What I have been experiencing for nearly half-a-century at Pantnagar, first as a student and later as a faculty member of the university, is that the Green Revolution is consistently a Pantnagar University’s song of glory. On the occasion of an important event at Pantnagar what is heard by an audience is: Pantnagar is the harbinger of Green Revolution. A single name that is most respectable since the day India’s first agricultural university came into existence is that of Norman Borlaug. Borlaug’s statement- “Pantnagar is the harbinger of Green Revolution”, is invariably heard from a speaker, often from the chief guest, at a function. “Nobel Laureate Dr Norman E Borlaug has eulogised Pantnagar University as a harbinger of Green Revolution in India” – this is the sentence which is invariably read in every report of the university. As if there is nothing more about Pantnagar than what Borlaug said! As if we have to be complacent with what the Nobel laureate said about us. With the Green Revolution in its fold, Pantnagar saved the country from dying of hunger! If you don’t trust us, trust Borlaug, the god of Pantnagar. Let us pat our back. For, Borlaug is the ultimate truth for us.
When Borlaug died on September 12, 2009, Pantnagar did take no time to rechristen its Crop Research Centre (the experimental site where seeds of Green Revolution were bred) as Dr Norman E Borlaug Crop Research Centre. An agriculture-based civilisation has no ideal of its own larger than Borlaug’s size!
Now let us see into the biological-ecological reality of agriculture: all cultures involving plants or any other organism are organic cultures. Everything the plants depend upon for existence, growth and reproduction is inorganic (CO2, H2O, minerals). Plants (barring the heterotrophic and insectivorous ones) do not depend on anything organic in nature. They convert the inorganic into organic through photosynthesis and serve as a lively “bridge” between the inorganic cosmos and organic biosphere. In other words, the plants are the natural architects of organic cultures. The chemical farming or the so called Green Revolution agriculture has introduced “alien” factors in the organic system. In the Green Revolution, the new seeds produced by applying genetic principles, or the so-called HYVs, are regarded as the key to high productivity. This is perhaps the greatest fallacy sown by the Green Revolution. The whole story of the Green Revolution, in fact, is woven round these non-traditional seeds and high productivity is the only goal.
Productivity, going by ecological principles, is an attribute of ecosystem functioning. The key to agricultural production, therefore, lies in an ecosystem – and here it is the soil, the largest ecosystem on the land of the earth. Varieties of the seeds plant breeders develop may just carry more potential to exploit natural resources (soil being the critical one) and translate the same into higher productivity. But this emanates from the health of the soil. Thus, the greater the productive potential of a variety the more intensive the exploitation of the soil.
The Green Revolution does not regard soil as a living system, but just a physical stratum supporting the crop plants. In a bid to recuperate the soil damage by HYVs, use of external inputs (NPK and mined fertilizers) came to the fore as the key strategic cultivation process involving HYVs. To protect crop monocultures the Green Revolution introduced the trend of deadly pesticides to be inevitably used if the productivity was to be sustained. To synthesize extra biomass (over and above that the traditional seeds did) water requirements of the Green Revolution crops increased many fold for attaining targeted yields. As much as 72 per cent of our freshwater resources are being exploited just for keeping the Green Revolution green.
Organic farming (a misnomer in itself) based on a different set of inputs is a new version of the Green Revolution. It is aimed at new market niches emerging to evade health hazards created by Green Revolution type of food production. A new package of inputs and cultural practices of the so-called organic foods is more complex than that of the Green Revolution. Now humanity seems to have been caught into the dichotomy of food production. Proponents of the Green Revolution and of Organic Farming are at word-war against each other.
One of the claims often made by the Green Revolutionists carries a Talibani tone- had there been no Green Revolution, we would have perished! Dear Green Revolutionaries, we are not continuing to be alive because of your miracle seeds, but because our soil, despite all kinds of poisoning done by your deadly inputs, is still alive. Moreover, we are Indians, and we have been surviving, flourishing, and creating history of our glory for millennia and millennia because we cultivate ethos of worshipping our soil – The Bhartiya Mitti. The story of the Green Revolution in India is just about 50 years old and India’s traditional culture is nourishing Indian civilisation for thousands of years.
Should the Green Revolution continue to be Pantnagar’s song of glory in the times when it has totally failed and has left behind the trails of air, soil and water pollution, greenhouse gases, and health problems? Should Pantnagar continue to regard the Green Revolution as its most pristine legacy? No, not at all. An ill-fated agriculture designed around the Green Revolution can only lead to an ill-fated environment, an ill-fated society, an ill-fated future. It is now Pantnagar University’s ethical responsibility to evolve, design and manage the agricultural systems that are ecologically sound, environmentally healthy and socioeconomically sustainable. This new pathway of food production has to be evolved based on the principles of agro-ecology: living soil, biodiversity (agrobiodiversity) and cyclic flow of nutrients. Agriculture in an environmentally stressed world cannot afford to be climate-neutral. Agroecological processes are essentially climate-healing. Our sustainable future is rooted into sustainable agricultural systems and such systems have to be nourished through ecocentric cultivation practices.
What is Pantnagar’s agenda of transforming the conventional agriculture into the agriculture most appropriate in our contemporary times? India is desperately looking for it.
(The author is a former professor of Environmental Science in GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology)