Agriculture: Nothing to expect from Copenhagen
During 7 to 18 December, 2009, the world leaders from 192 countries will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, to negotiate an agreement at the COP 15 of the UNFCCC to keep global temperatures below catastrophic levels. The Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted in 1992 as the basis for a âglobalâ response to the problem. The COP 15 conference claims that the ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent disastrous human interference with the climate system.
Various studies have already shown that a rise of 2 degrees Celsius in global temperatures would probably destroy 30 percent to 40 percent of all known species, generate bigger, fiercer and more frequent heat waves and droughts, more intense weather events like floods and cyclones, and would raise the sea level by at least a meter, displacing millions. Needless to mention, such studies have always been bad news for the peoples of Bangladesh. It is now taking much worse turn with the politics associated with games of powerful countries and the âcivilizationâ built on fossil fuel and non-renewable energy. The future of this âcivilisationâ is now tied with mighty energy companies, who must gain command over the global energy resources, a situation that is structurally determined by the very idea and conception of âcivilizationâ, âgrowthâ and âdevelopmentâ. Such ideas and the âworldâ proper to these notions have been realized and could be maintained only through religious belief in technology, war industry and massive violence. This is the reason why climate change negotiation is fundamentally premised on quick technological fixing of the problem, creating level playing field for powerful global actors for trade in technologies in the name of âmitigationâ and impose technological âadaptationâ on weak countries totally undermining the resilience and capacity of the vulnerable communities to deal with climatic variability. In their efforts to âhelpâ vulnerable countries for climatic disasters, âglobal expertsâ are replacing local knowledge and local institutions. Multilateral and bilateral donors are busy creating new investment sector for big investment so that âcreditâ is provided to create âeffective demandâ for technologies to solve problems created by green house gases (GHG), so that transnational companies find a new âsectorâ to invest for profit. This is very obvious if we follow the debates and positions of various countries in negotiations. Climate change negotiation are tied to the trade negotiations, creating level playing field in technological competitiveness in the global market and for least developed countries it is ending up how the weak states can receive funds to purchase experts and technologies from rich countries opening a new window for âaidâ.
The âfactsâ on climate change and the urgent necessity of taking positive steps are clouded by the new games in the global arena in association with few so called climate change âNGOsâ. Now few global actors decide how to interpret climate crisis to fit into the politics of their game. In other words, they decide how to âshockâ the world to ensure the continuity of the present unsustainable global system and reversely how to globalize the local struggle of the people against such games in order to tame and dismantle the peoplesâ resistance against the crime, being committed against the most vulnerable and the most desperate people; no matter where people are geographically located in search of a livelihood. The climate change is not a North-South or West-East issue â it is the issue between the peoples of the world against few powerful global actors organized as state, multinational corporations and private societies.
In a new projection by the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), published in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate (2 June, 2009), the mean global temperature could increase by as much as 5.2 degrees Celsius this century if “rapid and massive action” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not taken. Previous studies have indicated an increase of 2.4 degrees Celsius. A 90 percent chance of the temperature increasing by 3.5 degrees to 7.4 degrees Celsius during the next 100 years, is obviously shocking news for Bangladesh. Even before this disaster happens, at present the problem is to deal with the global actors who decide about the fate of the planet. The peoples of Bangladesh will have to face both with the facts and the politics of climate change.
There are many issues that must be taken up by the peopleâs movement around the globe keeping the Copenhagen theatre in mind. In our first take on the conference, we may discuss agriculture. We need to critically discuss the way global actors talk about âmitigationâ, âadaptationâ and similar terms in order to understand various goals, objectives and projects consistent with the politics of power.
