Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Coming of Age -- the Organic Community of India

Coming of Age: the Organic Community of India
                                                        
Bharat Mansata

The largest organic farming confluence in the world – over 2,500 participants from 22 states of India – gathered at the National Organic Convention in Chandigarh from Feb 28 to March 2, 2015. The flood of registrations had to be stopped a month in advance. Such zeal surely signals the growing recognition of agro-ecology as a burning imperative of our times, reflecting the Convention aim to 'Mainstream Organic Farming!'  

At the concluding session, Shri Prakash Singh Badal, Chief Minister of the frontline state of India's 'Green Revolution', ironically hailed organic agriculture as "the need of the hour," marking the full turn of a circle. He mourned the heavy burden of chemical poisons that the land, farmers and people of Punjab have had to bear, admitting sadly that "Mother Earth, Father Water, and Guru Air" have all been desecrated. Toxic pesticides have devastated the health of Punjab. "You people," said Badal – addressing a packed auditorium of organic farmers, seed savers, ecologists, scientists and activists – "are the heroes of this new struggle to save the nation!"


The CM called for making Punjab the leading organic farming state of India, with diversification in place of present extensive monocultures. Announcing a 50% state subsidy for rearing indigenous cattle breeds, he also offered to provide retail/distribution shops and facilities for selling organic produce. Declaring the setting up of an Organic Farming Board, he promised panchayati land to set up a demonstration organic farm in every block of the State.

Earlier, at the Convention, Shri Manohar Lal Khattar, Chief Minister of Haryana, accompanied by his Agriculture Minister, pledged state support to turn at least 10% of its total cultivable land to organic farming.  Smt Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister of Women and Child Welfare, rang out a grim warning against the highly dangerous neo-nicotinoid pesticides (used for treating Bt Cotton seeds) that were slaughtering the pollinating creatures like bees, an estimated 70% of which have already been wiped out. This would severely harm agriculture, unless banned, as in the European Union. "The owners of Bt cotton lied to us," declared the Minister. "They told us that it doesn't require pesticides… but now, we find that Bt cotton cannot grow without the most dangerous pesticides in the world."

A few years ago, the beacon IAASTD World Agriculture Report bluntly stated: "Business as usual is not an option!" Prepared over 4 years by 400 international agricultural scientists/experts and 1,000 multi-disciplinary reviewers, this Report was endorsed by 58 nations, including India, as also representatives of FAO, World Bank, World Health Organization, UNEP, UNDP. Its recommendations stressed the urgency to adopt bio-diverse agro-ecological farming, and to support small family farms – to overcome the many serious problems confronting world agriculture. GM crops, it added, are not an answer to hunger, poverty and climate change, or to ecological, energy and economic challenges.

A riot of colours, costumes, cultures and cuisines greeted visitors at the 'Nature and Kisan Mela' and its 'Organic Food Festival' and 'Biodiversity Festival' that continued alongside the deliberations of the National Organic Convention. The Organic Food Festival, with ethnic organic fare from several Indian states, was a big hit. The Biodiversity Festival presented a dazzling display of over 2,000 distinct seed varieties of crops, brought by 270 seed conservator-farmers from all over India. Half a dozen new publications were released. Several book stalls, film screenings and cultural programmes of song, music and dance enhanced the charm of the memorable Organic Mela, dampened a bit midway by rain and wind.

The Convention was jointly organized by the Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI), Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), and Kheti Virasat Mission, in collaboration with the local host organization, the National Institute of Technical Teachers Training and Research (NITTTR). The deliberations were bilingual, with communications in Hindi translated into English for the participants from the south, and vice versa. Parallel translations into other regional languages – for those who understood neither Hindi nor English – were self-organised by the various state delegations.

The National Organic Convention simultaneously hosted meetings of the Bharat Beej Swaraj Manch (India Seed Sovereignty Alliance). This pledged to regenerate and widely share the enormously rich diversity of traditional crops and crop varieties in India as a collective open-source heritage belonging to all, free of any private/corporate Intellectual Property Rights. The Alliance also sought to reclaim the many thousands of native crop varieties collected from farmers all over India by national and international germplasm banks. It was suggested that every farmer or family should adopt at least one crop variety for decentralized on-farm seed conservation and open-source propagation.

In sharp contrast, Mr Swapan Dutta, Dy Director General, ICAR, declared a few years ago in an interview to the Wall Street Journal, that India had over 4,00,000 varieties of plant germplasm (both cultivated and uncultivated). These included crops with unique features like nutritional/medicinal qualities, drought tolerance, flood tolerance, salinity tolerance, and pest resistance, all of which it was willing to offer corporates for a small share of profits!

GM crops were categorically rejected as an unnecessary technology with numerous potential hazards. The serious contamination risk by recently sanctioned open field trials of GM crops – disregarding the recommendations of several Government, Parliament and Supreme Court appointed Committees – was warned. 

Also part of the National Organic Convention was a scientific conference organized by the Society of Agro-Ecology, and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. This saw scientists from prime research institutions discussing with farmers and farmer-scientists their observations and research on soil health, plant nutrition, plant protection, water management, and Iivestock development, especially indigenous breeds.  
With so many outstanding farmers around, and multiple parallel sessions on offer, participants felt they could barely whet their appetite. But they carried back a collective energy and renewed confidence, knowing they had a growing fellow community of organic pilgrims and path-finders they could call upon when needed.

Missing the vibrant presence of veterans like Nammalwar, who passed away last year, and of ailing Bhaskar Save, who completed 93 years in January 2015, the 5th National Biennial Organic Convention paid tribute to these towering, dedicated stalwarts, noting that they have inspired innumerable others on the natural, organic path. Tribute was also paid to Sir Albert Howard, considered 'the father of sustainable agriculture' in the west, who confessed more than a century ago that he learnt it all from humble peasants in India.

