Nayakrishi Andolon: a pathway for just, equitable, and sustainable transitions and future in the global SouthFarida Akhter, UBINIG || Tuesday 20 September 2022 ||
The people of Bangladesh are ‘victims’ of the very predatory foundation of colonial-industrial civilization, based on fossil fuel. The country is a site of industrial extractive expansionism of exploitative global order. It is exceptionally vulnerable to climate change; and has been facing extreme weather with more and more frequent natural disasters like storms, cyclones, oceanic surges, drought, erosion, landslides, flooding, and salinization. These disasters are already displacing large numbers of people. Estimates show that by 2050, one in every seven people in Bangladesh will be displaced by climate change and up to 18 million people may have to move because of sea-level rise alone [CRP, 2021]. This number is in addition to the usurpation and displacement caused by imposed development policies of multilateral and bilateral institutions. Violent displacement of population from agrarian economy and rural livelihood is systematic. The inherent process of capitalist transformation alienates people from land and ceaselessly forces them to migrate to industrial cities. Industries, particularly the garment industries of Bangladesh, require a cheap supply of labour so that cheap apparel could be produced for global consumers.
As a country frequently hit by disaster, the people of Bangladesh have developed a rich practise of disaster management. The community collectivism of coming together not only regenerates the radical sense of community in the face of abstract market and bureaucratic dictates, people’s active participation to recover from disaster generates a form of collectivism that enhances the resilience and the survival potential of the affected community. During the disaster, people build networks, activate the old relations, and come forward for mutual aid demonstrating the power of self-determination and localization of people’s power. However, this potential of the people has never been harnessed. Instead, a highly coercive state has been installed with centralized power copied, adopted and imposed upon the laws, structures and administrative culture of the colonial era. All policy decisions are taken in the megacity, Dhaka. Highly bureaucratic and predesigned imposition of disaster aid and development policy by international development actors with a narrow and technical understanding of disaster recovery constitutes a massive challenge for the people. It is difficult to discuss and conceptualize a transition strategy that is just, equitable and sustainable for Bangladesh abstractly, independent of social and historical realities and predatory colonial legacies.
The just transition in Bangladesh, therefore, implies three interrelated but parallel strategies:
1. systematic critique and resisting the idea of ‘development’ imposed on colonial structures and cast in the model of capitalist industrial civilization. The primary requirement is the appropriate redesigning of economic, social, cultural, and technological transformation by ecological principles.
2. Designing appropriate strategies for industrial and agrarian sectors for just transition.
3. Bangladesh's contradictions and challenges exist merely as the assemblage of global relations, structure, and power that function to cause environmental and ecological destruction should be addressed.
The economic and technological transformation promoted by multilateral institutions requires sustained critique. A systematic understanding of options available for food production, labour utilization, and the development of knowledge, skill, and productivity must have local features, rather than models imposed from outside. In the seventies Bangladesh was forced to follow population control and modern agriculture, in the eighties, the neo-liberal policies of export-oriented industrialization led to the booming of the readymade garment industries, and export-oriented shrimp cultivation by destroying mangrove forests and liberalization of imports.
Just transition is already in discussion in Bangladesh, as it runs the world’s second-largest apparel export industry and suffers from warming emissions besides savage exploitation of cheap labour to provide cheap apparel for western consumers. But a just, equitable, and sustainable transition cannot happen to let the unjust system run as usual. The massively destructive extractive system is becoming more visible after climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. To get out of the extractive system, the Just transition has to ensure justice both for human beings as well as the environment. Nayakrishi Andolon, the farmers' biodiversity-based ecological movement, is a new pathway to achieve this goal.
Modernisation: the destruction of the biological foundation of agriculture
Bangladesh, a country with a wealth of biodiversity and natural resources, has been struggling to get out of poverty and underdevelopment, for over five decades since its independence in 1971. It is an agrarian society with the majority of people depending on agricultural work for their livelihood. It is a small country with a 147,570 km area and over 170 million people. But within this small area, there is huge diversity depicted by the Agroecological Zones (AEZ) Study conducted during the 1980s with diversity in physiography, soils, and land levels about flooding and agro-climatology. It recognized 30 agro-ecological regions and 88 subregions; further subdivided into 535 agroecological units [FAO/UNDP, 1988].