Participating countries at the UNFCCC are now working on a draft text that is broken down into sections, which are being negotiated by sub-groups on the topics signaled within the Bali Action Plan. Bali event was depressing, therefore, Bangladesh can hardly anticipate any positive outcome from Copenhagen. However, Bali decision initiated new negotiations and outlined certain areas that the new agreement would include. This is the background of the cooperative sectoral approaches sub-group text, that we are concerned here. The text is currently riddled with brackets and alternative paragraphs and contains a specific section on the agricultural sector in the context of mitigating the adverse effects of climate change phrased by âcooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific actions.â Since agriculture has received particular attention in these negotiations some basic information is necessary before we can read the text critically before the Copenhagen event. Even, before we start reading such text, we need to ask, what exactly âagricultureâ is. What should we look into the text?
Agriculture by definition can not be any other art except the âart of inclusionâ of those species, varieties and knowledge practices in the practical sense that if any species, varieties and knowledge practices are âexcludedâ temporarily to produce food now and create a food system and food culture using the âspaceâ available now in the nature, could also be conserved, regenerated and maintained for the future use. Agriculture, therefore, is an art of creating space within space. Since we always confuse between âspaceâ and âplaceâ the debate on the relation between population and land resurfaces with questions like how certain amount of land could sustain so many people. Such questions can arise only in a perverse consumer society where peoples are seen only as âconsumersâ, as if they are created only with a hole in their face to be fed without any ability to reorder or reorganize the âspaceâ they inhabit assigning new âplaceâ for different entities to produce their needs using themselves as means of production. Communities also redirect their desire and need as a life affirming livelihood strategy that appears to others as distinct âcultureâ, âritualsâ âmoral valuesâ etc. Food, ecology and culture stands on the same plain, and a truth that is lost in discussion of agriculture and food production as stated in the SANFEC South Asian Statement of Concern on Food, Ecology and Culture, in 1996. 1
In the art of food production and life affirming livelihood strategies, peoples and their knowledge are constantly evolving. There is nothing called âadvancedâ formal scienceâ or informal âindigenous knowledgeâ â a distinction made to ensure the authority and power of corporate science and not to assess the performance of different knowledge practices. Farmerâs science is âscienceâ and follows all formal procedures to produce anticipated results, just like laboratory science is âscienceâ despite the fact that Thomas Kuhn reminded us that science is equally informal and intuitive just like working in a farmersâ field. In this dichotomy of formal and informal knowledge, farmers stand at the receiving end of technology as a âcommodityâ bearing profit for the corporations.
Before we critically read the UNFCCC document on Agriculture from peoplesâ perspective in contrast to corporate propaganda, we must keep sharp distinction between agriculture and industrial food production. They are completely opposite ideas. Agriculture is not industry that receives âinputsâ to produce âoutputsâ for the market to make profit and âwastesâ to dump on the environment without internalizing the cost of environmental and ecological damages. Corporate policy paradigm is incapable to asses the performance of different agricultural systems, including their own âfood factoriesâ. The dominance of corporate paradigm forces us to engage with the global policy debates and we are often forced to take tactical position, rather than spelling the primal principle or the strategic stand: life is threatened not now or not today by climate change but by the very ideas of progress, development, growth, science, technology and lifestyle. While we keep this primal principle in mind, we also need to prepare for the Copenhagen conference in order to make us visible and heard on behalf of the peoples of the world demanding support for life affirming activities such as agriculture instead of industrial food production.
By the model of agriculture as capitalist factory, yield is calculated by inputs consumed by the factory as labour, raw materials and machines to make profit in the market; therefore, except consumers with money capable to purchase food from the market; rest of the global population is disposable. They are not âworkersâ and do not contribute to make profit or unable to purchase the food as commodity from the capitalist market. In the neo-liberal economy it is more so since the role of the state in ensuring distribution of food outside the market mechanism is seen as a kind of âsinâ. The idea is propagated that if fossil-fuel based capitalist factories of industrial food production, touted as âagricultureâ, can not sustain people who are not âconsumersâ or âworkersâ we need to terminate the disposable population. Fascinating to see that population control is resurfacing with the so called mitigation strategies in the coming conference. Not a surprise at all.
