Green is the New Gold – 1

There is a popular misconception that farming is not profitable and therefore not a good business or profession. Talk to any farmer and he will tell you that farming is only for the illiterates. It suits only those who have no education and it is best for people who can get educated to move away from farming. How wrong the whole concept is and how disastrous it has turned out to be for a nation which is predominantly a farming country.
60% of India’s population still live on farming. It is not too late to set right the mistakes of industrialization and misdirected western model of development.

But before we move on to the subject of sustainable agriculture and how it can create wealth for the individual as well as the country, we need to have a clear perspective of how and where we lost our agri-economy.

When the Portuguese landed in India in the 14th century, India was a land of plenty. Poverty existed moderately but not to the scale witnessed today. India had great cities, perennial rivers, and mines of precious stones, rich in minerals and individual wealth – a huge cache of jewelry in the possession of every person in the community. For the western traders the Indian spices turned out to be proverbial pot of gold.

Talking of Gold, the Portuguese, the British and the Europeans all flooded India with its gold to cater to the perennial hunger for and attraction to the yellow metal in exchange for the rich cotton textiles and spices. The early travelers from the West traded their spices and textiles in the west for huge returns. The discovery of India by the West was hailed as the discovery of the fabled land of treasures as expressed in the court of Portugal by Vasco Da Gama. India was an indeed an exciting discovery for the West.

Ancient India traditionally had been a land of farmers due to year round sunny climate, perennial rivers and a populace that thrived on its arable land that produced wealth for everyone. The rulers were rich with a revenue model that was benign and collected when the farmers produced and protected when there were insufficient rains. The rulers invested their surplus in huge temples which became the focal point of culture and arts. They built large tanks to capture and recharge the lands which produced the green gold. Though there were great urban centers, majority of the population lived in self sustaining communities and produced most of its requirements locally.

India had everything going for it with its green lifestyle and contributed 22% of the Global GDP before the advent of the British. One can well understand the economy of India by an estimate of Akbar’s treasury valued at £17.5 million in the year 1600 while that of the entire treasury of Great Britain 200 years later was valued at £17.5 million. Economic Historians have estimated that from 1 AD to 1800 AD India had the World’s largest economy. Modern economic historians have clearly blamed the British Raj and introduction of the western model of industrialization and colonization which neglected the proper development of the country.

The plunder of India is another story which is well documented and need not be elaborated here as our subject is how to gain back our wealthy lifestyles of the earlier centuries with the vast resources that we command even today.

We are still a resource rich nation with poor people. India has one of the best resources – The Sun – giving energy for a sustainable livelihood for all. It has excellent water through its perennial rivers. The science of converting these resources to food using traditional methods of cultivation that does not require GM seeds or chemical fertilizers are very much available with our farmers.

India’s expertise lies not in being the back office of the world. Its destiny lies in being the granary of the world. With sunny climate and availability of water we can help the world overcome the food shortages which is expected to widen year after year. In the bargain we can control one of the most essential product and a powerful economic tool. In just about 50 years, Nations and people who control food will control the world. India has the potential to be that country and regain the past glory and wealth of our nation. We have slipped for only a little over 200 years where as we have a history of being the wealthiest nation for 1800 years of recorded history. If we look at our scriptures, as far as the evolution of mankind, we have a history of being a very advanced nation with well developed science, economics and culture.

Manufacturing is not the right path for India. Western countries evolved as manufacturing countries due to its cold climatic condition which for a major part of the year was covered in snow. The people had to engage in gainful activities which could be conducted indoors in closed and protected conditions. Thus mass manufacturing evolved. Along with that they had to find markets to sell their products. The West then started exploring the world and finding and creating markets for their produce. As the need and demand got created for more of the stuff that people fancied they needed, automation was required. Thereby lies the entire tale of inventions, innovations and development of an artificial unsustainable lifestyles feeding upon itself.

It is saddening to see the rural India’s youngsters moving to cities leaving their farms behind. A graduation from a small town collage, an engineering degree from a lowly private university and an MBA from fame seeking politician’s low quality institution and an aspiration built up by the glamour seeking parents who want their children to work in a white collared job in air conditioned offices, is the dream of every farmer. A poor farmer dreaming of riches advice his children to seek the glitter and glamour of western lifestyle only to end up in frustrating employment which could not even feed him properly, living in unhygienic slums as the workers low pay cannot get him a decent living.

The educated must now return back to do what is our natural endeavor. Farming can create huge riches for India as our history has proven that. Sustainable farms can be developed without big investments as shown by our own agricultural scientists who discovered the ancient methods of sustainable agriculture. Great leaders like Nammalwar and Subhash Palekar have shown the way and proven that yields can be doubled or even tripled without any investments in genetically modified seeds or tractors or expensive fertilizers.

It has now been well established that an acre of land can produce an income of about Rs. 2-3 lacs if well planned and managed with year round cultivation. So what are these methods of cultivation? How does one manage it effectively to produce a good income and a comfortable living for a farmer?
We will explore these avenues in continuing series in “Green is the New Gold”.

Note from Author:

I first published this article in the ‘Kisan World’ A journal of Agricultural and Rural Development, published by Sakthi Sugars Limited.

R.G. Srinivasan