Agriculture is dominated by small farm holdings (less than a hectare) which constitute 84 per cent of total farming households; only over 14% are medium and large farms (over 7.50 acres) [BBS, 2015]. These farmers produce various crops, particularly rice, the staple food of the country. FAO estimates that 500 million small family farms, owning less than a hectare of land, are the source of more than 80 per cent of the world’s food supply. Bangladesh farmers belong to those categories of global farmers.
After independence, as studies show, agriculture was considered of paramount importance in the economy where the majority of the population depended on it for livelihood and contributed to the GDP by providing food, fibre, medicine and foreign exchange. However, the contribution of agriculture to GDP has been gradually declining. During 1983–84, the share of agriculture to GDP was 49% compared to only 10 per cent for the industrial sector, and 18 per cent for trade and transport. Since the 1990s the contribution of the agriculture sector to the GDP has been visible gradually reducing from 38% to only 12.9 per cent of the GDP in 2020 [WB, 2020]. The decline of agriculture’s share in GDP is seen as a sign of ‘modernization’ which is based on the notion that agriculture means low growth, backwardness, and lack of industrialization. Only ‘industrialization’ is high growth and civilization. In 2020, the share of industry in the GDP has gone up to 30% and the services sector contributed about 53.4%. It was an intended outcome of the policies to destroy farming as life and livelihood and turn lands into means of commercial activities, industries and industrial food production. Consequently, in such a modernised scenario, a country doesn’t need farmers; they are turned into surplus populations to be sold cheaply in the labour market.
So the contribution to GDP is not of much help to understanding agriculture from a livelihood perspective. Such perspectives which affect people’s lives, particularly those of women, are absent in the male denominated GDP calculations. The fact that agriculture’s contribution to GDP has declined, but continues to employ over 40% of the population, does not mean much, as it fails to grasp the complex nature of agriculture with the people and their livelihood in particular agro-ecological zones. The shift from agriculture to the so-called development and industrialization is bringing in different catastrophes in the lives of people, through the destruction of the biodiversity, environment, health, and rights of the farmers and women.
Destroying agriculture and the beginning of industrial food production.
Like many other countries in the global south, Bangladesh since the 1970s had to follow the donor-driven policies of modernizing agriculture called the “Green Revolution” which is essentially industrialization of food production by the use of chemicals (fertilizers-pesticides) extraction of groundwater for irrigation and mechanization in post-harvesting technologies. Industrial food production has been touted as a Green Revolution that destroyed biodiversity and promoted monoculture of HYV rice crop, gradually changing the seed technology so that farmers’ seed system could be destroyed and replaced by corporate seeds like HYV, Hybrid and GMOs. Millions of tons of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and the extraction of millions of litres of groundwater created an unjust system in the access to seeds, agricultural inputs and particularly groundwater.
Let me give an example of rice production to show the destructive agriculture. In 2020, Bangladesh’s rice (paddy) production was 54.9 million tonnes. Rice (Oryza sativa) production has increased from 14.9 million tonnes in 1971 to 54.9 million tonnes in 2020 growing at an average annual rate of 2.84%. Bangladesh being in the tropical region enjoys the diversity of seasons throughout the year. There are six seasons, 1. Summer (Grissho), April-June2. Rainy Season (Borsha), June - August 3 Autumn (shoroth), August - October 4 Late Autumn (Hemontho), October - December 5. Winter (Sheeth) December - February and 6 Spring (boshonto) February -April. These are distinctly felt in the crop pattern and in the farming practices. There used to be two major rice-growing seasons, Aus and Aman, but with modern agriculture, the third season was added for rice production, the Boro season. It is not a common practice in the rice culture. In the Boro season, “modern” high-yielding variety of rice are grown. The most common boro rice varieties BRRI dhan 28, BRRI dhan 29 developed by Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) since 1973. Hybrid rice varieties are also promoted by private seed companies as well as BRRI, which means more dependence on inputs. BRRI has developed so far only 100 HYV and hybrid rice varieties , out of which 39 are Boro. Boro is the dry-season irrigated rice planted during the Rabi crop season (from December to early February and harvested between April and June), conflicting with the winter crops of lentils, mustard, and many other cash crops. Earlier, boro was grown in very low-lying areas with residual water from the wet season such as Haors and irrigated manually using surface water in times of water shortage.
