The farmer-government talks on December 30 indicated that some progress on a negotiated settlement is being made. This is good for farming and good for democracy. However even at this advanced stage of negotiations there is no clear reference to two very crucial issues. It will be very useful if at least a reference regarding their importance and a commitment to them is included in the final settlement.
Firstly the important contribution of landless farm workers should be acknowledged by the government as well as farmers unions. They are the ones who have the most distress and problems in rural areas. They are the ones who often do the hardest and the more hazardous work. Their contribution to our food production and food security is immense, yet often when we honor the annadata we remember the landowning farmer but forget the landless farm worker. In times of ever-increasing mechanization many landless farm workers have been marginalized even more and pushed into migrant labor. Some landless farm workers and their organizations have also been supporting the ongoing dharna and struggle and the settlement needs to keep them in consideration.
To avoid adding any complication to the negotiations just a simple reference can be added to landless ( and almost landless) farm workers acknowledging their important role and contribution, and the need for giving them justice and a fair deal. For example something like this can be added, “ This agreement acknowledges the very important contribution made by landless ( or near landless) farm workers to agriculture and related activities and to the food security of the country. Both the government and farmers unions will strive to improve the welfare of farm workers in many-sided ways.” This is a very general statement and avoids many areas of debate. Its main role is to ensure that the landless are not forgotten, their important role and contribution is acknowledged and a general commitment to their welfare remains.
Secondly it is of the greatest importance for food security and safety as well as sustainability of agriculture ,for overall environment protection and for checking climate change that a clear and strong commitment to ecologically protective agriculture is included in the final settlement. Changes adopted since the green revolution have unleashed large-scale ecological ruin and this can only get worse with some of the more recent trends like introduction of GM crops. The basic goal of having safe food has been badly endangered. If ecologically-protective agriculture does not get the due attention even at this late stage, then we will be sacrificing the interests of our own children and grandchildren regarding their access to safe food and secure livelihoods. On the other hand if ecologically protective agriculture is adopted in a big way, then apart from ensuring safe food and sustainable livelihood for this and future generations, a very important contribution can also be made to checking climate change and any financial rewards that can accrue from this from international funds for checking climate change can be passed over to farmers and farm workers. If properly handled as per our local needs, ecologically protective agriculture can also contribute much to reducing costs of farmers as well as health hazards faced by farmers and farm workers.
Without complicating matters, the farmer-government settlement can simply include a general statement, “ Both the government and farmers’ unions are committed to protecting environment and to ecologically committed agriculture and strive to promote this in various ways.”
It should be easily possible for both sides to include at least these general statements as a minimum acknowledgment of the crucial role of two important factors of Indian agriculture which have not received due attention so far—important contribution of landless workers and compelling need to adopt ecologically friendly agriculture.
If we look at the history of agricultural agreements in world, several times settlements were reached which satisfied negotiating parties but ignored the interests of the poorest people and of environment. It is possible to avoid repeating this mistake by including these two statements in the settlement of the ongoing negotiations in India.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author whose reports from remote rural areas have been honored by several awards. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.