After having destroyed soil fertility from excessive and continuous application of chemical fertilisers, agricultural scientists are now telling you to kill the remaining 'life' in your soils by drenching the crop fields with chemical herbicides. Funds from the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna are being used to promote 'zero tillage' across the country, a flawed technology that is being pushed at the behest of the pesticide companies.
This suggestion comes at a time when remote sensing data collected by NASA satellites have confirmed that the growth rate of foodgrain production in India has been stagnant in the last decade.
The other day, a news report " 'Zero tillage' method to save labour and water" (Hindustan Times, June 26, 2010) caught my eyes. This is how it began: "Now, Indian farmers can grow paddy within days of harvesting their wheat crops -- and that too without ploughing the field." The Lucknow dated news report quoted scientists at the CSA University of Agriculture and Technology in Kanpur. Following successful field trials in three blocks of Kanpur Dehat in Uttar Pradesh, the new technique has gone 'live' in three districts of central Uttar Pradesh -- Kanpur, Kanpur Dehat and Kannauj.
'Zero tillage' is now being followed in over 100,000 hectares across the country. Although scientists are trying to create an hype by saying that 'zero tillage' increase yield, in reality it provides no significant improvement in yields. In several cases, the yields have come down. Also, it provides no reduction in the cost of cultivation. With new equipments and more herbicides, the cost remains in the same bracket.
Now, before I move ahead, it is important to examine the first para of the news report. It effectively means that 'zero tillage' enables farmers to undertake sowing of paddy within days of harvesting wheat. But I wonder, why do farmers need to sow paddy within days of harvesting wheat? There is a gap of about one and a half month to two months in the harvest of wheat and the transplanting of paddy in the northern belt of the country. Wheat is harvested in the last week of March or in the first week of April, and the transplanting of paddy takes place after the onset of monsoon rains in the month of July.
Aren't scientists therefore deceiving farmers (and of course the policy makers so that they can allocate funds) in order to justify the need for this new technology?
Now read this: "Zero tillage means there is no activity on field, the moisture level present in soil is maintained. seeds of new crops germinate with the help of the ambient moisture in the soil," says Dr V P N Singh, research director of the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna at CSA University. The catch lies here: "We have selected a new weedicide known as sulpho-sulphura. It will be sprinkled on the land along with other weedicides to remove weeds completely." Which are the other weedicides? Roundup Ready of Monsanto, Isoproturon etc.
Zero tillage is also being promoted in the name of conservation agriculture [I draw your attention to my article: New language, Old crisis http://www.indiatogether.org/2009/mar/dsh-sustag.htm]
I had written that conservation agriculture is about no tillage. It is based on minimal soil disturbance, organic residue retention and crop rotations. It is believed that the shift to zero tillage or minimal tillage will not disturb the soil, and therefore help in conserving natural resources. I've always thought earthworms were nature's tillers, so it's not clear to me exactly what zero tillage would amount to, since the earthworms would go on tilling anyway, unmindful of new agricultural terminology. Bhaskar Save tells us that earthworms turn around 6 tonnes of soil in its short lifespan. Zero tillage sounds unfamiliar in the Indian context!
Zero tillage has brought about its own industry. And that is what primarily interests agricultural scientists. Among the new conservation technologies required are: Laser land levellers, which have thus far been imported, but some of whose parts are now being fabricated locally; Zero till planters, including the second generation 'Happy Seeders' and 'Turbo Seeders;' Rotatory Disc Drills used for intensive soil working; and of course a range of herbicides.
All this equipment has been suitably modified and redesigned. Among the planter prototypes, you now have the multifunctional-multicrop-ferti-seed-zero till/raised bed planters. Don't bother trying to understand its multifunctional operations; there are already 150 fabricators and entrepreneurs breathing down our necks pitching the device. Which makes me wonder why agriculture scientists never think beyond costly equipment and endless chemicals. Why do they have to rely on imported concepts of sustainability, and the technology options linked to those ideas? Why can't they look inwards, search for the wonderful low-external-input technologies that local farmers have perfected over the years?
The answer is that they are actually not working for farmers anymore. Farmers just happen to be incidental, coming in handy to promote the machines, chemicals and the hybrid/GM seeds. If only they had listened to farmers, spent more time understanding and then improving sustainable farming systems, the face of Indian agriculture would have been ever-smiling. Farmers have all the answers, and they in fact it is they who need to show us the way towards sustainable agriculture, wherein the natural resource base remains protected and preserved.
To those who think 'Zero tillage' helps in carbon sequestration, here is my response http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.com/2010/03/does-zero-tillage-help-in-carbon.html