Switch to Organic Crops Could Help Poor (9/5/2007)

1.Switch to Organic Crops Could Help Poor - Associated Press 2.My Vision for a Global Agriculture - Devinder Sharma

Switch to Organic Crops Could Help Poor
Associated Press, May 6 2007

ROME Organic food has long been considered a niche market, a luxury for wealthy consumers. But researchers told a U.N. conference Saturday that a large-scale shift to organic agriculture could help fight world hunger while improving the environment.

Crop yields initially can drop as much as 50 percent when industrialized, conventional agriculture using chemical fertilizers and pesticides is converted to organic. While such decreases often even out over time, the figures have kept the organic movement largely on the sidelines of discussions about feeding the hungry.

Researchers in Denmark found, however, that food security for sub-Saharan Africa would not be seriously harmed if 50 percent of agricultural land in the food exporting regions of Europe and North America were converted to organic by 2020.

While total food production would fall, the amount per crop would be much smaller than previously assumed, and the resulting rise in world food prices could be mitigated by improvements in the land and other benefits, the study found.

A similar conversion to organic farming in sub-Saharan Africa could help the region's hungry because it could reduce their need to import food, Niels Halberg, a senior scientist at the Danish Research Center for Organic Food and Farming, told the U.N. conference on "Organic Agriculture and Food Security."

Farmers who go back to traditional agricultural methods would not have to spend money on expensive chemicals and would grow more diverse and sustainable crops, the report said. In addition, if their food is certified as organic, farmers could export any surpluses at premium prices.

The researchers plugged in data on projected crop yields and commodity prices until 2020 to create models for the most optimistic and conservative outlooks.

Alexander Mueller, assistant director-general of the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, praised the report and noted that projections indicate the number of hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa was expected to grow.

Considering that the effects of climate change are expected to hurt the world's poorest, "a shift to organic agriculture could be beneficial," he said.

Nadia El-Hage Scialabba, an FAO official who organized the conference, pointed to other studies she said indicated that organic agriculture could produce enough food per capita to feed the world's current population.

One such study, by the University of Michigan, found that a global shift to organic agriculture would yield at least 2,641 kilocalories per person per day, just under the world's current production of 2,786, and as many as 4,381 kilocalories per person per day, researchers reported. A kilocalorie is one "large" calorie and is known as the "nutritionist's calorie."

"These models suggest that organic agriculture has the potential to secure a global food supply, just as conventional agriculture today, but with reduced environmental impacts," Scialabba said in a paper presented to the conference.

However, she stressed that the studies were only economic models.

The United Nations defines organic agriculture as a "holistic" food system that avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, minimizes pollution and optimizes the health of plants, animals and people. It is commercially practiced in 120 countries and represented a 40 billion market last year, Scialabba said.

On the Net:
FAO conference is at


2.My Vision for a Global Agriculture
By Devinder Sharma

[NOTE: problem with formatting of references. for a copy of the original document contact the author <[email protected]>]

Picture the three scenarios:

Scenario 1: At first impression, news reports that appeared in 2002 the American media looked like emanating from a drought-stricken village in Indiaís hinterland. Till of course you see the dateline. You continue to read in utter disbelief. About 100 desperate farmers and rural residents praying for rain at the St. Patrick parish church in Grand Rapids, Ohio. With hands clasped and eyes cast downward, they seek divine intervention. "None of us have control over whether it is going to rain or not," said Sister Christine Pratt, rural life director for the Catholic Diocese of nearby Toledo told Reuters, the wire agency. "But the people are praying for one another and there is some hope."

Another report in the Washington Post stated President George Bush did not extend finances under drought relief in addition to the support that came from $180 billion farm bill he signed in May 2002. The president however underscored his commitment to helping farmers under current programs, including the Agriculture Department's decision that provides $150 million in surplus milk --- "spoiled milk," as Democrats called it ñ to be made available for use in animal feed in four drought-stricken states, including South Dakota.

Cattle were dying and crops shrivelled. Fodder become scarce, and, therefore, the need to feed surplus ëmilkí instead. There was a scramble for new water sources as town and city residents were asked to stop watering lawns and washing cars. In heat-baked fields ranchers sold off herds rather than let them starve for lack of pasture. "I have never seen it like this and I'm 60 years old," said Richard Traylor, who owns 37,000 acres in Texas and New Mexico but had sold off much of his cattle herd.

