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Land Degradation and Organic Response in Central India

Deteriorating land quality caused by overuse of chemical fertilizers and climate disruptions are leading to crisis in Madhya Pradesh and contributing to the epidemic of farmer suicides in the region. Going back to organic farming is an option being pushed by policy makers:

"Deteriorating land quality is pushing small and marginal farmers in Madhya Pradesh (MP) into a deeper cycle of debt. At present, land in certain parts of MP requires a large amount of input in order to be able to produce the regular yield.

"Factors that have reduced land quality include:

"• Switch from organic and semi-organic crops such as pulses and oilseed to chemical fertilizer intensive cash crops, which have deteriorated the soil quality. Small farmers erroneously believe that increased use of fertilizers will generate higher yield. In certain parts of MP, farmers use 600-800 kg of chemical aids (pesticides and fertilizers) per hectare of land in order to maximize the yield. Often, chemical pesticides and fertilizers are sold at 2-3 times the cost, leaving farmers at the mercy of moneylenders in order to afford them. This drives up the production costs for the farmer.

"• Repeated drought cycles in the region have adversely affected the land quality and have also weakened the ability of the land to recuperate quickly from intensive cropping patterns.

"All this combined has had a discernibly negative impact on the livelihood of the small farmers in the state. If the situation continues unabated, without any external aid, the following factors could arise in the coming years:

"• Complete deterioration of land due to overuse of chemicals

"• Decreasing yield which will place more farmers under debt as they will receive diminished returns on their investments. Already, in certain villages in the state, the debt to income ratio stands at 4:1.

"• Increasing cases of farmer suicides as seen in the neighbouring state of Maharashtra, due to the inability of farmers to make ends meet and repay their debts. MP is already in the top 4 states with the highest farmer suicides in India. This could also lead to political crisis.

"• Accelerated migration to urban areas from these regions due to the lack of alternatives. There are over 20 million employed in MP by agriculture and allied activities and this is the potentially
vulnerable group that could migrate.

"In response, the MP Chief Minister has declared his intention to make the state the first ‘organic farming state’ in the country. If this happens, then it could alter the present course. If crops that require organic farming are encouraged in the state and non-chemical pesticides and fertilizers are provided to the farmers at subsidized rates, while at the same time buyers for these products are ensured by the government, at least for the first few years, then the situation could change for the positive."

Implications:

This type of explicit recognition on the part of analysts (the authors) and policymakers that green revolution approaches to agriculture is failing are becoming alarmingly common. It is evident from cases like these that the promise of industrial agriculture is illusory, with high-input-driven gains in the short term leading to land deterioration and losses in the longer term. Particularly for small farmers whose land is their only real asset, this can be a catastrophic cycle, leading in many cases to suicide. The proposal to shift to organics on the part of the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh is an admirable one, however it remains to be seen whether the market for organics will sustain the farmers who endeavor to make this shift on their already degraded land and from an already precarious economic position. Government subsidies and support for this shift, however, could play a large role in transforming agriculture in the region.

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Sources:

Strategic Foresight Group, Asian Horizons, Issue No: 8, October 2010. Page 4.

http://newsletters.clearsignals.org/SFG_Oct2010.pdf#page=4

Sainath, P. ‘A Farmer is Committing Suicide Every 32 Minutes’. Alternatives International. 18
November 2007. <http://www.alterinter.org/article1394.html?lang=fr>

Jain, Sachin Kumar. ‘Chemical Warfare in Jhabua’. Info Change India. August 2010.
<http://infochangeindia.org/201008058440/Environment/Features/Chemical-warfare-in-
Jhabua.html>

Singh, Mahim Pratap. ‘Jhabua on its way to becoming Vidarbha-II?’. The Hindu. 25 August 2009.
<http://beta.thehindu.com/news/national/article8510.ece>

Chibber, Nandita. ‘Sulphur deficiency in Madhya Pradesh soil leads to poor harvest’. Down to
Earth. 14 August 2007. <http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/node/11331>