In 2016, the international community will return to draw fresh inspiration from India. It was announced that the 'International Organic Farming Convention' organized by the 'International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements' (IFOAM) will be held that year in India.

The final 16 point declaration from the convention pledged to safeguard and regenerate our soil, water, forests, biodiversity and seed sovereignty; and to work towards mainstreaming ecological farming in the country as "the only way forward for meeting the nutritional, livelihood, socio-cultural and spiritual needs of our people, including those of future generations." 

The Convention further declared that land under food cultivation must not be diverted for other purposes through forced land acquisition.

PM Narendra Modi called for the North-eastern and hilly states to become an organic hub. But 'achhe din' (good organic days) must include all of India! What we need to 'Make in India' is an agro-ecological paradise that gratifies all basic biological, aesthetic and spiritual needs, not a global factory for a growing array of resource-hogging and pollution-spewing, non-essential industrial and consumerist goods. 

The overarching eco-spiritual tradition of this land is the unity of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the earth is one family in one home. Mother Earth, the only known cosmic body with a living biosphere, must not now become a spew-chamber of chemical-industrial toxins, her inner vitals vandalized for short-sighted economic growth. The organic community is waking to the enormous challenges ahead.    
(bharatmansata [at] yahoo.com)

PS: Given below is the Declaration of the National Organic Convention, Chandigarh, 2-3-15

March 2, 2015
Declaration of the Organic Farmers community of India at the 5th National Organic Farmers' Convention, 2015, Chandigarh, India

The organic farming community of this country, represented in strength by over 2500 participants at this fifth National Organic Farming Convention, pledges to carry forward with renewed strength our endeavour to mainstream agro-ecological farming practices across the country. The gathering, comprising practicing farmers, including women, tribal and adivasi people, seed savers, ecologists, scientists, non-governmental and community organizations, is supported in this effort by the international organic farming community spread across 130 countries and represented by IFOAM, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.
We reiterate our conviction that agro-ecological farming practices are the only way forward for meeting the nutritional, livelihood, socio-cultural and spiritual needs of our people, including those of future generations. This conviction is strengthened by the experiences of our farmer friends in Punjab and Haryana who have paid a high price and sacrificed their environment and the health of their people. We pledge to stand by them in their journey to recovery and restoration.
We, the participants representing the organic farming community of India, declare:
1.       Organic farming practices CAN meet all the food and nutritional needs of our nation, and it is the only sustainable way to safeguard the food security of present and future generations. The growing number of organic farmers and rising demand for organic produce is evidence of its rapid spread. 
2.      The IAASTD World Agriculture Report, authored by 400 international experts, including UN representatives, and endorsed by 58 nations, including India, recommends agro-ecological practices and small family farms, suitably adapted to local needs and conditions. It adds that GM crops are no solution to hunger, poverty, climate change as well as ecological, energy and economic challenges.
3.      We categorically reject Genetically Modified Organisms as an unnecessary technology with numerous potential hazards. It is also an example of bad science. We also object to open field trials of GM crops, since they pose a threat to our food, farming and environment, while blatantly disregarding recommendations of several Government, Parliament and Supreme Court appointed committees.
4.      We pledge to safeguard the integrity of our eco-systems and work towards the conservation, protection and re-generation of soil health, water resources, forests, biodiversity and seed sovereignty.
5.      Land, water and other natural resources must be prioritized for sustainably meeting basic needs and nutritional security. Land under food cultivation must not be allowed to be diverted for other purposes through forced land acquisition. Similarly, water resources for irrigation must be directed to essential food needs rather than water guzzling monocultures of sugarcane or other industrial non-priority uses.
6.      Forest habitats and traditional access rights of forest dependent communities must not be undermined, as uncultivated forest foods and medicinal plants have played a critical role in the lives of those residing in the country's tribal forested regions.
7.      The current form of chemical agriculture is completely dependent on steadily depleting resources and leaves farmers vulnerable to foreign/corporate dependence. This must not and cannot continue.
8.      All agri-chemicals should be progressively phased out; and the money thus saved used to propagate and support ecologically safe food growing practices. Suitable budgetary allocations must be made for mainstreaming agro-ecological practices.
9.      The educational curriculum and calendar in rural India needs to be sensitive to local agricultural practices, needs and rhythms. A land-based pedagogy must become an integral part of education in rural India, with suitable adaptations for urban India.
10.   Agriculture departments and universities need to reorient their attention to agro-ecological systems and practices, including reviewing their curricula, evaluating hidden costs of technologies they recommend, and aligning research activity to the needs and challenges of the local community.
11.  The role of women, the mainstay of a self-reliant agricultural system in India, needs to be recognized, acknowledged and supported, in terms of land rights as well as support from the government.
12.   The Organic Farming Community appreciates the Haryana government's efforts to revive indigenous breeds of cattle. Since this is crucial in facilitating self-reliant agriculture, we seek such policy initiatives from other state governments as well as the central government.
13.   The public distribution system must source food from the local/ bio-regional neighbourhood in which it is consumed. The convention suggests a grid of several localized markets as one of the ways forward.
14.   We demand better marketing support from government agencies so that the organic producers have assured demand and fair prices for their produce.
15.   Govt schemes such as MGNREGS, NRLM and SLRM should support agro-ecological practices as they supplement economic needs of farming families, landless labourers as well as people in distress. 
16.   India has a great wealth of crop diversity with unique features like nutritional/medicinal qualities, drought tolerance, salinity tolerance, pest resistance, and flood tolerance. This diversity has been conserved and shared by farmers as an open source collective heritage belonging to all. The concept of private property rights over such traditional heritage is alien and unethical in this land.

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