What agriculture is better in Tamil Nadu

The overview - Journal for ecumenical encounters and international cooperation

Rice campaign in India

Who does the rice belong to?

A campaign wants to promote near-natural rice cultivation in India and prevent genetically modified varieties

The United Nations declared 2004 the International Year of Rice. That was not the first time: the Green Revolution had already been promoted in a similar year in 1966. Many Indian rice farmers believe that the effects of these were mostly damaging.

by Christina Kamp

The Green Revolution has led to the mechanization of agriculture, farmers' dependence on fertilizers and pesticides, monocultures and a drastic decline in agricultural biodiversity. Rice farmers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) - including partners of the EED - unanimously drew this negative balance in December 2004 at a rice conference in Kumbalangi in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

Now the “gene revolution” threatens a new danger. A Task force on the use of biotechnology in agriculture under the direction of M.S. In the middle of last year, Swaminathan, the "father" of the Green Revolution, recommended regulatory mechanisms for the use of genetic engineering in Indian agriculture to the Indian government, thereby effectively establishing the future use of biotechnology. Research on important export products such as basmati rice, soybeans and Darjeeling tea should be excluded. So far, genetically modified cotton has mainly been grown in India. Various Indian NGOs fear that genetically modified foods are already being experimented with without anything being publicly known. The report of the Task force do not take up the critical genetic engineering debate and follow the approach “first implement, we can analyze later”, emphasizes the NGO Thanal from Kerala in its comprehensive criticism of the Swaminathan report. There was no need in India to use genetic engineering just because it was available, ignoring the fact that the technology was risky and could have dangerous effects on farming communities.

The risks associated with genetically modified rice are still far from explored. In contrast to maize in Mexico, for example, the risk of genetically modified rice varieties outcrossing with traditional varieties is lower. Because rice plants are 95 percent self-pollinating, explained V.R. Harikrishnan of Thanal. But cross-pollination also occurs, so that the danger has not been averted.

Even without genetically modified food, Indian rice farmers face major problems. The Indian rice conference in December 2004, which Thanal and SEWA (Self Employed Women's Association, Kerala) and the Asia-Pacific Pesticide Action Network (PAN-AP, Malaysia).

In India, as in many other Asian countries, rice is not just an agricultural product and an important foodstuff. "Rice is an integral part of our lives, our culture, our value systems," says Usha Jayakumar, Thanal's campaign coordinator. In Kerala, rice is the first solid food a baby eats. Rice also plays a role in many religious ceremonies. A traditional vessel filled with rice is part of the Hindu wedding as a symbol of prosperity, and grains of rice are thrown at the bride and groom on arrival at the groom's house.

Rice cultivation is also closely linked to people's religious beliefs. Louis Figaredo from Wayanad reported that in this mountainous region in northern Kerala the gods are consulted when it comes to determining the right time for sowing. In the lowlands, in Kuttanad, sowing begins by first sowing a Hindu "Om" (or, for Christians, a cross) in a corner of the rice field.

Although rice plays such a central role, many farmers today have largely lost control of it. Rice fields make the cultivation of cash crops Platz - agricultural products with which more money can be made in the short term. In the worst case, the farmers completely give up control of the cultivation of the fields within the framework of contract cultivation. This significantly reduces the incentives to prefer sustainable cultivation methods. Today, seeds for high-yielding varieties are usually provided by the Ministry of Agriculture. Traditional varieties and the knowledge of their different properties have disappeared in many areas. The soil and the water are contaminated with agrochemicals, some of which have long been banned in other countries.

Before the Green Revolution, five to ten percent of the rice harvest fell victim to pests, estimates Zakir Hussain vom Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh. If one now calculates the loss of income as a result of the purchase of more and more expensive pesticides and, in addition, the health consequences and environmental damage that are not recorded at all, the result is devastating.

At the same time, the goal of feeding a growing population had not been achieved. “The myth of the" Green Revolution "still lingers. We have to destroy this myth ”, so the appeal of Jacob Nellithanam of the Richaria Campaign in Chhattisgarh. The population's access to food has deteriorated, as has the quality of the food supply. Poverty and dependency of the farmers have increased, reported participants from various important rice-growing regions, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and West Bengal. In areas in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka that are not very suitable for growing rice, rice is still propagated. The critics believe that this is a mistake if you want to make rice cultivation sustainable.

In important rice-growing areas, such as the water-rich area of ​​Kuttanad in central Kerala, rice cultivation was converted to high-yielding varieties. Instead of one harvest per year (or one harvest every two years at the beginning of the 20th century), two harvests are now achieved annually. In order to make rice cultivation possible on areas that are below sea level, serious cuts were made in the landscape. The fields were diked. As part of a so-called “integrated intensification program”, dams and sluices were built to prevent salt water from entering. The water of the major rivers from the mountains of the Western Ghats is held back by dams. The result: If there used to be a periodic exchange of salt and fresh water in the river and canal systems, this is prevented today.

