Farm Policy Should Not Ignore Adverse Environmental Impact

Bharat Dogra

A neglected aspect of farm policy has been that in the hurry to increase yields protection of environment is often sacrificed all too readily. This is ultimately counter-productive even in terms of narrow, productivity centered aims as within a few years of ravaging environment productivity is also affected in very adverse ways.

A particularly distressing aspect of soil erosion and degradation in many parts of world has been that a lot of damage has been inflicted in the name of increasing productivity, a clear case of achieving immediate gains while ignoring the interests of our own children and grandchildren. A senior agronomist Rene Dumont has clearly stated : “Much of the extraordinary increase in (farm) production recorded between 1950 and 1984 was achieved by depleting farm resources.” Lester Brown and Edward Wolf voice a similar opinion: “Often the very practices that cause excessive erosion in the long run such as the intensification of cropping patterns and the ploughing of marginal land, lead to short-term production gains, creating an illusion of progress and a false sense of security. Indeed the US crop surpluses of the early eighties, which are sometimes cited as the sign of a healthy agriculture, were partly the product of mining soils.”

The World Resources Report  minces no words in making a firm statement on this issue: “Current farm practices in industrialized countries have created incentives for farmers to use environmentally damaging practices and in many cases, penalized farmers for switching to more sustainable practices.” For example, the report says, the system of farm program payments in the USA has worked against long-term rotations and reduction of chemical inputs. In the Europe, price policies have discouraged production of pulses. Although mixed crop-livestock systems can be the basis for environmentally sustainable farming, distorted price structures have tended to push agriculture in the other direction, toward specialization, this report says in the context of the European Union.

In many developing countries like India the hasty introduction of green revolution crop varieties ,pushed by powerful interests in developed countries, led to neglect of much more sustainable and low-cost , ecologically protective alternatives based on indigenous varieties. This led to immense damage to bio-diversity and annihilation of a very large number of indigenous invaluable varieties of various crops from farms of India and other countries in what has been called a ‘genetic holocaust’’. This was accompanied by the no less costly vanishing of earthworms and soil-microorganisms from the soil and farmland over a very vast area, thanks to the excessive use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides etc. as a part of the package of exotic green revolution seeds.

Ecologically destructive farming driven by powerful agribusiness interests reached a new stage with the introduction of GM crops. The increased corporatization of the farming and food system will further worsen the risks of massive ecological damage and destruction in and around farms. This trend is also reflected in the three new controversial farm laws introduced in 2020 which have been very firmly opposed by farmers’ movement in India.

For protective environment and bio-diversity, for checking climate change and for making gains in farm productivity more stable and sustainable, it is extremely important to adopt ecologically protective farm policies.

The writer is a journalist and author. His latest books include Protecting Earth for Children and Planet in Peril.     

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Jan 20, 2021

Bharat Dogra

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