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National awakening on farm crisis
By Rachna Arora Verma

Kisan Swaraj Yatra, a nationwide mobilization effort to draw attention to the widening agricultural crisis and to campaign for the need for a sustainable agriculture model, began from Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram on October 2 and will culminate at Rajghat on December 11, 2010. After accompanying the Yatra for weeks, a participant shares her experiences.

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Kisan Swaraj Yatra rally at Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu

The Indian agro-business industry reported a growth of 15% in the last fiscal year. On the other hand, rural hunger, starvation and malnutrition in India remain higher than some of the sub-African countries. India beats Zimbabwe and Sudan in hunger. The state of Punjab, proclaimed to be one of the principal beneficiaries of the controversial green revolution ranks even below Gabon, Honduras and Vietnam on the Global Hunger Index.

Farming is no longer a respectable, lucrative or even a viable occupation for the 600 million farmers in India. Over two lakh farmers have committed suicide in the last ten years. The conditions have deteriorated to such an extent in rural areas that family members actually take turns to eat a meal every alternate day. The distended stomachs of famished children in Mirgitand, Jharkand are branded with hot iron, at times resulting in untimely deaths of children, so that they eat even less!

The Kisan Swaraj Yatra has its roots in the Gandhian principles of non-violence and ‘Satyagraha’. The core demand of the yatris and thousands of supporting farmers is the reassessment of anti-farmer and pro-corporate policies. It questions the wisdom of imitating the policies and systems of intensive agriculture which have failed miserably in the countries peddling them. It aims at highlighting the truth about expensive and erosive technologies like synthetic pesticides and GMOs; the infringement of the axiomatic rights of farmers over resources like seeds via Intellectual Property Rights and patents. The fall out of chemical farming and green revolution, issues of seed and food sovereignty, the hazards of GM technology, the need to implement labelling laws for GMOs are other crucial concerns behind this mobilisation effort.

The Yatra also implores that the disappropriation of community resources like land and water for corporate profits be stopped immediately. It calls on the government to revamp the Public Distribution and procurement systems, keeping in mind the nutritional needs, fair pricing, storage and distribution processes. It propses radical inclusions and improvements in the social security system and demands benefits like minimum income, insurance, healthcare and even pensions for all farmers including tribals and tenant farmers.

The Yatra insists that India needs to urgently invest in an ecological and sustainable acriculture model. One step forward would be the termination of all anti farmer trade agreements and knowledge initiatives with agri-corps like Monsanto and the scrapping of Project Golden days and Project Sunshine, in Orissa and Gujrat respectively.

Farmers leader Nammalvar and actress Revathi led the KSY rally in Chennai
The yatris have endured the rickety bus, bad roads, traffic jams, long hours, overnight journeys, flu, rain, cold weather, lack of amenities and more.

One cannot resist, but salute the exemplary self-less sacrifice, fervor and passion of the Yatris undertaking the extremely arduous and long journey.

More than 400 groups and organizations have come together under the umbrella of ‘Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture’ and are drawing public, government and media attention to the distress of the Indian farmers. The reach out programme is quite broad in goals and execution. The farmer and citizen meetings, bullock carts, bicycles and motorbike rallies, foot marches, protests, organic food festivals, diversity celebrations, exhibitions, organic farm visits, film screenings and street plays are drawing in impressive participation, interaction and reactions in every state.

The yatris have endured the rickety bus, bad roads, traffic jams, long hours, overnight journeys, flu, rain, cold weather, lack of amenities and more.

One cannot resist, but salute the exemplary self-less sacrifice, fervor and passion of the Yatris undertaking the extremely arduous and long journey.

November 20 was the 50th day of travel for the Yatra. It has already travelled through the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Chhattisgarh. West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana are next on the itinerary.

I witnessed tremendous solidarity, patronage and generosity towards the Yatra. The magnanimity reflected in meaningful donations coming in from almost empty purses of tribals and marginal farmers! The involvement and commiseration of hundreds of Kisan forums, local groups, schools, leaders, MLAs, public officers, actors, journalists, film makers and consumers, speaks for itself. The support does grant a lot of credibility, legitimacy and honour to the demands.

The public sentiment is explicitly, anti government and anti corporates. The hostility towards union ministers touched levels of abhorrence in Kasargod, the hub of Endosulfan disaster. The current policy makers are being inquisitioned. They might not find it as easy to look the other way, while the condition of Indian agriculture and agriculturists continues to deteriorate.

The issues related to health of chiilren, labor and livestock, seed pricing, quality and sterility, displacement of tribals, Public Deistribution System, minimum support price and the focus on cash crops, cropped up frequently in the meetings with farmers.

The mood from open acceptance of GM seeds, which the famers believed to be ‘Government seeds’ is shifting to rejection of the seeds and bitterness at being cheated. Large numbers of farmers are struggling with the mounting loans and expenses of chemicals, irrigation inputs, reducing yields and health problems. The unauthorised vendors of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the disregard and lack of awareness of safety precautions and correct dosages are rampant.

The farmers are absolutely alive to the idea of switching back to ecological farming and are keen for support, guidance and governmental encouragement. Whilst, there is desperation and hunger, there is also hope. Many villagers are leading by example, and we visited numerous zero-input farms, which have proved sustainable and profitable in the long run. Women in some villages have taken the initiative to take control and bring about a change. They are actively involved in organic agriculture, tree planting and milk farms. Most farmers shared their fear for displacement. We did encounter a small number of young farmers, who conveyed a willingness to forsake farming but that too with qualms. The emphatic love for land and propensity to agriculture was very overt, especially in the tribal areas.

The 71 day Yatra will culminate in New Delhi on 11th December 2010. Bapu’s samadhi at Rajghat will witness the congregation of hundreds of farmers, activists and Yatris, from all over the country, gathering there to seek his blessings for the Swarajya from agri-corporations and to proclaim the right to sovereignty of seeds and food for all Indians.

Rachna Arora Verma

Rachna Arora Verma is a commentator on food and environment issues.

Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note

 Other Articles by Rachna Arora Verma in
Political Development  > Duties and Rights > Economic and Social Rights

India comes together for farmers
Thursday, December 09, 2010

Kisan Swaraj Yatra, after 71-day long bus tour would be reaching its last stop at Rajghat (Delhi) on December 11, 2010. The Yatra, as the travelling farmers and activists found, received enthusiastic response from people all over the country. One of them shares her experiences as the Yatra concludes.
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The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

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An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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