As a result of these interventions, the entire ecosystem of the region has changed dramatically. The water pollution in the lakes, rivers and canals has increased dramatically, reported P. Ajay from Neelamperoor near Kottayam. Artificial fertilizers are used in the fields, as well as herbicides and insecticides. The chemical residues are deposited in the mud of the barely moved waters. Many fish and bird species are hardly found any more. In the past, fishing in the rice fields of Kuttanad was an important source of food and income for rice farmers. It has been a thing of the past since the 1980s, reported Dr. Padmakumar, professor of regional agriculture in Kumarakom. Many people suffer from cancer and diseases that are transmitted through contaminated water. Drinking water is extremely scarce, and because there is no alternative, many families continue to get their water for cooking and washing from the river or canal in front of the house.

In order to make fishing in the fields possible again, the entry of chemicals would have to be significantly reduced. It is unlikely that this will happen any time soon. The government continues to subsidize the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides. And the population in this region is much more interested in easy money - either for daily survival or to quickly raise their standard of living - than in sustainable development. "To be honest, I don't have much hope for Kuttanad," says Usha Jayakumar from Thanal. “It is a large area and is closely intertwined by the water. Individual farmers who want to practice organic cultivation cannot do much here. The government has to do something, or the people have to organize themselves. "

The Wayanad Mountains in northeast Kerala are one of the few regions where traditional rice cultivation still plays a role. Here, for example, Ramachandran grows five different rice varieties on an area of ​​around 2.5 hectares, four of which are traditional local varieties and one high-yield variety. Diversity is a tradition here. Already in previous generations, the nutrition of the family could be ensured by cultivating different types of rice. Because if there is a crop failure in one variety, the chance that the others will bring better yields is very high. Since the rice fields in Wayanad are hardly irrigated and the farmers have to rely on the rain, rice is only harvested once a year. In between, for example, beans or peas are grown to enrich the soil with nitrogen.

But growing rice is hardly worthwhile, complain the farmers. That is why they are increasingly switching to bananas, which are mainly used to make banana chips for the local market. In the short term, it can be used to make more money. But this will further exacerbate the agricultural crisis. Because the banana cultivation not only requires a lot more water, but also involves a considerably higher use of chemicals. Also the employment opportunities for Adivasis (Members of indigenous peoples) in Wayanad have declined dramatically. Landless Adivasis like the Paniyar, who had to work as slaves under the former feudal system, today earn their living mainly in the rice fields. Due to the sharp decline in rice cultivation, they hardly have any income opportunities.

Organic farming offers opportunities for the farmers in Wayanad. "That brings higher yields," says Danesh Kumar from RASTA (Rural Agency for Social & Technological Advancement) in Kalpetta. “Some farmers agreed to it, as a last resort. And they saw that it worked. ”Rice farmers in other parts of India, such as Nammalvar from der, have had similar experiences Tamizhina Vazhviyal Multiversity in Tamil Nadu or the Green Foundation in Karnataka. Both rely primarily on traditional rice varieties for integrated cultivation. The Green Foundation has set up a seed bank for this purpose. At the rice conference in Kumbalangi, some of the participants already began to exchange seeds with one another.

The Richaria Campaign (named after the well-known scientist and former director of the Central Rice Research Institute in Cuttack, R.H. Richaria) fights for the protection of the so-called "Raipur Collection", a collection of around 22,500 rice varieties put together by Richaria. Your genetic material is currently in the Indira Gandhi Agricultural University (IGAU) near Raipur. These include high-yield varieties that are much better adapted to the respective ecological conditions than the hybrid rice that is dominant today. The university wanted to sell the collection to the Syngenta Group, which led to massive protests. The Richaria Campaign calls for these seeds to be made publicly available.

She is supported in this by the Indian “Save our Rice” campaign launched at the Kumbalangi conference. Agricultural scientist Devinder Sharma emphasizes that it is not just about "saving" rice, but about the livelihood of people. A partner of “Bread for the World” that Raipur Churches Relief and Development Committee, works with the rice campaign. This is co-financed by EED and is embedded in the Asian “Save our Rice” campaign, which has been active in several countries since the beginning of 2003 and is coordinated by PAN-AP.

The "Declaration of Kumbalangi" outlines the aims of the planned campaign in India: the ecological rice cultivation of the village communities, based on traditional knowledge, is to be promoted with adapted methods; chemical fertilizers and pesticides should be banned; the cultivation of genetically modified organisms and hybrid rice varieties produced in laboratories should not be permitted; The genetic material of the rice varieties of India, which are kept in the rice research institutes, is to be returned to the community and the knowledge about it is to be made public; the patenting of life, traditional knowledge and traditional methods should not be allowed; and agriculture is to be separated from all existing and future trade agreements.

In order to achieve these goals, the 57 farmers' organizations and NGOs participating in the conference want to work together in the future and involve other actors in their respective states. The process of raising awareness and solving problems will certainly take more time in some regions and less time in others. From the point of view of the Thanal organizers, the Kumbalangi declaration is "in a certain way romantic", but the goals set there are "not impossible to achieve". The campaign must now convince other farmers that agrochemicals are not necessary for growing rice. Farmers who have already had good experiences with organic cultivation want to pass them on locally. In Kerala they mainly have local governments (Panchayats) Expressed great interest in the campaign. “The controversy is only just beginning,” says R. Sridhar of Thanal.

from: the overview 02/2005, page 95