‘Only organic farming can truly reduce past emissions’

Anvita Srivastava
Monday, 2 December 2019

Dr Vandana Shiva, a renowned environmentalist and one of the founders of Navdanya, an NGO that promotes biodiversity conservation, organic farming and the process of seed saving, speaks to Anvita Srivastava about role of industrial agriculture in climate change and how organic farming is the solution for that.

- How is agriculture and climate change related?
Everyone thinks about climate change in terms of energy consumed directly - like light and transport. I decided to look at the ‘Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’ report on the contribution of our food system and my study shows all greenhouse gas emission in climate change comes from industrial agriculture and direct use of fossil fuels. Tractors are driving out the bullocks from our farms. It takes emission of fossil fuel directly and indirectly from the production of chemical fertilisers. One kg of production of chemical fertilisers uses two litres of fossil fuel. Nitrogen fertiliser emits nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide. There is segregation (of garbage) but eventually, everything is mixed up, which goes into the big mountain and emits methane. So industrial farming almost contributes 50 per cent to climate change, 75 per cent to water crises. 

- Do you feel that organic farming is the solution and can help in reversing climate catastrophe?
Nature works in a cycle and not in extractive lines. When you grow organic, you recycle organic. Through organic farming, you can pull out the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If the whole world goes for organic farming tomorrow, in ten years, we can get rid of this toxification. Your solar and wind farms cannot do that. They can purely reduce future emission but they cannot pull out the past emission. Through organic farming, we can reverse climate catastrophe. This is why I tell young people, who are fighting against climate change, to begin growing a garden. It is the solution to climate change. One aspect of climate change for India, especially Maharashtra, outside the Western Ghats, is that most of the land is in rain shadow and extended drought is a big problem. 0.5 per cent of organic matter holds 80,000 litres in the soil. No amount of irrigation will be able to provide you with the water to protect your crops. However, soil organic matter can provide the moisture to survive with an extended drought. 

- Tell us something about ‘Navdanya’ and how it is changing trends in agriculture?
‘Navdanya’ works on the simple ideas of making farmers sovereign in their seeds so that they are not dependent on any company. We asked the farmers to do organic farming as it does not need chemically bred seeds and we will make sure that economy around their seeds grows. Our research has shown that when the corporation controls the distribution, farmers receive one per cent and when farmers shape the market by partnering with each other, they receive 70 to 80 per cent. So, it is time when we have hundreds and millions of community markets.

- What about the debate about productivity through organic farming? Will it produce enough food to feed the seven billion population of the world? It is also very expensive.
According to FAO, there are two billion people who don’t know if they will eat within a week. The present system is not working, as it is not getting food to one billion people of the seven billion. When you measure yield, all it measures is what has left the farm. It does not measure the farm health, soil fertility, how many bees and butterflies pollinating your crops. Therefore, we decided to measure nutrition per acre. What matters in food is not the scales but how the food you eat interacts with the guts. Our research based on 200 real farms has shown that using native seed and growing organic farming can feed two times India’s population with good nourishment. It is false to say that we have to spread chemicals to feed 7 billion because they aren’t being fed. Chemical food is too expensive for the Earth and for the farmers. The sad thing is that the Earth is speaking through climate change, while the farmers’ cost is speaking through farmers suicide. The only people who are not waking up are the consumers who are paying through their health. It is a totally direct burden that they are carrying with their diabetes and cancers. If you add all these externalities, the cost that our country is bearing is more than our GDP. 

Organic is the only affordable system for the Earth and farmers.

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