Just a few weeks ago the United Nations proclaimed the gospel of human population growth which it said had reached a seven billion mark. Population and environmental experts including economists view this growth as bad indicator for natural resources sustainability.

They argue that as land remains the same many children are born daily who will in future need land to cultivate on and also other resources.

Asia is one of the continents where population has already reached ‘alarming rate’. China and India alone have population numbers reaching to about three billion.

The increase in population in Asia led to an increase in demand for food. In the 1960s and 1970s Asia introduced what it called the Green Revolution with an aim of increasing rice production.

Many agricultural experts hailed this move after noticing that crop yields improved. During the Green Revolution farmers used subsidised hybrid seed and chemical fertilizers.

These are the technologies Africa has copied for its farmers and Malawi cannot be ignored on this one. The subsidised seed and chemical fertilizers have improved food production with Malawi registering bumper yields.

Government’s greenbelt initiatives are also aimed at improving food security in the country and President Bingu wa Mutharika is so determined to have these initiatives pursued.

Although these initiatives such as the Asia’s Green Revolution and the subsidy programmes in Malawi are good their sustainability hangs in the balance.

Christian Aid, an international organisation, believes that “sustainable farming techniques are being sidelined in favour of a quick-fix solution – modern seed varieties (MVs) that produce better yields if treated with synthetic fertiliser and pesticides”.

The other thing that farmers are not told is that farm inputs are expensive and the seeds need frequent replacement. In a head-long rush for bumper harvests in Asia the MVs according to Christian Aid, has shown to accelerate soil degradation, destroy crop diversity and encourage farmers to go into debt.

The Asia’s Green Revolution, while it helped improve on food production, the system is accused of causing “widespread soil degradation, increased vulnerability to pests, farmer debts, a decline in traditional farming knowledge, increased inequality in rural communities, loss of biodiversity and increased greenhouse gas emissions from industrial agriculture”.

Although these initiatives are good I still believe that not many farmers have food at household levels. In Malawi one would still find people who are not benefiting from the subsidy programme despite the fact that each year they do appear on the beneficiaries list.

Is it possible to encourage our farmers within the greenbelt to damp chemical fertilizer and opt for compost manure?

I remember when I was young our farms had alluvial soils and we never applied chemical fertilizers but as time went by we have been encouraged to use chemical fertilizers. Now it is in every farmer’s mind and the use of chemicals in treating crops is the best without being told the implications on their own health and the environment.

Some few farmers are resisting the use of hybrid seed because they think that local varieties are the best. With hybrid seed they will have to buy the seed each year. Seed companies are mostly the ones benefiting from these initiatives.

When crops fail some farmers fail to pay their debts and others resort to committing suicide as a way of running away from debts.

The Asia’s Green Revolution has made farmers to use agrochemicals, which have not only increased production cost but also have health and environmental impacts. According to some experts these costs have not been properly internalised in the calculation of yields and production costs.

Yes, Asia’s Green Revolution has helped increase food production but what about its impact on the environment?

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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