01/27/2016

The pulse of life

When pulses are removed from farming systems, synthetic nitrogen fertilisers are used… A recent study has shown that organic farming increased nitrogen content of soil between 44 and 144 per cent.

Pulses are truly the pulse of life: for the soil, for people and the planet. In our farms they give life to the soil by providing nitrogen. This is how ancient cultures enriched their soils. Farming did not begin with the Green Revolution and synthetic nitrogen fertilisers. Whether it is the diversity-based systems of India, or the three sisters planted by the first nations in North America, or the ancient Milpa system of Mexico, beans and pulses were vital to indigenous agro-ecological systems.

As Sir Albert Howard, known as the father of modern agriculture, writes in An Agricultural Testament, comparing agriculture in the West with agriculture in India: “Mixed crops are the rule. In this respect the cultivators of the Orient have followed nature’s method as seen in the primeval forest. Mixed cropping is perhaps most universal when the cereal crop is the main constituent. Crops like millets, wheat, barley and maize are mixed with an appropriate subsidiary pulse, sometimes a species that ripens much later than the cereal. The pigeon pea (cajanus indicus), perhaps the most important leguminous crop of the Gangetic alluvium, is grown either with millets or with maize… Leguminous plants are common. Although it was not until 1888, after a protracted controversy lasting 30 years, that Western science finally accepted as proved the important role played by pulse crops in enriching the soil, centuries of experience had taught the peasants of the east the same lesson.”

The monocultures promoted by the Green Revolution had a direct impact on the decline of pulse production by displacing biodiversity, and with it depleting soil fertility. Mixed cropping was impossible with the intensive use of chemicals of the Green Revolution. With the change from mixed cropping to monocultures, less pulses were planted, production reduced and with the absence of legumes, nitrogen levels in the soil got depleted.

The Green Revolution ensured India produced more rice and wheat, but our pulses have disappeared from the monoculture fields. Between 1960-61 and 2010-2011, acreage under wheat has gone up from 29.58 per cent to 44.5 per cent and rice from 4.79 per cent to 25 per cent. Meanwhile, the area under pulses has dropped from 19 per cent to 0.21 per cent, oilseeds from 3.9 per cent to 0.71 per cent, millets from 11.26 per cent to 0.21 per cent. When measured in terms of nutrition per acre and health per acre, Punjab is actually producing less food and nutrition as a result of the Green Revolution.

Keep Reading on Seed Freedom

Comments are closed.