The news that I hear

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Monsoon and agriculture



India is a monsoon dependent nation. (Photo Source: news.bbc.co.uk/1/ low/business/3530882.stm)We depend on rains for irrigation, to fill up many of our rain-fed rivers, especially the rivers in South India. It is the monsoon rains that have to fill up our lakes to provide for drinking water. The GDP of India is also tied to the monsoon, but that is not what ordinary folks need to be concerned with. These are figures that will be talked about and debated by the educated and intellecuals in parliament like Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram, policy makers like Monteck Singh Ahluwalia and the media.

The South West monsoon usually hits Kerala in the first week of June and gradually proceeds in the western coast to finish its spell by October. This year the Met department has predicted that these rains are going to be deficient by 7%. There is a standing joke in India that if the Met guys predict rainfall, there will be scorching sunshine. Another department that is a drain on government resource. If there is excess rainfall even by 2%, deficient food production will be blamed on that excess 2%. If there is deficient rainfall by 1%, then again deficient food production will be blamed on that deficient 1% rainfall. Moral of the story: Blame the monsoon rains for anything and everything related to agriculture.

The SW monsoon is important for crops such as rice, sugarcane, cotton and cereals. Punjab and Haryana were considered the most fertile states in India and farmers belonging to these states were prosperous. But small and marginal farmers in these states are being wiped out. A couple of years back farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and to a certain extent in Karnataka was alarming. It is a shame on Indian policy makers that they led these farmers to such a miserable state.

Governments changed riding on farmer deaths attributed to past governments. The loan sharks have wiped out small farmers from the face of rural India. There is a total break-down of the Agriculture Credit System. Crores have been spent on irrigation, yet farmers are dependent on rains. Excess rains or untimely rains have damaged large tracts of rice crops in Tamil Nadu time and again. Add to all this is the use of seeds and pesticides being sold by MNC's. These seeds have not been working well in Indian conditions. Vandana Shiva who runs an NGO that works closely with farmers says that the genetically modified cotton seeds proved to be suicidal to Indian farmers. (Source: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1060510/asp/nation/story_6205196.asp).
The land has been drained of its natural nutrients by constant use of chemical fertilisers. Traditionally, India was a land of organic farmers where natural pesticides such as neem and cow-dung were used. Now MNC companies are fighting for patent rights of neem and may be in the future even of cow-dung. Which means that if we need to use neem or cow-dung we need to buy that from MNC's as if they invented these things.

In the meantime, the government has decided to import around half million tonnes of wheat from Australia despite quality issues. Apparently there is a high level of pesticides in the Aussie wheat, but that's fine for Indian officials because they are not going to consume it. Would the Australians allow their own people to consume such wheat? Are Indian lives so cheap? Sadly yes, considering the flawed policy makers of India's agriculture system. It is the poor who will end up eating this wheat which will be flushed out through the notorious Public Distribution System and many of them will end up with undecipherable illnesses for which another round of money would be released to find out the causes.

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