Boro rice causes disasters to farmers
The introduction of the boro rice in the drought-prone region is now causing disasters to the farmers. It accounts for 53.8% of land coverage; followed by aman rice, 38.6%; and aus rice, 7.6% according to estimates in 2018-19. The ‘food grains’ production during 2019 including rice, reached around 41.57 million metric tons of which Aus accounted for 2.70 million metric ton, Aman 14.13 million metric ton, Boro 19.62 million metric ton. [CRI, 2019]. That is about 47% of the rice production comes from the boro season, followed by 34% from Aman season and only 6% from Aus season.
Rice is interwoven with Bangali culture. Bangladeshi people are called “Bheto Bangalee” as the food habit includes three meals of rice a day. The government claims that food self-sufficiency has been achieved through increased rice production. But the people do not eat rice only. They eat vegetables, lentils, fish and meat along with rice. The supply of rice is important but should not be at the cost of other essential food items required for nutrition. Boro rice cultivation affects the cultivation of all other essential food crops such as pulses, lentils, vegetables, oilseeds as the land remains occupied with this “invader rice”. Because of its high input requirements, it creates an unjust system of dependence on commercial dealers, the profit makers. Farmers are left with very little role, except to provide their labour. In the end, when the rice is harvested and brought to the market, they do not get a fair price which is supposed to cover their input costs as well as their labour costs. The input dealers wait to get their payments back.
Thus the modern boro rice creates an extra-cost burden on the farmers. It also creates a system that gives more power to the sellers of the inputs and owners of the machines such as the Deep Tubewell. The groundwater that is a common natural resource is sold to users of the land. The unjust cash payment requirement of the inputs leads to indebtedness; an increased number of farmers are taking micro-credits, and even leads to shifting to other occupations; i.e. losing their livelihoods. According to the 2014 Rural Credit Survey (RCS) nearly 72% of all smallholder agricultural households are indebted, compared to only 6% of medium and 17% of non-agricultural households are indebted [Manoj Misra (2019)]. Micro-credits are given to women mostly, while husbands use the credit money, keeping the wives responsible for repayment. According to a study [Ferdous, A. , Begum, S. and Akter, J. (2020)] nearly half (49.5%) of the ‘housewives” receiving micro-credits are more likely to be from the farming households. As women do not own any land, they could not be categorized as farmers.
Among the smallscale farmers, there are share-croppers who share their harvest with the landowners on the basis of a predetermined contract. The land tenancy structure significantly influences the use of inputs and production costs, which in turn affect productivity. The poor farmers growing boro rice are responsible for all the input costs including paying for seeds, fertiliser, irrigation and labour. The landowner takes half of the harvest.
