May 23, 2014

US Drought: GM crops fails to salvage the epic drought.

US faces 'epic drought' conditions in California and Texas

For the past three years, California and Texas in United States is reeling under a severe drought. Some call it an 'epic drought' whereas some consider the continuing drought to be reminiscent of the Dust-Bowl days. "About 90 per cent of Texas is currently under drought conditions, and the State's northern panhandle and Southwest regions are experiencing 'catastrophic' conditions," says a report on AlterNet (Texas drought spawning fires and Dust-Bowl like conditions, AlterNet May 20, 2014).

In California, the situation is no different. A Reuters news agency report states: "The most populous US State is in its third year of what officials are calling a catastrophic drought, leaving some small communities at risk of running out of drinking water and leading farmers to leave fallow nearly a half-million acres of land." (California drought will cost thousands of farm jobs: Study. Reuters. May 20, 2014. As many as 14,500 full time as well as seasonal jobs will be lost this year.

For three consecutive years California and Texas have been ravaged by a severe drought. And yet, the US Department of Agriculture seems so helpless. More importantly, the USDA had been telling the world of the exhaustive drought-mitigation programme it had worked out some decades ago, which I still remember the well-known Indian scientist Dr M S Swaminathan quoting it often to drive home the point as to how and why the country should learn from the US on the need to drought proof the country.

What went wrong?

Before we look into some of the causes, here is an interesting paradox. A Grist news report tells us that while "California is experiencing one of its driest years in the past half millennium, it also happens to be the country's leading dairy supplier." Estimating the water footprint in producing one gallon of milk, the report works out that 683 gallons of water are required for producing 1 gallon of milk just from alfa-alfa alone. For meat, the water footprint is equally worse. According to a study by Mekonnen and Hoekstra, it takes a total of 425 gallons of water to produce a four-ounce serving of beef in America. The same size serving of pork takes 165 gallons of water; for chicken 66 gallons (It takes how much water to make Greek yoghurt?!

There are 5 million dairy cows in California.

 Drought takes a toll of livestock in Texas

Despite putting up a wonderful document on drought mitigation, things have actually not improved in US when it comes to drought preparedness. In 2002 when 26 of the 50 US States were experiencing drought, India too was badly affected. It was then that I had done a comparison. In my article Drought -- Lessons from America, I wrote: "The American agriculture that we studies in the universities and appreciated has crumbled with one year of severe drought. It is well known that Indian agriculture falters because of its complete dependence on monsoons. But with the kid of industrialisation that took place in America, and with the kind of investments made, we were told that the US agriculture is not dependent upon rains. Now though, the drought proofing that we heard so much about appears to be a farce." (You can read the full article here:

That was in 2002. We are now in 2014. US agriculture has failed once again to tackle a drought.

More so at a time when the USDA as well as the US biotechnology companies keep on asserting that some genetically modified crop varieties they have developed are drought resistant. Monsanto advertises all over the world to save every drop of water. They have convinced the 'liberal' and educated class everywhere of the great potential that exists for GM technology. Shouldn't we therefore ask a question: Why did the GM crops fail the farmers in California and Texas? Why are the farmers keeping their land fallow if USDA has those varieties hat can be grown under drought conditions? Where are the drum-beaters of GM technology (in the US universities) who tell farmers in Asia and Africa of the virtues of GM crops that can stand water stress conditions?

Isn't that a farce too??

The truth is GM crops have failed to withstand drought like conditions. While the GM crop varieties (including herbicide tolerant crops that Monsanto promotes) have been destroyed by US drought, the non-GM crops have survived. Isn't there a great lesson here for the USDA? Shouldn't it revert back to the native crop varieties that have survived the drought? In an in-depth article GM Crops destroyed by US drought but non-GM varieties flourish (Here is the link: Dr Mae-Wan Ho has detailed out how the GM crops failed the drought, and tells us about the inherent ability of native plants to withstand such harsh environs.

Secondly, the US must resorts to water harvesting. Sometimes back, on a visit to Texas A&M University I was shown the Tamil Nadu water harvesting system being developed at the university. I remember telling the scientists that the tragedy is that the Indian policy makers imported the 'Ridge to Valley' system of water harvesting developed at the Tennessee Valley Authority, which has failed to work in India. But it is time the US adopts the Tamil Nadu water harvesting system, which is much better and effective for acute drought conditions. If only more emphasis was laid on building water harvesting structures in Texas/California instead of depending on carrying water from long distances, US wouldn't have been in such a deep trouble.

It is also time to discard your superiority ego and learn from the simple and yet effective drought-proofing systems prevalent in many of the villages in India. It is time to learn from the wisdom that has been passed down from generations to generations rather than remain struck in your own technology cocoon. Sometimes simple technologies work wonders. You can ignore them at your own peril. #


R S Reddy said...

Very good analysis of the situation in the US. Thanks so much sir for your most thoughtful article. I only hope that this article will throw some light and a lesson to us Indians, who are otherwise have an inferiority complex for our own systems which are very much sustainable and effective and thinking whereas the west's methods are taken blindly without even having a second thought, is dangerous to us. So, I hope govts and universities wake up to this reality

P.Chauhan said...

Pro business they say Mr Modi is, how is he going to say no to Monsanto, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Vedanta et al.
What will he do about GM seeds, farmers and forests, in order to mine, have already been sold to Big corporations? We will find out real soon.


Sir you are an Inspiration to me.
The way you present such typical data with so much simplicity, helps the layman to understand.
Keep up the Good Work Sir...
*Lal Salaam*