When the goal of increasing the income of farmers and workers has gained national priority across the spectrum of ideological boundaries, is not it strange that excessive focus is on increasing prices and not on decreasing cost? What is the political economy of this bias? Reducing cost requires triggering debate on sustainability, saving water, soil, seed and all inputs in such a manner that farmers improve his income by reducing the cost to oneself but also to mother nature.
Reduction in cost takes place when we get more crop with less water as Harbhajan, suggested in early 2000. He suggested irrigation in alternate rows of cotton thus halving water requirement and also reducing the incidence of pest without any adverse effect on crop yield (more on it next week).
Growing coriander around chickpea reduces pest attack in parts of Haryana due to predators attracted by nectar-rich coriander. Micro-toxins produced by using old bajra flour in early nineties in Gujarat were used as pesticides in Gujarat. One can go on sharing thousands of such example documented by the Honey Bee Network and its volunteers and member institutions like SRISTI, GIAN and NIF over the last three decades (see www.sristi.org for the largest open source database on sustainable practices).
Such steps invariably build upon farmers own experimental knowledge and that too the ones who are materially constrained. A word of caution: We should never use the term ‘resource poor’ for such creative and often economically poor farmers. If we believe that knowledge is also a resource, then the farmers about whom we are talking, are not poor in knowledge resources. The language shapes the habit of thought, if we use language which distracts our attention away from the resources in which poor are rich, then our purpose is defeated, we ignore that resource. Indian agriculture science history is full of such negligence and the cost is being paid by the farmers whose margins are declining, cost is increasing and ecological endowments are eroding.
What should we do then to revitalise the relationship between institutional science and people’s knowledge and innovation systems. We must first recall the contributions of pioneers who tried to do so decades and centuries ago: Let me begin with the pioneering work of Dr YP Singh, a zamindar from Bihar but whose heart was with the poorest, and who guided some of the most innovative theses in extension science. Way back in early sixties, he had guided two post graduate thesis on indigenous knowledge by Verma and Khanna at HAU Hisar, then PAU. There were many others who have since pursued research on farmer’s knowledge and have quoted numerous western scholars but often have hesitated in citing the work of such pioneers.
Likewise, Gangaben, in 1893, wrote Hunnar Mahasagar, 2080 recipes for self-employment (SRISTI has republished this book), more than hundred years before the contemporary start-up movement.
There is a need to catalogue all such practices which reduce the cost of cultivation, and then take up large-scale multi-location on-farm trials, let tens of thousands of on-farm trials take place, these will spur a revolution of bottom-up extremely affordable farming solutions. Wherever, farmers knowledge can be blended with the solutions developed by agricultural and other scientists, we should encourage that. The point is that excessive reliance on either people’s knowledge or that of scientists will not serve the purpose.
Both by themselves are inadequate, but together can be very powerful and sustainable source of solutions for the society. Next week, more suggestions for reducing the cost of cultivation of crops, rearing livestock and making value-adding products will be discussed.
Suggestions from readers who have tried to innovate at any stage of the farm value chain are most welcome.