Water Wisdom

Since 1966 - and as a consequence of the introduction of the Green Revolution model of water-intensive, chemical farming - India has over-exploited her groundwater, creating a water famine.

Intensification of drought, floods and cyclones is one of the
predictable impacts of climate change and climate instability. The
failure of monsoon in India, and the consequent drought, has impacted
two-thirds of the country, especially the breadbasket of India's fertile
Gangetic plains. Bihar, for example, has had a 43% rainfall deficit,
and the story is the same in many other parts of India.

In the final analysis, India's food security rests on the monsoon.
Monsoon failure and widespread drought imply a deepening of the already
severe food crisis triggered by trade-liberalisation policies, which
have made India the capital of hunger. They also imply a deepening of
the water crisis.

The monsoons recharge the groundwater and surface-water systems.
Since 1966, as a consequence of the introduction of the Green Revolution
model of water-intensive chemical farming, India has over-exploited her
groundwater, creating a water famine. The chemical monocultures of the
Green Revolution use ten times more water than the biodiverse ecological
farming systems.

In the 1970s, the World Bank gave massive loans to India to promote
groundwater mining. It forced states like Maharashtra to stop growing
water-prudent millets like jowar, which needs 300mm of water, and shift
to water-guzzling crops such as sugar cane, which needs 2,500mm of
water. In a region with 600mm of rainfall, this is a recipe for water
famine.

A new study published in Nature magazine and led by Matthew Rodell of
the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland shows that water
levels in North India fell by 40mm between August 2002 and August 2008.
And over the same period more than 109km3 of groundwater disappeared
from aquifers, most of it extracted for chemical, Green Revolution-style
farming.

Not only has chemical agriculture mined groundwater, but it has also
mined soil fertility and contributed to climate change. Chemical
fertilisers destroy the living processes of the soil and make soils more
vulnerable to drought. Chemical fertilisers also produce nitrogen
oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The solution for the climate crisis, the food crisis and the water
crisis is the same: biodiversity-based, organic farming systems.

Biodiverse ecological farms address the climate crisis by reducing
emissions of greenhouse gases such as nitrogen oxide, and absorbing
carbon dioxide in plants and in the soil. Biodiversity and compost-rich
soils are the most effective carbon sinks. They also help adapt to
climate change and drought by increasing organic matter, which increases
the moisture-holding capacity of soil, and hence provides
drought-proofing of agriculture.

Biodiverse organic farms increase food security by increasing the
resilience and reducing the climate vulnerability of farming systems.
They also enhance food security because they have a higher production of
food and nutrition per acre than Green Revolution monocultures, which
measure the yield of a cash-crop commodity, not the total food output,
nor the nutritional quality of that food.

Biodiverse organic systems also address the water crisis. Firstly,
production based on water-prudent crops such as millets reduces water
demand. Secondly, organic systems use ten times less water than chemical
systems. Thirdly, by transforming the soil into a water reservoir by
increasing its organic matter content, biodiverse organic systems reduce
irrigation demand and help conserve water in agriculture.

Maximising biodiversity and organic matter in the soil thus
simultaneously increases climate resilience, food security and water
security.

However, the dominant paradigm of agriculture based on the Green
Revolution and genetic engineering is based on reducing biodiversity and
reducing organic matter to promote monocultures based on intensive
inputs of chemicals, water and fossil fuels. And as the multiple crises
deepen because of these non-sustainable practices, corporations try and
transform the crisis into new business and marketing opportunities.
Examples include the patenting of climate-resilient traits that farmers
have evolved over centuries and projecting this biopiracy as an
'invention'.

In a recent article published in the Wall Street Journal, 'Fight
Droughts with Science', Henry I. Miller, co-author of The Frankenfood
Myth, stated: "The first drought-resistant crop, maize, is expected to
be commercialised by 2012. If field testing goes well, India would be a
potential market for this variety." What Miller fails to mention is that
India already has hundreds of thousands of drought-resistant crops.

These are the crops farmers are growing in times of drought. While
cultivation of rice has gone down from 25.673 million ha to 19.13
million ha, the area under water-prudent drought-resistant nutritious
crops has gone up from 15.325 million to 15.956 million ha. The
biotechnology industry is clearly a laggard in breeding for drought
resistance, compared to centuries of breeding by India's farmers. Miller
also fails to mention that the genetically engineered drought-resistant
maize seed performs badly in normal years. This is not science.

Another example of corporate opportunism in this period of drought is
the pushing of Roundup (a broad-spectrum herbicide). Roundup kills
everything green other than one single crop and therefore destroys the
biodiversity and organic matter that is needed to promote climate
resilience, conserve water and increase food production.

It is vital that the government of India does not use this emergency
of drought to act as a marketer of GM seeds and Roundup. The alternative
is clear. It involves:

1. Conservation and large-scale distribution of the seeds of
water-prudent crops.

2. The promotion of organic agriculture to increase climate
resilience and food and water security.

3. Incentives to farmers to encourage a shift from water-guzzling
Green Revolution agriculture to water-conserving biodiverse organic
agriculture.

Farmers did not create the Green Revolution. They should not be
punished for its consequences.