Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture or ASHA-Kisan Swaraj network is a volunteer-driven large informal network of organisations and individuals that initially came together in 2010 to organise a Kisan Swaraj Yatra, a nation-wide mobilisation to draw attention to issues pertaining to our FOOD, FARMERS, FREEDOM.
The network consists of farmers’ organisations, consumer groups, women’s organisations, environmental organisations, individual citizens and experts who are committed to the cause of sustainable and viable farm livelihoods in rural India including by ensuring that productive resources are in the control of farming communities and thereby, safe, nutritious, diverse and adequate food is available for all Indians.
ASHA works with a mission to strengthen sustainable agricultural livelihoods and food diversity/safety/nutrition by re-orienting policies, practices and public consciousness, towards a holistic vision of social, environmental and economic justice as described in the Kisan Swaraj Neeti. It is a network that enables, and draws upon synergies of collective wisdom and action, based on mutual trust and respect.
From the dialogues that emerged during the Kisan Swaraj Yatra and subsequent work, ASHA articulates a 4-pillared Kisan Swaraj Neeti and calls on governments to adopt the same. The four pillars of Kisan Swaraj Neeti are (1) income security for farm households; (2) ecological sustainability of agriculture; (3) people’s control over agricultural resources like land, water and seed; and (4) access to safe, healthy, nutritious and sufficient food for all. The Kisan Swaraj Neeti is conscious of, and sensitive to structural issues of discrimination and marginalisation, and seeks to address those within this policy framework.
About the Kisan Swaraj Yatra:
The Kisan Swaraj Yatra taken up by ASHA in 2010 – starting on Gandhi Jayanti on October 2, 2010 at Sabarmati Ashram, and ending at Rajghat on December 10, 2010 – was driven by a collective realization that the prevailing agricultural paradigm and policies have resulted in an enormous crisis of many dimensions – soils are depleted of fertility and life itself; health is deeply affected due to poisoning of water and food; farmers are in deep distress, caught in a cycle of high risk and debt; youth in rural areas and even practising cultivators find no dignity in the profession of farming; distress migration is resulting in huge exploited population in urban areas. Meanwhile, corporatisation of agriculture is leading to farmers losing whatever little autonomy they had in an already-risky enterprise. This is atop a situation that has already been laden with various (structural) inequities in rural India. There is a sense of urgency that we need a whole revamp of our approach to agriculture.
The Yatra was also driven by a sense of hope that many elements of a new paradigm for Indian agriculture have already been demonstrated, even on a large scale. India can and should chart a new course for building a pro-farmer, ecologically sustainable agricultural economy that will keep our rural economy thriving and the urban areas manageable even as we as a country are able to feed ourselves with adequate, safe, nutritious and diverse foods.
The market support systems and structures for agricultural produce have to be recast in favor of farmers. The nationwide outreach and mobilisation effort during Kisan Swaraj Yatra resulted in the creation of the Kisan Swaraj Neeti as the guiding and overarching framework for ASHA’s work.
Why was ASHA created….:
ASHA was created in May 2010, as a response to the felt need amongst many civil society organisations that as a Nation, we are not doing enough to address the issues of rural livelihoods, food and seed sovereignty and security and thereby, sustainable development.
ASHA believes that the problems of farmers in India today are the entire Nation’s problems and cannot be neglected – unless we ensure dignified lives and livelihoods for our cultivators (apart from the moral imperative of taking care of those who feed us all and keep us alive, our anna daatas), the other edifices being built on other fronts – either by the State or civil society – like employment generation, food and nutrition security, self-governance, better healthcare etc., cannot be strong or complete or sustainable.
ASHA seeks to draw the attention of the nation towards the continuing agrarian crisis in India, where adequate attention is not being paid to reviving the farm-based rural economy and livelihoods, even as the current state of degradation of natural resources threatens farm livelihoods further. We believe urgent and immediate action is required on this front, which also includes the need to ward off corporate takeover of Indian food and farming systems and consequent displacement of our rural populace. We believe that this can be done by joining hands and through out collective strength.
ASHA stands for:
ASHA has been created as a broad based and inclusive platform of individuals and organisations who came together with mutual trust and respect, committed to promoting sustainable agriculture in the country, seeking to ensure rights and entitlements of farmers over their productive resources, in pursuit of sustainable development, diversity, plurality and justice.
The network strives to:
– provide solidarity with, and amongst co-travelers on a like-minded mission;
– enhance mutual sharing and learning;
– be a pollinator of good practices, helping replication on a larger scale;
– influence policy and practice by taking up advocacy and campaigns, based on evidence from the ground.
ASHA works for:
Through grassroots work, trainings, campaigns and policy advocacy, ASHA seeks to promote practices and policies that make Indian agriculture ecologically sustainable, ensure dignified livelihoods to its farmers including the small and marginal, preserve their control over agricultural resources like seed, land and water, and ensure adequate, safe food to all citizens. These form the four pillars of Kisan Swaraj Policy. Within the Kisan Swaraj Neeti, social equity issues are kept in the forefront of ASHA’s work.
ASHA’s advocacy efforts in particular centre around securing an assured income for all farm households in the country; promoting and scaling up ecological farming around the country through appropriate policies, legal/regulatory frameworks and programmes; ensuring that rights of farming communities over their productive resources like land, water and seed are not denied or violated; and through the above, assuring that all Indians have access to adequate, safe, nutritious and diverse foods.
The work of ASHA is centred around (1) setting up or promoting ecological farming alternatives, building capacities and campaigning for replicating the same on a large scale, (2) to ensure seed diversity revival and seed self reliance and campaign for large scale scaling up of the efforts including through consumer awareness and empowerment, and ensuring farmers’ seed sovereignty and seed freedoms, (3) watching out for any negative unsustainable approaches in Government of India’s BGREI programme (Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India) related to corporatisation of seed resources, chemicalisation of eastern Indian agriculture, water use intensification etc., (4) making a clear case for ensuring minimum living incomes for farm households and campaigning to achieve the same, (5) understanding and advocating a different dispensation to adivasi agriculture and food security, (6) campaigning against hazardous agricultural technologies like gene technologies, agri-chemicals including pesticides and fertilisers through the India For Safe Food platform, (7) promoting alternative marketing models for farmers, (8) securing rights and entitlements of tenant farmers, (9) securing rights and entitlements of women farmers, (10) securing entitlements to families of victims of farm suicides, (11) ensuring nutrition security through holistic approaches and not reductionist/ineffective/risky techniques like Food Fortification, (12) securing digital rights for farmers and ensuring that any digitisation efforts in agriculture are farmer-centric and farmer-empowering etc.
A recent initiative has been to work along with other like-minded groups in the form of MAKAAM (Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch) to ensure women’s rights and visibility as farmers, to draw perspectives and strength from feminists.
ASHA consists of:
The network consists of farmers’ organizations, consumer groups, women’s organizations, environmental organizations, organic farmers’ cooperatives, individual scientists, social activists, doctors, health activists, journalists, artists and others. It has been consciously decided to keep the network informal and loose and most of the work in the network is driven by working groups based on mutual interest.
At the national level, ASHA has a 16-member Steering Group, which is the decision-making body.
ASHA is not a registered entity, has no employees and has no bank account of its own. It is only an informal platform – individual associated members of ASHA tap into various sources of support available to them, while the key work of ASHA is supported by funds collected from friends and the general public as and when needed.