The danger is that the ground turns into sand; farmers will need to be integrated and better incentivized: Sadhguru

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The floor is not just another problem, it has an existential meaning, Sadhguru, founder of the Isha Foundation said during a sustainability discussion with Arundhati Bhattacharya, President of Salesforce India. The mystic, who is currently on a 100-day, 30,000-mile solo motorcycle trip through 27 countries to promote soil conservation, told a roomful of CEOs during ‘ET Conversations’ that there is no no replacement for soil and that it takes hundreds of years to make an inch of topsoil. During an hour-long conversation, he said it was high time to change our farming policies and practices to prevent the soil from turning to sand. Edited excerpts:

Arundhati Bhattacharya (AB): Many people focus on climate change, global warming, air quality and lack of clean water. But what prompted you to start a soil conservation movement?

Sadhguru: For 30 years, I’ve been talking about soil. I spoke to ministers, heads of state and bureaucrats. Everyone says, Sadhguru, this is great, then moves on. So I wonder what it takes to wake people up. I realize that the experts understand the problem and the solution. They are waiting for someone to ring the cat. Because it’s still the tradition in our country and everywhere to wait for someone to ring the cat. You always choose the village idiot to do it. So I thought I could do whatever I wanted and needed. But over the past 1,000 years, we’ve suppressed 85% of the planet’s photosynthesis. People live in their own world in their heads. I think it’s time for everyone to live in this world because it’s the only world we really have to live in. If you want.

AB: You look at poor farmers today in India. They have these very small operations and they want to maximize their production. So how are we going to reach out to these people, who depend on the soil and who feel that the only way to get the best out of it is to use practices that aren’t really the right ones?

Sadhguru: When it comes to the farmer, teaching it is useless as the agricultural economy is so fragile. If you touch it, it will collapse. You have obviously heard of suicides. Even if it is a man who commits suicide due to soil degradation and is unable to find a way to earn a living, we need to look at how that changes. All the economic policy that we conducted…we prepared 193 documents, which are manuals for making policies for 193 nations based on unique documents according to latitudinal position, soil type, economic condition of a given nation and its farming traditions. Why are farming traditions important even though you have all the science with you? Yet you can’t change farming practices overnight, and that’s what we’re talking about. So the important thing is that it is driven by incentives.

AB: So what kind of incentive structure do you think would work with farmers?

Sadhguru: The most shameful thing in the world is not a single nation… not even a nation on the planet has the minimum 3% organic content. The UN goes on to say that if you want to call soil soil, it must have 3% organic content. Otherwise it becomes sand. What we’re advocating with the government is that whatever the current percentage is, if you increase it to 3%, that’s an incentive. If you make the incentive attractive enough, most farmers will accept it. A farmer would get so much credit from the government because we usually know how much a certain type of land would sequester. There are discussions at the UN and in economic forums about pricing between $28 and $100 per acre. If that kind of benefit goes to the farmer, the second level of incentive would work. The third level of incentive, which could accrue to all of you, is that the market should recognize it. We should be measuring the organic content of fruits and vegetables, not the agricultural processes used when growing the fruit. In 10-15 minutes organic content can be measured. So if the organic content is 3% you pay x and if the organic content is 6% you pay y.

AB: One of the biggest challenges facing business leaders today is integrating sustainability into their core functions. Everything is in place – plans, capital and process – but people are still struggling to get used to it. What do you think is the missing element in corporate sustainability programs?

Sadhguru: What I say is very unpopular. Business is defined for a purpose. It is not their goal to found a school or a hospital. Policies need to revolve around how business is conducted in this country without causing too much damage. Once it’s the law, companies will follow it, otherwise there will be a penalty. Hospitals and schools need a different type of activity. We expect someone else to do it.

AB: I’m just playing devil’s advocate here… Should poorer developing countries bear the burden of sustainability when it’s the developed world that has really reaped the benefits of industrialization? It is a world after all. We are interconnected. The Ukraine-Russia conflict affects everyone.

Sadhguru: Do you expect the world to be fair? I do not know. Russia and Ukraine provide a significant share of the wheat supply. One country is bombed, another is banned – either way, supplies from both countries have dwindled. About six to seven nations are entering severe famine this year. Already, two countries are in famine. It is expected that in the next four to six months, 350,000 children under the age of six will die in these countries because everyone is focused on Ukraine and the whole narrative revolves around the Ukraine. Who will care about these nations? Last year, the World Food Program spent $9 billion to distribute food. This year they want $15 billion. Next year, in 2023, they want $22 billion. How long are you going to keep handing out food like this? Food has to grow where people are, otherwise it’s not sustainable over a period of time. We have to take care of our soil. Soil is not just another problem, it has an existential significance. The whole country now looks like a desert except for the Western Ghats and the northeastern part of the nation. There is not a single covered area during the summer. For thousands of years we have managed our soil in a fertile state, but in the past 45 years we have somehow turned it into a desert.

AB: Can the coming decade be India’s decade given the demographic dividend and many other factors favoring India?

Sadhguru: We are only exaggerating the demographic dividend because you only look at the numbers in the newspapers. You have to go around the country and see the condition of young people, both physically and mentally, in terms of education. Even with 50%, if we have an educated, inspired and focused population of one billion people, we will be able to produce the greatest miracle on earth. But if we leave them uneducated, unfocused and uninspired, we will see the greatest disaster. This is not subject to predictions, but to our commitment and conviction. What actions do we need to take? What comfort zones are we willing to cross and do what we need to do? Well, as a generation of people, when there is a possibility, I think we should push for the full possibility. And for all this, there must be food security.

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