The sharecroppers’ situation is revealed in the statement by Joynal, a 32-year-old male sharecropper:
In 2011, we had a really good harvest of Boro rice. We applied TSP [Triple Super Phosphate] and urea fertilisers, which cost us 18,000 taka for three bigha of land. This year , the fertiliser price increase has added 7,000 taka to the cost. Meanwhile, private traders are selling sub-standard fertilisers. We will have to spend additional money on irrigation too . . . You know, we do not own the land. We sharecrop. We have to pay 3,500 taka per bigha in advance to the landowner, just for the Boro season. Already, heavy fog has twice damaged our [paddy] seeds. Later, a hailstorm destroyed a good part of our standing crops. Last year, we harvested 29.5 mands of paddy per bigha and the price was decent too. The market has since crashed and the weather has turned hostile. We also must pay back our loan from the Grameen Bank. Both my wife and I work tirelessly, because we cannot hire outside labour. I am really worried . . . Only Allah can save us [Manoj Misra (2019)]
Two young farmers from an indigenous community, Abhinath Marandi (30) and Rabi Marandi (27) committed suicide by taking poison (pesticide) near a Barind Multipurpose Development Authority (BMDA) deep tube well project on 23 March, 2022 as the tube well operator refused to irrigate their paddy fields in a drought condition This incident has a clear connection with the supply of irrigation water that they were refused to be given. This was not an “emotional” outbreak between the two brothers. They said, “Moner dukhey beesh kheyechi” (took the poison out of grief) Abhinath told his brother before his death. This is also not an isolated incident, but a continuation of the long deprivation of the small scale farmers all over the country practising modern agriculture. Abhinath and Rabi were worried because their paddy fields were dried up, as there was no rain. He visited BMDA deep tubewell operator for over 10-12 days to irrigate his paddy field, but the operator did not pay any heed to his plea. The newspaper reports mention that they expressed their frustrations to the machine operator, and threatened to commit suicide [Akhter, 2022]. It was not the Deeptubewell operator who was solely responsible for this unfortunate incident, rather the entire system of Boro rice cultivation dependent on the irrigation water.
Nayakrishi as foregrounding of Just Transition
The situation of farmers in the late 1980’s and early 1990s was already precarious where the farmers practising conventional agriculture with modern seeds (HYV), chemical fertilizers, pesticides and extraction of groundwater were fed up with the increasing cost of inputs and lower return on yields. Farmers were looking for an alternative. They are faced with the question of whether they wanted to go back to traditional agriculture or formulate a different practice which supersedes the modern agricultural methods and deals with the new emerging issues of biodiversity losses, ecological questions, farmers’ rights, women’s rights, food sovereignty – a lot of social, political and environmental issues. It was not going back to old times, rather it was for future transitions. So Nayakrishi from the beginning was not a technical transition from chemical-based agriculture to organic, but it grasped all the social, environmental, cultural, and political aspects of the farming communities.
The naming of Nayakrishi Andolon in the early 1990s was itself a challenge. It was when the global environmental and ecological movements were active prior to and after the Earth Summit (1992) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The term “biodiversity” was heard first time by many environmental activists and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was in place. Nayakrishi (Naya means new, Krishi means agriculture) evolved through discussions, debates and analysis. With it, the term Andolon was added as farmers as individuals cannot change the situation that is dominated by corporate interests and global players. The farmers have to continuously fight against the transformation of agriculture to industrial agriculture and against harmful technologies such as genetically modified seeds.
Nayakrishi Farmers follow ten simple rules, mirroring 10 fingers of their hands. The primary aim is to maintain and regenerate living and fertile soil, maintain and regenerate diverse life forms and eco-systemic variability and develop the capacity of the indigenous knowledge system to engage and appropriate the latest advance in biological sciences that could contribute to regenerating the planet, the earth system. These rules, since their initial formulation in 1997, are routinely reviewed based on new information, practical experiences and learning. To be a Nayakrishi farmer, one must follow all ten rules. However, the first five Rules such as ‘absolutely no use of pesticide’ or ‘any chemicals and learning the art of producing soil through natural biological processes’ are compulsory. These are the primary obligations to be a member of the movement. Rules 6 to 10 are more appealing to farmers interested in developing more integrated and complex ecological systems not only to maximize the yield but to contribute to innovating interesting ecological designs demonstrating the immense economic potential of biodiversity-based ecological farming and strengthening the practical forms of resistance against globalization. The economy is considered the site where the social exchange takes place between life-affirming activities of diverse communities [Mazhar, et al, 2021].
Resistance at the production level against chemicals and industrialisation of food production is generally known as 'organic' agriculture. However, Nayakrishi Andolon insists that food production must be based on the preservation of 'biodiversity'; making a fundamental paradigm shift from 'organic' food production to ' biodiversity-based agriculture'. Agriculture is not industry and 'organic' food production that has developed in the industrial food production system within a capitalist market, dictated by the market demand, is still locked within the 'industrial', 'capitalist' and 'production' paradigm.
