Why we do it
“It was worrying that farmers had lost the pride and sense of ownership towards their own traditional knowledge.”
-Dr. Vanaja Ramprasad, Founding Trustee, GREEN Foundation
Our efforts have been focused on verifying, documenting and disseminating the centuries old indigenous knowledge of farmers. GREEN has used the Participatory Rural Appraisal method to document much of this oral tradition.
“We realized there was something wrong with this method of agriculture when the fertility of the soil began diminishing,” says Vijayamma, a farmer in Tamil Nadu, of the chemical farming methods her family used to practise until they were introduced to GREEN. For small scale andmarginal farmers like Vijayamma, this was particularly worrying, because land is their lifeline to food security.
“In spite of getting reduced yields the costs of cultivation had remained the same. But we did not know where to turn for help,” she adds.
With a large part of India’s land (nearly 49%) utilized in agriculture, unsustainable agricultural practices can lead to untold consequences for the country’s ecology. For example, it has been shown that a single acre of chemically grown sugarcane requires as much water as would suffice for 25 acres of indigenous variety maize (a crop which also enriches a farming household’s nutrient intake).
In light of facts such as these, it becomes clear the extensive change that can be brought about for India’s ecology through correct agricultural
practices. Preserving this ecology is essential not just for food security of the present generation, but also those of the future. It is for these reasons that GREEN’s work has given much importance to the conservation of the natural environment through sustainable, organic farming practices. Our initiatives deal with the three most important factors in the relationship between agriculture and ecology: seed, soil and water.
‘The loss of these indigenous varieties would mean…the possible loss of a means to sustainable agriculture and its role in the conservation of the ecosystem as a whole’**.
This importance of agrobiodiversity and its role in food security was well demonstrated in the early days of GREEN’s work. When drought hit some of the farmers in our operation area, they were surprised to note that the indigenous crop varieties we had encouraged them to grow were resilient and drought resistant. The exotic varieties on the other hand, introduced as high-yielding crops with the promise of a larger incomes, had been destroyed.
Over the years, GREEN has worked extensively to conserve the rich agrobiodiversity of the country, spurred on by the steadfast belief that it is this biodiversity which holds the key to the future food security and ecological well being of India. We have always sought to recognize the role of farmers as scientists whose experience can provide important clues to ecological conservation. Using participatory techniques (such as Participatory Crop Improvement) we have worked with them side by side experimenting, testing and implementing successful conservation practices.
For its efforts in this area, GREEN received the prestigious Equator Initiative Prize by UNDP in 2004.
GREEN recognizes this important relationship with the soil and has, for this reason, extensively promoted the use of sustainable practices aimed at increasing soil fertility. We train farmers on the use and production of biopesticides and biofertilizers (such as vermicompost) which are soil friendly and do not destroy beneficial micro-organisms. We also educate farmers on natural pest management systems, crop rotation methods and multicropping patterns that are beneficial to the soil. As part of our core philosophy, we also advocate the use of indigenous seed varieties that are suited to local agro-climatic conditions and require low inputs. This further helps to reduce the strain on the soil.
With agriculture accounting for a majority of the country’s water consumption, proper farming techniques that minimize water usage are essential to the ecology of India. This is even more crucial in light of the fact that nearly 68% of India is vulnerable to drought and ground water resources are rapidly depleting. The Indian farmer therefore, has most to gain, and most to lose on the issue of water. The role he plays in water conservation is a large one.
GREEN therefore, encourages farmers to employ water conservation measures within their own farms by facilitating the construction of ponds, in the lowest lying area of their farmland. A network of channels drains runoff into the pond. GREEN also facilitates farmers in building bunds around their farmland to catch runoff. Farmers are trained to use farming methods that require less water consumption. One such example is the SRI method for dry land paddy cultivation, which requires as much as 30% less water. By encouraging farmers to use indigenous seed varieties that naturally require low water inputs, we hope to reduce the overall water consumption of crops. Read more on water conservation techniques.
Poverty in the Indian agricultural sector
Over the years, as government policies encouraged the use of high-yielding exotic crop varieties introduced by the ‘Green Revolution’, many farmers took up the cultivation of these crops in the hopes of increasing incomes. Unfortunately, the high yields they attained did not necessarily translate into higher incomes or economic security for farming families. Cultivation of these exotic varieties inadvertently meant adopting cash intensive methods of farming that required high inputs. These inputs were often unaffordable to the small scale farmer and marginal farmers who make up more than 83% of all farmers in the country. In order to sustain this type of agriculture, many were then forced to take out loans in order to meet their expenses, leading them into debt. Trapped in a vicious cycle of unsustainable practices, they were facing the cold reality of hunger, malnutrition and economic insecurity.
