Nature Talk

Few edible grains are as ancient as rice. No edible grain has manifested in so many varieties as rice. Few edible grains have a presence as widely as rice. No edible grain is consumed by such a large proportion of humanity as rice. No grain has become an integral part of human culture as rice. No grain is so revered as rice. Rice legends abound in the literature. Rice rituals dominate cultural practices. Rice has been a symbol of human freedom, a communitarian living. Central to this freedom is the multitude of rice forms and their preservation by the cultivators. Sadly, from the mid years of the last century, attempts have begun to strip rice away from its halo that glows with human freedom, cultural expressions, and reverence; and instead to posit it in the environment of investment and profit, in a purely commercial ambience. The growing population demanded larger rice productivity and provided coveted alibi for departure from traditional farming. Mechanized farming entered. Entered the use of chemical fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide. A bewitching nomenclature was given to this change. It was called Green Revolution. Agricultural scientists largely batted in its favour. Those who appealed for prudence, showed feeding multitude was possible within traditional farm practices with the use of indigenous seed, were marginalized and even victimized. The corporation interest in rice was beginning to dominate. The Rockefellers and the Fords, two US Corporations, jointly funded the establishment of International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in Manila, Philippines, when in India a similar institution Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), funded by the Government of India, was already in active operation. The conflict that arose between these two institutions over the transfer of germ -plasms and imposition of high yielding IRRI seeds, and its tragic consequences have been well chronicled. The control over seed by big business then was emerging as the agenda. More than half of the world population, feeding on rice as their main grain, appeared to them (big business) extremely tempting. This temptation has increased manifold in the globalized economic regime controlled by the triumvirate of World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization. The present millennium began with the call for a second Green Revolution. It is claimed that the evils of first Green Revolution will be absent in the second. The contingency of land losing its fertility, which cultivators in first Green Revolution experienced due to over use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, will not arise in the second Green Revolution, it is claimed. The resistance would be built in to the seed, as it would be genetically modified in the laboratories of big multinational corporations. Market alone will mediate between the cultivators and the seed. Every year farmer shall purchase it, and the tradition of preserving seed for the next year will become illegal; if not, with terminator seeds it will be any way futile. It is another matter that the introduction of genetically modified (GM) food has become the subject of heavy criticism. But there is no denying that the big agribusiness companies have come out in a big way to control the seed by controlling its distribution, by denying its preservation, and by compelling the farmer to purchase their seed every year. They are hell bent on exploiting a huge market of rice-consumers for profit. The emerging scenario is threatening. The diversity of rice forms is shrinking. The indigenous practices of rice cultivation are threatened. Farmers’ age-old freedom, which the diverse rice forms and the practice of preserving the seed for season after season had assured, is threatened. What appears frightening is the prospect of a few big businesses of the first world controlling the food security of a large population of the humanity that inhabits the ‘third world’. The fear of these big businesses causing unprecedented famines to trample the sovereignty of the market countries is hunting. But while such frightening prospect is looming large, it is heartening to see the rise of many institutions, which are trying to protect the indigenous varieties of rice and spread awareness in favour of its traditional farming, as they believe that sustainability, which is so central to the survival of humanity, can alone be ensured by traditional farming.