Sustainable Agricultural Development—Inorganic (GMO Crops) and Organic Farming In India

By  A.V.V.S.K. Rao and M. Ramulu

“Farming looks easy when your plough is a pencil”
—Dwight, D. Eisenhower, (34th President of the Usa) (1890-1969)


Today, there is awareness that the “Green Revolution” model of agricultural development—based on the package of inputs like in the form of high yielding varieties, irrigation and agrochemicals—has over the years resulted in degraded soils, depleted and poisoned water, caused seed/biodiversity erosion and resulted in stagnating yields with high input costs and indebtedness for many farmers.1

There is now an intelligibility of the need for sustainable increase in yield often referred to as “Revolution”. In the context of moving away from the earlier paradigm, two pathways are advocated by two distinctly different schools of thinking.

On the one hand, there is a strong propaganda from the global seed companies that control the patents of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) technology that this is the “Ever Green Technology” that is essential to provide food security and higher incomes.

On the other hand, another path, as enunciated in the world’s largest study of agricultural science and technology, the inter-national assessment of agricultural science, knowledge and technology for development (IAASTD Study), commissioned by the World Bank, FAO and a number of UN agencies that support agricultural systems which include organic farming, natural farming, biodynamic farming and a number of organic systems such as non-pesticidal, is not GM but ecological agriculture by small farmers that holds the key to addressing issues of improved farm yields, food security and poverty reduction. This report was adopted by India amongst other countries.2

The present paper gives a brief account of “Inorganic (GMO Crops) and Organic Farming  in India”. For the sake of analysis the paper is sequenced into three sections as follows—

—Section I deals with agricultural situation in India between 1960-1998.

—Section II examines Inorganic (GMO Crops) Farming since mid-1990s.

—Section III is about Organic Farming—Status and Trends.

Section-I Agricultural Situation in India 1960-1998

The Indian economy at the time of independence was overwhelmingly rural and agricultural in character with nearly 85 per cent of the population living in villages and deriving their livelihood from agricultural and related pursuits using traditional, low production techniques. The backwardness of the Indian economy was reflected in its unbalanced occupation structure with 70 per cent of the working population engaged in agriculture. Even with this large portion of population engaged in agriculture, the country was not self-sufficient in food and raw material for industry. The average availa-bility of food was not only deficient in quantity and quality but also precarious as exhibited in recurrent famines.3

Thus agriculture is the mainstay of the Indian economy because of its high share in employ-ment and livelihood creation, notwithstanding its reduced contribution to the nation’s GDP. It is the most important sector of the Indian economy from the perspective of poverty alleviation and employment generation.4

However, the conditions in Indian agriculture are deplorable; besides, productivity of land as well as agricultural worker had declined and was comparatively lowest in the world. In spite of the fact that over 70 per cent of the working population was engaged in cultivation, the country was facing foodgrain shortage and had to depend on large imports of foodgrains.

With a view to mitigate and ameliorate stagnant conditions in Indian agriculture, the Government of India implemented institutional reforms. However, it was clear by the sixties that institutional reforms had not yielded any substantial results, and the achievement in this respect was so depressing and frustrating that even an able administrator like Appu, who championed and spent a considerable part of his career in administering since independence, could not realise any significant redistribution of land, or the removal of all the obstacles to increase agricultural production.5

Subsequently it was understood that for reinvigorating Indian agriculture there was no alternative to technological changes. The new technology substituted traditional robust but low yielding varieties of seed by the exotic high yielding variety (HYV). This created a heavy demand for chemical fertilisers to supplement the natural fertility of the soil, because these new varieties contain nutrients in concentrated form; they have to be applied with adequate supplies of water to enable the plant to absorb them without damaging itself. The use of chemical fertiliser for increased productivity started in 1950.

From 1966 to 1990, India recorded substantial achievements in agricultural production in different phases. A radical change in foodgrains production between 1966-1972 enabled India to become self-sufficient, foodgrains imports declining to nearly zero. This also helped a rise in the farmer’s income, while output growth and increased foodgrain supplies caused a decline in real foodgrain prices, benefiting the poor. Thus, rural poverty declined significantly in this phase. The HYV programme was initially experimented in wheat in the States of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Western UP. Later on it was extended to rice in certain selected districts in AP, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Later, in early 1980 the HYV technology spread eastwards to States like West Bengal and Bihar which experienced surpluses in rice. However, in the rest of the country the Green Revolution ran out of steam by the late 1980s.