Life affirming agricultural activities do not necessarily need the mediation of money, capital or state to ensure food âsecurityâ at the household or at the community level, particularly in countries like Bangladesh endowed with profound knowledge of agriculture. Food consumption at the household and the community level in rural areas is dependent on agriculture. It is not always mediated through the market but the ability of the biodiverse-households to directly consume what they could generate in terms of systemic yield, not in terms of any particular commercial crops or even âstaplesâ. In contrast to industry, agriculture is by definition biodiverse, organic and is based on plural knowledge practices associated with various intuitive insights, rituals, cultures and practices creating diverse conditions and opportunities for innovations and artistic explorations, i.e. science and technological practices; each and every peasant household is literally a scientific laboratory; in the sense science claims procedural proof and demonstration of truth by showing the same results if same methods, procedures or rules are followed.
Copenhagen conference is seen as working towards a new agreement that will convince powerful actors the urgent need to enhance the implementation of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Convention, together with its Kyoto Protocol, includes commitments that addresses climate mitigation and adaptation globally, but has to take place since implementation has historically been weak. From Bangladesh perspective perhaps it is a public relations effort with the global actors to convince the people that they are indeed serious about the rapid destruction of the world we all live.
The new agreement intends to include more meaningfully the US – which is a signatory to the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol but notoriously succeeded in never ratifying the later. Developing countries also have no fixed mitigation commitments under the Convention or its Protocol. Official policy of the US expressed by George Bush that the lifestyle of US citizens is not negotiable, has hardly been changed even under Obama administration. The idea of level playing field for trade is also a stumbling block since reducing the emission of green house gases is contradictory with the idea of trade, growth and industrial development. The ecstasy of the Earth Summit of 1992 is by now over, and the peoples are also exhausted to see that hardly anything has been achieved in concrete terms except rhetoric or at best the recognition that environment, ecology, biodiversity and lifestyle are indeed critical areas that must be addressed today or tomorrow before it is too late. Nevertheless, the damage such as âglobalâ rhetoric and the behind the scene strategy cause is dismantling local efforts and resistance against destructive development and technological policies. In the name of solving the problems by âexpertsâ and global institutions, resistance and initiative of the local people is undermined and killed. This is very much true for the peoples of Bangladesh who had to live with flood, river erosion, droughts and climatic variability all year round and traditionally have been brilliant in âmitigationâ and âadaptationâ are now observing experts and specialised NGOs on climate change to teach them how to survive in flood, drought, oceanic surges and river erosions. Farmers saw in a span of few years how their seed systems have been destroyed in the name of the need for âhigher productivityâ with high yielding and hybrid varieties of rice as well as genetically modified varieties of rice, vegetables and fish. With the excuse of climate change, the transnational companies are desperately offering farming communities of Bangladesh genetically modified salt resistant, drought resistance or flood resistance varieties of rice and vegetables, but of course through deceptive and coercive micro-credit programmes. The rhetoric of âmitigationâ and âadaptationâ has literally been translated in Bangladesh as creating market for GMOs forcibly and allowing international corporations and research organisations to use Bangladesh as a trial field and experimental ground for their products that could be potentially hazardous for biological life cycles and may cause irreversible biological pollution. It is obvious that the farming communities, who have developed nearly 15,000 varieties of rice, till now have local varieties to deal with flood, drought, salinity and various climatic problems including various forms of natural disasters. In the name of climate change these varieties are disappearing soon only to reappear as the proprietary technology of some companies with minor changes at the genetic level.
These are not the areas where agriculture in the Copenhagen will receive attention but on the official rhetoric known by now as âcooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific actionsâ. Agriculture here appears only as a sector and the issue of âfood securityâ has not been explicitly mentioned in the text. The present text provides two options. In the first option, it instructs Parties to make efforts to enhance mitigation in the agriculture sector. In the second option, it instructs Parties to promote and cooperate in the research, development, application, and diffusion of technologies, practices and processes, as a means to enhance sector-specific mitigation.
