bullock

The Sangh Parivar has often talked a lot about its big concern for the rich heritage of the country, but now that there are several significant cases of the BJP-led union government inflicting heavy harm to this heritage, why is it so quiet about this?

Bullocks have been the most useful farm animals of India for several centuries, for ploughing, transport, irrigation, food-processing, manure.  Farmers have always taken a big pride in their bullocks, as seen in bullock-cart races, as seen in folk-lore and literature.

With the advent of tractors their role reduced in some areas but in vast parts they still remain very useful. With the return of natural farming and organic farming in some areas and emphasis on reducing fossil fuel footprint all over, their importance has acquired a new dimension.

However during the last seven years or so the technology of sexed semen or sex selectivity has been heavily promoted by the union government in the context of cattle breeding, the aim being to ensure that only she-calves are born. In other words, over vast parts of the country, bullocks are being prevented from even taking birth.

It is strange that the Sangh Parivar which earlier used to take such great pride in bullock carts that sometimes its big leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee appeared in big rallies in bullock carts, is now silent at such grave harm being caused to bullocks.

What is more, while the technology being promoted is specifically anti-bullock, ultimately when one gender of a species is prevented from taking birth this is bound to be harmful also for the other gender too and hence for the entire species. So this technology will harm both bullocks and cows in the longer-term, although the Sangh Parivar has always claimed that it is deeply committed to cow protection.

The Sangh Parivar has also maintained that it is committed to the protection of our rich agricultural biodiversity. Particularly in oilseeds our country has been very rich in having very good skills and biodiversity for growing many varieties of traditional edible oil giving crops including groundnuts, mustard, sesame etc. In addition there are many other such crops, some of them specific to tribal and hilly areas, with special characteristics and very useful in their own way. The rich nutritional and even medicinal uses of these crops are well established. Their residues provide the best nutrition for farm and dairy animals.

There is enormous potential for increasing the production of these crops, as the indigenous varieties, suitable climate and soil conditions as well as farming skills are already here. But ignoring this rich heritage, the BJP government has embarked on a path of increasing edible oil production which is based on palm oil. Palm plantations will be promoted at the cost of forest and farm biodiversity in highly sensitive eco-zones and will gobble huge amounts of water in a water-scarce country. Their processing will cause  pollution and will not yield the residues needed for the nutrition of farm and dairy animals. When the cheaper palm oil floods the market, it will become more and more difficult for farmers of traditional oilseeds to get a proper price and they will face very bleak prospects. So why is the Sangh Parivar silent at what appears to be a big and permanent blow to traditional oilseeds? Is it because a big role has been given in palm oil development to the private, dubiously acquired enterprises linked to a yoga baba close to the ruling establishment and the Sangh Parivar?

Rice is the most precious crop and India has been home to some of the richest rice biodiversity. This has been declining fast and now a further blow is being struck by very large-scale fortification as there will be an increasing pressure to prioritize those varieties which are more suitable for fortification technology. In fact the entire fortification push, which is questionable on several other grounds as well including health risks, is likely to accentuate greatly the already ongoing rush towards very large-scale processing of food and domination of this processing by big business interests, as warned already by the farmers’ movement last year.

What we are witnessing now is a full blown crisis for small-scale, cottage-scale processing of food, including grains, oilseeds and other products. In terms of skills and technologies, India has very rich potential for cottage scale food processing which is best suited for nutrition and health of people as well as farm animals. In the Gandhian and decentralized patterns, small and cottage scale food processing are very important, whereas it has been shown time and again that control over processing can give big business interests enormous clout for gaining wider control on the food system. This is what the BJP led regime is trying to achieve, using false pretexts, and the Sangh Parivar appears to have no problems with the loss of great heritage of biodiversity, skills and livelihoods associated with village and cottage level processing of various foods particularly grains, oilseeds and milk.

However even a bigger threat has appeared in the form of the regulatory changes recently made for the introduction of gene edited crops, which can be seen as the beginning of genetically modified (GM) food crops in India. As there was enormous opposition to the introduction of any GM food crops in India, a more quiet but no less sinister entry is sought to be made with closely allied gene editing technology.  As is well established, the technology of GM crops is highly concentrated in the hands of a few multinational companies. It is being used to gain control over the food system despite the fact that it is very damaging for health and environment. Here the particular context is that this will be very harmful for our heritage based on rich biodiversity of crops as GM crops have an inherent tendency to push for vast monocultures of just GM varieties based on expensive seeds. Look at what happened to our rich biodiversity of cotton varieties once GM technology was brought in for cotton.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food, Protecting Earth for Children and Man over Machine.


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