour intensive, continues to be a male-dominated occupation with key decisions being made by men. However, there have been inspiring examples such as that of the 19-year-old tribal girl Meenakshi. She won a bet against her husband where each partner cultivated half the land owned by them during one season with their respective farming methods—conventional versus CMSA, and the family would shift to whichever method made more profit. Of course Meenakshi won the bet with a margin of Rs. 5000 and today the couple has been featured in the Forbes Magazine as best practitioners.
The vision for the CMSA program is that by 2020, women’s institutions shall manage and run the CMSA covering eight million farmers across 80% of the cultivable land. They are determined to ensure that villages make every effort to preserve the few natural resources that are significant to their very existence.
The Andhra Pradesh agriculture department has decided to join hands with the rural development ministry’s Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) to take the Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) programme forward. This ushers in good news as it indicates the acceptance of chemical free agriculture by the agriculture department, which is usually known to back chemicals in the name of productivity.DV Raidu, Director, Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) in an interview with Savvy Soumya Misra talks about the success of the programme and its future with the agriculture ministry.
How do you see the partnership with agriculture department panning out in promoting sustainable agriculture in the state?
With this partnership, we will be looking to build on each other’s strengths. The community based character of the program through decentralized extension model will converge with technical strength of Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) and take Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) to its logical conclusion. We start working at farm (household) economy comprehensively in addition to production and productivity. Further SERP’s efforts in trying to find out “end to end” solution by integrating dairy, poultry and small ruminants will be a big strength. Already we are working in convergence with the animal husbandry department in a small way; this will further strengthen our programme.
What do you envisage will be the role of the agriculture ministry in the scheme of things?
The ministry of agriculture will bring in the latest technology that will help farmers’ to reduce dependency on external inputs and help them revisit their own traditional wisdom. They will help communities to better implements like neem pulverizer, power weeder, small transplanters, small harvesters to reduce drudgery and improve efficiency of workforce. The ministry of agriculture would facilitate work on empowering farmers by mobilizing them into ‘joint liability groups’ (JLG) or ‘producer companies’. These farmers’ organizations will play critical role in accessing credit, improving marketing facilities and deciding markets for better prices.
How has CMSA changed agriculture in Andhra Pradesh since 2004?
Currently the programme is being implemented in 8033 villages of 503 mandals across 22 districts with 10.47 lakh farmers and 27.05 lakh acres. The emphasis of CMSA has been on reducing the cost of cultivation through non pesticide management (NPM) methods, restoring ecological balance, promoting green manure and dung based inoculants. The emphasis is on reduced dependency on external inputs and using locally available resources and this has improved the profitability of farmers. By preserving beneficial insects we are able to withdraw chemical pesticides. A survey followed by a third party assessment in 2008 showed a 70-80 per cent reduction in cost of pest management and 50 per cent reduction in fertilizer cost. The number of cases of hospitalization due to pesticide poisoning has also reduced. There is growing demand for this kind of agriculture.
Talking of pesticide poisoning, pesticides are also associated with a lot of health problems. Has there been an improvement in health after shifting to NPM?
In areas where NPM is practiced, cases of acute toxicity due to spraying of pesticides have completely gone away. It has also benefited those who weed chili fields, the leaves of which were always covered with pesticides and were prone to skin and breathing ailments. NPM has improved the quality and freshness of vegetables. In our interaction with women, we learn that their health has improved. We need to study the health impacts of the agricultural interventions. There is a plan to do such a study with organizations like IFPRI and the rural development ministry at the centre.
How difficult was it to get farmers to shift from the conventional agriculture to non pesticide management of farming?
Initially it was difficult. They were unsure how pests that were not being killed with powerful pesticides could be killed with botanicals. But they were keen on getting rid of chemicals. They were explained how the life cycle of pest should be observed and non chemical methods like summer ploughing and other nine practices called non-negotiables would be adopted for pest control. They were told about the importance of family labour in monitoring fields and pests. Farmers were encouraged to try NPM farming on a quarter of an acre initially and compare it with the other area for the entire season. It was a slow but a steady process.
What are the key inputs of Non Pesticide Management farming technique?
