Sep 20, 2009

Why agricultural scientists often hide the truth?

Eleven years after India's nuclear blast in the sands of Pokhran (popularly called Pokhran-II), three former nuclear scientists -- M R Srinivasan, P K Iyengar and A N Prasad -- have called for an independent peer review of the embarrassing details about the failed test as revealed by the then DRDO project director of Pokhran-II, K Santhanam. The former DRDO scientist Santhanam wrote in The Hindu: "TN device tested in 1998 failed. When DRDO and BARC disputed TN device yield...National Security Advisor (Brijesh Mishra) took a voice vote on a technically very complex matter."

He accused Brijesh Mishra of trivializing the hydrogen bomb test results. Accordingly, among those who also misled the country was Abdul Kalam, who later went on to become the President of India.

Imagine, after the thermonuclear bomb (hydrogen bomb) was tested, which was supposed to be twice as powerful as the fission (atom) bomb, the shaft you see in the picture is still intact. I wonder  whether we were testing a hydrogen bomb or a fire cracker !

Later, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited the fusion site. Standing along with him is Abdul Kalam

I salute Santhanam. I admire his courage of conviction, to stand up and be counted. He has shown that even in areas where the country's national security is involved, and where any such outburst can be easily construed as a violation of the dreaded Official Secrets Act, truth has to prevail. At the same time, it is admirable that there are still people of distinguished merit in the nuclear arena who are willing to raise their concern. If you recall, even at a time when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was trying to push the Indo-US nuclear treaty, some scientists had stood up and challenged the claims. If it was not for the way the ruling UPA 'managed' the media and stiffled the discerning voices, I am sure the nuclear treaty, which weighs heavily in favour of the US, wouldn't have been signed.

I sometimes wonder why is that such high level of credibility and scientific integrity demonstrating the underlying spirit of nationalism is lacking among agricultural scientists. Food security is no less important than national security, and it is here that agricultural scientists play a very important role. But ever since Dr Norman Borlaug released his high-yielding semi-dwarf wheat varieties in India, our agricultural scientists have simply become pen-pushers, always ready to stand up and chant the technology mantra in a chorus. No matter how fake are the claims of the universities and the private companies, agricultural scientists have always turned a blind eye.

Why have our agricultural scientists failed the farmers, time and again?

The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), the umbrella organisation for public-sector research in India, has a number of All-India Coordinated Crop Research Projects for quite a number of crops. Almost every year, these AICRPs are involved in releasing improved crop varieties. I understand that one of the criteria for the notification for an improved variety is that it should yield higher than the existing varieties, the usual standard being 10 per cent more potential yield than the existing.

If this be true, our yield of wheat and rice, for instance, should have touched the moon by now. But it didn't. So you know who is telling a lie.

Let me make it very clear. The yield potential of the so called improved varieties is nothing more than a hype. The yield performance is based on smaller plots, the figures are then transpolated to match a hectare. So when a university tells you that the yield potential of a wheat variety for instance is 9 quintals per hectare, please take it with a pinch of salt. I would like to throw a challenge to any university (or a State Farm) that can reproduce the yield levels that they claim. Show me any university or research institute which has actually harvested even 7 or 8 or 9 quintals of wheat in crop field, which actually measures 1 hectare.

When was the last time you heard any scientist questioning this flawed yield potential? Whenever I have raised this with senior scientists, all I get back is a mischieveous smile.

It is primarily for the inherant ability of agricultural scientists to hide the truth that agriculture in India is faced with a terrible crisis. By hyping the yield potential of the so-called improved varieties, they have actually ensured that the traditional varieties are pushed out of reckoning and therefore out of the market. It is primarily for this reason that the entire economics of the farmers goes topsy-turvy. That makes me wonder how come the agricultural economists always work out remarkable figures of economic viability of a cropping pattern whereas farmers in reality end up in losses. I have reasons to say that even the economic analysis is faulty. It is not based on the existing ground realities.

Take another case. When the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, Research and Marketing was being negotiated (this happened parallely to the Indo-US Nuclear Treaty), did you hear of any senior scientist even commenting on the deal? How come agricultural scientists found everything in it to be in favour of Indian farmers? Since when have we begun to realise (and accept) that the US has suddenly become so benevolent that it is willing to ink a deal for the sake of Indian farmers?

It is widely accepted that the Indo-US Initiative in Agriculture, Research and Marketing (which has Wal-Mart, ADM and Monsanto on its board) is not only detrimental to India's agriculture, but in many ways is more damaging to India's food security and in other words the national sovereignty. How come none of our distinguished agricultural scientist have stood up and questioned the details? Does it not mean that our agricultural scientists as a class are much much inferior to our nuclear scientists? Is there something wrong with agricultural education that the ability of scientists to ask questions dissipates? Shouldn't Indian agricultural scientists therefore be learning from our own nuclear scientists that what is important than your own job or your own livelihood is the national security.

Perhaps it is too late now.

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