By Sanjeev Sabhlok on Seeing the Invisible (TOI)
The Modi government has declared it wants to double farmers’ incomes. That’s something urgently needed. Let me assure him that it will be impossible to do so without a strong focus on biotechnology along with elimination of anti-farmer laws and strong application of economic policy to manage water resources. I had outlined the full agricultural reform agenda on 19 July 2018.
As a first step, the Modi government must resolve the Bt brinjal and HT Bt cotton issue. On 24 May 2019, I wrote about the civil disobedience planned on 10 June 2019 by Shetkari Sanghatna to precipitate the Bt brinjal issue. Since then at least seven other events have occurred, with farmers sharing their photos on social media. I understand that many more events are likely.
While the movement is fairly small at present, I don’t think the government can expect it to stop by arresting farmers (like the Maharashtra government did yesterday) or by threatening action against seed sellers. By not coming to the table to resolve matters urgently, Mr Modi is merely extending the pain of the farmers and possibly bringing himself a lot of political pain. I strongly request that the government start talking to the farmers. Our party is happy to help.
Shetkari Sanghatna has a proud history of contesting bad policies. They are no pushover. Sharad Joshi’s rastaa roko in the 1980s was arguably the largest farmers movement the world had ever seen. He told a conference in 2004 that the number of farmers who courted arrest under his agitation exceeded the number of Indians who courted arrest during the entire independence movement. These Maratha farmers are unlikely to bow down because of arrests, particularly when they know the science is on their side – as I have repeatedly explained.
Shetkari Sanghatna has always been at the forefront of the fight for technological freedom. The 2002 government approval for Bt cotton did not come easily. Sharad Joshi had to threaten mass civil disobedience given endless delays. When approval finally came, he was delighted and compared it to the “fall of the Berlin Wall” for agriculture.
But another Berlin Wall came up in no time – built by the likes of superlatively well-heeled business-class globe-travellers like Vandana Shiva. These super-rich, foreign-funded Indian forces had ganged up with global anti-development and anti-population (and I suspect strongly racist) forces to pour a vast amount of disinformation into the media. Vandana Shiva lied through her teeth about how Bt cotton would destroy all cotton in India. It turns out India was soon to become the world’s second largest exporter of cotton. Later she kept claiming that farmer suicides were being caused by Bt cotton, but all studies disproved her nonsensical claims.
These forces were massively powerful while the farmers had no support whatsoever. And so, as the Intelligence Bureau noted in its 2014 report, Minister Jairam Ramesh was effectively bulldozed to impose a moratorium on Bt brinjal which went on for much longer than the two-year duration he later said that he had originally envisaged.
Sharad Joshi was furious about the moratorium. Later, in 2015, one of his last actions before he died was to support a major farmers protest outside the Parliament in 2015 to demand GM crop approvals. But the farmers have seen that since 2002 a huge wall has been built against them and their poor children. All protests and petitions have proved futile. Millions of children have been left malnourished, millions of farmers left without additional incomes they could have had.
Since 2002 biotechnology has come to a halt and our scientists have been left frustrated or have fled India. Instead of winning Nobel prizes they are left to write articles in the media to defend the repeatedly-proven-a-trillion-times science. They are happy to feed their grandchildren the GM food they advocate for the people. And none out of billions of GM consumers worldwide has been harmed. But for India that’s apparently not proof enough.
And here is the nub of the matter: that of all the countries, it is desperately poor India that needs biotechnology the most. We still have a quarter of the world’s poor. We cannot afford to come under the clutches of these enemies of development and technology. Today our agricultural output is barely coping with our increasing population and yet the Modi government seems to have given in to misguided “swadeshi” forces who have combined with Marxists like Vandana Shiva to create a huge food security threat over India’s future.
What really gets me riled is the repeated insistence of these anti-development forces on organic farming. I was flabbergasted when a former senior IAS officer wrote to me the other day that the world could feed 9 billion people using organic farming. That is nonsense on steroids.
I suppose the fact that modern science has so dramatically improved things has made these people forget Malthus. Malthus was absolutely right when we consider the technologies of his time. People had only one technology then: organic. Practicing organic on a large scale is equivalent to mass genocide.
These IAS officers and Vandana Shivas forget that had it not been for brilliant scientists like Norman Borlaug and M. S. Swaminathan, India would have seen famines on a scale unprecedented in human history. Today biotechnology promises to double or triple agricultural productivity in half the land, using a miniscule fraction of the manpower and resources of traditional organic farming.
As humans we need greater control over our food so we waste less time producing it. There was a time when 90 per cent of Australia’s population produced food. Today less than 1 per cent of its population produces sufficient food for the remaining 99 per cent. The sooner we master the art of growing food cheaply and abundantly, the sooner we can transfer our human resources into more productive and creative fields.
Unlike the Vandana Shivas of the world I do not have a vision of desperately poor farmers eking out a meagre living from organic farming, or a future in which vast swathes of forests are chopped down to produce organic food. The vision that drives these enemies of the poor is a vision of the pre-agriculture era in which people lived in mud huts and suffered desperate malnutrition, sickness and disease. That was the state of nature in which, as Hobbes rightly pointed out, life was poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
Mr Modi must put his cards on the table soon: does he want to take India into extreme poverty through organic farming or convert 99 per cent of our population into a highly innovative and productive force?