Locally available natural resources are the inputs for NPM. The only exception is pheromone trap which can be purchased. Communities identified 108 plants from which extracts could be made for controlling pests. The thumb rule is that any leaf which is not eaten by goat or sheep can be used for preparation of botanical extracts. The most prominent inputs are plants like neem, vitex, lantana, dathura and cow dung and cow urine. Moreover, farmer’s knowledge is the basic input here. Harvesting sun light by covering land in several tiers is key to raise productivity and incomes. The technology promoted under Integrated Pest Management (IPM), is followed here also without the option of chemicals as last resort. The availability of community based platform in AP facilitates the decentralized extension in transmission of technology.
CMSA now plans to convert to organic farming. What are the key changes you would bring in to convert to organic farming?
The key element in moving towards organic farming is to bring life back into the soil. And this can be done by using animal dung and urine which will help increase the microbial content of the soil by proliferating native earthworms. Rainwater harvesting has to be encouraged. The farmer has to be trained to shift from mono-cropping to poly-cropping with special emphasis on legumes except perhaps paddy. As leaves are integral to composting and compost is integral to NPM, so trees have become the focus of farming now. Leaves contain 85 per cent of the nutrients removed from the soil. The CMSA model has identified farmers to take this to its logical end. We are overlaying the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) with the help of the National Centre of Organic farming (NCOF). But the important point is to ensure that there is no reduction of yield and there is access to market premiums for pesticide free produce. It has happened in case of chillies in Guntur, where farmers have produced pesticide free chillies and exported to European markets with a premium of Rs.1800/- per quintal. Some farmers are migrating to organic farming.
Organic cultivation or Non Pesticide Management (NPM) method both are very labour intensive. With more and more people moving out of agriculture, especially the younger generation, do you think that a labour intensive farming method like organic cultivation or NPM is something farmers that would go for?
Organic or CMSA methods are most relevant to small and marginal farmers who are 80 per cent in number and area. Most of the times they are underemployed. With the popularization of ½ acre model under irrigated conditions the farmer’s family is gainfully engaged for 365 days. We have also noticed that a good number of farmers, especially women farmers, are young and they feel excited that they have control on the inputs and processes. These young women bring to the field traditional wisdom. So more and more people are getting attracted towards farming.
CMSA works on the concept of Self Help Groups. Is there a chance that there could be a certain section of the society (class or caste) that could be excluded due to any reason?
It’s an inclusive model. Self Help Groups comprise of four categories of rural house holds- poorest of the poor, poor, not so poor, Above Poverty Line. Further special efforts are made to rope in poorest of the poor women i.e Scheduled Caste /Scheduled Tribes and others who don’t have enough money for monthly savings. Government is supporting –initially to help contributing to their savings. Big farmers in the village are also included in the program. The groups work on two broad categories- one with farmers from SHG’s and the others outside of the SHG’s which also includes poor outside the fold of the self help groups. Thus there are no chances for exclusion of certain sections of farmers.
Have other states approached CMSA for promotion in their states?
They are now approaching us through the ministry of rural development at the centre. For some time we couldn’t take the offer in view of our own heavy engagement in the state; now we are willing to offer services of two to three experts for five days a month basis.
How much can one profit by converting to NPM?
At present, our experience shows, that farmers earn a profit of about Rs 2000- Rs 4000 per acre. There is substantial scope for further enhancement of profits if the farmer implements Rain Fed Sustainable Agriculture model and half acre model in mission mode.
It is always contested by agriculture department that organic cultivation and chemical free agriculture cannot be the solution to the country’s food security problem. Do you agree with this notion that our policy makers have at the centre?
No, we don’t agree. What we are practicing is basically Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Integrated Nutrition Management (INM) approved by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Regarding IPM, we are clear about withdrawing pesticides immediately. About INM, it is a gradual reduction of chemical fertilizer, simultaneously replacing with leaf based organic manure with dung as inoculant. For example, urea will be replaced gradually with azolla in paddy. Subsoil nutrients are recycled through tree based farming and leaves going back to soil. We should not get bogged down by calling it organic farming; this is ‘sustainable agriculture’. Chemicals will get reduced gradually; maintaining or improving the present yield levels, hence food security is not compromised.
