Agriculture has witnessed a long historical transition from a livelihood-based culture to business-oriented cultivation.
Modern farming is a threat to our food security, local food culture and overall biological diversity. Around 75 per cent of the total food production in the world is dependent on only 12 species of plants and five breeds of animals. Also approximately 60 per cent of human's calorie and protein dietary requirement is met by rice, wheat and maize only
Within this period, the trend, practices and modes of production in agriculture have clearly been diverted from its origin.
Markedly, after the establishment of the capitalist model of economy around the globe, agriculture is entirely being driven by profit-oriented motives. In short, it has become commercial.
Apparently, agriculture becoming a commercial business is no big deal, particularly in this capital-centric human society. However, a deep down holistic study suggests something contradictory. It is indeed a big threat to the natural world. The unpredictable ecological crisis and several other environmental consequences associated with commercial farming are now even more distinctive to us all.
Unfortunately, this business-oriented agriculture is also regarded as the most productive form of agriculture.
It has been characterised by an intensified, concentrated and specialised form of farming with accelerated trade and profit at the centre. In such a case, we can only expect farming prioritisation of limited crops and animals that can ensure maximum benefits.
This predicament will ultimately help the practice of monoculture to flourish.
It is also evident that this type of farming is a threat to our food security, local food culture and overall biological diversity. Around 75 per cent of the total food production in the world is dependent on only 12 species of plants and five breeds of animals. Also approximately 60 per cent of human's calorie and protein dietary requirement is met by rice, wheat and maize only. This statistical data are also a visual representation of our narrowing food production system dominated by the capitalist mode of production.
Furthermore, the dependency of commercial farming on certain crops is neglecting the overwhelming agrobiodiversity potential of our local community.
And this ultimate negligence is leading towards the threat and loss of such diversity from our environment.
As reported by Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), out of 484 cultivated indigenous crop species of Nepal, more than 200 species are categorised under Neglected and Underutilised Crop Species (NUS). Consequently, this ignorance of prevailing agrobiodiversity of several crops and animal species is oppressing the socio-cultural diversity, nutritional diversity and as a whole food security of our local community.
Apart from this, the issue of chemical pollution is also one of the most serious consequences that have emerged parallel with commercial/modern farming, which is emphasising the uncontrolled and indiscriminate use of pesticides.
Hence, these modern farms are encouraging the use of chemical and pesticides on both plant and animal farms.
Information regarding the use of pesticides in Nepal from various sources shows that during 2012- 2019, the use of pesticides increased significantly by almost three-fold. From this, we can easily predict how our environment, especially water and land resources, is being degraded by our farming practices.
If we look at the per unit level of production, too, commercial farms are less efficient. Due to the poor soil structure and quality damaged by chemical fertilisers, high input dependent crop varieties and weak plant resistance to several diseases and injuries, almost 5-10 times more input, such as water, fertiliser and seeds, is consumed by those monoculture-based commercial farms in comparison to diversified small-scale farms. In short, modern farming is wastes a lot of resources and cannot sustain our environment.
Globally, people have learnt about the negative consequences of pesticides from the 1962 book "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson and witnessed the pesticide's toxicity in 1984 from the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in India. However, the consumption of chemicals by farms has surprisingly increased over the period.
This situation raises the question of our progressive science and technology, which has not been able to replace harmful chemicals from our agricultural fields with more sustainable and eco-friendly approaches.
Or, may be the producers are reluctant to adopt emerging methods and technologies.
Analysing all these facts and information, it is crystal clear that this situation is not due to the lack of education and knowledge of people regarding the adverse effects of pesticides on human and environmental health. In fact, people are now more aware about their detrimental impact than they were in the past. But, the profit-driven farms are only concerned about the competitive global market. And consumers on the other hand are left with no choice but to buy toxic products.
Farming on a large-scale basis is not itself an issue of environment. The problem arises when it becomes unable to acknowledge the law and ethics of nature.
When it neglects the integrity, sustainability and diversity of our natural environment, then it is definitely a big problem. Several hybrid seeds and GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), for instance, that are being introduced and implemented in the agricultural sector might become a threat to our biological environment in the near future.
All in all, we cannot deny that there is rising demand for food along with increasing population, but on the other hand it is also an unethical and suicidal to keep the environment at risk for the sake of short-term needs fulfillment. So, it is essential to keep the pointer balance between these two big weights that the world is facing. Should the pointer level fluctuate up and down for a period of time, then it could be an alarming signal about the demise of human civilisation.
A version of this article appears in the print on February 1, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.