It was realised by the late 1990s that there are limits to increasing the foodgrains production through increase in the area under cultivation because the country has reached almost a plateau insofar as cultivatable land is concerned. (Table-I) The contribution of high yielding varieties, which has been the basis of the Green Revolution in the seventies, has now plateaued and there is hardly any fresh contribution to growth in yields.

Slowdown in Growth

The sixties recorded a low annual growth of 1.72 per cent necessitating large scale imports of foodgrains. The annual growth of 2.08 per cent was recorded during the seventies. This decade was the turning-point in India’s food- grain economy. An annual growth of 3.5 per cent in foodgrains in the eighties was the hall- mark of the Green Revolution that enabled India to become self-sufficient in foodgrains and marginal exporter. (Table—II)

When in 1987 the worst drought of the century struck the country, the food needs could be easily met without any loss of life. The decade of the nineties could not maintain this pace and the annual growth having fallen to 1.7 per cent was just about equal to the annual population growth rate. This trend has to be reversed. Empirical tests show that an increase in agricultural output by a unit would have a positive effect on both industrial production and nation income. Rangarajan (1982) estimated that a one per cent growth in agricultural output increases industrial production by about 0.5 per cent and national income by little more than 0.7 per cent.6

The experience in the eighties and nineties also lends support to the thrust of the findings. During the eighties, the growth rate trend of 3.5 per cent in agricultural production appeared to have contributed to accelerated industrial production. The decelerated growth rate in agriculture production seems to have impacted on the growth of industrial production in the nineties.


“Two things are infinite
The Universe and human stupidity and
I’m not sure about the universe”
—Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

Inorganic (Gm Crop) Farming

The global population was around 1.6 billion in 1900; today it is nearly 7.2 billion. The recorded population of the Indian subcontinent was around 271 million. The average life-span at birth in India in 1900 was 23 years; today it is around 65 years. For a while, imagine a world in which medical revolution would have occurred, but agriculture would have stayed frozen at the 1900 levels, that is, no chemical fertilisers, no agro-chemicals for crop protection, no mechanisation and no systematic agri-research. A health revolution sans agricultural revolution would have caused massive star-vations, untold human misery and rise of extreme ideologies.

Two major technologies—dwarfing genes and hybrids—increased crop yields in a big way and saved the world from severe food shortages and famines in the 20th century. By the 1990s as the fruits of HYV started petering out, many rich farmers were looking out for other methods. At the same time MNCs experimenting in inorganic (GMO Crop) farming were vehmenty trying to enter India through the joint venture route. The World Health Organisation defines GMO as “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally”.7 The first genetically modified organisms (GMO) field trials were conducted in the case of sunflower in 1990. Later, an American seed giant, Monsanto, introduced Bt. Technology in India in cotton (1995) and brinjal (2005). India’s leading seed company, Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company better known as MAHYCO, licensed and used the gene obtained from Monsanto. MAHYCO signed an agreement to develop Bt Brinjal with two agricultural Universities, University of Agricultural Science (USA) in Dharwad (Karna-taka) and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) in Coimbatore.

Monsanto’s seeds in India did not produce what the company promised and farmers hoped. In many cases, the crops simply failed to materialise and destroyed fields. The farmers were not aware that GM seeds require more water than the traditional seeds. Beside this, frequent monsoon failure in different parts of India worsened the crop failure. With no harvest, the farmers could not pay back debts. Monsanto seed monopolies, the destruction of alternatives, the collection of super profits in the form of royalties, and increasing vulnerability to monoculture have created a situation of debt, suicides, and agrarian distress driving the farmer suicide epidemic in India. To date, an estimated 200,000 farmers have committed suicide all over India. The farmers who took to this extreme step usually cultivated cash crops such as cotton and chilies, which are either not parts of the government’s procurement system or inadequately covered by it. Usually, they are marginal farmers working on small, unirrigated land holdings and parts of their borrowings are private sources. The systemic control has been intensified with Bt Cotton. That is why most suicides are in the cotton belt, chiefly Maha-rashtra.8