Swami Baba Ramdev is calling a fast from 4th June onwards against Corruption and Black Money Hoarding. Sustainable Agriculture and related matters are in his major demands ( in his main letter to the Prime Minister). Today, Swami, Acharya Balakrishna and Devinder Sharma along with others in his team was invited for a discussion with Cabinet ministers led by Pranab Mukherjee. Kapil Sibal, Pawan Bansal and Subhodh Kant sahai and the Cabinet Secretary was also there for the discussion. Today Swamiji’s team presented the demands. Devinder presented the demands on agriculture. The following are broadly the demands on agriculture
1. No Agriculture Land should be acquired for non-agri purposes
2. No Land should be acquired without the permission of the Grama Sabhas
GM and Seeds
3. A 10-year moratorium on Bt-Brinjal and all field trials and commercial release of all GM crops
4. Price regulation on Seeds
5. Every district to have a Community Controlled Seed Centre with a gene bank for traditional seeds
6. Liability in case of contamination of non-GM crops
6. A ban on all the 67 pesticides that have been banned in other countries but still used in India.
7. 12th Five Year Plan to have 25% of total agriculture area brought under Non-Pesticidal Management as in the CMSA in Andhra Pradesh (the NPM has been repeated in 3 places in the demand annexes)
8. A Land Conservation fund for farmers to the tune of Rs. 5000 crore to be allocated each year
Other farmers issues
9. A Farmers Income Commission to be setup and income guaranteed to the farmer through a Farmers Income Guarantee Act (FIGA)
10. MSP to incorporate the farmers contribution as a Skilled Labour and not as General Labour and the MSP be calculated after fixing at 50% higher that the C2 Cost.
11. 24-hr water and electricity supply to be given to farmers
12. Community grain banks in every panchayath
Education in the Agriculture, Health and Engineering Sectors to be in Hindi and other State languages.
State’s rural development and agriculture departments to work together to encourage organic farming
Taking note of the Non Pesticide Management (NPM) technique, the Andhra Pradesh government issued an order on May 16 that the agriculture department will work in collusion with the rural development department to reduce the cost of cultivation and move towards pesticide-free cultivation in the state.
According to the order, the agriculture department’s Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) will now collaborate with the rural development ministry’s Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) to promote sustainable agriculture and move towards organic agriculture through Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA).
SERP had initiated CMSA in 2004 and under the project promoted NPM. The technique does away with the use of any synthetic pesticide in agriculture. Instead, homemade concoctions like those made from neem, garlic, chillies, plant and herb extracts, cow dung and cow urine are used along with other traditional methods of pest control.
The term NPM was coined in 1998 by M S Chari, scientific adviser to Centre for World Solidarity, a non-profit that helped to solve the problem of the red hairy caterpillar that was ruining red gram crop in the Telangana region. After a series of tests, the non-profit concluded pesticides were not required in cultivation.
SERP took the programme forward with aid from the World Bank and the Centre. The society started NPM on a 162-hectare land in 2004. It is now being practiced in 10 lakh hectares in the state. “This is a positive step. We will use this opportunity to spread chemical-free sustainable agriculture to all the non-CMSA villages as well,” says D V Raidu, director, CMSA. Though CMSA has spread to all the 22 districts of the state, it is yet to go to each village, which Raidu points out will become smoother with the agriculture ministry coming in.
The agriculture ministry has taken the plunge going by the past record of the performance of the CMSA. The ministry acknowledges the fact that income of the farmers have increased substantially and they get better price for their pesticide-free produce.
“NPM is just a stepping stone. We are aiming at becoming chemical-free,” says Raidu. He adds that in the last three years, fertiliser consumption has come down by 50 per cent, biodiversity in these fields has increased and the so have the number of trees.
Now, both the ministries will work together in the state. The rural development ministry will train the ATMA staff on the CMSA model, which after due training will work with self-help groups to popularise the low cost and high return agriculture. SERP will continue to working at places they have already started their work and will be instrumental in the formation of self-help groups, the most important component of the CMSA. The agriculture ministry agency will provide infrastructure for backward and forward linkages to farmers practicing the NPM method of farming.
Back to the roots for Andhra Pradesh farmers
By: Udit Misra/Forbes India
Traditional practices can revive tired soil and pull small farmers out of debt. Andhra Pradesh shows the way
Nineteen-year-old Meenakshi was sure about the way forward, but she had to convince her husband. She tore a sheet of paper and asked him to sign it. It was an unusual contract. They would split the land they had leased for the season about one-fourth of an acre. They would farm it in their own ways and see who makes more money at the end of the season. If Meenakshi won, her husband would shift to her way of farming.
