National Workshop on December 8th & 9th 2006 Hyderabad
"Innovative Indo-US Collaborations: Missed Opportunities''
Dr Shambu Prasad spoke next on "Innovative Indo-US Collaboration: Missed Opportunities".
A science studies perspective tells you that science and technology are made by humans and they are very political, shaped by social actors. In India, the process of science policy-making or understanding science is not in proportion to the human power that we have. An important question to be asked is whether a science studies perspective can lead to better science policy making. Put differently, can science and technology in a particular context indeed be otherwise? How does one then try to incorporate alternative imaginations in the process of making an S & T policy? The questions to be asked include, have there been other Indo-US collaborations that are somewhat different from the Land Grant models that can offer insights to the current day institutions and institutional mechanisms?
The KIA hardly has a mention of the present agrarian crisis in India. There are many other things like workshops, reviews, planning and building institutional capacities, extension and outreach activities and so on. Would these really transform Indian agriculture? The KIA seems to be something happening in isolation. Who exactly are the beneficiaries is a simple question to be asked while talking about institutional mechanisms. It is important to place KIA in relation to some ongoing global initiatives - for example, the institutional learning from change initiative which is part of the CGIAR. This asks different questions like whether international research centres are really equipped to deal with issues of poverty, sustainability and so on. The UN Millennium Report on Science & Technology, for example, is looking at curriculum development in the context of Millennium Development Goals. The EU's Research and Technology Development framework has been applied quite successfully in the African, Caribbean and Pacific regions, where, before establishing a particular policy in a particular area, all kinds of people are involved in the decision-making related to strategy. It is not clear how KIA relates to the ongoing debates on institutions and institutional mechanisms when it comes to S&T policy-making and decision-making.
It was discussed earlier about old institutions and new mandates. Some of the new mandates came out of failure of the earlier mandates. The simple goal of increasing food supplies probably worked well in the earlier context. However, today we want poverty reduction, environmental sustainability, MDGs being achieved, solution to the farming crisis and so on. The Institutional Learning and Change initiative suggests that you need to re-work and recast your institutions if newer mandates have to be fulfilled. It is suggested that there should be less isolation and more inter-connectedness and more response to emerging needs. Also accepted is the fact that the traditional transfer of technology model has not quite worked and that it can no longer keep pace with the diverse, complex, risk prone and dynamic situations of poor farmers.
One obviously has to have a different set of governing structures than exists now for the reform to take place. In the KIA, for instance, there is mention of one NGO from the American side but none from the Indian side. India is well known for its rich civil society experience but that is not reflected in the KIA formulation.
A forgotten Indo-US collaboration which provides other ways of thinking is set 90 years back in time - the work of Sam Higginbotham in establishing the Allahabad Agricultural Institute in the early 1910s. When Sam Higginbotham came to India and established the Institute, it was not as though it was the first agricultural institute. But his purpose was somewhat different. It was a different imagination that was worth exploring. It was not based on the Land Grant lines or the T&V (Travel & Vanish?) models. It was to try and have what Higginbotham would call scientifically trained farmers and for which he felt there was a need for the nation at that particular point of time. Some of the pioneering things that he had done include the first ever Agricultural Engineering course, one of the earliest schemes in agricultural extension and women's development etc. The Institute also had a very strong social science unit and their agricultural extension experiments were very interesting. All of this was ignored by the Imperial Council for Agricultural Research but was closely followed by Gandhi. Gandhi in fact wanted Higginbotham to be a Member of the Board of Advisors to the All India Village Industry Association. Gandhi, for instance, wrote to Higginbotham after the Bihar earthquake in 1934 and requested him to come and see the affected areas and advise about how water logged soils can be drained, how to remove the sand which covered the fields. He wrote, 'you know my regard for your expert knowledge - even if you do not show us anything new, I personally will have the satisfaction that you have seen that area'. Gandhi also invited Higginbotham to head the Congress's agricultural wing which was not possible in the British rule and Higginbotham declined. Higginbotham later went to Cornell to do some more serious work on agriculture. The four volumes of Randhawa's book on History of Indian Agriculture may not have any work of Higginbotham mentioned but I think his was a model which has relevance in the context of the KIA.