For us, agriculture is a source of livelihood, far beyond the notion of employment. Agriculture is integrally related to many other occupations such as potters, blacksmiths, weavers, fishers etc. and it involves the entire family, not only one single person as the main breadwinner. Therefore, Nayakrishi is empowering women as they become the most important contributing members of the families.
Seed keeping, the most important task of women has been destroyed through the promotion of company seeds. Growing food by farmers is integral to keeping seeds for generations. Farmers regenerate and expand their biodiversity and genetic base. Threats to farming can come from agricultural policies and practices that deprive the farming communities of control and command over seed and genetic resources.
Reconstituting community seed network and knowledge practice to defeat global corporate seed business
The most effective strategy of the Nayakrishi farmers, particularly those of women was the emphasis on seed preservation, collection and regeneration of the local variety of seeds. They took a community-based approach through the Nayakrishi Seed Network (NSN) with Community Seed Wealth Centers and the Seed Huts. Through intensive interaction and sharing of knowledge and exchange of seeds among farmer women in each village or community, farmers progressed significantly in conserving and reproducing local planting materials. Through the shift to the local varieties, farmers gained a lot of confidence to continue food production. The farmers’ seed system contributed to seed and food sovereignty in the respective communities.
The Nayakrishi Seed Network operated through Community Seed Wealth Centres (CSWCs) and the Seed Huts at the village level are not merely physical structures to store and conserve seeds. Farmers of Nayakrishi Seed Network embed them in their day-to-day relationships with each other and with a particular environment and agroecological setting to ensure their biological existence. The striking character of CSWCs and Seed Huts is their capacity to augment the dynamic and cyclical relationship between in situ and ex situ conservation of planting materials that make farming possible, sustainable and gainful. It is gainful for farmers to enhance farmers’ capacity to regenerate the biological foundation of farming and generate almost all the required inputs from farming.
The Community Seed Wealth Centers are the institutional set-up located in one of the Biddaghors (learning centers) of UBINIG for seed collection, storage, preservation, distribution, exchange and regeneration. The tasks of the CSWCs include documentation and maintenance of general information of the area. The construction of CSWCs is based on two principles: (a) they must be built from locally available construction materials and (b) the maintenance should mirror the household\ seed conservation practices. Any difficulty encountered in the CSWCs usually reflects the problems that farmers are facing in their household conservation efforts.
CSWCs are part of the Nayakrishi Seed Network; therefore, farmer representatives participate in the decisions of the CSWCs. Any member of the Nayakrishi Andolon can collect seed from a CSWC with the promise that they will return after the harvest at least double the quantity received. Farmers can ask for seeds of the variety or varieties they have returned at any time.
Nayakrishi farmers also mobilize farmers against invasive seeds such as Hybrid, GMOs and any other technological aggression against the farmers seed system. Nayakrishi farmers are resisting the Bt brinjal and Golden Rice introduction in the country.
Uncultivated food: Reimagining nature to resist predatory practices
The Nayakrishi Andolon encourages the growth of uncultivated food varieties, with low-income farmers collecting nearly 40 percent of their food and nutrition from uncultivated sources. These food sources are also important for medicinal purposes, both for people and animals (Mazhar, 2019). Functionally, Nayakrishi defines agriculture as the management of both cultivated and uncultivated spaces to ensure the maximum yield per acre of land—invigorating various ecological functions of the elements of living Nature.
The uncultivated foods such as leafy greens, tubers, small fish and small animals are collected from agricultural fields, water bodies and forested areas where local biodiversity has been conserved. Amongst the very poor, landless members of these communities (comprising some 15% of the rural population, many of whom are women-headed households) dependence on uncultivated sources of food and fodder is nearly 100%. Throughout the year, their daily survival and well-being are ensured through the collection of uncultivated foods directly, and through systems of exchange with rice farmers and the sale of goats and chickens in the local market to enable the purchase of oil and other food items they need but cannot collect directly [UBINIG, 2002].