Serious hydrological problems with wells and reservoirs emerged. Streams went dry. The groundwater table fell drastically. Wildfires became more rampant, and an estimated 4.6 million acres, had been scorched, twice the average acreage burnt in the previous decade. "It is pretty dire," Mark Svoboda, climatologist for the National Drought Mitigation Center was quoted as saying. From southern California to South Carolina and from Montana to New Mexico, individuals and industries were suffering, the news agencies reported.

America was faced with its worst drought since the days of the great ëdust bowlí of the 1930s. By a strange coincidence, far away, India too was reeling under its worst drought of the century. As many as 26 of the 50 American States were reeling under a severe drought, with "exceptional drought" conditions -- the worst level of drought measured -- prevailing in thirteen states, including New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah. In India, drought had ravaged through 12 of the 28 states. Such was the crop damage that like the drastic reduction in foodgrain production in 2002-03 in India, the US wheat production too was anticipated to fall to its lowest levels in nearly 30 years.

Scenario 2: Let us move to another part of the world. Monica Shandu was adjusted the best small-scale sugarcane grower for 2001 in the Entumeni hills of South Africa. She farms four acres with sugarcane, and the harvest brings her an equivalent of US $200. Despite being a progressive farmer with high productivity levels, Monica lives in penury barely managing to survive against all odds. Far away in France, Dominique Fievez cultivates his farm of 400 acres with sugar beet. His is an average farm, which remains untouched by the price fluctuations in international market since 1984. The reason: Fievez receives a huge subsidy support under the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy at the rate of US $23,000 for each of the 33 acres that he grows with beet.

Such heavy subsidy depresses the international sugar prices making it difficult for developing countries to export. Monica Shandu gets a low price for her cane harvest because of the subsidies that farmers like Fievez in France continue to pocket. As Kevin Watkins of Oxfam says: "The $1.6bn a year the EU gives to the sugar barons of East

Anglia and the Paris Basin generates surpluses that deprive countries such as Thailand and Malawi of markets. Mozambique loses almost as much as a result of EU sugar policy as it gets in European aid."

Take another example. In cotton, India has the dubious distinction of having the largest area under the crop and one of the lowest average yields. This unexplained paradox was exploited by the multinational seed company Monsanto to hastily push in its genetically modified 'Bt cotton' variety in 2002. The Department of Biotechnology as well as the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) too used the productivity yardstick to justify the approval granted to Bt cotton. By reducing pesticides use, Bt cotton was expected to reduce crop losses thereby increasing per hectare productivity. The rise in productivity will help farmers get more for the produce, and also enable them to export.

While the impact (both negative and positive) of Bt cotton was too small to make any dent on the national production figures, the fact remains that cotton has lately emerged as the crop that has increasingly pushed growers into a death trap. In 2002, more than 100 suicides were reported alone from 12 districts that constitute the Vidharvha region of the eastern Maharashtra. Faced with mounting debt, a failed crop for the second year and government indifference, cotton farmers are resorting to suicides as a way out of misery. Government's denial notwithstanding, thousands of cotton growers have committed suicides throughout the country since 1987.

In contrast, America remains the world's largest exporter of cotton. Armed with roughly $3.4 billion in subsidy, US farmers in 2002 harvested a record crop of 9.74 billion pounds of cotton, aggravating a US glut and pushing prices far below the break-even price of most growers around the world, including India, China and west Africa. In 2002-03, US cotton farmers pocketed even more, thanks to the farm bill signed by President Bush in May 2002. The government program ensures farmers reap about 70 cents a pound of cotton by making up for any shortfall in the market with state support.

Although relatively small share of the farm population -- just 25,000 of America's 9,00,000 farming families actually raise cotton -- their affluence and influence is legendary. The average net worth of a full-time American cotton-farming household, including land and non-farm assets, is about $800,000, according to the US Department of Agriculture. And more than half of it comes from the government subsidies. The slump in world prices therefore has no impact on their lifestyles. But in turn brings misery to farmers in the majority world.

Scenario 3: Thirty-five years after the Indian farmers pulled out the perpetually hungry millions from the clutches of ëship-to-mouthí existence, it is now their own turn to be fed. To stave off starvation among the farming community, the Tamilnadu government had in 2003 launched a free mid-day meal programme for the small and marginal farmers, agricultural labourers and their families.

The tragic and shocking reversal of the role - feeding the farmers who have been feeding the country all these years - is the culmination of national policies that have neglected agriculture and farming in the wake of globalisation and economic liberalization. Tamilnaduís courageous decision to provide free noon meal to farmers and their families will soon trigger a domino effect, with many more states announcing similar programmes for farmers in distress. After all, denials from the government notwithstanding, over 24,000 farmers have committed suicide throughout the country since 1995.