According to P. Sainath, who has covered the farmers’ suicides extensively, ‘the total number of farmers who have taken their own lives in Maharashtra since 1995 is closing in on 54,000 of these 33,752 have occurred in nine years since 2003, at an annual average of 3750. The figure for 1995-2002 was 20,066 at an average of 2508.’ Suicides have increased after Bt Cotton was introduced. The price of Bt Cotton seed from 1995 jumped 8000 per cent. According to a latest study (March 2015), published by the Centre for the Analysis of Sustainable Agricultural System, California (USA), the annual suicide rates of farmers in rainfed areas are directly related to increase in Bt Cotton adoption. Revisiting the raw annual suicide data for Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra during 2001-2010, the study found 86,607 of the 549,414 suicides were by farmers and 87 per cent men in the age-group of 30-44.9

The study is significant for two reasons: first, most cotton cultivation in India is rain-fed, and second, between 2002-2010 the adoption of Bt Cotton hybrid went up significantly to 86 per cent of the total cultivated area of cotton in India. Monsanto’s royalty extraction and cost of purchased seed and chemicals created a debt trap. The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology sued Monsanto in the Supreme Court of India. The panel of technical experts, appointed by the Supreme Court, recommended a 10-year moratorium on field trials of all GM food and termination of all ongoing trials of transgenic crops.

The reaction of farmers to this new techno-logy had been mixed in the initial stages. Some farmers quickly adapted the technology. Other farmers, mindful of the controversy surrounding GMO crops, hesitated to use GM seeds as part of their agricultural operation. GMO technology may be more appropriate for farmers who face difficulties in spraying pesticides and herbicides. GM seeds may work well for farms that are highly mechanised and close to water bodies.

There are many opponents to the usage GM technology in India. Several NGOs and voluntary groups are bashing the use of GMO farming in India. There appeared many versions on this issue. Many experts from India, particularly the Tata Energy Research Institute, pointed out the fallacies and half-truths in their allegations, for instance, coconut, safflower and sesame in all probability had Indian origin. But groundnut is from South America, mustard is of Central Asian origin, rapeseed has never been grown in India except very recently. Contrary to rallying against it, soyabean is good oil for health. In 2014 around 48 million tonnes of soya oil were consumed worldwide without any ill effects.10

Many environmentalists deliberately confuse a ‘GM-based pollination control mechanism’ for producing hybrids with ill-conceived ‘Terminator Technology’. If rapeseed hybrids are based on ‘Terminator Technology’ and there is a UN resolution against it, how come Canada, the US and Australia are using it so extensively?11


“If Rational Men cooperated and used their Scientific knowledge to the full, they could now Secure the Economic welfare of All”
—Betrand Russel (1872-1970)

Organic Farming —Trends and Prospects

It is clear that India recorded a tremendous growth of agricultural production in the era of the Green Revolution (GR). In spite of the fact that food security of India was definitely addressed by the GR technology, an important setback was that farmers using such technology still have to depend on purchased inputs— chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Due to many advantages of organic farming over the modern agricultural practices that the former is drawing the attention of farmers across globe. Organic farming system essentially encompasses supportive biological processes without the intervention of inorganic remedies such as chemicals or bio-technological intervention like genetically modified organisms (GMO). The concept of organic farming has been given a special relevance in Rig Veda.

Commercialisation of agriculture has been found to have a negative impact on the environment. An interesting fact is that fertilisers have a short-term effect on produc-tivity but on the contrary have a long-term negative effect on the environment. In the name of meeting the ever increasing needs of population growth, we have taken a wrong turn of unsustainability.

Main Principles of Organic Farming

The main principles of organic farming are as follows:

1. To work as much as possible within a closed system, and draw upon local resources.

2. To maintain the long-term fertility of soils.

3. To avoid all forms of pollution that may result from agricultural techniques.

4. To produce foodstuffs of high nutritional quality and sufficient quantity.

5. To reduce the fossil energy in agricultural practice to minimum,

6. To give livestock conditions of life that to their physiological need.

7. To make it possible for agriculture producer to earn a living through their work and develop their potentialities as human beings.