Some people read the first option as containing an important reference to the efficiency and productivity of agricultural production systems. They read the text as an entry point to negotiate with the powerful actors to address global âfood securityâ over the long term in a sustainable manner. However, the text does not provide any hint to structural, technological or economic issues that are at the heart of the problem, including the increasing control of food chains by few powerful corporations. It also contains a number of references â there are some bracketed considerations that some people assume could be important for developing countries, such as the need not to harm the interests of small and marginal farmers; the need to take into account traditional knowledge and processes; the need to acknowledge linkages between mitigation and adaptation; the need for agricultural production systems to be improved in a sustainable manner; and the need to promote and cooperate on technologies, practices, processes and methodologies. However, all these elements are bracketed, and one can hardly expect any ground breaking compromise even on such very liberal propositions.
But in the second option, a cooperative approach at the heart of mitigation strategies is placed in a way that measures taken should not result in barriers to, or distortion of, the international agricultural trading system. It also calls on the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) to develop a mitigation work programme, and invites Parties to submit their views on this.
According to Alexander Mueller, Assistant Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)Agriculture is a sector where mitigation action has strong potential co-benefits for sustainable development (food security, poverty reduction among the 70% of the poor living in rural areas, environmental services) and climate change adaptation (improving agro-ecosystem resilience). Most of the mitigation potential from agriculture could be achieved through soil carbon sequestration (89%) and roughly 70% could be realized in developing countries. In addition, there is also potential to decrease emissions of other non-carbon greenhouse gases (N2O and CH4 ) through more efficient use of fertilizers and improved rice and livestock systems. By this time, it is evident that climate change has an adverse affect on agricultural productivity and on the marginal and poor farmers. Crop productivity is declining, especially in the seasonally dry and tropical regions due to drought, change in seasonal rain and by changes in winter season.
However, the arguments are crooked and unfair. It is important to keep a watch on how the paradigm of disaster caused by industrial civilization is now being shifted to the agrarian communities. The fact that is now often highlighted is that agriculture contributes to GHG emissions. Industrial countries in their research passionately point to the fact that agriculture also releases a significant amount of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, amounting to around 10-12 percent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions annually. If indirect contributions (e.g. land conversion, fertilizer production and distribution and farm operations) are factored in, the contribution of agriculture could be as high as 17-32 percent of global anthropogenic emissions. The implicit logic is to establish that we, the developed countries, are not the only culprits in making a hole in the sky; it is you, the farmers around the world are also responsible. In this trick what remains unsung is the massive contribution of industrial food production to GHG emissions and not the biodiversity based agriculture, such as Nayakrishi Andolon of Bangladesh. In contrast the strategy in biodiversity-based agriculture is also to produce greens as car sink.
As we mentioned earlier, facts and politics are not the same issue. The âfactâ that agriculture also emits green house gas is not the issue to argue, bringing the fact the forefront is mainly to push the burden of mitigation on the farming communities around the world. Interestingly not much to restructure industrial food production into agriculture but to do the opposite, such as we saw during the military regime with civilian faĂ§ade of Caretaker government in recent times (2007-2008) in Bangladesh. We saw how the Army chief himself was keenly interested to transform our rice fields into hybrid rice production and advised us to eat âpotatoesâ instead of rice.
While industrial civilization can not be structurally âreadjustedâ to mitigate GHG hazards and when United States rather insists that the life style in highly industrialized societies is not negotiable, poor farming communities must âadoptâ technologies to solve the global problem which is hardly a fault of their own or the livelihood strategies for sheer survival. It is rather critical that the agrarian lifestyles are re-investigated to understand how to reconstruct the future of the world. The stance of non-negotiation over lifestyle still stands in global negotiations despite the fact that the International Assessment on Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which is the most comprehensive assessment of agriculture to date2 said the future of agriculture lies in biodiverse, agroecologically based farming (including organic agriculture) that can meet social, economic and environmental goals. Bangladesh is rich in this area and there is strong movement of farming communities known as Nayakrishi Andolon â an innovative biodiversity-based ecological agriculture that has proved how agricultural productivity can be enhanced by integrating the advances in biological sciences with the historically rich knowledge practices of the farmers of this delta.