An ungrateful nation ignored agriculture. In fact, the pink newspapers and some pro-liberalisation economists led the assault on farming saying that it is not the poor farmers who needed adequate infrastructure, cheap credit, an assured market, and a remunerative price but the small percentage of rich industrialists, business and trade that needed to be showered with the state exchequer.

In these three scenarios is hidden the story of modern agriculture, the crisis and complexities that confront sustainable farming systems, and the faulty answers being proposed to bail out agriculture. The tragedy of modern agriculture is that those who created the problem at the first instance are the ones who are being asked to provide the solutions. Those who tilled the land for ages, and have the knowledge and wisdom to provide the right answers, are being ignored and for obvious reasons.

Take the first scenario. The American agriculture that we all studied in the universities and appreciated had fallen apart with one year of severe drought. The drought proofing that we heard so much about the American agriculture appears to be untrue. It is a known fact that Indian agriculture falters because of its complete dependence on monsoons. For developing countries, with the fragmented land holdings, subsistence farming methods, low productivity and the exploitation of the natural resource base as a consequence have cast serious doubts over the sustainability and viability of the farms. The only escape for the country, we are invariably told by agricultural scientists, is to follow the American model. With the kind of industrialisation and technology advance that took place in American agriculture, and with the amount of investments made, we were always told that the US agriculture is the model for world agriculture.

One year of severe drought, and the scientifically sophisticated industrial farm model crumbled. In any case, the kind of investment that has gone on into American agriculture in the form of energy cannot be provided by developing countries.

In the second scenario, the huge cotton subsidies that go into its production and marketing makes the United States dominate the world market. As if this is not enough, a federal farm subsidy program is paying nearly $1.7 billion to American agribusiness and manufacturers to buy American cotton that is already one of the most highly subsidized crops in the world. The question therefore that is conveniently brushed aside is that even if the developing country farmers were to double the cotton productivity, how can they ever compete the American cotton producers who receive a lavish federal support? More the cotton productivity in countries like India, for instance, more would be the resulting crisis for the farmers as well as the country's food security and economy.

To ask Monica Shandu in South Africa to work towards raising sugarcane productivity therefore is a sure recipe for disaster. Similarly, asking the sugarcane growers in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra in India to raise productivity so as to be globally competitive is to further push them towards an uncertain future unless the sugar subsidy regime in the European Union and the US is first cleansed from manipulations.

Also, the productivity increase prescription comes at a time when with the phasing out of quantitative restrictions on agricultural commodities in India, the import of cotton (from the US) had increased from 21,200 tonnes in 1999 to 48,805 tonnes in 2000. Strange isn't it, that the government, which asks domestic farmers to improve productivity so as to attain global competitivenes should allow highly subsidized imports so as to help the American cotton growers? Behind the cotton story is also hidden the manipulations and machinations that go into promoting free trade essentially to ensure profit security for the agribusiness companies. Whether it is cotton, sugarcane or rice or for that matter other agricultural commodities, the negative impact of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) under the rules being framed by the World Trade Organisation remains equally destructive.

The third scenario presents the shocking realities. The mid-day meal programme for the subsistence farmers in Tamil Nadu in south India is surely not only the fallout of the process of trade liberalization but is the outcome of the way agriculture is being (mis)managed in India. Thirty-five years after the dawn of Green Revolution, Indian farmers are realising that their love affair with intensive agriculture is on the decline. Green Revolution has in fact collapsed. The alarm bells have been ringing for quite some time. The spectacular yield growth recorded in the post-Green Revolution years in Punjab and Haryana have receded into history. Among the multiplicity of problems confronting agriculture, rapid fragmentation of land holdings is keeping pace with increasing population. In 1976-77, the average size of the holdings was estimated at two hectares, and in 1980-81, it came down to 1.8 hectares. Today, it stands at a mere 0.2 hectares. The total number of land holdings in 1981 were around 89 million, today these have crossed 100 million.

The philosophy of agricultural planning is changing. Gone are the days when the nationís emphasis was solely on attaining self-sufficiency in foodgrain production. Gone are the days when farmers were the nationís heroes, revered for their role in keeping hunger and sure starvation at bay. Today, at a time when food production in developing countries struggle to barely keep pace with the burgeoning population growth, farmers are being asked to diversify, produce crops that are suitable for export and to compete in the international market. With promise of cheap food available off the shelf in the global market, the focus has shifted from agriculture to industry, trade and commerce, from the small and marginal farmers to the agri-processing companies, which alone can bring in investments and add value to produce.

