Focus on science, not divine powers

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New Delhi | Published: November 9, 2018 2:06:45 AM

Going by the agriculture ministry’s priorities, India will certainly need a yagya for sustainable development

science, divine powersIllustration: Rohnit Phore

On October 3, a national workshop on “Yagya for Sustainable Development Goals 2030” was held at the Dr BP Pal Auditorium of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in New Delhi. It was organised by the Goras Pariwar in association with the Department of Panchayati Raj and the Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperation. The head of IARI’s Centre for Agricultural Technology Assessment and Transfer wrote to the institute’s heads of divisions to “kindly participate in the workshop along with faculty members and students” for the day-long event. He added that this was “as desired by the competent authority,” who, in this case, would be agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh, because an earlier email to the IARI director from the secretary, GOU Federation, mentions an “official communication from the Ministry … to your esteemed Institution in this regard.”

Singh believes that forces beyond nature can be invoked through yoga to boost the potency of crops. An official release of his speech at the Vigyan Bhavan in October 2016 has him saying that, with yoga, the “sprouting powers” of seeds can be escalated by “dint of divine powers.” He explains how “the five elements are made conducive through yoga proceedings before the seeds are sown.”

The information officer’s valiant effort at making sense of the speech in the translation shows through. “Raj yoga shoots out the fertilising strength of the soil along with the increased activation of micro metabolism thereof. The farmers through the modus operandi of vibration conveys to the plants about peace, love as well as purity which leads the resistance power of crops and its growth along with the increasement of production.”

This is faith, not science.

At the curtain raiser of last year’s Krishi Unnati Mela in the IARI campus, Trilochan Mohapatra, the director-general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), said the purpose of the mela was to take technology to farmers. And this is indeed what the Pusa Agricultural Fair, as it was called before 2016, strived for since 1972. But at this year’s mela, sizeable space was given to mystic technologies. At every few metres, there were hoardings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi declaring that farmers’ income would double by 2022. Perhaps the audience was supposed to infer that one would lead to the other. A participant explained the formula for bijamrut—said to be an enhanced plant nutrient made by fermenting 5-kg of cow dung with five litres of cow urine, 50-gm of lime and 20 litres of water. For jivamrut, 10-kg of cow dung is mixed with 10 litres of cow urine, 2-kg of jaggery, an equal quantity of besan or gram flower, and 20 litres of water. For the six types of biodynamic preparations, 40-kg of cow dung is mixed with 100-gm of eggshell and like quantities of besan and jaggery. These are placed at six locations in a field in 18-inch-by-18-inch squares made with 40 bricks each. The mix, when turned every 15 days, apparently yields manure rich in protein, calcium and micro-nutrients after two months, an exhibitor explained.
Narendra Dev, a proponent of Rishi Muni Krishi, said that solar energy can be transferred to plants in the form of sound waves through meditation. (What is chlorophyll for?) “The soul is a part of light,” he explained. Dev was an assistant director in the finance ministry before taking voluntary retirement in 2012 to join the Brahma Kumaris in Mount Abu, Rajasthan.

The minister is entitled to idiosyncrasies so long as taxpayers do not have to underwrite them. In reply to a Right to Information query, the agriculture ministry said the four-day mela cost `24 crore this year against `14 crore in 2016. While the marketing pitch says “lakhs of farmers congregate” at the mela, the ministry replied that 42,000 farmers registered this year, against 75,000 in 2016.

In April, the definition of paramparagat, or traditional agriculture, was expanded to include Homa Farming, Zero-Budget Farming, Gou Mata Kheti, Rishi Krishi, Yogik Krishi, Avdhoot Shivanand Farming, Shiv Yog Krishi, Ahimsa Farming, Bio Farming, Vedic Farming, Jeevan Kheti, Sendriya Kheti, Vaishnav Kheti, Aumaa Kheti and Sajeev Kheti. Farmers have the flexibility to adopt the appropriate package of practices, the revised rules said. Their clusters are eligible for grants of `48,700 per hectare over three years.
The page is no longer available on the agriculture ministry’s website. But the ministry told the Lok Sabha in August, in response to a question, that these organic farming models qualified as paramparagat krishi.

Even as IARI scientists were being urged to attend the yagya, thousands of farmers from around Delhi, led by the Bharatiya Kisan Union, were marching to the Capital to demand relief from cane arrears and rising diesel and fertiliser prices. And a few weeks earlier (on September 20), Dow Agrosciences and DuPont Pioneer told the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) that they were not proceeding with the trials of genetically-modified maize hybrids in Karnataka and Punjab because they were not sure of getting approval for cultivation of these hybrids once they passed the biosafety tests or of protection of their intellectual property rights in them.

The minister should be concerned about these developments that undermine the preparedness of Indian farmers to face the future, rather than breezily asserting that their income will “at least” double by 2022. In February, in Port Blair, he called upon farmers to make India chemical-free as desired by the Prime Minister. He terms chemicals as deadly, without realising that the toxicity is in the dosage.

On October 24, KV Subbarao, the South Asia Leader of Corteva Agriscience, said it would introduce 21 products over the next five years. The company houses the seed and crop protection business of Dow Chemical and DuPont, which have merged. The company’s insecticide that acts against the brown plant hopper in rice was introduced worldwide in July, and is awaiting approval in India. In the next quarter, a herbicide meant for directly sown (not transplanted) rice will be launched. When asked whether these launches do not make the company misaligned with the country’s agricultural objectives as defined by the government, Subbarao said, “We want to put science and innovation at the forefront.”

Corteva Agriscience has products that address the organic segment as well, but the emphasis is on chemical-based precision agriculture that leverages the power of soil and weather data. Giant companies like these set and mirror the global trend. Perhaps it is the government that is misaligned from the real needs of farmers.

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