According to IAASTD reliance on resource-extractive industrial agriculture is unsustainable, particularly in the face of worsening climate, energy and water crises. Short-term technical fixes, including genetically engineered crops, cannot adequately address the complex challenges facing agriculture, and often exacerbate social and environmental harms. Nayakrishi farming communities maintains nearly 2,500 varieties of rice and there are many varieties that they use to meet the challenge of climatic variability such as oceanic surge, flood, drought, disruption in hydrological cycles and other man-made disasters. IAASTD adds that achieving food security and sustainable livelihoods requires ensuring access to and control of resources by small-scale farmers, especially women. Needless to mention, indigenous knowledge and community-based innovations are an invaluable part of the solution.
Why it is so? Nayakrishi type agrarian knowledge increases resilience within the agroecosystem; its biodiverse agro-ecology increases the ability to continue functioning when faced with unexpected events of climate change. Resiliency to climate disasters is closely linked to farm biodiversity; practices that enhance biodiversity allow farms to mimic natural ecological processes, enabling them to better respond to change and reduce risk. Scope to build up this resilience is much more easier because of the profound contribution of biological sciences both at macro and molecular level. One can be physicist to make our life easier with innovations that are now part of our life, or the same physical science can be used to produce nuclear bombs or weapon of mass destruction. The promise of the biological science is enormous in taking up the challenge of climate change if we strictly adhere to the principles of ecosystemic approach to agriculture to promote bio-diverse production system. Thus, farmers who increase intra-specific diversity suffer less damage compared to conventional farmers planting monocultures. Moreover, the use of intra-specific diversity (different cultivars of the same crop) is insurance against future environmental change.
Biodiversity based ecological agriculture preserves soil fertility and maintain or increase organic matter and therefore is capable to reduce the negative effects of drought while increasing productivity. Water holding capacity of soil is enhanced since maintenance of the top soil become the priority instead of destroying the soil to cultivate HYV varieties with water pumps extracting ground water for irrigation. By Nayakrishi type agricultural practice builds organic matter, helping farmers withstand drought. In addition, water-harvesting practices allow farmers to rely on stored water during droughts. Crop residue retention, mulching, and agro-forestry conserve soil moisture and protect crops against microclimate extremes. Conversely, organic matter also enhances water capture in soils, significantly reducing the risk of floods. In short what IAASTD is arguing has been proved over and over again in biodiversity-based ecological agricultural practices. If policy makers are indeed serious in âmitigationâ and âadaptationâ to face the challenges of climate change in their sectoral approach to agriculture, biodiversity-based ecological agriculture must receive appropriate attention and resources.
Since the opening days of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) meeting in Accra, the discussion that took place last year (2008) during 21-22 August at a workshop as part of 3rd session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) significant differences emerged on how one is to interpret âsectoral approaches. Luiz Machado of Brazil, Chair of the AWG-LCA, opened the meeting pointing at Article 4.1(c) that states, âall Parties, taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and their specific national and regional development priorities, objectives and circumstances, shall:
âPromote and cooperate in the development, application and diffusion, including transfer, of technologies, practices and processes that control, reduce or prevent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol in all relevant sectors, including the energy, transport, industry, agriculture, forestry and waste management sectors.â
He also informed that some discussions of sectoral approaches have already taken place at the Bangkok and Bonn meetings of the UNFCCC, and that various Parties have emphasized that âsectoral approachesâ should not replace ânational commitmentsâ to reduce GHG emission. However, the issue remains to be negotiated is how this is complemented with efforts to âtransfer technologyâ. This is where the crucial issue lies that will come up in the coming Copenhagen theatre.