With the World Trade Organisation (WTO) finally beginning to bare its fangs, and that too after structural adjustment programmes have done the damage, the long-term viability of agriculture and the survival of the farming community itself is at stake. More so, at a time when global agricultural is faced with a sustainability crisis - declining productivity, falling commodity prices and destruction of the natural resource base. The resulting political cost of continuing with the neglect of agriculture and the farming sector has finally begun to surface.

Ressurecting Agriculture Restoring the pride in agriculture should, therefore, be the obvious challenge for the global community. Numerous international approaches show emphasis, through the use of cliches like strengthening marketing infrastructure, scientific management of scarce water resources, empowering farmers to take informed decisions and so on. A growing volume of evidence now clearly suggests that such jugglery in presentation has not helped. What is needed is a fresh approach that takes the ground realities into consideration before embarking upon any policy imperatives.

I am trying to spell out a series of parameters that should underline all international approaches to agriculture. These are based on Mahatma Gandhiís Talisman that suggests: 'Think of the poorest person you have ever known, and ask if your next step will be of any use to himî. In short, the effort should be to ìwipe every tear from every eye.'

Sustainable Livelihoods: focusing on tackling the causes of poverty, hunger, the inequitable distribution of income and low human resource base with the objective of providing everyone with the opportunity to earn a sustainable livelihood. The green revolution areas are encountering serious bottlenecks to growth and productivity. Excessive mining of soil nutrients and groundwater have already brought in soil sickness. If the livelihood of the marginalised in the society (and that in the majority world is in agriculture) it must be secured by economic activities that are sustainable, that do not threaten the integrity of the environmental assets on which they depend.

Food Sovereignty: Every country should have the right to food sovereignty. It should result from the interplay of three determining factors: food production, food availability and access to food. A sustainable livelihood approach is the strength of food sovereignty. It should be people centric, based on community strengths, eco-friendly and gender sensitive. Food production, a central pivot of food sovereignty, must be based on minimal use of external inputs and that includes chemicals, transgenics and water. Access to food cannot be left to the market forces, it has to be the obligation of the society and the state.

Local Solutions: For the past three decades, more so after the introduction of the land-grant system of education, the focus is on finding global solutions to local problems in agriculture. The World Bank/IMF, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and now some of the major donors like DFID and GTZ have been embarking of translocating alien approaches to agricultural improvement and have thereby exacerbated the crisis on the farm front. This process must be immediately stopped, if not reversed. Given the diversity of the agro-ecological regions, sustainable agriculture needs location-specific soultions.

Multiple Cropping: Emphasis on commodities has encouraged monocultures, loss of biodiversity, encouraged food trade in some commodites, distorted domestic markets, and disrupted the micro-nutrient availability in soil, plant, animals and humans. Thrust on farm commodities have also pushed in trade activities, encouraged food miles, adding to greenhouse emissions, water mining, and destruction of farm incomes. The need is to revert back to the time-tested farming systems that relied on mixed cropping and its integration with farm animals, thereby meeting the household and community nutrition needs from the available farm holdings.

Away from Cash Crops: For the past two decade at least, the World Bank/IMF and some other academicia and donors have been pressing developing countries to diversify from staple foods to cash crops in what is being projected as the right approach to addd to farm incomes. This is a politically motivated advise and runs counter to the sustainable approached spelled out above. Many Latin American countries are faced with a serious land degradation crisis and increasing hunger as a result. It also pushes farmers into a death trap since the developing countries do not have the resources to provide for adequate marketing infrastructure.

Reversing Farm Exodus: The disappearing family farms in the developed countries and the process of further marginalisation of the farming communities in the developing world are the symptoms of the same malaise. Farmers are being pushed out of agriculture through a farming system that is becoming increasingly unremunerative and industrialised. To maintain ecological balance, and to maintain the multi-functionality of agriculture, as well as to ensure sustainable livelihoods, the focus of any policy imperative should be to restore the pride in family farms. This will need adequate state protection and support and at the same time should be based on the principle of mutual compatibility with the small farmers in the majority world.

Reorienting Farm Research: International agricultural research, as well as the national agricultural research systems, should re-orient the focus of farm research based on the principles of - farmer friendly, environment friendly and long-term sustainablity. Instead of the 'Lab-to-Land' approach, which has done immense damage to agriculture globally, the emphasis should be on learning from the land, meaning going back to farmers and the traditional farming systems. Technology need not always be high-tech and sophisticated. It can be simple and effective. This can only be ensured if the effort is to fit the new and improved technology to farmers need rather than asking farmers to fit into the technology package developed. This can only happen if farm research is brought back to the public sector. All technology should be freely available, and should not come with any proprietary tags.