Another example is a fairly recent one which is also an example of a different kind of Indo-US collaboration - a bit more silent and less published but many farmers and members of the civil society are aware of the kind of collaboration that is going on. This is an example which has a positive spin to America's contribution to agricultural development, [unlike the other stories we have been hearing from the morning today]. This is the story of System of Rice Intensification or SRI. An exciting development in Madagascar has spread quite rapidly to many other parts of the world over a period of 10-15 years, thanks to a different US interest and a different view of knowledge. This is about the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture & Development [CIIFAD] and Dr Norman Uphoff. When Uphoff visited many ICAR institutes in early 2000, he received a very lukewarm response. Similar responses in Punjab which he was targeting initially given the large cultivation of paddy there. Then he came to South India, inviting responses from state governments and agricultural universities here. Here, it was probably the crisis of drought and water that made the governments, politicians and scientists bet on the SRI offer. They seemed to have responded to an emerging situation. CIIFAD facilitated the exchange of some top scientists from the agricultural research establishments to look at SRI further. The facilitation was not to go to America to learn more about SRI but to go to Srilanka, to learn from practicing farmers like Premaratne. From Andhra Pradesh, the Director of Extension in the Agriculture University, Dr Alapati Satyanarayana also went to Srilanka. He recounts that he was extremely skeptical at that point of time. But he changed his understanding soon after going there and that was a kind of watershed with regard to 'official SRI' as far as Andhra Pradesh is concerned.
It is a case of facilitated exchange not just to America but to a larger pool of knowledge. Dr Alapati Satyanarayana, a plant breeder was able to understand SRI in a different manner which probably Dr Uphoff found useful. These debates still do not get reflected in the international agricultural knowledge domains yet but are spreading through small informal networks across the world. The key thing about SRI is the very deliberate effort by CIIFAD and the Madagascar NGO called ATS which are trying to maintain knowledge in the public domain. What is interesting that even today, it is possible for knowledge flows to occur in a manner that it benefits farmers without going through the formal, expensive, discriminatory and exclusive intellectual property regime. The SRI kind of Indo-US collaboration shows that global networks do help in today's world, if they are representative, transparent, participatory and accountable.
Innovations have to be seen as part of the global commons and not just restricted to bilateral deals. SRI represents an alternative paradigm in agriculture research -technically, an alternative in understanding plants and their eco-systems. Institutionally, an alternative in knowledge flows and use. Dr Uphoff says that at one level, SRI is about how to grow rice differently but it is also a way to understand soil biology, role of root systems etc. -domains that have been completely ignored not only by Indian scientists but agricultural scientists across the world. Here is an interesting research domain which needs certain kinds of investment to bring newer knowledge which make better insights of farmers own experiences. This is about what Dr Uphoff calls as "Post Modern Agriculture". It is about a different view of agriculture, based on a new outlook which takes serious cognizance of the energy and ecological crises around us.
What is exciting about a post modern view of agriculture is the way future is being looked at - a rainbow kind of revolution that agricultural scientists need to seriously engage with. What can KIA learn from the Higginbotham experiment in Allahabad or the SRI story unfolding around us? These examples need to be seen as exemplars for providing not very common kind of knowledge. They do not say that science & technology are not necessary for development - they only show that there are alternative ways of looking at it and doing the same research differently. These initiatives are not narrow in their vision but have a clear central role for farmers in agricultural development. These initiatives believed in knowledge being in the public domain and there are many things that KIA in particular and Indian agricultural research in general, have to learn from such examples.
After Dr Shambu Prasad's presentation, there was a discussion on this first Theme of the KIA and the three presentations made under the Theme.
DISCUSSIONS AFTER PRESENTATIONS ON THEME 1 OF THE KIA
Dr Sivaraj informed the participants (responding to Jacob Nellithanam's presentation that out of ICRISATs gene bank accessions, 26,000 belong to India) that 35000 accessions of germplasm have been retrieved by India and the NBPGR is maintaining these in the national gene bank. Similarly, initiatives are being taken to retrieve all other accessions that originally belong to India such as the rice collection in IRRI, he informed. He also wanted a clarification on Jacob's presentation about per capita food availability during the 1950s and in 1995 - what was the population in 1950s and what was it in 1995, he wanted to know.
Mr A P Rao pointed out that compared to the GR time, the perspectives of the Government of India and the American government are totally different from what they were then. Welfare states were strong in both countries during the GR era. In fact, the spirit of Indian government was to attain food security and to attain self sufficiency. Now, the strategy of India is to join the mainstream of globalization and be a second partner to the global masters. The Land Grant system and its consequences are therefore irrelevant now, he felt. He also felt that there have not been enough discussions on what will the impacts of KIA on people of this country....what does it mean to you and me, he wanted to know.
Mr Narendranath had some points to make next. He felt that the analysis on GR should incorporate aspects that have been touched here (population, actual gains in productivity, per capita net availability, area of cultivation increasing, surface irrigation etc.) as well as some untouched aspects like groundwater irrigation and extent of area under cultivation decreasing or stagnant. While we talk about the crisis of farming and a second green revolution, it needs an express recognition of the need for delearning by the establishment. While sustainable agriculture or organic agriculture is being proven as a viable option by many pioneers and thousands of farmers on the ground, even the NCF continues to look at organic farming as a niche, export-oriented movement. A strong critique of this is necessary. That is possible only if there is an initiative from the farmers' side in the form of an organic farmers' union. More importantly, a question that bothers is whether we are trying to fight history when trying to protect farmers. As time goes by, how are we going to make small and marginal farmers live in dignity and make enough surplus for the economics to work out? In a pessimistic sense, if we look at experiences from various developed and developing countries, be it communist or capitalist societies, all models seem to have the same base of decreasing agricultural share in the entire economy and decreasing role for farmers and decreasing number of farmers. The farming community ultimately seems to vanish. Are we fighting a civilisational question, then?