Position of the European Union can be clearly read from the arguments put forward in the Accra workshop. They would like to use the term âsectoral approachâ to include âtechnology and policy co-operationâ, and similar approaches that is linked with carbon market. According to the EU, one major type of sectoral approaches includes technology and policy cooperation, and other such approaches not linked directly with the carbon market. The target is national policies and measures for emission reduction and therefore âtechnology agreementsâ. For European Union, and equally for all industrial countries this interpretation of âsectoral approachâ offers the advantage of targeting specific barriers, enhancing private investment, and supporting technology diffusion, deployment and transfer in various sectors. From such workshops, policy papers and documents from various conferences, one can easily foresee that the Copenhagen will become a negotiating table for powerful actors to create a new sector for investment and profit in the climatic disaster, they have essentially created making all life forms in the planet vulnerable and now using the âshocking factsâ to further enhance concentration and accumulation of capital at a time when global economy is showing symptoms of increasing tendencies of limited scopes for investment and profit.
On behalf of LDCs, position of Bangladesh remained critical of âsectoral approachâ. Diplomatically Bangladesh can not undermine the negotiation as a means of powerful countries to sell their technologies and experts. Systematic campaigns against Bangladesh as a âfailed stateâ and the âhaven of Islamic militantsâ become more obvious in such negotiating arena where the concern of the country is bullied down even when the fundamental questions are asked such as why we need the âsectoral approachâ and what exactly this approach would like to address? Needless to mention, that if total emissions are critical to addressing global warming, then sectoral approaches are not a substitute for national emissions targets. So called âsectoral approachesâ that cut across different nations are also problematic since national contexts are different and their relation within the international division of labour constantly undermines their struggle to survive economically is the unequal and unbalanced global scenario. It is more so since in most of the countries like Bangladesh efforts to mitigate within the framework of UNFCCC so far, implies reliance or dependence on investment and proprietary technologies of powerful countries and remaining at the end of âconsumptionâ of these technologies. .
However, Bangladesh echoes what the powerful countries would like to hear. Sweet words such as âsectoral approachesâ can, despite the concerns expressed explicitly, can contribute to technology development and transfer. Like industrialized countries, Bangladesh also argues that such approach can help to develop tools, methodologies and technologies to identify emission reductions that can be realized cost effectively; barriers in specific national sectors can be identified. However, sectors that are global and all countries have a role â such as marine and aviation, should also be addressed immediately.
So at the end of the day, Bangladesh ends by begging sector specific technologies and the so called âbest practicesâ taught by transnational corporations to make them available to LDCs on a priority basis. The same rhetoric is used only with change in syntax, verbs and nouns asking to develop mechanisms for technology transfer without challenging the paradigm of intellectual property rights as a barrier to development and progress for LDCs. Begging for technology transfer, where intellectual property rights are involved, becomes a farce. More so, when the position of Bangladesh ultimately is to deny and ignore the resilience, capacity and knowledge of its peoples to face the challenges of natural and anthropogenic disasters, it has no meaning.
In summary two issues prevailing in the discussion, (a) so called âsectoral approachâ should not replace national overall targets (for Annex I countries) and (b) it should not be a barrier to free trade â it should not become an alibi for trade restrictions. However, sectors such as coal-fired power generation, iron and steel, cement and road transport, the emissions or energy per unit of production could be evaluated, and compared between countries. A method should be in place to measure the mitigation actions taken by different countries.
True that developing countries, including Philippines for the G77, India, China, Brazil, Bangladesh (for LDCs), Grenada (for small island states) and Saudi Arabia were critical of âsectoral approachâ. They were concerned that the approach to set sectoral standards or benchmarks could be used unfairly against developing countries. The âsectoral effortsâ to combat climate change at the national level should not be confused with international âsectoral agreementsâ involving targets, standards and comparisons between countries. The position that now stands is âcooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific actions, in order to enhance implementation of Article 4, paragraph 1(c), of the Conventionâ and on âthe effectiveness of mechanisms and tools for technology cooperation in specific sectorsâ.
