National Council of Churches in India
United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India& India Peace Centre
Interfaith Discussion on “Life-giving Agriculture”
26th December 2016, NCCI Campus, Nagpur, India.
Thirty participants from major faiths including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism and Secular, Dalit and Gender ideologies participated in an Interfaith discussion on ‘Life Giving Agriculture’ (LGA) on the 26th December 2016 at NCCI Campus, commemorating the ‘National Farmers’ Day’.
The grave agricultural situation and in particular the incidence of farmer suicides in India were the backdrop of the discussion, which focused on how faith communities and secular ideologues could contribute towards liberating the ‘agri-culture’ from the ‘agri-business’!
Rev. Christopher Rajkumar of NCCI in his introduction narrated how Monsanta and Bayer are taking over agriculture and converting it into agribusiness, and also about the issue of GMOs. If, as was claimed , GMOs and Agri-business would bring more profits, why have alarming numbers of Indian farmers taken their lives over the last years in Vidarbha, Telangana, Karnataka, Punjab, Tamilnadu and elsewhere? In fact GM seeds and products are hazardous to health. Even the milk we drink, eggs and meat we eat are stuffed with GMOs and Chemicals since cows, hens and goats are fed with GM and Chemically modified foods. Further he called the faith communities and civil society and peoples movements to come together for a collective campaign against the GMOs and Agri-business.
Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad the General Secretary of NCCI gave a Christian theological perspective to the concept of ‘Life-Giving’ Agriculture. According to the biblical narrative of creation in Genesis, God created humans, to serve as ‘farmers’ who would till and maintain God’s creation, in integral relationship with it. However humans oriented to industrialization and urbanization have become more selfish, money minded and profit oriented. The story of Joseph in the Bible highlights how with the objective of providing food security for the people of the region during the seven years drought, Joseph was used by the Pharaoh to rob people of their money, their properties and their very lives – they were made slaves of Pharaoh. As faith communities, we need to ensure food security and dignity of life for the poor and needy in the spirit of love and justice.
“Nowadays, seeds are being used as a means of power and domination,” expressed Janab Rafik Sheik, the Muslim representative from Jamaat-e-Islam According to him, “the technological manipulation, control, concentration and commercialization of seeds by a small group of gigantic capitalist companies is putting humankind and nature in danger”. He further explained, seeds are more than “just seeds,” and their culture and handling is more than just an economic activity. In his view, seeds are not only material units but also symbolic structures. “Code, information systems – seeds are living routes, pathways from ancient times and itineraries of the contemporary as well as keys to possibilities we still do not know,” he argued. Therefore, the way seeds are cultivated and used is not a simple mechanical activity, but an expression of social relations that link nature, economics but also politics and ecology. For him, all this lends a religious dimension to the struggle to recover and protect the diversity of native seeds – an urgent task aimed at preserving life by ensuring food autonomy and security.
Venerable Bikku Mahapandeji explained how Buddhism consider land and agriculture as holy. The concept of ‘Akshaya Patra’ in Buddhism, where the monks collect food and share with the needy is an example of how Buddhists practice and ensure food for all and eradicate starvation. Further he said, according to Gotham Buddha earth is holy and belongs to God, so we as humans should protect earth from harm. Further, he said, Buddha was close to trees and learnt from them. So, we could also involve in planting and protecting trees for mutual dependence.
The house was then opened for reflections and responses:
The participants reflected from their respective ideological and faith backgrounds and experiences. It is observed and expressed that, in the case of India, the tragedy starts with the introduction, some 15 years ago, of genetically modified cotton seeds. With the government subsidizing cotton production, high profits persuaded farmers to move into mono-culture, eventually taking loans to rent more land to cultivate. Along the way, they also gave up sowing food crops. Everyone seemed to be happy until the market collapsed. When the prices dropped, the farmers were unable to pay back their loans, and the banks expropriated their land. And slowly first some, then many farmers started committing suicide. According to official figures, between 2001 and 2015 the number of those who took their lives hit the 100,000 mark.
Rev. Logan Samuel noted that the present globalization-manipulated agricultural scenario ” has become a death trap”. “Farmers have gone down from wealth to poverty within a decade. Many farmers could not stand the loss of dignity.” Therefore , he said , we need to be united in supporting life giving agriculture (LGA) practices and the farmers who practice alternate agriculture. Religious communities should be encouraged to use the LGA products and promote LGA. Thus he asserted that we as community workers and representatives of different faith communities who have come together, should encourage and advocate LGA and boycott the present dominant corporate and market-driven model in Agriculture.
Mohan Kothekar an activist and secular ideologue, himself has become involved with organic farming at his own farm and has been promoting the idea at all levels, where he teaches and encourages agrarian society to see their future from an ecological point of view. For all this to happen, he needed to learn from experienced farmers, and got involved in direct trade with them. Mohan’s personal experience resonates with a broader movement in Vidarbha . In the rural Nagpur region, a local farming group has played a crucial role in promoting organic farming and a producer-consumer direct trade system. After a 15-year struggle, this group, civil society organizations and the local government are finally working together within the framework of a “forum for an alternative Agricultural Movement” that promotes organic farming as well as traditional local farmers’ markets. The “Seed” struggle is only a part of a broader effort to promote life-giving agriculture. A growing number of organizations and people should rally around this model, which is a good alternative to the current capital-intensive, export-oriented, mono-cultural and predominantly profit-driven dominant model.
This present day model, said Rajesh Jadhav, VCLC-NCCI, who participated in the forum, “compels farmers to use genetically modified seeds, pesticides, chemical fertilizers and automation, leading to the degradation of the soil, loss of biodiversity, and concentration of land in fewer hands”.Instead, the life-giving agriculture model must be centered around organic farming which presents itself as being “socially just, environmentally friendly and economically viable” Balu Lohkare,a farmer from Butibori asserted that organic farming actually increases farmers’ production levels, thus alleviating poverty while increasing food security.
Mr. Kasta Dip, offered the IPC campus for the promotion of alternate agricultural initiatives. Further he expressed that it seems simple but it isn’t. It never has been. However, promoters of life-giving agriculture would say, experience proves that resistance against the dominant model is possible when all members of a community are united in the search for alternatives.
Mr. Anand and Mr. Nikunj Joshi from the Sarathi Trust offered to provide volunteers in uniting and networking the farmers who practice LGA in Vidarbha region and promote the LGA products all over Nagpur and Vidharba region.
The following suggestions were proposed to be executed collectively:
- To sensitize the society (including college professors, learned people and farmers) about the urgency of life-giving agriculture. Also relate problems of farmers with caste discrimination.
- To form groups of volunteers who will sensitize not only the society about life giving agriculture but also express solidarity and network with farmers.
- To form organizations of farmers who will stand for the principles of life giving agriculture. Where such organizations already exist, to form a network of such organizations
- To encourage and promote authentic Organic Farming including identifying genuine organic products from bar codes on the packaging.
- To encourage farmers to organize seed festivals, food festivals, etc.
- To address the problems and needs of farmer widows and their children.
- To organize a “No to GM Products” campaign
- To adopt villages transforming them into models of life-giving agriculture.
- To provide training for farmers in life giving (alternate) agriculture and allied activities.
- To facilitate loans for farmers as well as crop insurance
- To encourage farmers to develop seed banks.
- To observe Gratitude Sunday in honor of farmers.
- To examine the National Agricultural Policy and other related policies to see whether they are people and eco- friendly.
The discussions were found meaningful and it was suggested to have more such discussions at different forums, congregations and communities.
NCCI – Commission on Unity and Mission (an integrated commission of Mission and Evangelism &
Justice, Peace and Creation).