It was summer of 2004 and Meenakshi, a landless tribal girl from Koduru village in the Srikakulum district of Andhra Pradesh, was convinced that the only way for her to change her debt-ridden life was by changing the way her family practiced agriculture. She was part of a women’s self-help group and had seen positive results of a cheaper, more sustainable way of farming that the group had been promoting.
As was the case with many farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Meenakshi’s family was always in debt. Farming was no longer remunerative and their meagre earnings were spent paying back the interest on the loans taken to purchase chemical pesticides and fertilizers, which accounted for over one-third of the total cost.
That summer, under the guidance of her self-help group, she used locally available resources like cow dung and traditional knowledge of controlling pests. She reaped a profit of about Rs 15,000 which was Rs 5,000 more than her husband.
A Small Revival
Meenakshi’s stunning success was part of early experiments in a revolutionary approach to farming in Andhra Pradesh, called Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA). Launched formally in 2005 by the Ministry of Rural Development in Andhra Pradesh, CMSA presents a bold alternative to conventional input-intensive agriculture in a state that has the highest consumption of pesticides and fertilizers in the country.
For example, Meenakshi uses Ghanajivaamrit, a mixture of cow dung, cow urine, jaggery, gram flour and microbes-rich clay. Over a one-acre farm, such a switch could bring down costs from Rs. 2,200 to just Rs. 200.
The need for such a programme was clear. Over the years, indiscriminate use of pesticides and fertilizers had degraded soil health. As a result, yields began to stagnate through the 1990s. Coupled with high cost of inputs, that spelt doom for small and marginal farmers in the state. Such farmers own less than 10 acres of land and account for roughly 85% of all land holdings. Incidence of farmer indebtedness continued to rise; agricultural woes have made Andhra Pradesh one of the hotspots for farmer suicides in the country. An estimated 1,688 farmers committed suicides between 1997 and 2004.
So far, CMSA’s results have been heartening. The cost of cultivation has come down by 30% to 40%. According to one estimate, net incomes on per hectare (or 2.5 acre) basis ranged from USD 2,520 to USD 4,032 per annum, a remarkable increase given the fact that earning of the landless poor in India is less than USD 1 per person per day.
Today, CMSA is being followed by over 3 lac small farmers spread over 3,000 villages in 21 of the 23 districts in Andhra Pradesh. It is no surprise then that it has caught the attention of agriculturists and politicians alike. M.S. Swaminathan, who led India’s Green Revolution in the late Sixties, likens the CMSA initiative to an ‘Evergreen Revolution’ since it focuses on sustainability of the soil and profitability to the farmers. Buoyed by the possibility of reducing environmental damage, environment minister Jairam Ramesh suggested the agriculture ministry take a close look at CMSA practices. From the Union Agriculture Ministry to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, many are trying to understand how CMSA made it happen.
How the Model Works
The CMSA model has broken the myth that small farms are not remunerative,” says T Vijay Kumar, an IAS officer who spearheaded the CMSA initiative as the CEO of the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty or SERP, a non-profit entity set up by the state government. “When we started out, our key concern was to make farming remunerative by reducing the input costs without compromising on the yields,” he adds. He has recently joined as joint secretary in the Union Ministry of Rural Development and hopes to assist scaling up CMSA at the national level through the National Rural Livelihood Mission.
Rural livelihood programmes under SERP, like CMSA, are financed by the World Bank. CMSA is additionally financed through community savings and other state and central level programmes like Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana and Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana.
The key to CMSA’s success is the community participation. The model’s approach is ground up; in any village CMSA starts by the formation of a farmer self-help group (SHG). Here, the existing women SHGs of SERP come in handy. Each SHG typically has 10 to 15 women. Each member pays a small registration fee which adds to the overall corpus of CMSA for internal credit purposes.
Once part of the system, farmers receive extensive guidance by more experienced farmers like Meenakshi. SERP too provides them with knowledge and capacity building services.
“We subsidise knowledge instead of fertilizers and pesticides. Teaching Meenakshi and letting her teach others like her is the best extension service model [which helps extend knowledge to more and more practitioners],” says DV Raidu, the state project advisor for CMSA.
Today Meenakshi is one of the 63 state-level Community Resource Persons (CRPs), the highest rung of extension workers. “I teach from my own experience and that is why I can address the doubts and problems of the farmers,” she says in Telugu.
Meenakshi’s success story best captures the change being brought about by the CMSA initiative. Six years on, her husband has stayed true to the contract and together they now lease and farm 2 acres. The next step is to own a piece of land for which she is saving.