Organic Farming in India

Concept of Organic Farming

The organic farming system in India is not new and is being followed from ancient time, it is a method of farming system which primarily aimed at cultivating the land and raising crops in such a way as to keep the soil alive and in good health by use of organic wastes (crop, animal and form wastes, aquatic wastes) and other biological materials along with beneficial microbes (bio-fertilisers) to release nutrients to crops for increased sustainable production free environment.12

More than 60 per cent of India’s arable land is under traditional agriculture where no synthetic inputs are being used. Although the products grown under such systems have so far not been defined as organic products but by any measure they are genuine organic products. The renewed interest in organic farming in India is mainly due to three main reasons: reduction in agriculture yield in certain areas as a result of excessive and indiscrimination use of chemical inputs, decreased soil fertility and a concern for environment.

Organic agriculture is now practised in more than 170 countries with a total area of 43.1 million hectares by two million producers of organic farm. This constitutes about 0.70 per cent of total agricultural land of the world. (Table-III) The global demand for organic products remains robust, with sales increasing by over five billion US dollars a year.

By 2013-14 in India about 1,41,515 hectares of area are under organic farming with 7,23,039 number of certified organic farms. This accounts for about 0.7 per cent of the total agricultural land. The Indian organic farming industry is estimated at 100.4 million US dollars and is almost entirely export-oriented. Some estimate that this sector is growing at nearly 50 per cent per annum in India. Besides, the total volume of organic exports was pegged at 1.6 lakh metric tonnes in 2012-13 and this was worth Rs 1156 crores.13

The Indian States involved in organic farming are West Bengal, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Odisha.

Benefits of Organic Farming14

1. Organic farming helps in maintaining environ-ment health by reducing the level of pollution.

2. It reduces human and animal health hazards by reducing the level of residue in the product.

3. It helps in keeping agricultural production at a level and makes it sustainable.

4. It reduces the cost of agricultural production and also improves the soil health.

5. It ensures optimum utilisation of natural resources for short-term benefit and helps in conserving them for future generation.

6. Organic farming not only saves energy for both animal and machine, but reduces risk of crop failure.

7. It improves the soil physical properties such as granulation, and good tilth, giving good aeration, easy root penetration and improves water holding capacity.

8. Besides, organic farming improves the soils chemical properties such as supply and retention of soil nutrients and promotes favorable chemical reactions.

Apart from this, it has been demonstrated extensively that plant products from organic farming are substantially better in quality like bigger in size, look, flavour and aroma. Animal products are of better quality when they are fed with feed and fodder produced organically. The underground water of the area where organic farming system is in practice has been found to be free of toxic chemicals.

Though 50 per cent of the organic food production in India is targeted towards exports, the domestic consumption has been rising for the last one decade. Domestic demand is low for the simple reason that organic food is priced over 25 per cent more than conventional food in India. But now good numbers of people are willing to pay this higher premium due to the perceived health benefits of organic food.

It may be noticed that even though the production cost of organic farming is low, yet the cost during the initial transition from chemical farming to organic farming is quite high. Currently most of the organic farmers in India are still in a transition phase and hence their costs continue to be high. As these farmers persist with organic farming, the production costs are expected to reduce making India one of the most important producers of organic food.

Presently, organic food products exported from India include the following:

Many studies have revealed that organic agriculture is productive and sustainable, organic food production costs are higher in the developed countries as organic farming is labour-intensive and labour is costly in these countries. But in a country like India, where labour is quite abundant and relatively cheap, organic farming has immense potential.


With agriculture as the backbone of the Indian economy supported by the fact that nearly 67 per cent of India’s population and 55 per cent of the total workforce depend on agriculture and other allied activities. Indian agriculture reached its heights with increasing area under cultivation, productivity and foodgrains production. Thus food security is being taken care of. In India a little more than half of the total landmass of 328.73 million hectares, that is, nearly 182.46 million hectares (55.5 per cent) is used for agriculture. Still nearly 44 per cent of the landmass can be used for farming purposes in a sustainable manner.