Mr Afsar Jafri from Mumbai had a question for Dr J Venkateswarlu - is there any direct connection between NAIP and KIA. Will NAIP be used to push the agenda of KIA, he wanted to know.
Mr Sreedhar from Kerala said that a critique of the KIA specially in terms of agricultural research and education proposals was missing in the presentations. And because of this, there was no paradigm that emerged that could be put forward as our alternative.
Mr Nimmaiah pointed out that various programmes that were launched right from the 1960s have veered farmers away from their traditional practices and resources. He pointed out that a lot of damage has been done to our soils in this quest for increased production. He felt strongly that if we continue the present way, the situation will only deteriorate further. He said that it would be worthwhile to talk about reviving sustainable agriculture and alternatives some more. We have to look at alternatives in a more intensive and aggressive way, as the extension system did during the GR era, he felt.
Sri Vijay Jawandhia brought up the issue of hybrid cotton and its role in India. He pointed out that nowhere else in the world are hybrids being used in the name of productivity. Is the technology going to solve the problem of quality of cotton, he wanted to know. If there was no hybrid cotton in the country, would Monsanto have brought in Bt Cotton into the country, he wondered.
Dr Ramanjaneyulu pointed out that talking about HRD and capacity building, we cannot ignore the fact that the profession of agricultural scientists is one that is running on very low morale. None of the agricultural scientists would want their children in the same profession, according to him. If that is the situation, how do we bring back morale and respect in the profession? If people don't respect their profession, how can they be drivers of change? Can people who are frustrated be drivers of change - won't they transfer it to farmers? How do we address this issue?
Mr Shameer from Nellore observed that just as scientists speak only about NPK, farmers also speak about NPK. Now, with our experience in soil management, can we suggest an integrated nutrient management package to farmers? Are there local alternatives that can reduce production cost?
Dr Venugopal Rao, a retired professor of entomology pointed out that while we talk about agricultural research and education system, we are not considering the social system around it. Given that very low priority is being given to agricultural education, the human resources that come out of the system would also be of poor quality. We are not identifying people with the right social perspective. Policy-makers and political leaders should also be made accountable - when they are in power, they talk of something and when they come out of power, they talk of farmers and their problems. What is this conspiracy? Coming to technologies, we in India are supposed to be quite high on technology achievement index, especially related to agriculture. On the one hand, we cannot live without a cell phone or a car and other modern amenities. When it comes to agriculture, we are talking about shunning 'modern technologies'. Is this logical? Other problems like land relations and social problems continue and need to be addressed. To our students we seem to be saying that there is more knowledge in Europe or US about our agriculture, not in India. How do we change this, he wanted to know.
Mr Devinder Sharma observed that on the HRD and capacity building front, the KIA draws its strength from the existing systems. It is very easy to implement the KIA in this system. The problem really is at the agricultural extension stage. We should probably look at it as a blessing in disguise.
Ms Usha Jayakumar from Kerala pointed out that in the last five years, admissions into agricultural universities are steadily declining. This is a major crisis that needs to be addressed and analysed, she felt.
Mr Umendra Dutt spoke about water issues next - societies and from communities have been delinked from water. They used to have an organic relationship with water as a resource earlier. In successful examples like Tarun Bharat Sangh, such an organic relationship was rebuilt. The values that drove the "giving of water" are worth picking up again. These alternatives are not discussed enough in all their detail. Many of us are not even aware of Uttaranchal's Uprihal experience. Civil society is also guilty of not paying enough attention to such alternatives which are small but successful experiences here and there. We ourselves have not been paying enough attention to traditional wisdom in issues like water. We should also critically analyse national water policy wherein water has been declared a national asset. What does a national asset mean here, something that you can privatize for the benefit of some companies? There is also another issue that I want to bring up - the GR advocates congratulate themselves about the nation having become food self-sufficient. We are not importing any food now, they boast. I have a question to ask them - have you stopped importing chemical fertilizers from abroad? All your potash comes from imports - will your food self sufficiency remain if you stopped the import of these chemicals? You have only replaced the food in the begging bowl with chemicals - in fact you were getting grains then, now you get poison. 97% of students in Punjab Agriculture University are from non-agriculture background as per a survey last year. Almost all the senior scientists and technocrats of this university have joined agri-business companies right after the day of their retirement. If you cannot produce people who are for farmers, what kind of a system is this? Coming to indebtedness, it is reported that 23000 crores of rupees is the total debt of farming households in Punjab. Out of this, 44% is supposed to be borrowing for bringing in farm inputs. About 13% if for tractors and other long term investments. Even in a small village, around 30 lakhs of rupees goes out of the village economy in the name of farm inputs. In bigger villages, it would be more than a crore of rupees. We should look at such a drain on the farm economy that is happening in the name of modern technologies.
