Recovering agriculture from agribusiness – experiences from South India

Vegans from a faith grouping protest outside the Cancunmesse

Vegans from a faith grouping protest outside the Cancunmesse - they're the only protesters of any descriptions I've seen since arriving. Happily, I got a sandwich from them this morning.

I love reading this kind of stuff, so I’ll write some. I walked in late to this Bread for the World session (there are many side events at the COP) to hear that 400 farmers had committed suicides in one district in South India in the last 10 years. Dr Malla Reddy, of Accion Fraterna, India was speaking, and says these deaths are attributed to Green Revolution agriculture – high external input, ecologically disruptive and chemical intensive.Small and marginal farmers simply cannot afford it.

He goes on to describe climate change in the same region – annual rainy days have reduced from 30 to 25. The intensity of rain has increased. Sometimes 30 to 40 days between rains. There are now wet spells, 8-10 days of continuous rain, which has an adverse effect on crops.

But his is an encouraging presentation, because he is describing a successful shift to agro-ecology.

Now Indians in some regions are switching back to “ancient wisdom” – intercropping and growing tree crops is an important part of work. Tree crops provide food, biomass – with this system, annual crops, animals and tree crops are integrated at a household level to try to make people food secure on a household level. Trees of course take a long time to grow, five to seven years to mature, but there’s no way around that, Reddy says. Mango, tamarinds are amongst the tree crops used.

They also promote composting and biological pest management. Crops include groundnuts, foxtail millet. Families sell biopesticides made from cow urine and (nim?) leaves. Pheromone traps are used for monitoring pests and there is intercropping of food grains, flowers – so that the combinational needs very little supplementary water.

They have not been able to integrate cattle so far – because it’s hard to supply fodder for large, non-indigenous cattle that have been promoted under industrial agriculture. The exotic cattle are excessively demanding on water and fodder. Local, smaller cattle make better use of common ground and essentially take care of themselves. Animal chosen for animal agriculture have to be adapted to local conditions.

Moving towards an agro-ecological food production system

Ranga Pallawalla of Sri Lanka, speaks next, mentioning that the right to have food should be enshrined in international law. He points out that sustainability of food culture means food production should be localised and biodiverse, but that it should also fits social and cultural norms.

The discussion around food need to reflect a notion that democracy is the voice of all, not the voice of the many, and the shift from agriculture (which is a holistic approach to food supply) to agribusiness needs to be reversed.

And a quick note on the insanity of COPs

We are sitting in a meeting room which is so over-airconditioned that people are pulling out jumpers to stay warm. In a climate that is rather like Durban’s.

And I’ve just heard a useful new formulation: that global agriculture and land use has now become an unhealthy competition between food, fuel (biofuels) and feed (over-consumption of meat).


1 Comment

Filed under COP diary - Cancun

One response to “Recovering agriculture from agribusiness – experiences from South India

  1. Carola

    Am greatly enjoying your blogs – thanks! I like the concept of shifting from agribusiness to agro-ecology. The ‘nim’ leaves are probably neem – see e.g. Interesting.

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