Like Meenakshi, many farmer households have been able to come out of their chronic indebtedness thanks to CMSA.
According to one survey of five districts, quoted by Om Rupela, a former principal scientist with Indian Crop Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics, 386 out of 467 (83%) farmers have reacquired their mortgaged lands by using the savings after two years of practicing CMSA.
CMSA is not only helping subsistence farmers come out of their debt trap, but is also showing them the benefits of a market which pays a premium for better quality.
Rajshekar Reddy Seelam, managing director of Sresta, a Hyderabad-based company that sells organic food products both in India and abroad, is another such believer. By the year-end he is set to roll out a new brand selling products out of CMSA farms, conforming to international standards.
“We believe that in 10-15 years, the market for such products would be around $5 billion just within the country,” he says.
The Bigger Picture
The story in Andhra Pradesh is not too different from what happened to agriculture in the rest of India, especially areas like Punjab, where Green Revolution was implemented in the largest measure.
By the start of the 1990s, agriculture in the country had started choking on its initial success, giving rise to two broad sets of problems: Stagnant agricultural yields and increasingly un-remunerative farming.
Over the 1990s, almost imperceptibly, the whole system became lethargic. The extension services of the government started to fall apart. The key function of such services is to bring the farmers up to speed with the new technologies being perfected in the labs and guide them in adopting these. Meanwhile, farmers, influenced by local moneylenders and pesticide sellers, resorted to indiscriminate use of chemical inputs. Every passing year, the soil became progressively less responsive, all the while raising the stakes to a point where even a single crop failure tipped the farming household into chronic indebtedness.
Today, rural indebtedness in Punjab, one of the best agricultural performers of India, is three times the national average.
The importance of this issue can be gauged from the fact that the National Policy for Farmers (2007), the main agricultural policy document in the country, states, “There is a need to focus more on the economic well-being of the farmers, rather than just on production. Socio-economic well-being must be a prime consideration of agricultural policy, besides production and growth.”
On the other hand, the decadal growth rates of yields for the two most widely produced crops have continued to fall since 1980s. For example, Wheat yields grew at 3.10% during the 1980s, 1.83% during the 1990s, and just 0.58% during the 2000s. The story is largely the same for most of the other crops.
Official data shows how these stagnant yields affected India’s increasing population over time. The net availability of rice has fallen from 81 kg per capita per year in 1991 to 53 kg in 2008 while that of wheat has fallen from 60 kg to 53 kg per capita per year over the same period.
The distinction between the two broad problems is important since the very policies and tools that were supposed to increase yields were also responsible over time for aggravating farmer indebtedness. But there is no doubt about which is the bigger problem for those promoting CMSA.
“We believe that until agriculture becomes remunerative, even the food security concerns cannot be met,” says Kumar.
Necessary, but not Sufficient
So can the CMSA model ease the agricultural distress in a country where 60% of the population, roughly 700 million, is still involved in largely un-remunerative agriculture?
The short answer is yes.
But there are still some doubts whether CMSA can solve the other riddle of raising yields.
Not even the chemicals company representatives deny the inherent wisdom of the CMSA approach. However, there are a few qualifications.
SK Khosla, advisor, CropLife India and Rajen Sunderesan of the Agrochemicals Policy Group agree that there has been excessive use of chemical inputs by farmers. However, they blame it on the failure of the extension services which has allowed “a gap of 20 years between the technological frontiers and the farm.” With India’s extension system in tatters, farmers continue to implement obsolete technology and methods.
Matching yields in the short term is one thing but “Will this system allow for higher yields in the years to come?” asks Sunderesan. “If it can, only then should it be promoted,” he says.
What he means is that more output cannot be achieved without more inputs. At present, there is an imbalance in the soil that needs to be restored and CMSA is doing just that. However, once this is done, newer varieties of seeds would need more nutrients to give better yields. The way seeds technology functions is that every new variety is capable of taking up more nutrients from the soil and converting it into food. Without any assistance in the form of chemical fertilizers, newer seed varieties will not be able to produce more from the same piece of land.
Agrees Suresh Babu, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, “Without increasing inputs, it is not clear whether yields will continue to increase in the longer term.” Swaminathan too feels that once the imbalance in the soil is addressed, it would be best to make use of chemical inputs.
