An Appeal To Farmers’ Movement –Kindly Give A More Central Role to Ecologically Protective Farming

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Photo by George M. Groutas

The farmers’ movement in India has a historically very important role in protecting the small ( and medium ) farmer base of agriculture in the country. In recent times the movement has done well to oppose the corporatization trends as these ultimately present a threat to small farmers, as has been evident from the historical experience of many countries. This stand of the farmers’ movement should get wider national support.

However there is one other crucial aspect which should get a more central role in the demands and aspirations of the farmers’ movement and this relates to much greater emphasis on ecologically protective farming. There is growing realization now all over the world that organic and natural farming can provide good yields and productivity while also helping to lower economic  costs significantly. In the context of India this aspect of lowering economic costs is very significant as the crisis of many small and medium farmers has been caused mainly by fast escalating expenses on externally purchased industrial inputs. In India the pattern of organic farming which needs to be promoted is the one which avoids expensive certification procedures while making best possible use of local village resources. Promoted in this way this can help to drastically reduce economic costs of farming.

Another crucial aspect is sustainability. As farmers’ organizations are most closely related to the longer-term welfare of farmers, they have to worry about the extent to which the natural fertility of land and soil have deteriorated, the extent to which water table is fast depleting, the extent to which natural pollinators are being destroyed, the extent to which GM crops threaten genetic pollution  and other aspects of environmental ruin which most closely affect them. The poisoning of farmers caused by use of highly toxic substances should be of immediate concern to them. As responsible citizens of country and world, they should be concerned about the production of safe, healthy food ( including complete ban on  highly  hazardous GM food)and the lowering of GHG emissions.

Keeping in view all this farmers organizations must raise the demand that while government budget allocation and subsidy for agriculture and related activities should increase greatly, at the same time it should be ensured that this should directly reach small and medium farmers for promoting and spreading ecologically protective agriculture including water/moisture conservation.  The rights of farmers to get a fair price for their produce, a  price which does justice to all the hard work of farmers and farmer households, their creativity and skills should be widely respected at ethical, legal and other levels by all sections including of course, the government.

However at the same time it should be stated clearly that ecologically harmful and unsustainable systems ( for example a system leading to very rapid exhaustion of groundwater, or to very rapid degradation of soil and depletion of soil-organisms) should not be subsidized, and should not be prolonged artificially with the help of subsidies. The main principle is to move towards ecologically protective farming, without any single farmer being pushed towards losing livelihood, and extending government help to all farmers to earn a fair livelihood from ecologically protective farming, while also improving health and nutrition.

While farmers in such an ecologically protective system have a priority claim to receiving adequate support from the government, in addition they and their cooperatives/ groups should be free to explore creative direct relationships with city based consumers. For example, one suggestion may be of allocating one urban colony to farmers from two or three villages where they have access to free, partially covered space for selling cereals, vegetables, milk etc. without any restrictions on marketing or transport etc.

This acceptance of ecologically protective model by Indian farmers will ensure a bright future for Indian farmers as on the one hand costs will decrease and on the other hand the worldwide market for safe, healthy, organic, non-GMO food is certainly likely to increase and all health conscious consumers are likely to be willing to pay a better price for healthy food. Sooner or later it is  likely that at world level better economic support will become available for food and other farm products produced in ways which help to greatly reduce and absorb GHG emissions. Hence Indian farming should try to move in the direction of providing healthy, safe, non-GM food and other farm products which are produced by small/medium farmers and hence support a large number of livelihoods. This can  provide a very strong ethical, environmental, health and livelihood based support for Indian farm products worldwide, apart from improving sustainable livelihoods, health, nutrition, environment and climate change resilience within the country.

While asking farmers’ organizations for more support of ecologically protective agriculture, I am aware that some sections use, or may use, ecology protection issues and organic food labels in a wrong way to indirectly serve certain narrow interests. We should be entirely free from such interests, remain cautious, and only think of genuine protection of agro-ecology and linking farmers’ welfare with this. Let farmers prosper in sustainable ways and agro-ecology be protected carefully to make this possible. Jai Kisan, Jai Prakriti.

In addition farmers’ movements should have a vision of very wide spread of cottage/small-scale and village-level processing of cereals, millets, oilseeds, pulses, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, cotton, sugarcane etc., with leadership role for women, so that a very large number  of rural livelihoods can be generated to produce more healthy food and other products, much in conformity with the views on Gandhiji on village industries. Demands relating to providing adequate support for this should be presented before the government so that village women can benefit the most from value added in food processing and related activities. The way in which food processing is progressing at present provides very few creative livelihoods for rural people while the bulk of the benefits go to big corporate or other city- based, capital-intensive enterprises which often retard the emergence of small, truly farmer based enterprises.

In addition the farmers’ movement needs to give a lot of emphasis to three more aspects which are very important.

Firstly it is very important for farmers to have a role of friendship, help and respect towards all landless rural poor households. They should be gradually involved in some food production of their own, for example using kitchen gardens to start with or in other ways, and their food security and stable place in the village should be enhanced in other ways. Farmers organizations should emphasize a fair deal to them at all levels.

Secondly, farmers’ organizations should give full recognition and respect to the very important contribution of women farmers and women farm workers.

Thirdly, while mobilization activities take place only from time to time, there should be a constructive program with complete continuity. Along with struggle component the farmers’ movement should have a strong component of constructive work with three wings. One wing will deal with educative , experimental and training work on ecologically protective agriculture. This will also include protection of traditional farming and food knowledge, protection and collection of diversity of traditional seeds, with special help from elderly farmers, while also encouraging innovations by younger, educated farmers. The second wing to be led by women and youth will look after social reforms with special emphasis on checking liquor consumption, dowry system, all forms of discrimination, wasteful ceremonial expenditure and other social evils. The third wing will look after the poorest and most threatened village households, draw the attention of government authorities to the need to provide urgent help to them while also taking up direct help, in the form of community kitchen etc., on its own, while also seeking the help of city-based persons or regular salaried persons for this.

If  farmers’ movements and organizations work with this broad vision then they will be strengthened and their ability to contribute to more durable and many-sided desirable change will be greatly enhanced. Such a role of farmers’ organizations will get national-level as well as worldwide appreciation.

Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist who has received several awards for reporting on rural , environmental and food related issues.



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