Wednesday, February 9, 2011

On Record: 'Crux of food security lies in rainfed farming'

by Vibha Sharma
Founder of Gene Campaign Suman Sahai, recipient of the Padma Shri in the category of science and engineering, is an active voice on food security for the past many years. She is opposed to the UPA government’s Food Security Bill in the current form. Which is why, the announcement of the top government honour came as an "unexpected, but pleasant surprise" to her.

She speaks to The Tribune on the Padma Shri and about the food security legislation.


Q: Were you expecting the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honour of India?
A: It is an unexpected but a pleasant surprise. Gene Campaign has been critical of government policies but whenever we have done we have also tried to provide an alternative. Ours has not been a vicious, meaningless criticism. We disagreed only because we wanted a better situation for farmers and food security. It is a wonderful feeling to know that the government has the capacity to recognise constructive criticism. The award is in recognition of our contribution to agriculture and farmers’ and community rights.

Q: Your views on the Food Security Bill being considered by the Government and the National Advisory Council are hardly charitable. What are your objections and what is the alternative?
A: The problem with the Bill is that it has skipped the first nine steps and jumped to the last one. A whole lot of people who have no idea about food security have taken over the agenda. Welfare is one part but if you do not ensure a proper atmosphere for farmers to grow more, how will you get that extra food for distribution?
Right now there is something drastically wrong with the farming sector. Half of the farming community wants to get out of it specifically because it is not remunerative. If farmers are not making enough money to be encouraged to stay in the business, it would be a ridiculously simple approach to come up with a binding legislation on food security.How will you get that extra food from? There is no surplus grain in the international market. Food security equals food sovereignty. Otherwise you will always be vulnerable to external forces. You have to come up with a bigger vision and start from step number one, growing enough food. Solutions are not exactly rocket from step number one, growing enough food. Solutions are not exactly rocket science. They are fairly obvious.

Q: What should be the plan of action before the government makes the final commitment?
A: First, agriculture has to be made sustainable for the farmer. Then there has to be a well-defined water policy, including one groundwater extraction. There is also no need to give free water or electricity to farmers who are not looking for freebies. They are more than willing to pay for conveniences you provide if they are making money.
If the farmer does find farming remunerative he will give up the production. If you want to make the country food secure, bring the water to rainfed area. The crux of food security lies in rainfed agriculture.
I strongly recommend shifting subsidy in urea to sustainable agriculture in rainfed areas. Solutions are neither complex nor cost-intensive. They are very simple, practical solutions, something that should have been implemented yesterday. The food security legislation currently is more like propaganda: it does not reflect the genuine desire to solve food problem. It is not a sustainable legislation.

Q: Punjab and Haryana farmers have been complaining of lowering of yields. What is your advice to them to increase productivity?
A: Move away from the current model of agriculture which has sucked out micronutrients of the soil without giving anything back in return. `A0As it is, the area is fairly arid and cultivating rice has just left a layer of concrete in places. Farmers should step back from this crazily intensive production system they have been following and improve the soil health.
Secondly, diversification does not mean growing kinnow. Rice and wheat have been taking away the same kind of nutrients. So, go back to oilseeds, pulses and other cereals. The soil has to be given an opportunity to recuperate. Pulses will put back some nutrients rice and wheat have been extracting. Also, reduce mechanisation.Farmers must realise that while they are building the soil health their rates of profit will go down but agriculture in this region has to take rest and then start off differently.

Source :The Tribune, 6 Feb, 2011


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  2. Dear Sumanji, Heartiest congratulations on receiving Padma Shree. This is in appreciation of an example of role of Scientist in mass movement you created by your contribution.

    In Central Institute of Educational Technology (CIET), NCERT we are celebrating 100th anniversary of International Women's Day (on 8th March) and would like to felicitate you. Could you pl send us email on

    Thanks and regards,

    Vasudha Kamat, Joint Director, CIET

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