The day began for us in a fine drizzle drenching all of us as we quickly struggled to paste new banners on a new bus. The earlier day, as we moved our saamaan from a vehicle from Bangalore to the new bus, there were so many people to help out in the parking grounds of the new travels’ people that we hired the bus from in Hyderabad. The crew of the bus turned out to be extremely helpful too. Many additional requests (for an extra stepni, for their UPS to be checked for its capacity to charge laptops, for a mechanic to be brought in from outside to check out the engine, clutch etc.) were met with promptness and happy visages. Yes, a smile was something we had forgotten for a long time, on anything related to the Yatra bus. The previous crew never had that attribute nor could we think of smiling because of what we underwent.
After having to break up into smaller groups because of the need to replace the earlier bus, we all re-met again today and even had our breakfast inside the new bus under the same roof!
Today, a unique event was planned by the organizers in Andhra Pradesh – a coup of sorts – a debate on the Future of Farming where all major political parties in AP were represented in the debate where three sharp questions were posed to these representatives to hear their views. This was also broadcast live on a popular TV channel called HMTV.
The three aspects on which the parties were asked to respond include:
1. How do you look at income security for all farmers (in the medium and long term too)?
2. How do you look at ensuring environmental sustainability given that various productive resources are getting degraded and/or contaminated?
3. How do you look at issues related to control over productive resources like land, seed etc., and the need for this to be in the hands of farmers?
Senior political leaders and farmers’ leaders like Mr Raghuveera Reddy, Agriculture Minister; Mr Vadde Sobhanadreeswara Rao, former Agriculture Minister; Mr Hareeshwar Reddy, TDP; Mr Eetela Rajendar, TRS; Mr Malla Reddy, State Vice President, BJP; Mr Kodand Reddy, Congress Kisan Cell; Mr Jaiprakash Narayan, Lok Satta; Mr Kolli Nageswar Rao, AP Rythu Sangam (CPI); Dr A Prasada Rao, AP Rythu Sangam (CPI-M); Mr Prabhakar Reddy, Federation of Farmers’ Association; Mr Y Nagendranath, AP Rythanga Samakhya etc., spoke.
Not all speakers chose to respond to these questions pointedly and many brought up a diverse set of issues which are all pertinent in the context of addressing farmers’ distress. A few even used the platform to do some government-bashing.
There was a unanimous view that farmers need to be supported adequately to stay and have dignified lives in farming, that the agricultural distress that they are reeling under has to be comprehensively and urgently addressed and that the crisis has been created by anti-farmer policies.
All the leaders including the Minister for Agriculture welcomed the Kisan Swaraj Yatra heartily and congratulated the organisers of the Yatra for highlighting the issues of farmers in a visible manner yet again. There was concern expressed on degradation of land quality and fertility and there were also views expressed on the fact that pricing of agricultural produce being fixed low to support consumers is a wrong policy whereas the government should think of supporting both farmers and consumers and not one at the expense of the other.
There was a strong consensus on the issue of better pricing support for all farmers and particularly paddy farmers in this region, in a manner that is scientific, which covers not just the cost of cultivation but provides a dignified standard of living for all farmers. Several organisations vowed to continue with the fight to secure better pricing support for farmers in the state. There was also strong concern expressed by many farmers and farmer leaders that the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers has led to loss of soil fertility, water pollution, reducing yields, and increasing health crisis.
A unique feature of the Yatra in AP is that a wide variety of organizations have taken active part in organizing the meetings and taking ownership of the Yatra’s mission of bringing farmers’ issues to the fore. One of the aims of the Yatra is to bring all groups and individuals with concern about agriculture issues on the same platform. The groups involved in organizing various events include independent farmer organizations such as AP Raitanga Samakhya and Federation of Farmers’ Associations, farmer unions of political parties, agricultural worker unions such as APVVU, organic farmers’ associations, tribal groups like Adivasi Aikya Vedika, citizens groups such as Jana Vigyana Vedika, Human Rights Forum, Telangana Vidyavantula Vedika, non-governmental organizations such as Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, AID-India, Anthra, Caring Citizens Collective, Chetana Organic, RDT, etc, and prominent individuals such as former Agriculture Minister Sri. Vadde Sobhanadreeswara Rao and Prof. K.R.Chowdry.