October 3rd 2010 – From the Mehsana-Sabarkantha route in Gujarat

“Madasana Cumpa villagers vow to keep GM foods away”
“Bt Cotton crop has dried up this year”

After a very somber meeting in Gujarat Vidya Peeth where speakers like Anupam Mishra (Gandhi Marg/Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi) and Dr Sudarshan Iyengar (Vice Chancellor, Gujarat Vidya Peeth, a higher education institution founded by Gandhi ji) brought out many issues of injustice and inequity in rural India today, pertaining to “Swaraj”, the Kisan Swaraj Yatra began following a complex plan of events over the next days with all Yatris divided up into four teams.

The team that went on the Mehsana-Sabarkantha route consisted of the following persons in a convoy of four vehicles, including one Tatamobile which was decked up with posters and banners all around.

Magan bhai Patel (Bhartiya Kissan Sangh President, Gujarat), Babu bhai Patel (BKS), Mohan Bhai Patel (Sajeev Kethi, Zilla Pramukh, Sabarkanta District, Gujarat), Rajani Dave (Editor Bhoomi Patra, Ahmedabad, Gujarat) , Rajani Bhai Patel (Gram Sevak, Modasa, Sabarkanta District, Gujarat), Jassu Bhai Patel (Organic Farmer, Navavava Cumpa, Sabarkanta District, Gujarat), Sonaji MarjiBhai Chauhan (Organic Farmer, Banaskantha, Gujarat), Amrendra Kumar Tiware (Farmer and Freelance journalist, Muzaffarpur, Bihar), Kishore Kukade (Chetna Organic, Akola, Maharashtra), Braj Kishore Chaurasia (Community Leader, Seoni, MP), Harjant Singh (Organic Farmer, Bhatinda, Punjab), Jacob Nellithanam (Organic Farmer, Chattisghar), Kavitha Kuruganti (Khethi Virasat Mission, Punjab), Aishwarya Madineni (Greenpeace, Bangalore), Karthikeyan (Greenpeace, Bangalore), Bapu (BKS Worker, Sabarkanta, Gujarat), Mahendra Chaudari (BKS Worker, Modasa, Sabarkanta, Gujarat), Jitendra (BKS Worker, Ahmedabad).

After a quick review meeting at 6.30 am (the earlier night, we were all too tired to have our review after the last meeting with farmers ended at 11.15 pm), we set off to visit the APMC market yard of Oojha. Spread over a vast area and apparently maintained with great care and generating good revenues for itself, it was obvious that Jeera (cumin), Saunf and Isabgol growers at least had some infrastructure in the form of this yard to support marketing of their produce. We did not meet any farmers on this Sunday morning to actually find out if there are any problems that they face but only got to see the physical facilities at this market yard. This was a quick visit followed by an equally quick visit to an organic farmer’s field in Visnagar. The lush crop of Amla (Indian gooseberry) being grown with organic methods, where the trees were drying up some three years ago before such organic practices were taken up, was very impressive.

The first meeting at Visnagar with about 40 farmers was fairly interactive. A local organic farmer, Jagdish Patel shared his experiences with others and there were many questions to him from various farmers wanting to know more. When I presented the thinking behind the Yatra and explained the Charter of Demands that we have, there was much agreement.

We then had a meeting at Vijapur, again in Mehsana district. The meeting at the village temple was crowded and had several young farmers too. This is a village where nearly everyone present in the meeting was growing Bt Cotton. “So, are you happy with Bt Cotton?”, we asked. ‘No, we are not’ was the immediate response. The crop has dried up in most fields this year, they said. But you must have been happy with the crop in the past few years, prodded another yatri. One farmer got up to say that “Bt Cotton is taking away the taakat of the land” and the yields are just around 4 quintals to 8 quintals. They also said that Bt Cotton is taking up more chemical fertilizers and complained that non-Bt Cotton seed was no longer available in the market. We discovered that they did not know how GM crops are created in an unnatural way. “It was poison put over the seed, we thought, that would control the pest”, said a farmer.

The Himmatnagar APMC was the next stop for us after a quick lunch. The issues related to spread of organic farming were sought to be discussed here.

We then walked into Madasana Cumpa at around 4.45 pm to discover that nearly hundred and fifty villagers were sitting in an orderly fashion and waiting for us patiently. Kids were running around excitedly and a group of youngsters were taking care of the logistics. “Kisne hai doobi jameen hamaari, kisne ujhaade jangal hamaari” sang Brajkishore Chaurasia in a moving fashion (“who inundated our lands and who uprooted our forests?”).
Urmila behn Limbani, the state head of BKS’s women’s wing, sat on the dais and ensured that around sixty women participated in this meeting. It was impressive to watch women come out in such numbers for the first time in all the six meetings so far on this route. This village has a community-run Goushaala and is trying to create itself as a model self-reliant, organic village for the state of Gujarat. The villagers were an inspired lot, putting in a lot of voluntary work into tree-planting, into organic input production and so on.

Towards the end of the meeting, one farmer got up and said that Swaraj requires us to shun all GM seeds and foods. “But what about the fact that very often, we don’t even know which seeds are what”, pointed out several farmers. What is the use of us resolving not to use such seeds if they sneak in and what about the fact that some Bt Cotton has already come into the village? Many others pointed out that there should still be a Vow taken by those who resolve not to grow any more GM seeds knowingly. The whole village, right in front of us, took the resolution to not grow any GM seeds from henceforth.

We moved on, after visiting the Goushaala and walking around the village, to our informal meeting in Madasana with some more farmers.

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