At least for the time being, until conditions are created for positive outcomes in global negotiation, the priority of Bangladesh should focus on national capacity building without begging from countries who are culprits of making the hole in the sky by emitting GHGs. Peoples of developed countries are not the âculpritsâ; they are equally victims of the paradigm of development, growth and technology. Peoples of Bangladesh must develop alliances at the peoples level by all means to face the global challenge. Third worldism is an old game and ultimately provides an ideology for the elite of our countries to become more intelligent, efficient and parasitic beggars reinforcing the global tendencies to destroy our own capacity and resilience against the culture of consumption, destruction and profiteering. What kind of paradigm could guide us to develop our own strategies to combat climate change?
As we mentioned earlier, Nayakrishi Andolon does not make artificial distinction between âindigenous and traditional knowledgeâ and the so called âformalâ knowledge or âscience & technologyâ. Either knowledge practice is âscience and technologyâ in the true sense of the knowledge and wisdom to solve real problem on earth or they are simply corporate propaganda and lies in the name of âscience and technologyâ. There is no reason to un-necesessarily romanticize âtraditionalâ life styles. The issue is much simpler: do we stand for life affirming activities or do we contribute to the destruction of life, diversity and the joy in living. as we do now. In this sense traditional knowledge practices are immensely valuable and must be the key source of information on adaptive capacity, as these knowledge practices are centered on the selective, experimental and resilient capabilities of farmers. There is no one type of knowledge practice when we say indigenous knowledge. It is diverse and farmers cope with climate change, in different ways. Strategies are numerous and farmers are always inventing while farming in the field. Crop failure are managed through a mix of increased use of local varieties depending on the nature of the problem, water-harvesting, extensive planting, mixed cropping, agroforestry, and intelligently integrating non-crop species and varieties including management of uncultivated space. In Nayakrishi, notion of âpestâ or âweedâ is literally absent, since the challenge is to transform the âpestâ into biological resources and âweedsâ into uncultivated food, medicine, fibers, or biomass for green manure. Traditional knowledge, coupled with the right investments in plant breeding, could yield new varieties with climate adaptation potential.
Farmers are also breeders and they constantly âselectâ the varieties they need for their system to make it resilient. Biodiversity-based ecological approach to agriculture is centered around the real people and the real farming communities and not on plants, animals, fish or any other species or varieties as if they exist only as ârawâ materials for food factory without any organic and integral connection or relation with the community.
Scientists are now convinced that biodiverse ecological agriculture considerably enhance the sequestration of carbon dioxide through the use of techniques that build up soil organic matter, as well as diminish nitrous oxide emissions by two-thirds due to no external mineral nitrogen input and more efficient nitrogen use. Organic systems have been found to sequester more carbon dioxide than conventional farms, while techniques that reduce soil erosion convert carbon losses into gains. Nayakrishi type agriculture is also self-sufficient in nitrogen due to recycling of manures from livestock and crop residues via composting, as well as planting of leguminous crops.
In Bangladesh, farmers have demonstrated their resilience during the Cyclone SIDR â a major natural disaster in 2007, by cultivating local variety crops as opposed to HYV and Hybrid, facing the challenges of late monsoon during 2009 and planting late varieties of local variety Aman. Dr Ahsan Uddin of Campaign for Sustainable and Rural Livelihood (CSRL) of Oxfam-GB in a keynote paper at a discussion held on 23 November, 2009 emphasised cultivation of HYV varieties, including BRRI 40, 41, BRRI 47, BRRI 33 and Sharna Sub-1, in the country accordingly as those are salinity-, drought-and flood-tolerant varieties and successful in monga-hit area. He suggested BRRI 33 for monga-hit area while BRRI 40 and 41 are for drought-prone area and BRRI 47 for area with salinity (The Daily Star, 24 November, 2009). This is an example how agricultural experts in Bangladesh promote varieties developed by scientists in the so called âformalâ systems ignoring the knowledge and resilience of the farming communities. Scientists in National Agricultural Systems now work closely with agro-business corporations. Climate Change is used as an excuse to promote genetically engineered stress resistant varieties, which are potentially harmful for the agriculture and particularly for the farmers.
