For years, farmers have been complaining. "You tell us to keep domestic breeds. But banks only provide me credit if I purchase a crossbred cow," farmers would tell me at many a places. If you have wondered why farmers did not fancy desi breeds of cows, this is one of the major reasons. I have raised this at various platforms, and am still not sure whether banks have rectified their flawed policy to provide credit only for 'improved' technology.
This malice has gone on and on. In fact, in lot many way I find the banks are primarily responsible for the prevailing agrarian crisis. They have always supported the industrial-driven farming systems and thereby knowingly led agriculture on the path to disaster. One reason perhaps is that the agriculture staff in banks is stuffed with people who have little exposure to the ground realities. They literally go by text books, and have drawn development policies in consultation with firms like Ernst&Young, Tata Consultancy Services, among others. One can cite a number of examples, but then let's keep that to another day.
The situation has worsened after the private banks got foothold in the Indian market. The latest is Rabobank. The bank has done a study wherein it calls for investing in hybrid seeds to increase rice production by some 15-20 per cent (Hybrid seeds will help raise rice productivity: Study. Business Standard, Jan 9, 2013. http://bit.ly/TJbtBH). At present, hybrid rice seed is cultivated in only 3 per cent of the total area, and since seed giants like Bayer Crop Sciences, Dow Agro Sciences, Pioneer, Monsanto and Syngenta's commercial interests are involved, how can Rabobank not make promotional bid?
It is primarily for the same reason that Ministry of Agriculture is also aggressively promoting hybrid rice seeds through the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna. Subsidies are being provided for hybrid seed purchase. Interestingly, while the RKVY objective is to increase production, the State which produces the largest rice surplus -- Punjab -- is launching a crop diversification programme planning to take out 12 lakh hecatres from rice cultivation and shift to other crops. At the same time, India is saddled with huge rice stocks and is therefore reluctant to procure more rice. It is thinking of capping food procurement to limit the burden on the Food Corporation of India.
Under such conditions, why do we need to raise production by 15-20 per cent? Well, you guessed it right. Because it will help seed multinationals to market more seed. This in turn will raise their stock value. Since hybrid seeds have to be purchased every year, look at the huge market available. Punjab is also worried about depleting groundwater from excess pumping out of water for rice cultivation. Rabobank should have known that hybrid seeds pull out at least 1.5 times more water than the high-yielding varieties (HYV). This in turn will require more fertilisers and pesticides thereby adding on to the send-generation environmental impacts and also fan global warming. But the bigger question is when will the policy makers hold banks accountable if their policies acerbate the agrarian crisis? Isn't it time to hold social and environmental audit of bank policies and approaches?
The answer is: Only when people like you and me raise their voice.