There is serious allegation that modern agriculture symbolized by massive deployment of energy and chemical intensive inputs has helped only to quantitatively increase the food supply while qualitatively bringing down the benefits to mankind. Green revolution in India was hailed once as a miraculous achievement because the country was able to raise food production through technologies developed ingenuously and adopted willingly by the farmers. GOI is talking about a second green revolution with MoFPI even announcing its future programs to usher in an 'evergreen' revolution, whatever that means. Degradation of farm lands, contaminated water bodies, tainted food supply and rural poverty are all now being attributed to the past wrong agricultural practices. How far this can be accepted, especially after honoring all who contributed to green revolution, in sixties and seventies is another dilemma. Are we becoming a thankless society condemning the very same people who were heroes till recently?
This blogger does not wish to enter into the controversy by blaming any person or organizations and leave it to those in charge of our agriculture to ponder over the criticisms based on facts and figures. But in a recent piece of introspection by Mr Devinder Sharma, a learned food and trade policy analyst , as published by Deccan Herald of July 9, 2009, came to the conclusion based on his analyzes, that growth of agricultural production, achieved by the country due to green revolution, entailed a high cost in terms of progressive decline in the levels of some critical nutrients. Out of the 12 nutrients evaluated there seems to be decline in case of 6, in crops harvested from high-yielding variety seeds. Similarly between 1950 and 1999, garden vegetables grown with input intensive production technologies, were found to have significantly reduced levels of six nutrients which include iron, calcium, phosphorus, protein, riboflavin and ascorbic acid. Such a situation is indeed startling and on an average the drop in nutrients in food grains amounted to 15%-40%, with copper content declining as much as 80%. Whether the lower levels of copper and other nutrients in the staples has contributed to the widely prevalent modern day diseases like hypercholesterolemia needs to be probed scientifically.
Such alarming changes were reported vis-a-vis iron, calcium and phosphorus in pulses, rice and wheat. To day's pulses, the major source of proteins for poor vegetarians (who cannot afford to buy adequate quantity of milk), have some what reduced levels of this critical macro nutrient. Historically foods raised between 1845 and 1960 had uniformly same concentration of nutrients and the decline as seen to day started coinciding with the beginning of the high yielding era under green revolution. There appears to be a correlation between higher yield and nutrient content in the crops, probably because of depletion of many critical soil nutrients in the exhausted soil, as farmers, in their relentless pursuit of high yield from their limited land holdings, started replacing the traditional 'broad nutrients' rich natural organic manure with 'limited nutrients' containing synthetic fertilizers on a large scale. The increasing attraction to organic foods by many consumers may augur well for the future since chemical fertilizer use is ruled out in raising these crops.
Country needs such incisive and objective analysts like Mr Devinder Sharma to bring to surface many startling, though unpalatable, facts of vital concern to the citizens, which otherwise get burried in the avalanche of pedestrian information barrage articulated by the modern day media barons in the name of news coverage. India must wake up to the reality that input intensive agricultural technology cannot be the sole answer to the food problem and alternative 'farmer and consumer friendly' options must be explored for a better and more secure future. It is unfair to condemn down right the green revolution which after all served the purpose of avoiding large scale starvation in the country though at the cost of progressively declining health of the population unwittingly.