Assessing 50 Years of Agrarian Transition in India
Excerpts from the Inaugural Address of Second Chance Foundation Director Dr. Joan Mencher to the International Seminar on Agrarian Transition in India, January 28th 2014.
“When I first started work in South India (originally Kerala, and three years later in Tamil Nadu) more than half a century ago, there was considerably more idealism about the future of India, among the still living and functioning Freedom fighters, especially those devoted to lessening inequality and to creating a socialist state and undoing the horrendous impacts of colonialism. It was only 11 years after Independence, and there were numerous problems to be solved to change the focus from being a colony to being a strong Independent County…”
“There was considerable discussion at that time about issues of land reform, not only on the left, but also among many belonging to the then Congress party, especially those who had gone to jail during the anti-British protests and who were deeply influenced by Gandhi…”
“What the US and its Indian allies (the young students sent to the US agricultural Universities for Ph. D’s), wanted to push from the 1960s on was the undermining of land reform and the push for so called “modern” agriculture including a wide variety of material inputs which of course had to be purchased each season…”
“…Reading the handbooks for several of the Districts in Tamil Nadu for the 1960s (which I had in New York) , I was struck by the fact that the government had been recommending some of the elements of SRI (though admittedly not the entire present day package). What was being recommended was the use of 10-15 day seedlings, and using only 1 or 2 in each hole. All of this disappeared immediately when the Green revolution approach was taught to the agricultural departments. Interestingly, there appears to be some new evidence of yields for the second half of the 18th century for Chengalpattu District (as it then was defined) in a book from 2011which comes from a palm leaf manuscript indicating that paddy yields were quite high during this period of time. It is based on the Chengalpattu Survey of 1767-1774 where detailed information is presented for two localities.”
“In the late 1960s and 1970s at the time of the “Green Revolution” , Indian agriculture could have gone in either direction or even in a several diverse combinations of the two. It could have been more pro-farmer giving tenants and even a proportion of agricultural labourers land rights via the “land reform” they had been agitating for and helping them to innovate, or in the direction the US and its advisors and the Indians trained in the US thought was “modern” to the corporations (i.e. to sell their products, ignoring soil biota etc.) with the model of US and to some extent Soviet Industrial agriculture. It is clear to me, that with the so-called transformation of agriculture – or perhaps it is better to call it the pressures to transform it – is a result of political pressures and the influence of the US and of course its multinational corporations such as the fertilizer and chemical plants that have been erected, (and more recently Monsanto and its Indian affiliate Mayco)…”
“Why must we assume there will be an agrarian transition? Perhaps if we survive the 21st century, we will find that healthier families live on small farms. That does not imply lack of education, but being safer from chemical poisoning and with greater contact with where food comes from. Also, with closer human relations. We need to encourage farmers of all sizes, even the smallest, to make use of their understanding of agriculture and to again recognize that they have the capacity to solve many of the problems facing local agriculture wherever they live.”