Archive for the ‘Andolan’ Category
I was in Sitapur, U.P. for a few days to see how the recently sown mixed crop were faring this year in our friends’ farms.
After two successive failed kharif, everyone was relieved and welcomed the rains. The farms are lush green after the many rains this season.
Almost all the farmers we work with are dalits and their small and marginal land holdings are invariably in low lying areas. It’s also not a surprise that many of them have uneven lands with patches of sandy or sometime loamy soil. Whenever the rains are enough for the water to flow, their farms flood and it takes a couple of days for this to drain.
After the initial rains, the farmers prepared their farms and finished sowing in time for the following rains. Now, these turned out to be heavier than expected and a few have lost all their crop as their entire farm went under water for extended periods so soon after sowing.
Even in those farms where crops have survived, frequent rains are making it near impossible to take up weeding – the soil is too wet. Any weeding activity would take too much effort and/or hurt the crop plants’ roots. So the farmers wait for a dry spell, seeing the weeds taking over their farms.
This monsoon season, we are also seeing that despite normal rainfall, both day and night time temperatures have been higher than normal. So this makes for warm (bordering on hot), humid days with overcast skies – ideal conditions for pests to flourish in. Another potential disaster that most small farmers are in too weak a position (now) to avert.
There are sustainable organic farming steps that one can take to mitigate losses from these conditions too. It will be a couple more years of sustained work before our farmer friends from Sitapur can get there. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we will get there before its too late.
But coming back to today, the meteorological department does say that the rains have been normal so far. And policy makers, commodity traders and economic forecasters have started calculating how good the harvest is going to be. But for the small farmers, the uncertainty of agriculture does not end with monsoon forecasts.
PS: The higher than normal winter temperatures this year (the el-nino/nina effect) effectively cut the wheat harvest to a third in many families’ farms in these parts. And I do remember reading about the higher than normal temperature in July in Delhi even after the monsoon had moved in. I searched to see if someone has written about the change in temperature patterns in other parts in the later part of monsoon, but couldn’t find one. If you have come across one, please do share. If you are interested to look this up from raw data and do it as project, please do ping me.
Involving all affected members of a community in a fight for their rights is a challenge in any struggle. If the threat is as non apparent as an SEZ that has received in principle approval, this challenge is made even more difficult to overcome. The track record of state governments scrapping an in principal approved SEZ is non existent. The one proposed to be set up in Nandigram comes close to being counted as one, but then, it has not really been scrapped. And Nandigram has happened at the cost of the lives lost, the injuries & the sexual, physical and mental abuse suffered by its residents at the hands of govt. sponsored hooligans over many weeks and months.
Fighting for one’s rights is not an easy thing. For a small farmer, often it might be much easier to accept the measly compensation, however inadequate it might be. With a land holding of an acre or less, they would have worked on other’s farms or experienced seasonal migration to make ends meet. The cash compensation might seem to be something substantial enough to allow them to ‘settle down’, though there are very few examples of such sucesses.
Usually one can see that the struggle against an unjust acquisition and an even more unjust compensation is spear headed by those with more than an acre or so and less than 10 to 15 acres of land holding. Having built their farm and family these farmers typically are the most vested in their land and know what they would be loosing in case of an acquisition.
Farmers with relatively larger land holdings are either absentee farmers, or feel that they are too big to be bothered by such minor land acquisitions. More often though, the powers that be do not touch the lands of those farmers strong enough to rock the decision of the acquisition. Even if a significant portion of a large land holding is acquired, the land owner can sit back and see the land value soar as the struggle against the acquisition is fought by others. Rarely can one see a large land owner stand shoulder to shoulder with the few small and many medium land holding farmers and fight against the acquisition.
A typical scenrio seemed to prevail in the area proposed to be acquired for an SEZ in Nandagudi, near Bangalore. It was a short four hour visit and most probably we were not able to capture the details of the community coming together to fight for their rights. But from what we could see, Nandagudi Bhooswadeena Horata Samiti (NBHS) (Anti-land Acquisition Committee of Nandagudi) has an uphill battle in front of them to convince both the small and the large land holding farmers of the threat to their land, their lives and their livelihood.
