India has a 10,000-year old history of agriculture, states the National Commission on Farmers. Barring the last five decades, all of it was organic; and the diversity of crops phenomenal. The land had one of the highest population densities in the world, even in that past era. It yet prospered and birthed a great civilization. But today, Indian farmers are increasingly reduced to penury. There are mounting suicides in various parts of the country, particularly in Vidharbha, Maharashtra, and in Andhra Pradesh, though also in Punjab, the frontline state of India’s ‘Green Revolution’.
In the midsummer of 2006, a few of us were visiting the veteran farmer, Shri Bhaskar Save at his magnificent orchard and farm, Kalpavruksha, in southern-most coastal Gujarat. (For a number of years, I have been writing a book on Save’s experience, titled ‘The Vision of Natural Farming’, to be shortly published by Earthcare Books.) Inevitably, the discussion turned to the daily news reports on farmers’ suicides.
“It is a crying shame for our vastly experienced and rich, krishi pradhan (predominantly agricultural) nation. We could have instead been a true shining example to the world,” said Bhaskarbhai. “Those who have shaped India’s agricultural policies are all guilty of criminally misguiding farmers. I hear that Swaminathan, the janak (father) of India’s ‘green revolution’, is again heading the National Commission on Farmers’ (NCF), mandated to draft India’s ‘new’ farm policy.
“Someone should file a ‘Public Interest Litigation’ suit in the Supreme Court against the government and people like Swaminathan – to at least remedy the misery they have heaped on farmers,” continued Save. “I would gladly testify. You should write an article on this, quoting me if you like.”
“Getting such an article published in a mainstream daily would be difficult,” I replied. “But the conspiracy of silence does need to be shattered. …Perhaps you could address an open letter to Swaminathan as chairperson of the NCF. I can transcribe it in English, and circulate it on the internet – to the media and others.”
Bhaskar Save readily agreed. The Open Letter was drafted over several further visits, and finally dispatched to the NCF on 29th July, 2006, along with detailed annexures. Copies were marked to the Prime Minister, the Agriculture Minister, the National Advisory Council, and to the media. The documents were then emailed to many others, who in turn sent them to many more. Within a week, at least half a dozen people forwarded the Open Letter to me! I could thus infer it was circulating on its own steam.
The letter – a devastating critique of the Government’s agricultural policies, and the role played by Swaminathan – presents clearly reasoned and eloquent testimony in support of mixed organic farming in harmony with Nature. Such an approach enables higher total productivity, profitability, sustainability and self-reliance. It is a net supplier of groundwater, energy and fertility to the local ecosystem, rather than a net consumer; and it significantly enhances human, social, spiritual and ecological health. All this is in stark contrast to the degradation and suffering wrought by chemically cultivated monocultures, now being intensified by the introduction of genetically tampered seeds. Save’s concise 18-point comparison of the two systems, contained in the accompanying Annexure 1 to his Open Letter, is an immortal classic to heal the great rift of our times.
To continue the story, … Swaminathan, the seasoned diplomat, wrote back a brief, sugary reply. “I thank you very much for your kind letter. I have long admired your work and I am grateful to you for the detailed suggestions you have given. You have made valuable comments and recommendations. We shall take them into consideration in our final report. I enclose for information a short paper on the pathways to enhancing productivity in perpetuity without ecological harm. With warm personal regards, …”
The reply conspicuously, but not surprisingly, avoided any reference to the country’s disastrous agricultural policies that Swaminathan – more than any other individual – shaped for decades. Save sent a second open letter with additional comments, and offered to clarify any areas of doubt or reservation that the NCF may have.
Seven weeks later, not receiving any reply, Save sent a third letter to the NCF, which contained his summarized suggestions and policy recommendations for a new national plan for Indian agriculture. Copies were again posted to the Prime Minister, the Agriculture Minister, the National Advisory Council, and the media. A further, independent letter dated 1-11-06 was sent to the Prime Minister, but remained unacknowledged.
I later learnt that the correspondence travelled widely in cyberspace all over the globe! A ‘Google search’ on “Bhaskar Save Open Letter to MS Swaminathan” revealed that hundreds of websites and blogs around the world had posted the letters and annexures at their cyber-sites, each reaching out in turn to thousands more. Within India, the Open Letters were translated and published in at least half a dozen vernacular languages, earning the appreciation of many farmers. I also learnt from some friends that the letters had circulated very widely too in government Departments of Agriculture all over India.
Several farmers’ organizations wrote to the National Commission on Farmers, supporting the views and recommendations of Bhaskar Save. In early 2007, an email consultation started among two dozen or so individuals and civil society/farmers’ organizations. This culminated in the ‘Civil Society and Farmers’ Representation on Agriculture’ – to the Prime Minister, the Planning Commission, and the Chief Ministers of India – which recommended an eleven point ‘Holistic Ecological Agriculture Agenda’, particularly for the benefit of small and marginal farmers. A copy of this widely endorsed Representation is included in this book, along with the Save-Swaminathan correspondence. Also included is another open petition by numerous organizations and individuals, critiquing and challenging the innocuosly titled Indo-US ‘Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture’, which is insidiously calamitous to the food sovereignty and security of our nation.
There is abundant, incontovertible evidence, and rapidly growing testimony by farmers and agricultural/environmental scientists, pointing to an alternative path that is more holistic, ecologically sane and socially just. But will our policy-makers begin to look beyond narrow-focused, short-term considerations – and sincerely venture to chart a new visionary path of enlightened and inclusive resurgence for this land and her people?