A rapid appraisal of Project Sunshine in Gujarat, organised by ASHA, came up with its report recently. The main conclusions of the team which took up the rapid appraisal include:
1. Tribals prefer desi corn for their food consumption purposes while hybrid corn is less preferred; any government projects promoting hybrid corn should keep this in mind and ensure that food and nutrition security needs are met first and foremost.
2. Hybrid corn and the package being offered as part of Project Sunshine is indeed leading to chemicalisation of agriculture, which pose questions around environmental sustainability of this approach. Recommended dosage of fertilizers is higher than prescribed by the local agriculture university and unscientific.
3. While the project is running on subsidizing various inputs as of now, it increases dependency on market sources for inputs and thereby, riskiness in farming for vulnerable communities.
4. It is unclear why the government opted for proprietary seed primarily from one source, that too an American multinational having controversial record.
5. It is to be noted that fodder from hybrid corn crop is less preferred by animals, compared to local cultivars.
6. While there seems to be an increase initially in productivity and profitability, it is difficult to say how much and for how long. It appears that the government is trying to inflate the benefits compared to the reality, while ignoring the negative fallouts of the project. Net returns are negligible, especially when real costs are imputed/when the project closes down; comparisons are unscientific; the project investments are higher than the net returns obtained and all of these pose questions on this project’s claims.
7. It is not understood why the government bypassed the scientific expertise available within the public sector and why such investments have not been made on approaches that are more sustainable and in the control of farmers.
8. Projects like this pose serious questions around seed and food sovereignty of communities as well as the nation and need to be re-looked at, especially given that alternative approaches are being adopted quite successfully within the project region.
Having raised several questions born out of genuine concern and from insights into Project Sunshine (which is being blindly emulated in other states, unfortunately), we conclude that Project Sunshine needs to be suspended immediately, to be reviewed by an independent expert committee consisting of various kinds of expertise and stakeholders (tribal development activists and experts, tribal leaders, maize scientists, other agriculture experts, sustainability advocates, farmers’ leaders etc.). Meanwhile, project investments should be diverted into more sustainable, people-controlled alternatives which are quite possible, as small scale initiatives are showing on the ground.