There are competing theories on how the domesticated plants and animals of today came to be. Genetic and archeological evidence have resolved some of the common questions but pioneering claims are made by different communities and many of these challenges are far from settled. But it is beyond debate that even if a particular plant or animal species was domensticated in one place, there are many different varities of the same plant or animal in different parts of the world. Over many generations, various factors from climate and soil conditions, parent variety, other ecological conditions, and human intentions, have created different varities of a particular species. For example, our ancestors selectively bred cattle for better milk yield, or adaptability to local conditions, or to serve as better beasts of burden.
As one variety of a species becomes more famous, more and more people convert to that variety, invariably leading to a decrease in the genetic diversity. In a few cases new varieties are bred using the famous non local variety with local variety to come up with newer ones, increasing the genetic diversity. Loosing the older varieties, especially when they were adapted to local conditions, is genetic wealth that we rob our future generations of.
The advent of genetically modified seeds and the barely tested or challenged theories of the manufacturers have highlighted the need to protect local seed varities. Governments, academic instiutions, NGOs, various societies and cooperatives across the world have set up seed banks to protect local genetic diversity. A less recognized loss is that of indigenous varieties of cattle. Paintings from different times representing the cow, a revered animal among Hindus, shows that almost all local varities were treated with comparable reverence and respect.
Operation Flood brought about a great revival in milk production, and cattle rearing in India. But the stress on higher milk yield also meant a swing away from indigenous varieties. As the adaptability to local climate, health and other concerns started surfacing, development of hybrids picked steam.
One of the objectives of the Central Cattle Breeding Farms of the Dept. of Animal Husbandry & Dairy development is to protect indigenous breeds. Looking at the details of the program, it does not encourage much confidence regarding sustaining traditional varieties beyond the lab. Given the religious values associated with cattle, there might be some traditional gaushalas working in this direction (I am not aware of any).
How far are we ready to go to protect genetic diversity? If we are ready to take steps to protect genetic diversity of grains like rice, wheat, bajra, jowar, raagi, etc. shouldn’t we think of cattle also along the same line?
The pace and zeal with which resource rich land is being acquired in different parts of the country in the name of ‘development’ is shocking, to say the least. The Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act of 2005 has made it the govt.’s task to acquire land for anyone who can claim to set one up and convince the babus in the Ministry of Commerce. An SEZ would be a sovereign of its own. One would need documentation to move anything into or out of an SEZ, similar to those needed to move anything into or out of a country. In exchange for this almost unrestrained freedom, the SEZ is expected to have a positive net foreign exchange. A recent CAG report lays out how SEZs reap the benefits while defeating this objective.
SEZs are mushrooming across the country(side). More than 500 of them have been cleared and more than twice that many are waiting for approval. A ‘multi-product’ SEZ is proposed to be set up on 12,500 acres of fertile land in Nandagudi hobli of Bangalore Rural district. It has been given provisional approval and the Govt. of Karnataka is testing the waters to begin the land acquisition process. The SEZ would lead to the displacement and loss of livelihood of more than a lakh people. Farmers from Nandagudi are known for their milk-silk and vegetables and supply about 30% of the fresh produce bangaloreans consume daily.
Nandagudi Bhooswadeena Horata Samiti (NBHS) (Anti-land Acquisition Committee of Nandagudi) was formed to lead the struggle. The community got its first information of the designs being drafted on their land when the media reported that an application for a SEZ was filed. Neither the local community nor the local elected bodies knew that a Nikhil Gandhi from SK Infrastructure Limited, had sought that their land be acquired by the goverment.
NAPM, Sahaja Samrudha, Community Health Cell, AID Bangalore and various other groups organized protest marches and dharnas against the SEZ act and in particular the proposed SEZ in Nandagudi. The change of govt. in Bangalore is not expected to change the direction of the onslaught by much. The NBHS has taken the GoK to court over its attempts to silently convert forest land into state government land.
Over the next few months and years I hope to support this struggle in whatever way that I can and will be posting about it…