November 11th 2010: In Koraput, the land of rice diversity; the land of Adivasis

We spent the night, whatever was left of it after traveling on a bad, ghat road from Visakhapatnam, in the campus of THREAD in Kokirigama in Koraput district. It was a wet night, with no lights and loud night sounds greeted us in the campus at around 12.30 am when we finally reached the campus.

The day began with us feeling refreshed however and we made a change in our plan, looking at the state of the road and distance from Koraput to Kokirigama, and decided to stay back in Koraput this night after the meeting.

We had a wonderful drive from Kokirigama to Koraput with a fantastic view of the undulating terrain, its hillocks, its sesamum fields bursting with color and so on. Finger millet fields were visible everywhere, interspersed with other crops.

The public meeting began at 11 am in the Tribal Museum of Koraput. Nearly 300 persons attended this meeting. All of them were emphatic about wanting to continue in farming and also their understanding in the repercussions of chemical farming and increasing corporatisation of agriculture.

Apart from Kavitha Kuruganti and Gajanan Harne from the yatra speaking, Dr B C Mohapatra, one of the speakers, emphasized the need to shift to System of Rice Intensification in paddy cultivation; he also urged farmers to give up the use of chemical fertilizers. He also gave reasons why Bt Brinjal should be opposed by everyone. He exhorted farmers to save local seed varieties and understand the importance of the same. He emphasized the need for insurance to be provided for all crops to all farmers.

One adivasi woman farmer called Sumani Jhodia spoke saying that farmers now need to be trained in ecological farming since they have forgotten their traditional ways of farming. She also said that given that there are different kinds of farming situations in the area, we should get the government to look at each one specifically to address problems specific to that growing condition.

Malathi Nayak spoke next, pointing out that the messages of the Kisan Swaraj Yatra should be brought to the notice of everyone including the District Collector. We need to create awareness on the traditional ways of cultivation, she said; she also pointed out that we should be united in this struggle for protecting our resources and for ensuring that sustainable agriculture is established everywhere. She raised fiery slogans that were soon resounding in the Tribal Museum.

After this meeting, we went to a tribal village called Umuri. We had to walk four kilometers into the village, as our bus could not go all the way to the village. Here, we found that traditional varieties of paddy were fast-disappearing. “The government varieties are of short-duration – while there is increased yields with these new seed and agri-chemicals, our health is getting affected badly. We would not visit hospitals earlier but now, we resort to injections for various ailments”, explained the women of the village. They also shared that many households do not have a PDS ration card and that there are still many in the village who do not have at least two square meals a day. The number of varieties of paddy that used to be grown in the village was impressive as the women reeled out name after name of each variety. It was also disturbing to note that not a single farmer exists in the village today who does ecological farming. There was a strong belief that without chemical fertilizers, nothing would grow. What was fascinating to watch was the way the women took all our queries and questions and answered them while the men sat at the periphery and just listened. It was obvious that the women farmers here were deeply involved in their farming and were equal partners with their men.

WE had a long and leisurely interaction with the villagers before we started trudging back to our bus and the office of RCDC where we spent the night in an office hall. All the yatris were very happy with the day, including the evening visit to the village – this is what the Kisan Swaraj Yatra is all about, we said. Impromptu as well as planned meetings, wonderful places to stay and little cramped offices on occasion. We had an early dinner and planned for an early night as we have an early start tomorrow, on our way to Jagdalpur in Chattisgarh.

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