Changing Food habits: Obesity has already emerged as the biggest killer in America, leaving tobacco-related deaths to the second position. This is the outcome of the private industryís efforts to change the food and dietary habits to suit their commercial interests. First junk foods, and now genetically modified foods, the industry is desperate to ensure its acceptability irrespective of the human costs involved. Changing food habits of the urban consumers, that dictates the market demand, is certainly a difficult task. No effort can be meaningful as long as the food industry is allowed to use advertisement space. Food advertisements should therefore be banned. If hospitals are not allowed to advertise, there is no reason why the food industry cannot be directed to stop media advertisements.

Encouraging Local Markets: Creating a global market for farm produce is the bane of modern agriculture. The seed multinationals, the food giants, and the supermarkets, have cornered the food chain in the process thereby destroying livelihoods, local markets and also drastically reducing food choices. Such a maket strategy has resulted in the disappearance of locally produced nutritious foods as a consequence of which micro-nutrient deficiency in human populations have grown manifold. Encouraging local markets will also reduce the dependence upon long distance transportation thereby minimising global warming. It will also help in bringing back the traditional and neglected crops, and help in changing the food habits.

Jai Kisan: A happy farming family is the base for any and every strong economy. It is also the foundation for an all-round economic growth and development. It is also the pre-requisit for sustainable development at the local, national and international level. Unfortunately, the farmer (called Kisan in India) has become a burden on the global society. Every government is keen to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Globalisation, economic liberalisation and the free trade paradigm are all aimed at pushing farmers out of agriculture. This political process and the mainline thinking has to be reversed for the sake of the global economy as well its sustained future. We need a world where every country is proud of its farmers, and where every farmer is proud to be the food provider - the annadata.


Talk delivered at the Dialogue on Agricultural Trade Reform, Subsidies and the Future of Small and family Farms and Farmers, organized by the UK Food Group and Sustain, London, June 30, 2004.

There isn't a time when an educated Indian doesn't search for answers from "America--the dream land" for the problems that crop up time and again back home. The solutions to India's crisis on the farm front, whether it pertains to sustainability, role of markets, or the recurring drought -- rest in the way America has managed its crop lands. After all, the United States has put together a drought-mitigation strategy, which many feel developing countries needs to follow immediately. The author had earlier analysed the faulty agriculture model that is being imposed onto India. http://www.fpif.org/outside/commentary/2002/0208indiafarm.html

Devinder Sharma: The fallacy of raising crop yields, Hindu Business Line, Chennai, India, Jan 6, 2003

Katakam, Anupama: Relief for cotton farmers, Frontline, Vo 20, Issue 01, Jan 18-31, 2003.

These are based on the latest data from the ongoing study on farmersí suicides being undertaken by the author.

Elizabeth Becker: U.S. Subsidizes Companies to Buy Subsidized Cotton, New York Times, Nov 3, 2003.

Menon, Parvathi: From debt to death, Frontline, Vol 20, Issue 20, Sept 27-Oct 10, 2003.

Devinder Sharma: The collapse of green revolution http://www.stwr.net/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=183

Devinder Sharma in New Scientist, July 8, 2000: ìGreen Revolution turns sourî

A number of research studies have shown that low input agriculture (or even no application of chemical inputs) results in better yield and fetches more income. For instance, in 1998, a paper ìThe Greening of the Green Revolutionî by David Tilman, Nature, 396, showed that not only were the yields of organic maize as high as those of maize grown with fertilizers and pesticides, but the soil quality in the organic fields improved dramatically.

UNDP 2003

Argentina is one of the biggest food exporters, and yet it is faced with growing hunger. See authorís article at http://indiatogether.org/agriculture/opinions/dsharma/followarg.htm

In Andhra Pradesh, India, more than 300 farmers, a majority of them cultivating cash crops, have committed suicide between May 14-June 24, 2004. See authorís analysis on ìRural Reconstruction: A Cosmetic Surgeryî in Deccan Herald, Bangalore, India; June 25, 2004.

Devinder Sharma is an Indian agriculture scientist, thinker, researcher and writer respected for his views on food, sustainable agriculture and trade policy. Through his writings and analysis, he focuses on the inextricable link between trade and sustainable agriculture,new technologies, intellectual property rights and biopiracy,Ýpoverty and hunger. He chairs the New Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security and is also part of the coordination committee of the National Kisan Panchayat(National Coalition of Farmers Unions) in India.

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