Intensive farming responsible for farmer suicides - Interview with Devinder Sharma with special focus on Odisha


Q: Odisha is not much known for farmers' suicide the way we hear it in Vidarbha, Andhra Pradesh etc. But of late such cases are being reported in the media. What's the reason?

A: When you look at the issue of farmers' suicide, it's an indication of the crisis that exists in the agriculture sector. This is linked to monoculture and intensive or industrial farming model that have been implemented in the country. Vidharbha for instance has been in the news on the issue of farmers' suicide mainly because there is one NGO namely Vidharbha Jan Andolan Samiti which regularly compiles the figures of farmers suicide and feeds to the media. Unfortunately there are no such NGOs elsewhere to do a similar job. So therefore we do not get the real picture of farmers distress in other areas where conditions are equally bad. If suppose this NGO also stops compiling suicide figures, our impression about Vidharbha as a suicide belt of India will also disappear. In other words, not only in Vidharbha, agriculture across the country is in a terrible crisis.

The primary cause of farm suicide is the destruction of natural resources. Due to intensive farming soil has been destroyed and ground water has plummeted. Inputs like use of fertiliser and pesticides have destroyed the environment. Unwanted technologies have added to the woes. The input cost e.g. the cost of the seeds, fertilisers and pesticides have gone up whereas the output cost has remained same more or less in the last twenty years. If you adjust for inflation, output prices have remained more or less frozen. So what do you expect the farmer to do? Those who collapse under agrarian distress, commit suicide. In Odisha the suicide rates are not as high as in Maharastra or Punjab. That's because Odisha still follows sustainable farming and has yet to completely switch over to intensive farming.

Odisha has yet not adopted the ‘intensive farming' model that the green revolution areas are plagued with. The lessons here is very clear. If you want the farmers to suffer push them into intensive farming. I find Odisha is now at the crossroads. It is under pressure from agribusiness to go in for industrial farming. It has therefore to decide what path - sustainable or unsustainable - it wants to pick up for its farmers.

Q: Can you explain what intensive or industrial farming model is?

A: Soil comprises of organic matter. The effort should be on how to ensure that the organic matter is released to plants in a sustainable manner. Under the industrial farming model, the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and hybrid seeds are promoted in an intensive way. Over the years, chemical fertilisers upsets the equilibrium of micro-organism in the soil. The organic matter in the soil should be at least 2%. If it is 4% content, nothing like it. Now look at Punjab, where the organic matter in the soil has come down to a low of 0.1-0.2%. In other words due to excessive use of chemical fertilisers, organic matter in the soils is almost zero. Under such conditions, crop production is dependent upon how much chemical fertilisers you use. It is primarily for the lack of organic matter in soil that farmers are now applying twice the quantity of fertilisers that they used to apply some 10 years ago for getting the same harvest. What is not being realised is that he soil is gasping for breath. The desperate need of the hour is to regenerate the soil.

Similarly, the use and abuse of chemical pesticides have played havoc with the environment and food chain. All this has been necessitated because we developed high-yielding crop varieties and hybrids that were responsive to chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

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