November 12th 2010: Yatra enters Chattisgarh through the Jeypore tract; State Government waives road taxes for the Yatra!

We camped in the office building of RCDC (our thanks to them for accommodating us) in a couple of rooms where the yatris slept in the small space cozily next to each other given the chill descending in the nights as winter comes in, it was not clear when the night ended and the day began! – the yatris were getting ready for November 12th by using the one toilet in the office in turns, as they took a bath and then went back to sleep since we had an early start scheduled.

We set off at 5 am as per plan and it was a wonderful drive from Koraput to Jagdalpur…..we passed through the famous Jeypore tract from where the rich diversity of India’s paddy emerged.

At the RTO checkpost before we entered Chattisgarh, we got to know that the Chief Secretary’s office had agreed to our request for a road tax waiver. Jacob Nellithanam had also followed up our fax and email request to the CS and all the yatris rejoiced at the saving of some our funds, which we seem to be running out of, thanks to the higher-than-budgeted road taxes being charged at the state borders and the bus replacement affair.

Sitting in Bastar’s Jagdalpur in the Goyal Dharamshala, the Yatris took their time appreciating the local diversity in seeds, especially of paddy as we waited for farmers from the nearby areas to arrive. It was raining cats and dogs from the morning and only sometime in the afternoon, there was a letup.

The focus of the workshop organized here was on Jaiv Sampada – our diversity and its relation to the livelihoods of the people here. Jacob introduced the theme for the day in a lucid fashion and emphasized the need for sustainable development. Mr Arvind Netam, former Union Minister of State for Agriculture was the Chief Guest for the day.

He said that things are changing rapidly for India’s farmers and peasantry in the post-liberalisation phase. He said that while feeding the growing population in the country is a great challenge, we also need to see which technologies are suitable for us and which are not, rather than blindly aping others.

He bemoaned the fact that Gandhiji’s dream of Gram Swaraj is totally missing in our planning and vision. We are at a cross-roads where we can choose to pick up the Gram Swaraj philosophy or hand over our agriculture to agri-business MNCs and let them take us towards a western model of agriculture. “On this debate, I am sure that the country would get divided into two halves about the best way forward”, he remarked.

We need to study the local issues carefully and appreciate the fact that farmers are very intelligent where they are balancing a complex set of factors to survive in farming. He said that it is ironical that the governments which pushed farmers towards chemical fertilizers aggressively are today singing a different tune and are now saying that we should be cautious about the use of such chemical fertilizers.

“One size fits all” approach to farming and development that the government takes would prove to be disastrous for adivasis all over the country, he cautioned. He congratulated the Kisan Swaraj Yatra team for having come into Jagdalpur and remarked that “no one comes to speak to tribal farmers in the country and find out what their specific issues are”.

He reiterated that we need a different perspective, policy and programmes for the adivasi regions of this country that will appreciate the fragility of the environment and eco-systems of the region, the psychology and culture of the people and the inability to take risks or invest hugely in farming. “There are many dangers and risks in modern agriculture that cannot be thrust on tribals who do not have risk-taking abilities or investments to make”.

He also said that we need a different approach to food security in these regions where the local grains have to be promoted. We need to promote organic farming in a big way, he said.

The NGOs working in the region explained their programmes while one of the NGO representatives emphasized that we need a new system of farming in the region which will address both the food security needs of the tribals, their other livelihood requirements as well as the growing cash needs in these communities.

Farmers like Baghel ji explained how they are conserving paddy varieties of the region while Bhagturam Kashyap was introduced as the “engineer” and sculptor who evolved a new kind of weeder for SRI paddy fields. Rathiram Kashyap explained about the SRI cultivation that they took up with a farm pond dug for irrigation between five farmers collectively.

Farmers also emphasized that SRI worked better with traditional varieties than other paddy varieties.

The Adivasi participants sought to share their experiences in their local dialect called Halbi and we found that they were mostly very shy and silent through the day.

After the workshop, we left for the long drive to Raipur.

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