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Third World Agriculture: A Proutist Approach

Third World Agriculture: A Proutist Approach
by Ravi Batra

Third World Agriculture: A Proutist Approach
by Ravi Batra

Thirty farmers in Andhra Pradesh commit suicide — ironically, by consuming the same poisonous pesticides which were partly responsible for the loss of their crops. Over one hundred thousands farmers demonstrate furiously in Meerut … in Gujarat restive farmers burn buses … in Maharashtra they stop rail and road traffic. Underground water sources are being drained dry, fertile agricultural lands are becoming wastelands at an ever-increasing rate, crops are being blighted with mysterious diseases–and overall production has stagnated over the past two years. To paraphrase Hamlet, “Something is rotten in the state of Indian agriculture.”

Indian agriculture has been in the doldrums for a long time, in spite of many varied attempts to revitalize it. The strategy of the Green Revolution was lauded as the solution to the nation’s food problem, but this hope has evaporated as thoroughly as the few drops of rain on drought-stricken fields. After twenty years of high-technology agricultural inputs, India has still failed to solve its number one problem: feeding its teeming millions.

And in recent years, this problem has grown more acute with the tremendous growth of population, expected to swell to 1,000 million by the turn of the century. According to Professor V.K.R. V. Rao, India requires a minimum agricultural growth rate of 4 per cent to meet its basic food requirements in the coming years; but the rate of agricultural growth between 1950 and 1985 has been only 2.5 per cent. How can the country increase its agricultural production in the shortest possible time to keep pace with its rapidly growing population and the mounting demand for food? This is the burning question of the hour.

For the past twenty years the answer seemed to be the Green Revolution, a U.S. sponsored technological package for agricultural development which was enthusiastically accepted by development planners and farmers alike as a lasting solution to the perennial problems of rural poverty and hunger. But the high-yielding varieties of seeds the Green Revolution promoted, can do their job only when they receive massive doses of pesticides, fertilizer, irrigation water and advanced farming techniques — which calls for substantial capital investments beyond the means of the majority of small farmers. Thus, far from alleviating poverty, the Green Revolution has actually increased it, and instead of bridging the gap between the rural rich and poor, it has widened it. At present, the average disparity in rural incomes between large and small farmers is 20:1.

All studies and statistics reveal reveal the increasing pauperization of the rural masses, as indebted small farmers sell out to large landowners, and swell the ranks of the landless laborers. In the past twenty years all Indian states, without exception, have experienced a massive increase in the percentage of rural people living below the poverty line–which now ranges from 50 per cent to 85 per cent. In the holy land of the Green Revolution, Punjab and Haryana, the percentage of rural poor has nearly quadrupled!

And the Green Revolution has not only accentuated rural socioeconomic inequality but is steadily destroying the soil and water as well. The director general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Dr. N.S. Randhawa has warned that the entire area of Punjab and Haryana will turn into desert if the underground water sources continue to be over-exploited by the highly intensive agriculture practiced there. Mysterious blights are spreading as crops are weakened by gigantic doses of chemical fertilizer, and indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides has caused new pests to breed out of control, as they did in Andhra Pradesh and destroyed almost the entire cotton crop.

No, the Green Revolution is obviously not the answer, and the early enthusiasm has been transformed to bitter disillusionment. A new strategy is necessary — one that does not depend on expensive and unecological inputs but rather maximally utilizes the naturally abundant resources of the land of India.

This strategy is part of the overall program of PROUT or Progressive Utilization Theory developed by the philosopher and socioeconomic reformer, P.R. Sarkar, to ensure prosperity for all the people of India by the year 2000 AD. The proper utilization of agricultural land is the key: for a study done by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, in 1983, revealed that by the year 2000, if India’s lands are managed properly, they could feed a population of 2000 million- twice the projected population for that year. Yet at present the utilization of land in India is miserably poor, and its labor productivity dismal compared to other countries, largely due to inefficient patterns of land use.

The increasing pressure of population in recent years has reduced the average size of land holdings to less than two hectares — and these too, so fragmented that in certain parts of the country the plots are too small even to move an ordinary plow. Moreover, the insecurity of the tenants and absence of proper incentives for the poor farmers and landless laborers has resulted in abysmally low productivity–a gross waste of human resource potential.

These problems can be solved by establishing a comprehensive cooperative system of producers’ and consumers’ cooperatives that will unleash the full potential of the land and its people. Scattered, uneconomic holdings can then be consolidated under cooperative management, with collective investment on improved implements, seeds, and irrigation facilities. The producers’ cooperatives, however, rather than being imposed forcibly should develop gradually out of the collective labor and the increasing wisdom of a community. In the first phase, only uneconomic landholding should be taken over by cooperative management for the benefit of the owners. Over time, as the increased profit and productivity of the cooperative participants become obvious to all, and as, through proper education, people learn to think for collective welfare rather than for their own petty self-interest, all farmers will be requested to join the cooperative system. Consumers’ cooperatives that eliminate the middlemen will remove the evils of speculation by commodity brokers, and “distress sales” of produce at low prices by desperate farmers.

Today, most of India’s farmers are completely bypassed by the Green Revolution developmental programs. But when the farmers’ sense of insecurity is removed by the assurance represented by the cooperative reserve fund, when their crippling lack of incentive is replaced by distributive justice, their dynamic energy and innovation will be unleashed, and India’s lands will pour out a cornucopia of plenty for all. Then the farmer’s collective effort and the use of appropriate scientific technology will convert barren drylands into fertile fields and bring about a stupendous rise in productivity.

India ranks first among the countries of the world in irrigation potential: what is needed now is full utilization of that potential — not through huge, high-technology projects that hardly benefit the majority of small farmers and end up being poorly maintained–but through small-scale irrigation works that involve the full participation of the farmers’ cooperatives. Good water management techniques must be adopted throughout the country, for currently 76 per cent of India’s irrigated lands are under-utilized due to waterlogging and salinity which leads to soil degradation. Water and soil conservation methods must be employed, such as trickle-drip irrigation, and the maximum use of ponds and tanks in the traditional Indian pattern, to avoid digging too many tube wells which drain the water table and precipitate drought. Integrated pest control must be adopted, instead of the indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides: not vainly trying to wipe out pests by drenching them–and us–with poison, but keeping their number at tolerable levels by applying natural restraints such as mixed planting, and the introduction of predators.

Ravi Batra is a Professor of Economics at Southern Methodist University of Dallas Texas. An expert in international trade, he is the best-selling author of The Great Depression of 1990. In the following article he applies the Proutist economic principles of his mentor, P.R. Sarkar, towards solving the agricultural dilemmas facing his native country, India, and the rest of the Third World.

This article was published in New Renaissance magazine Vol.1, No.1