Monday, April 21, 2008

Evergreen revolution merely a dream?

The current food crisis resulting from agricultural stagnation at home and escalating energy prices abroad, will lead to the birth of an ever-green revolution

Sustainable Food Security involves physical, economic and social access to a balanced diet and clean drinking water to every child, woman and man in the country. For achieving physical access, production and productivity of major crops should go up, so that there is a proper match between demand and supply. For economic access, there is need for adequate purchasing power, which in turn can be achieved through work and income security. Social access involves attention to the gender, class and caste dimensions of food security.

Climate change could result in higher temperatures and droughts that are more frequent, heavy floods in the Indo-gangetic plains, un-seasonal rainfall posing a threat to crops nearing maturity, and a rise in sea level along the coast and in the Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep group of islands. Physical access to food can be endangered by such changes, while economic access will be further eroded due to damage to livelihood security caused by adverse changes in temperature and precipitation. The rise in the prices of staple foods now occurring nationally and globally will further enhance poverty related endemic hunger.

How can we face such challenges? The climate change calamity also presents opportunities for developing strategies, which can help to mitigate the adverse impact of aberrant weather. In the early 1960s, India was leading a "ship to mouth" existence and there would have been a serious famine in Bihar, like the Bengal famine of 1942-43, but for the import of as much as 10 million tonnes of wheat in 1966 from North America largely under the US PL 480 programme. This crisis led to the birth of Green Revolution in 1968, resulting from a synergy between technology and public policy. The Green Revolution gave rise to a climate of confidence in India's agricultural capability.

It is my hope that the current food crisis resulting from agricultural stagnation at home and escalating energy prices abroad will lead to the birth of an ever-green revolution movement designed to improve productivity in perpetuity without associated ecological harm. The climate change calamity can then become a blessing in terns of reorientation of our agricultural research and development strategies based on the principles of ecology, economics, equity, employment, and energy security. The pathways to an ever-green revolution are organic farming and/ or green agriculture.Organic farming precludes the use of mineral fertilizers or synthetic pesticides, and genetically modified crops. Green agriculture is based on integrated pest and nutrient management, crop-livestock integration, use of the most appropriate and productive genetic strains irrespective of the method breading, and the adoption of more crop and income per drop of water techniques. Both organic farming and Green Agriculture are environment friendly and will help prevent damage to the basic life support systems of soil, water, biodiversity, forests and the atmosphere.
Global warming will present an opportunity to enlarge the food basket by including jowar, bajra, ragi and a wide range of millets and pulses. Today, it is the poor, mostly tribal and rural women who are conserving the agro-biodiversity for public good at personal cost. They will not be able to continue these traditions, unless steps are taken to create an economic stake in conservation. The government has introduced a Genome Saviour Award to recognize and reward the contributions of tribal and rural families to genetic resources conservation and enhancement.

To illustrate that "good ecology is also good business," a bio-valley is being established in a watershed area in the Koraput district of Orissa. A bio-valley is to biotechnology, what the Silicon Valley is to information technology. It will help to link bio-resources, biotechnology (non GMO technology) and business in a mutually reinforcing manner. This could lead to an era of bio happiness arising from the conservation and sustainable and equitable uses of bio-resources.

If management of climate change becomes everybody's business, we can safeguard ecological, food and livelihood security to the maximum extent possible.

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