Reconstituting the power and command of women in agrarian production
The strategic role of uncultivated food and fodder in rural areas has important implications for land policies. The negative consequences of the privatisation of common areas are particularly experienced by women who rely on their surroundings for food and access to life-enhancing spaces and raw materials. Many of the productive activities of women in these communities are not mediated by the market or related directly to employment and income. Women are concerned about the privatisation of common lands and the transformation of public spaces such as roadsides and ponds as these have a direct impact on the livelihood options of people who depend on public spaces to graze animals or collect items for food or sale. Common areas and customary rights to these areas have been completely ignored in the policy context.
Ensuring the maintenance of uncultivated food sources in and around the immediate environment as common resources accessible is necessary as a food security issue for the community. The degree of control over local food sources, as opposed to uncertain access to uncertain markets, is the measure by which development programs can ensure the capacity of the poor communities to participate in the market. Rather than supplying food through state distribution systems and corporate subsidies, governments should protect and enhance locally cultivated and uncultivated biodiversity, including uncultivated food sources [Sanfec, 2005].
Resisting corporate categories
For Nayakrishi, the new term Nature-based solution (NbS) which encompasses terms such as – Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EBA), eco-disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR), and Green Infrastructure (GI) is nothing but diluting the problem however the new thing about NBS is that it involves working with and enhancing nature to help address societal challenges while also providing conservation and biodiversity benefits.
Nayakrishi would not like to be identified as a Nature-based solution to the growing problem of climate change that is man-made, and which is created by the domination of the corporate control over natural resources particularly on seeds, genetic materials etc. Nayakrishi challenges the very idea of industrialization and destruction of nature as ‘progress’. However, Nayakrishi is not only nature-based but also works towards a just system in the community for the poor, women, and indigenous people.
Apart from practical community activities Nayakrishi is engaged in systematic critique and resisting the idea of ‘development’ cast in the model of capitalist industrial civilization. In this context, Nayakrishi is a paradigm shift from the conventional idea of development, progress and industrialization. The Nayakrishi Andolon as a movement imagines and redesigns ecological communities for community prosperity and joyful living. Just transition is not merely a response to livelihood and environmental disasters, but identifying the crisis in our understanding of Nature and our role as human beings. Agriculture is an ideal site to reimagine the future of mankind where the current separation and contradiction between industry and agriculture could be minimized and resolved.
CRP, 2021; How the Climate Crisis Is Impacting Bangladesh,The Climate Reality Project, December 9, 2021, https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/how-climate-crisis-impacting-bangladesh
FAO/UNDP, Land Resources Appraisal of Bangladesh for Agricultural Development Report 2: Agroecological Regions of Bangladesh, FAO/UNDP, 1988
FAO, 2014; The State of Food and Agriculture: Innovation in Family Farming , 2014, Rome http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4040e.pdf
WB, 2020; Agriculture, forestry and fishing Value added (%of GDP); World Bank National Accounts Data, and OECD National Accounts Data Files https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NV.AGR.TOTL.ZS
CRI, 2019; Bangladesh towards achieving for security, 2009 – 2019, Centre for Research and Information, Dhaka, 2019
Manoj Misra (2019): Commercial Micro-Credit, Neo-Liberal Agriculture and Smallholder Indebtedness: Three Bangladesh Villages, Journal of Contemporary Asia, DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2019.1696386
Ferdous, A. , Begum, S. and Akter, J. (2020) Microcredit in Bangladesh: Impact on Borrowers’ Social Mobility Revisited. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 8, 163-180. doi: 10.4236/jss.2020.87014.
Akhter, 2022; Farmer Suicide: A violence of modern agriculture Apr 05,2022 |The New Age, Dhaka
Mazhar et al 2021; Farhad Mazhar, Farida Akhter and Upamanyu Das Nayakrishi Andolon: Geolocalization Bangladesh in Resilience in the face of COVID-19, Vol 1 on the series of weaving solidarity and Hope: Beyond Pandemics and Lockdowns, Global Tapestry of Alternatives
Mazhar, F. (2019). “Nayakrishi Andolon”. Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary. Ed: Kothari, A. et. al. New Delhi: Tulika Books.
UBINIG, 2002; Uncultivated food: summaries of preliminary data compiled from field reports, UBINIG 2002 in Uncultivated food: food that money can't buy by SANFEC | 16 Jan 2005 | Seedling - January 2005
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