Deskilled to be Reskilled

A whole new set of words like jeevamrit, bijamrit and panchagavya rule the roost in modern day agriculture of our country and thank God, none of them keeps any type of affiliation to any of the synthetic substances and chemical toxins that literally took Indian agriculture by storm with the government engineered emphasis on the so called green revolution. 

With no such godfathers like pesticide corporations and advocates like university trained extension officers and patronage of government exchequers, a silent revolution, for sure, is on the offing in the present day agriculture of our country. It’s a revolution sans weapons, sans indoctrinations, sans ‘university wits’, but led by enthusiastic youngsters who have been thoroughly disillusioned of that much talked about rosy side of chemical agriculture. Its high priests are none from the ivory towers of agriculture research but from the much familiar laboratories of the soil. They refer to natural fertilizers, organic fungicides and harmless pesticides prepared from locally available materials. And self anointed extension workers, either from farmer associations or nonprofits, are visiting villages and training farmers on how to prepare and apply them on their farms.

This note is no treatise on organic farming movements and their approaches to farming in general, but on deskilling of some deliberately manoeuvred skills and theory-purging which the farming community need in the days this evergreen revolution. The accumulated chemical load has to be washed off the farm fields and chemical teachings washed off the brains of the farmers. How else can we call this mission if not as deskilling and disillusioning of the masses? 

Deconstructing the systematically planted and propelled chemical wisdom of 20-30 years is no easy task. Till some two-three decades back, batch after batches of extension workers were visiting villages and encouraging farmers to use chemicals in agricultural operations and to adopt artificial processes that would increase their crop yield to unimaginable heights. Conventional knowledge, which had been propelling desi agriculture for centuries, relied unscientifically on locally available materials and traditional wisdom which both were insufficient to feed the one hundred crores odd population of this country at that time.

The honeymoon of green revolution ends up in sour lessons and sourer experiences these days. Corresponding to this loss of faith in the lab focused farming technology dawns a renewed attention in the once discarded ways of farming and time tested technologies. Hence the special attention paid by our national budget this year to the till now silently operated Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF). Today, we’re seeing that the products and processes being prescribed to farmers by people’s scientists are different from those ‘lab tested’ lessons of the preceding decades.
In 1974, in his book Labor and Monopoly Capital, American political economist Harry Braverman argued that capitalism had a pervasive tendency to reorganize jobs at lower skill levels than previously. According to him, separating intelligence from muscle helps capitalists dominate both. He termed this process ‘deskilling’.
Decades back we had witnessed more than enough of deskilling in Indian agriculture with the government owned exhortation for green revolution. Unfortunately that was in favour of a chemically motivated system in farming. It was a process in which a farmer eventually became a labourer, who had to blindly follow the instruction given by seed or pesticide companies through their extension workers, dealers, or according to the labels on the packaging of crop inputs. When purchasing inputs such as seeds and fertilisers, farmers were increasingly seen to rely on hearsay or advertising because their individual or collective wisdom did not have an alternative that hold water in face of the lab validated ‘new lessons’. When it came to cultivating crops farmers ceased to apply their own knowledge of ecology, soil fertility management, pest management, or seed preservation, which they used to consider till half a century back as equal to their holy scriptures.
The green revolution of the 1960s, which focused on increasing agricultural production through the use of High Yielding seeds, chemical fertilizers, and newer methods of cultivation, the traditional wisdom of farmers gave way to lab validated information packages and advisories from multinational input companies. Agricultural practices became increasingly ‘standardized’ as a result.
After the green revolution, agriculture in India underwent a sea change. While this form of agriculture increased the yield of some crops to a great extent, it also gave rise to many more serious issues such as the degradation of the ecosystem.
It took 25 years after the green revolution to bring the idea of sustainability into the centre stage of the discourses on development, thanks to the publication of ‘Our Common Future’ (1987) which is also known as the Brundtland Report). This report, originally produced for the United Nations, placed environmental issues firmly on the political agenda and proposed to see environment and development as a single issue. Gradually, people started talking about organic or natural farming as an alternative to the so called scientific agriculture, as it could take care of the issues related to environmental degradation.
Today, India is home to an estimated 30 percent of all organic producers in the world. Most of them are small-holder and marginal farmers. Ironically they are the very same lot who were deskilled earlier of the processes of traditional farming at the advent of green revolution in favour of its chemical lessons. It might look perhaps sarcastic that the farmers of India need now a reskilling in those deskilled areas. Perhaps it may be the greatest challenge organic farming faces these days.

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