As India entered globalisation and reforms were initiated, Indian agriculture faced difficulties. Hitherto, the government had supplied nearly all agricultural inputs at highly subsi-dised rates that resulted in a kind of revolution in Indian agriculture. The cheaper availability of inputs was supposed to increase the consumption of fertilisers and land under irrigation facilities so as to increase the total foodgrains production by increasing the yield and area under cultivation. With the cut in subsidies, input costs hiked for farmers and thereby farming became a costly proposition.

The growth performance of Indian agriculture has decelerated significantly after the opening up of the economy. Since agriculture continues to be the largest sector of the economy in terms of employment, the deceleration of growth of this sector has serious implications for the living standard of agricultural workers that is, both farmers and agricultural labour.15

Production of foodgrains is more significant due to two reasons. First, it provides the base for subsistence by supplying basic food items, and secondly, it is the only group of agricultural produce where the ‘Green Revolution’ was introduced firstly and more successfully. The successful implementation of the Green Revo-lution and land reform not only increased the productivity but also increased the area under cultivation that paved the way for a higher growth of the agricultural sector. Since it is proved by many economists and policy- makers that there is strong correlation between increase in agricultural output on the one hand, and increase in industrial production and national income on the other, India has to look for better farming techniques, as it has to feed its large population.

By the late nineties, it was acknowledged that the ‘Green Revolution’-type of agricultural development based on HYV, supported by chemical fertilisers, pesticides and excess use of irrigation, has over the years had a ravaging effect on agro-climatic conditions and also resulted in stagnating yields with high inputs and indebtedness for many. For the last three decades, agricultural scientists and economists are propounding the concept of an ‘Ever Green Revolution’. In this context, two views emerged, one is modified inorganic (GMO crop) farming and the other is Organic farming.

GMO farming requires more water than the traditional seeds—seed companies have invested a huge amount of funds in the research and development of GM seeds and protect this investment through their contracts with farmers. As a result, the firms started collecting significant amounts in the form of royalties. In India GMO farming in cash crops, like cotton and chilies, created a disastrous situation leading to suicide of more than 2,00,000 farmers.

The other perspective is about organic farming. It works as much as possible within a closed system and draws upon local resources. For the last two decades organic farming is gaining momentum mainly due to three reasons: fall in agricultural yields in certain areas as a result of indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals, decreased soil fertility, and a concern for degrading environment. The 10th Five Year Plan encouraged promotion of organic farming using organic wastes, Integrated Pest Manage-ment (IPM) and Integrated Nutrient Management Practices (INMP).16

There are many who, while approving organic agriculture, want a mixture of both the systems or advocate a careful approach by proceeding slowly towards the conversion of the conventional farms into organic ones. The questions about the yield and financial viability are crucial from the point of view of farmers; but they remain unanswered to a large extent. As per the World Hunger Report 2016, India ranked 97th in 2016. However, India tops with 194 million hungry people. If the foodgrains situation is not improved with better farming techniques, there is the possibility of the country sliding into the ‘failed state’ category as happened in the African continent four decades ago. This has to be averted.17 Any changes in farming practice pose a serious threat to agriculture and thus to the economy and food security. For several problems being faced by Indian agriculture, the Estimates Committee on Organic Farming (2015-16), under the chairmanship of Murali Manohar Joshi, suggested some solutions. One of the suggestions is the promotion of organic farming cultivation in India. With a change-over from agro-chemical farming to bio-fertiliser organic farming, the Government of India can reduce the subsidy burden of Rs 80 thousand crores a year to a third.18

For the last two decades, the governments, irrespective of their political learnings, have not done anything substantial for development. People, with higher food safety, better health and training, can contribute to improved productivity in major segments of the economy, namely, agriculture and industry. This will lead to a better quality of life for all people enabling the country to achieve the ideal of welfare in a liberal, mixed economy.

“The Farmers are the founders of Civilisation and Prosperity.” — Danial Webster

 Source: Mainstream

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