Babu believes that while CMSA resolves the indebtedness problem, there is no guarantee that the farmers will not rush back to using pesticides in case of a major pest attack.
“Organising people is the key to CMSA’s success but that is also the main hurdle in replicating this initiative in other states,” says T. Nand Kumar, a former Indian agriculture secretary and currently the chairman, Commission on the Optimum Use of Fertilizers.
In his budget speech this year, the finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, announced the extension of “green revolution to the eastern region of the country … with the active involvement of Gram Sabhas and the farming families”. Irrespective of whether CMSA can be replicated elsewhere in the country or not, one thing is certain: It will provide some key markers to ensure that the second green revolution in India is more sustainable than the first.
A Bug’s Life
How an understanding of the life cycle of pests helps protect crops
It’s easy enough to spot a CMSA field. As you approach the small handkerchief plot nestled among swathes of lush fields, you first notice the buzz. As you get closer, you see the source of the buzz: Dragonflies and birds the little plot is teeming with them.
You also notice that unlike the other farms, the crop lengths here are varied. It almost looks like an oasis surrounded by regular fields. For instance, in Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh, a typical CMSA farm has every two or three rows of red gram (tur) interspersed with one row of castor, unlike a non-CMSA farm which has a mono-crop of red gram. The whole plot has a hedge of corn plants, and if you look closer, it is only on a CMSA farm that you will find ladybird beetles, cosily ensconced in the leaves of the corn plants.
The reason for these varied crops is simple: The ladybird beetle feeds on the pests that attack red gram and castor. Besides, the corn plants provide protection from pesticides used on adjoining farms. “Castor attracts the pests that would have otherwise attacked red gram,” explains Meenakshi. So instead of spending a lot of money on repeated sprays of pesticides, farmers just spend some time every week plucking castor leaves where the pest has laid eggs.
So for crop protection, CMSA relies more on understanding the behaviour and life cycle of the pests attacking a particular crop.
No mechanisation, no health hazards due to pesticides, no side effects for the soil and the environment, zero costs for the farmer and a more nutritious yield of red gram. For the same volume of rice the CMSA produce weighs more. So if a jar full of conventional rice weighs 1 kg, a jar full of CMSA rice weighs about 50 grams more.
The second important aspect of CMSA consists of a comprehensive strategy to improve soil health. “Plants don’t eat chemical fertilizers by spoons. It is an organic process which must be respected otherwise the soil will stop responding, as indeed it has,” says D.V. Raidu, the state project advisor for CMSA.
But CMSA is not merely the replacement of a few chemical pesticides and fertilizers by cheaper options. CMSA isn’t organic farming either. Essentially, its appeal lies in its practicality in a country where landholdings get smaller with each passing generation.
“Frankly, we do not teach anything that is not already a part of the Integrated Pest Management and Integrated Nutrient Management techniques accepted by the government. The trouble is, nobody cares to follow it,” adds Raidu.
Download PDF Back to the roots for Andhra Pradesh farmers
FEB 22 –
In 2004, Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) began with all of the 200 farming families in Punukula village of Khammam District of Andhra Pradesh, India. That year, they decided to stop using pesticides and chemical fertilisers and to adopt ecological management of the soil and production process. The yields did not decline, and for the first time, farmers did not have to borrow from moneylenders to pay for their cultivation expenses. Through active involvement of small and medium farmers, these practices spread like wildfire in the subsequent years. By early 2010, the number of farmers practicing the sustainable system had grown to over 318,000, and the acreage under ecological practices had increased to 2 million acres, almost 8 percent of the net cropped area in the state. Between 2008 and 2009 alone, an additional 600,000 acres were added to chemical-free agriculture.
In the mid-1960s, when the green revolution in agriculture was promoted in a few selected parts of India, many international agencies, the government of India, development intellectuals and agricultural experts promised nothing short of an agricultural cornucopia. They thought they had found answers to India’s agricultural problems. This dream lies in ruins now. Initial bumper crops have given way to widespread stresses. Dwindling water tables, erosion of soil fertility, permanent water logging, poisoning of water sources and pesticide poisoning of farmers and farm workers have become common. There has been a decline in the nutritional contents of food, and bio-diversity has declined precipitously. A very small section of large farmers reaped short-term benefits; but for a majority of the farmers, the green revolution technologies have been a source of multiple stresses. The agricultural gross domestic product might have grown, but the proportion of actual production from land has been on the decline in comparison to income from trade in inputs and trade in agricultural commodities. In recent years, the erratic monsoon caused by climate change has put further strain on the productive agricultural economy.
