[hepr-vn] India: Organic Rice A Way Out of Debt, Poor Farmers Find
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Mon Apr 6 04:33:04 EST 2009
Subject: News: Organic Rice A Way Out of Debt, Poor Farmers Find
Date: Sun, 5 Apr 2009 10:58:13 -0700
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*Growing Rice Debt Free
* In recent years there have been many reports about desperately
indebted farmers in India. Now, some farmer advocates there are trying
to find low-cost and low-tech solutions to India's tired soil -
solutions that can increase fertility and yield without more trips to
the moneylender. Beth Hoffman reports.
Air Date: Week of April 3, 2009
Rice farmers plow oxen in Orissa, India. (Photo: Subhashree Pradhan)
CURWOOD: Throughout the world, farmers have become increasingly
dependent on artificial fertilizers and pesticides to boost production.
But the costs are high - and many poor farmers end up buried in debt.
Beth Hoffman reports now from Orissa, India on attempts by farmers there
to break this cycle of chemical dependency.
HOFFMAN: It was a hot and dry day in January when I met the Krishna
family in the cool of a grass shade structure beside the family's rice
field. In front of us, on the hard packed mud "patio," sat a small mound
of rice, what is left of the harvest for this year. Much of the rest has
gone to pay the local moneylender, who just so happened to pay a visit
while I was there.
KRISHNA: That was the moneylender. I borrowed 2000 Rupees from him in
June, and now, six months later, he's come to collect 5000 Rupees worth
The Krishna family-rice farmers in Nuapada District of Orissa,
India. (Courtesy of Beth Hoffman)
HOFFMAN: Krishna and his family are thin, too thin. Of their five kids
only three go to school - the parents say there is just not enough money
to send the older girls. And Krishna's agitated speech tells me, his
problems don't end there. They've also sold off the cows to pay their debt.
KRISHNA: We don't have goats, we don't have cows. And because there are
less cattle now all the families are using chemical fertilizers.
HOFFMAN: Without cows and cow dung, farmers have to buy chemical
fertilizers like urea and phosphate. But over the past five years, while
the cost of that fertilizer has risen, yields have dropped. Many,
including Nimain Charan Swain, the Deputy Directory of Agriculture in
Orissa, believe the low yields are in fact caused by chemical use.
SWAIN: The thing is that from applying the fertilizer for so many years,
the soil health is reduced.
Rice farmer Buddharam Dal says he's struggling to pay back loans he
took from the local moneylender. (Photo: Beth Hoffman)
HOFFMAN: With repeated use of chemical fertilizer, the soil can become
saline. This makes the land drought prone, even during short dry spells.
So, Swain says, officials should encourage organic methods instead.
SWAIN: To revive the soil health, the government is now trying
biofertilizers, biopesticide. These are things that encourage the
farmers not to use chemical fertilizer.
HOFFMAN: But while officials say they support eco-friendly agriculture,
that's not how the government has been spending its money. This year the
Indian government will spend one billion dollars on subsidies paid
directly to fertilizer companies.
HOFFMAN: So Krishna, and thousands of farmers like him, are stuck -
taking out loans to pay for something that harms their soil. Yet somehow
he remains optimistic that things will change for his family, someday.
KRISHNA: This year I don't think we will have enough to eat. I think it
will take about five years for us to pay off the debt we have. Then
things will be better in the future.
Reporter Beth Hoffman records a farmer singing a traditional song
sung to oxen while rice farming. (Photo: Subhashree Pradhan)
HOFFMAN: But they are not much better for most people in this district.
Four out of five depend on agriculture for work. And almost 90 percent
are considered below the poverty line, earning less than one dollar a
day. Much of the talk internationally about remedying this situation has
focused on higher tech solutions - new dams and irrigation systems, and
especially, genetically modified seeds, as heard in these ads and news
[PRO-BIOTECH PROPONENTS: "Over the past hundred years our food supply
has greatly"..."Imagine, a world with enough food for everyone and a
clean, healthy environment"...."As a scientist working with
biotechnology, I know the scientific side..."]
HOFFMAN: But all these answers are expensive and often rely on
unreliable governments. Instead, advocates in rural India believe the
solution is to make farmers more self-reliant, by using free, low-tech
solutions, like organic farming and something called SRI, a System of
[SOUND OF PEOPLE WORKING IN THE MUD]
HOFFMAN: A group of men and women work in knee high mud with rope and a
tool that looks like an oversized pizza cutter. They draw a grid in the
mud and plant the seedlings in this grid.
[SOUND OF PEOPLE WORKING IN THE MUD]
NIAL: I am telling him this is the long process - it takes time, a long
[SOUND OF PEOPLE WORKING IN THE MUD]
HOFFMAN: Suklambar Nial works with a local non-profit, training farmers
in SRI. The method uses as little as one tenth of the seed and far less
water than conventional rice farming. And the yields have been impressive.
A school girl helps plant rice seedlings in the SRI grid
pattern. (Photo: Beth Hoffman)
NIAL: Last year in another field they grow 10 quintals. And here, with
SRI system, they got 15 quintals.
[SOUND OF PEOPLE WORKING IN THE MUD AND TALKING]
HOFFMAN: These results have not gone unnoticed. Worldwide, there are now
an estimated one million farmers using the SRI method. The World
Wildlife Federation, and the World Bank, now sanction its use. And there
are no patents or intellectual property involved - it's free for farmers
[SOUNDS OF PLAY]
HOFFMAN: These farmers are excited enough about the technique that they
invited me back that evening - to watch a play they developed, where
farmers teach one another about SRI.
Farmers present a play about SRI farming in the town of Krishna
in Nuapada, Orissa. (Photo: Beth Hoffman)
[SOUNDS OF PLAY, TALKING, MUSIC]
HOFFMAN: But even with good farming techniques, poor farmers still need
a source of nitrogen to keep the soil fertile.
[SOUND OF STIRRING]
HOFFMAN: A few miles away lives Belmati Sabar, also a rice farmer. She
and her family are from a lower caste, with little in the way of
property or cows. So to take care of her fields, Sabar stirs a mixture
of what she calls "magic compost" - a fermented concoction of leaves
from common plants, homemade sugar and a small amount of cow dung she
collects on the streets of her village.
NIAL & SABAR: After 10 to 12 days it will make compost.
HOFFMAN: The mixture is not a new idea - it has been used for centuries
in India. But scientists have worked to update and improve the recipe.
Plus, like SRI, it's free and uses only items easily found, keeping
money in the village.
Belmati Sabar stirs her magic compost while reporter Beth
Hoffman records. (Photo: Subhashree Pradhan)
HOFFMAN: Here a farmer sings a traditional song sung to oxen while
plowing the rice fields, now adapted for the farmers' SRI play. He too
is using the old to connect with the new, updating the traditional with
the scientific. Continuing the way farming has always evolved.
For Living On Earth, I am Beth Hoffman in Orissa, India.
CURWOOD: Just ahead - searching for the quiet places of nature in our
noisy world. Stay with us - on Living on Earth.
ANNOUNCER: Support for the Environmental Health Desk at Living on Earth
comes from the Cedar Tree Foundation. Support also comes from the
Richard and Rhoda Goldman fund for coverage of population and the
environment. And from Gilman Ordway for coverage of conservation and
environmental change. This is Living on Earth on PRI, Public Radio
/*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this
material is distributed, without profit, for research and educational
purposes only. ***/
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