“I had reached a stage when I was deeply in debt, owing to chemical farming and wanted to give up agriculture and go to the city in search of a job,” says Choode Gowda, a farmer in Karnataka. Like thousands around him, he was struggling to make ends meet. Read more on what farmers have to say.
Challenging accepted norms
The research and development initiatives of the Green Revolution brought to the world, and particularly to India, a new, hybrid variety of seeds with the aim of increasing yields and reducing the food deficit of the country. They also introduced a chemical intensive form of agriculture highly dependant on external inputs that many farmers in India could ill afford. ‘Two decades of subsidizing agriculture with chemicals has impoverished the farmer and degraded the natural resources and diversity of food without reaching the goal of feeding the hungry.’
— Hidden Harvests, GREEN Foundation
Seeking legislative support
Lasting change can only be brought about through legislation that supports and protects the rights of individual farmers and strengthens their livelihoods. Such legislation must also aim to conserve the biodiversity and natural ecology that is essential to Indian agriculture. Yet over the years, Govt. policies have promoted the use of high yielding exotic seed varieties and the chemical inputs they require. Unfortunately, this has lead farmers to adopt unsustainable practices.
Through dialogue with key stakeholders, including the Government, GREEN has been lobbying for policy changes that encourage small scale and marginal farmers to pursue sustainable agriculture. GREEN has worked along with farmers to bring their concerns to the forefront of political dialogue. We have also appealed to the Government to highlight the role of women in Indian agriculture conservation.
through projects that address their needs. They are in many ways the backbone of the sector, and sustainability is not possible without their contributions, particularly in the case of biodiversity. Such progress owes as much to the perseverance of individual farmers themselves as to the collective efforts of a community of people within the non-profit sector. Strengthening the movement for sustainability, GREEN initiated the formation of Janadhayna, a farmers’ society which empowers farming communities to work collectively to avail the benefits of sustainable agriculture. Janadhanya has proved to be a means through which the movement has rapidly progressed, allowing community members themselves to take the core philosophy of organic practices to those who need it most: their fellow farmers.
Fostering public awareness at a grassroots level has been essential in propelling the movement forward. GREEN initiates programs such as seed fares and yatras, which have proved a useful means of disseminating our core philosophy. Seminars and workshops on Government policy are held regularly held to sensitize farmers on issues directly concerning them.
We have also sought to increase general public awareness through radio programs, articles and regular columns in leading native-language newspapers. We recognize and encourage efforts of individual farmers who steadfastly uphold sustainable agricultural practices. ‘Beeje Maate’ Award was instituted for those farmers who have made outstanding contributions to seed conservation. Read more about our farmers.
“We want to spread the message of organic agriculture far and wide. When people visit us, we always give them gifts of seeds so that they can carry the concept of organic farming into more and more areas.”
– Puttaveera a farmer of Veeraiandoddi village in Karnataka.
Dissemination of our message through publications has also helped strengthen the movement. Through innovative methodologies such as participatory rural appraisals we have also aimed to preserve and document the vast indigenous knowledge of the state of Karnataka.
Recent studies in the gender division of labour in agriculture show that women do 37% of sowing, 59% of threshing and 69% of work related to animal tending*. Though they form a significant component of the workforce, the role of women in Indian agriculture has been unacknowledged. One of the biggest motivations behind GREEN’s work has been to bridge this gender gap. Therefore, in all of our work, we place great emphasis on the role of women in Indian agriculture.
Responsible, traditionally, for seed selection and storage, they are the custodians of biodiversity. Community Seed Banks initiated by GREEN in its efforts at biodiversity conservation, are managed mostly by women. GREEN has also empowered
them to strengthen the food and economic security of their homes by facilitating the set up of kitchen gardens and alternate income generating programs. We have worked collectively with farmers to provide women with platforms which allow them to share their concerns and get involved in the decision making process of their communities.
Though much has been accomplished, there is still more to be done if the gender gap is to be bridged. GREEN continues its effort to bring to the forefront, the crucial role played by women in the agricultural sector.