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There is no real change in Government of India policy for promoting natural farming

By Bharat Dogra 

The union government has often voiced its support for natural farming but this is not yet seen in real change in government’s commitments. The government’s subsidies in favor of agriculture are still heavily biased in favor of chemical fertilizers or overall agro-chemical intensive farming or ‘green revolution’ type farming. This farming also tends to use water and power in greater excess and hence gets a higher share of water and power subsidies, even in times of alarming decline of water table in many regions. Such farming also tends to use heavier machines more frequently and hence gets most benefits of such subsidies as well. Most of the government funds spent on agricultural research, education and extension are oriented towards such farming.
To provide equal benefits to natural farming, the government can calculate the subsidies it gives to green revolution type farming per hectare and provide the same subsidy in the form of conditional cash transfer per hectare to those farmers who are practicing natural farming and hence entirely avoiding chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and using water and power to a lesser extent. This is clearly justified by the avoidance of various forms of pollution, production of healthier food and above all by the improvement of soil quality, particularly the increase in organic content of soil so important for both climate change mitigation and adaptation. In fact this would justify the use of climate change adaptation and mitigation funds also to a greater extent for natural farming and improving the organic content of soil which is linked closely to natural farming.
Here it should be made clear that I am not asking for a withdrawal of chemical fertilizer subsidy but only saying that at least similar, if not higher, subsidy benefits should be given to natural farming. Farmers who opt for green revolution type farming should have no objection to such a proposal. In a democratic system many farmers, particularly the bigger ones, will always opt for green revolution type farming as they find this more convenient. So let them do their kind of farming which after all has been officially promoted for so many decades. At the same time, in view of the heavy environmental and health costs of such farming, it is very important from the perspective of the entire society to spread scientific, comprehensive information about the undesirable impacts of green revolution and the alternatives that are available. An essential precept of subsidy is that it should be given for socially desirable objectives. Hence to expect equal subsidy per hectare for natural farming is the least that those who practice and support natural farming should demand and expect from the government: in fact they deserve more. Despite all its publicized support for natural farming, the government has not introduced such a system of support for natural farming.
One can understand, however, that there can be some practical problems in administering such a system of subsidies, particularly in corruption-ridden systems. Hence there is all the more need for trying various schemes of such subsidization to move towards the best ones, the aim being to ensure the entire subsidy to the genuine natural farmers without involving any intermediaries.
It is also very important to revise the farm mechanization policy. The government should stop any promotion and subsidization of heavy farm machines. Those who want to use these can do so, but the government should not promote, facilitate or subsidize this. The government should shift its focus to smaller improved implements, tools and machines which are more helpful in all small-scale farming but particularly in natural farming.
The government must clearly ban all genetically modified (GM) crops including gene edited crops as these, with or without their herbicides and agro-chemicals, are very harmful for environment and health, cannot co-exist with natural farming and can contaminate naturally grown crops as well.
The government needs to stop the further spread of such unscientific, anti-nature programs like those based on sexed semen technology which, if continued, can cause great harm within a few years.
The heavy corporate orientation of union government’s farming policy with its obvious although unstated aim of increasing the hold of a few big multinational corporations and crony-capitalists in the production, hoarding, trade, processing and marketing of farm produce must be withdrawn and instead the government policy should be oriented in a very basic way towards enhancing the sustainable livelihoods of small farmers and processors (including the landless who can be helped to become small farmers) as well as protection of environment and health.
The present day over-centralized government policy is not suitable for natural farming at all which must be necessarily highly decentralized, keeping in view local requirements and allowing full room for the creativity and innovativeness of farmers in keeping with local conditions.
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The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include 'A Day in 2071', 'Man over Machine' and 'India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food'

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