In 2009, the monsoon was delayed missing its early June deadline. A senior agriculture official told Reuters (25 June, 2009) “Lack of rain and high temperatures with little moisture in the air signal the monsoon is being delayed this year, and may lead to a poor yield of rice, the country’s main staple, in the new fiscal year. “During monsoon Aman rice is planted which accounts for nearly a third of Bangladesh’s annual rice output. The other main rice variety is Boro, which largely depends on irrigation. The monsoon lasts in Bangladesh until the end of September, but sees heavy showers in its initial month (June) when average rainfall is nearly 460 millimeters. But this year (2009) the rain was delayed by three weeks. According to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department the total rainfall of June, 2009 was less than half the average. However, there was belated but ample rains in July-August helped recover the losses. Projection of the poor yield from aman season implicitly contributes to a policy that favours import of rice and promotion of âhybridâ varieties in the boro season. Under these circumstances, efforts were directed towards commercialization of seed sector against the farmerâs seed system more towards promoting corporate seeds and not directed towards promoting local varieties and towards preserving genetic diversity that have developed over thousands of years in diverse eco-systems.
Examples show that farmers applied their own knowledge to face the effects of Climate Change, or change in weather conditions in the Aman season which is their major rice crop. In Nayakrishi areas such as Tangail and Sirajganj, farmers were worried about delayed rain. The seedbeds dried out and could not be transplanted, specially those of HYV varieties. But then they relied on local varieties both broadcast and transplanted such as Horinga digha, Lakhmidigha, Chamara Digha, Lal Dhepa, Bhawail digha, Shada Dhepa, Patishail, Patjag, Bokjhol, Bhasha manik, Dudh kolom, Tulshi mala and others. Most of them performed very well about 3.5 to 4 tons per hectare. Performance of local varieties depending more on water such as Horinga digha & Lakhmi digha did not perform at the same level compared to the high yielding local varieties. In those cases yield was about 2 to 3 tons (compared to its normal productivity of 3.5 to 4 tons) but there were no crop loss. But the HYV variety faced a crop loss. This is the key point in understanding the so called âmitigationâ and âadaptationâ demonstrated by the farming communities.
On the other hand, HYV varieties such as BR 11 and BR 39 could not perform and in many cases, the plants dried up. The local varieties performed very well in the low lying areas. The Financial Express projection on 30 October, 2009 showed that “in all likelihood the country is headed to be blessed by a bumper harvest of aman paddy, barring any unforeseen calamity. The projected output of aman rice in the current season is 140 million tons which is higher than the projected output of such rice in the previous season”. In the drought prone areas in Pabna and Chapainabganj, farmers planted oil crop sesame in the dried Aman fields and recovered losses from Aman seedling losses, and planted rice when there was rain. The farmers planted crops not only as human food crops but also as fodder for livestock. But they did not wait for some experts who hardly knows anything about the history of Bangladesh agriculture, hardly any expertise in biodiversity-based production systems or at least knowledge of the farming practices and the resilience of the farmers to advise them on âmitigationâ and âadaptationâ. The training in industrial food production is of little value in mitigation and adaptation in countries like Bangladesh.
Copenhagen may end up being marketing and investment strategies for green technologies. The UN says the world needs an investment of US $ 200 billion to fight climate change The present regime in Bangladesh is promise bound to take a leap to âDigital Bangladeshâ and committed to âgreenâ Bangladesh with technologies from âsecond green revolutionâ i.e., biotechnology and genetic engineering. This will not help the farming communities or the people of Bangladesh, but certainly help the corporations. Before taking a leap to hi-tech in agriculture, it must be realized that Green Revolution is mostly responsible for making climate crisis more disastrous.