The speakers responded to some of the points that the participants raised.
Dr J Venkateswarlu:
He brought up the issue of Land Grant system because the KIA itself seems to be looking at this as a continuum, not because he thinks that it is greatly relevant here.
On options for organic approaches and replacement of NPK - there are bureaucrats who are coming forward to say that if there is a doable system of putting the inputs being used for productivity in the hands of farmers, they would do so. Such regenerative systems can be established within the habitations of farmers quite easily and it is happening in certain places like the NPM Upscaling example here in Andhra Pradesh. There must be other platforms in other states like the federated women's self help groups here in AP which can provide similar platforms for knowledge transfer and exchange. These can be utilized for upscaling. As long as the technology is doable, regenerative and attractive for various reasons, there would be many possibilities for its adoption and spread.
On productivity in the 80s and now, he pointed out that it is not enough to look at yield perse but the rate of growth of productivity - that is the central question in any production system, especially given the population growth rates. From 3.6 in the 1980s it has decelerated to 1.1% now.
He clarified that he is not for hybrid cotton either. He brought up the example of public sector bred hybrids not being available with farmers any more to illustrate his point that the system spends so much of its resources on technologies that they are ready to leave to the hands of the companies at the first opportunity. In fact, medium-staple arboreum cotton should be promoted in the rainfed areas of the country, he felt. The pest problems on this would not be too high and the medium staple is needed by the industry.
KIA and NAIP seem to have some similarities and they are probably benefiting from each other in some ways. NAIP, though there are many teething problems apparent there, is already on the ground, he pointed out. On public-private partnerships, both projects seem to have the same understanding.
On the issue of morale of agriculture scientists being low in general, he felt that the government should ensure that salaries of agriculture extension workers or agriculture scientists or doctors or engineers are the same - even in a country like Nepal, that is the case. Nammalvarji added at this point that the government should also consider these salaries for farmers.
During the early days of Green Revolution itself, the Director of the Indian Institute of Statistics pointed out that this would follow the law of diminishing returns. He said that we need a system where with the least amount of inputs, yields would be high. However, his words had been ruthlessly brushed aside. If they were paid heed to, we would not have the present kind of disaster in agriculture.
Community approaches in water management as well as bio-mass production are the only way to go forward. The Catchment Councils in Zimbabwe are a good example for local decision-making related to resource production, conservation and use. Permission for various things is sought here not from the government but from the Council.
What does this mean to the people, really was one of the questions asked. Any intervention should ultimately lead to livelihood improvements for the local people. That should be the main parameter of assessment - sustainable livelihoods.
Mr Jacob Nellithanam clarified that he correlated productivity and population growth trends by presenting the picture of per capita availability and that was the purpose of presenting per capita availability data in the first instance, to show that it has not improved after GR. With so much investment going into GR, what have we really achieved, he wondered. Even the quality of food has deteriorated, he pointed out. In the drylands and many other pockets, the actual availability for the poor has halved, as many studies are showing now. What we need is accountability for what has happened so far. Unless we target the real heroes of GR, these things will happen again and again, he said. The so-called contribution of GR has to be completely analysed and presented before we can move forward, that is the important point, he added. There is no attempt at all to appreciate what we have, there is only an attempt to appropriate - that's been the history so far and if we keep quiet, it will continue, he felt.
Dr Shambu Prasad, on the question of land grant colleges, pointed out that human resources and institutional mechanisms do not really get enough thinking. While it is true that the land grant colleges were very different from our institutions here, they were at least responding to a given situation. The kind of institutional mechanisms that are present in the KIA in response to the internal crisis, leave alone the larger farming crisis, are completely inadequate and inappropriate to address the crisis. He felt that while the health of soils can be revived, the health of the agricultural research institutions requires much more effort. It is possibly easier to convince political leaders about what is wrong with the current proposal rather than agricultural scientists, who are deeply entrenched in their own thinking, with many biases and many of whom have refused to come to this workshop. The agricultural research institutions in independent India are the most amazing creation we have, probably one of the most thick-skinned institutions. However, from the story of SRI (System of Rice Intensification) unfolding in India, it is clear that there are some very isolated but interesting things happening here and there. Now, these could be the key to change, he felt.
The day's deliberations concluded at the end of this session.
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