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Maize Matters
By Pandurang Hegde

Backed by government support, maize cultivation has spread to a large area of India to cater to increased demand from the industry. The shift towards maize will not only upset the delicate nutritional balance in dry regions but it will also pave way for agri-corps to push GM maize into India.

Maize cultivation is becoming popular (photo courtesy: Hindu)

The high priests of agricultural bureaucracy have been chanting the mantra of second green revolution for quite sometime. It seems the country is moving towards this through maize revolution. The vast expanse of the countryside in north and southern India is full of standing maize crop. This versatile crop, which can grow in any kind of ecological zones, is changing the agricultural landscape in India.

India is the fifth largest maize producing country contributing to 3 per cent of the global production, mostly grown during monsoon months.

Though Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh are the two leading states producing maize, its cultivation is catching up in all regions of India due to the state support in terms of assured cash subsidy as well as the purchase of the crop through minimum support price.

Though it may be driven by the attractive cash incentives, the driving force behind this maize revolution is the increased demand from industrial sector. It is a raw material that helps to produce starch, dextrose, corn syrup, and corn oil. It has the potential to supply the bio fuel through production of ethanol. It is estimated that about 75 percent of the maize produced in India is used by poultry and industrial sector.

Killing Millets

Lured by the state support and assured market, the shift towards maize has upset the delicate nutritional balance sheet of the rural regions, especially in the dry agri zones.

“This switch to maize cultivation abandoning the traditional millet based biodiverse farming systems has negative impact not only on food security but also on multiple securities such as health, nutritional, fodder, fuel and livelihood security.”

P. V. Satheesh of Millet Network of India says, “this switch to maize cultivation abandoning the traditional millet based biodiverse farming systems has negative impact not only on food security but also on multiple securities such as health, nutritional, fodder, fuel and livelihood security”.

The agri giants like Monsanto are already penetrating into rural hinterland in many states with their hybrid maize seeds. This replaces the age old self reliant, multi cropping cultivation system, being replaced by the monoculture industrial model of farming with high chemical inputs. Ironically, in majority of the cases several hundred crores of rupees of central government funds under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana is being used to spread maize cultivation.

In availing such subsidies, it is interesting to note that the Monsanto is able to influence most of the States governments like Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh as well as Bihar ruled by different political parties. The bureaucrats and political leaders are paving way for maize revolution using people’s money, robbing the poor and helping companies to increase their profits!

The spread of maize revolution with the hybrid seeds of agri corporations is a precursor to Genetically Modified version in the coming days. Farmers once trapped into maize cultivation will fall prey to GM maize, loosing their self-reliance on seeds.

There is pressure form agro industrial lobby to lift the ban on bt brinjal, and the upcoming Biotechnology Regulatory Bill, with its draconian nature has already laid the foundation for introduction of GM (genetically modified) food crops in India. The experience of past decade of bt cotton, a non food crop has obviously resulted in extinction of local cotton varieties. And now farmers have no other option but to buy cotton seeds form corporates at high price.

Having lured farmers into shifting from diversified multi dimensional millet and coarse crops to maize, these corporations are bound to pressurize for introduction of GM maize with the false claims of increased productivity.

The spread of maize revolution with the hybrid seeds of agri corporations is a precursor to Genetically Modified version in the coming days. Farmers once trapped into maize cultivation will fall prey to GM maize, loosing their self-reliance on seeds.

We need to learn form the blunder committed in Mexico, the country where the maize originated. The dumping of cheap, GM corn from USA has already contaminated the local diversified maize seeds, eventually destroying their diversity and self-reliance. With contamination of GM maize in the center of origin, the Mexican farmers have no other option but to grow these for industrial purposes, sacrificing the nutritional security.

The process of second green revolution through maize has already overrun 2 million hectares that belonged to hardier cereal such as jowar and bajra. These coarse varieties are the food of poor, the tribal communities living in remote arid and forest regions of India. The state and central governments with their fiscal policies have systematically replaced the food for poor by the industrial demand for maize.

The basic question is whether such state policies are ethical? Is it ecologically sustainable? Does this address the issue of social equity?

The bleak scenario presents a scary picture. Practicing unethical methods, the agri companies have been allowed a free access to appropriate the resources of poor using taxpayer’s money. It is going to deeply entrench our farmers into chemical industrial model of farming that is ecologically destructive and unsustainable. Last but not the least; it is going to create social tensions, forcing farmers into the lap of corporate controlled agriculture systems.

Unfortunately, the political class, cutting across party lines is bent upon treading these unethical, unsustainable policies to lay the foundation for forthcoming genetically modified maize revolution in the country.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Pandurang Hegde  |  appiko@gmail.com

Pandurang Hegde is a farmer, environmentalist and writer based in Sirsi town in Karnataka. He is well known for launching the Appiko movement which played a key role in protecting many forests from the axe in the Western Ghats region.

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 Other Articles by Pandurang Hegde in
Socio-Economic Development  > Indian Economy > Agriculture

If farmers stop growing food?
Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Paddy farmers of Andhra Pradesh, pushed into corner by rising losses in farming and harmful policies of governments, have decided to take a break from growing paddy. The policymakers must ensure remunerative prices for foodgrain crops, otherwise the farmer unrest could soon result in a major food crisis.
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An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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