These stresses have had tragic consequences across India for farming communities. The dependence on high-input agriculture and lack of control over the pricing of their own produce meant that farmers were increasingly indebted; and most of them, to usurious local moneylenders. The debt-stress led to widespread suicides among farmers. Between 1995 and 2005, over 100,000 farmers committed suicide due to indebtedness and other farm-related stresses. States such as Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh topped the list in terms of the number of farmer suicides in India.
This trend is in the process of being reversed in Andhra Pradesh, and this process of reversal is nothing less than revolutionary. What CMSA practices are generating are shifts not only in the in-farm practices, but reversing the very assumptions under which conventional agriculture practices were spread. The old green revolution projects emphasised transfer of technology developed in laboratories and the field of agricultural colleges and research centres. Farmers were considered as recipients of expert knowledge. A wide network of public extension system was created and subsidised. In the 1990s, this extension system gradually collapsed as the government withdrew funding. These roles were then taken up by the private sector without much control of the farmers. They began aggressively to sell chemicals, hybrid seeds and other inputs for the farmers. Many farmers fell prey to the lure of cash crops such as cotton.
In Andhra Pradesh, a quarter of the monetised economy is contributed by agriculture that accounts for 60 percent of the employment. During much of the last three decades, when chemical-intensive, high external input agriculture was vigorously promoted by both the government and other agencies, farmers became heavily indebted. Pesticides and chemical fertilisers accounted for around 35 percent of the total cultivation expenditure. An overwhelming 83 percent of the farmers were indebted because of money borrowed to pay for these external inputs. The private extension services are so unregulated that the consumption of pesticides in Andhra Pradesh is 0.82 kg/hectare as against the Indian national average of 0.3 kg/hectare.
Things seem to have begun to change. Farmers are becoming an active part of building institutions of learning. Those who have been involved in practicing ecological practices have become local resource persons in what has come to be known as farmers’ field schools. This is a complete reversal from the earlier approach where knowledge flowed one way from experts whose lives did not depend on farming to farmers. Massive amounts of resources were poured into designing information, education and communication (IEC) activities to get the messages across to the farmers about the benefits of chemical-based conventional agriculture.
Development of ecologically sound technologies is now occurring in the farmers’ fields under the leadership of the farmers. This is also the reason for the spread of new practices among such a large number of farming families in such a short period. Demonstrations and trials for a variety of technologies are conducted in the farmers’ fields under the leadership of the farmers as researchers.
Usually, sustainable agricultural practices are focused on fresh fruits and vegetables. These farmers in Andhra have started developing ecological practices for paddy and other grains too. Productivity has been equal to conventional agriculture with significantly reduced amounts of cultivation expenditure. As soil fertility is increasing, it will not be a surprise if the productivity of ecological farming will surpass that of chemical-based practices. A very large proportion of the farmers have stopped buying food from the market as they have been able to generate a surplus on their own farms. Because they have formed cooperatives to market their produce, they have also been able to get higher prices that would otherwise be siphoned off by middle-level traders.
In a survey carried out in five districts, 386 families out of the 467 families who had mortgaged their farm land to borrow money had been able to pay off their loans by using savings from the CMSA income. Most significantly, there has not been a single case of farmer suicide since CMSA began in those villages. There has been a noticeable drop in pesticide-related health problems, especially among women, as they were the ones who used to carry out the spraying tasks. In villages where farmers have completely stopped using chemicals, the groundwater and soil have become pesticide-free. There has been an increase in the number of birds in the village.
For a long time, revolutionaries, social scientists and modernising technocrats have been thinking that farmers were ignorant. Modern agriculture created a lure unsurpassed for a long time. The 20th century was the golden age in terms of the hegemony of conventional thinking and practices. Fossil fuels provided the needed resources for producing chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Machines made it possible to cultivate large areas of land. Most importantly, farmers had a very small role in designing the new practices. Experts in laboratories or research fields in agricultural colleges monopolised the process of knowledge generation. In the process, the age-old knowledge that farmers possessed eroded. But that approach has reached a dead end. Green revolution practices have created crises across the world. As we encounter multiple crises — both at the social and environmental levels — farmers such as these in Andhra are leading the way out of the quagmire that we have got stuck in.