Farmer and pigeon peas

Indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers over several decades has been sucking life out of Indian soils, and thereby putting the country’s food security at stake. But the government has continued to mindlessly promote chemical fertilizers through their lenient subsidy policy. It was under those circumstances that Greenpeace India decided to set out on a journey, seven months ago, to listen to what the real stakeholders – the farmers – have to say about the issue. Surprisingly, we found that they were equally worried and caught in a vicious cycle of chemical intensive farming. Their resources were degraded, their fortunes lost, and there was no support from the government to help them tide over the crisis.

We named the campaign “Living Soils”, and we used the social audit as a tool to analyze the impact of the government policies on soil health. Farmers in Indian fieldIt was probably the first time ever social audits were conducted on soil health and support systems in India or elsewhere in the world. The journey started from Assam, a north eastern state in India and covered selected districts of Orissa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. Wherever we went, the villagers championed the cause. They were at the fore front, organizing demonstrations, street plays and public hearings. It proved to be a celebration of soils. It was quite evident that farmers were desperate to get out of the vicious cycle and keen to adopt an alternative, ecological fertilization pathway. Not only, farmers but also other stakeholders of Agriculture, who participated in the public hearings, voiced the same views. What was lacking was support from the government.

Farmers and children in a small village in India.Yesterday the Living Soils report was launched by a noted film Director, Anusha Rizvi. The report, titled, “Of Soils, Subsidies and Survival”, captures the observations, views and aspirations of the farmers and puts them alongside the scientific literature available on the topic. Interestingly, there is a very positive response from the Finance Ministry. The main recommendation in the report, creation of a National Ecological Fertilization Mission, as a first step to shift subsidies from chemical fertilizers to ecological fertilization is well received. We hope that this interest will get reflected in the Union Budget 2011-12 to be announced towards the end of this month.

Farmer harvesting mogra (a species of Jasmine)It’s time that we start investing in our soils, and not against it. We have to protect this living ecosystem for our own existence!

Gopi Krishna is a sustainable agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace India, based in Bangalore.

All photos: © Greenpeace / Vivek M