November 29th 2010: Yatra enters Uttarakhand for one day – Has an inspiring day, meeting farmer activists and pioneering seed conservers

We were in beautiful Uttarakhand today. Our spirits were high and we looked forward to the day, what with some of the most pioneering work related to seed conservation and rights having happened in this state with movements like Beej Bachao Andolan. This is the land of other movements like Chipko Andolan, after all!

The day started for many with an early morning bath in the Ganga in Haridwar. It was invigorating and wonderful, they came and reported back.

The first event for the day was interaction with key office bearers of Bhartiya Kisan Union in Uttarakhand – around twenty such farmer leaders. We tried to impress upon them the purpose of the Yatra, the experiences of Green Revolution all over the country, the government’s broad policy directions, Monsanto’s increasing monopolies over the seed sector in India and so on. It was clear that it was indeed possible to talk about both immediate issues like pricing and marketing for farmers’ produce as well as issues that appear to be medium- and long-term – environmental sustainability, seed sovereignty etc.

We went to the VIP Ghat after the meeting to interact with media representatives – the place was chosen as a symbolic location to say that farmers’ issues are also important and farmers should be considered important too – entry into the VIP Ghat was seen as a symbolic gesture. A tehsildar was sent by the local administration to collect our memorandum to the President of India, Prime Minister and to the state government – one of the main demands was that of regularization of land titles in the state of Uttarakhand, a long-pending demand. The farmers also wanted their payments to be settled for the past three years for sugarcane and proper compensation paid for this year’s crop losses.

Not surprisingly, some of these issues found a reflection in our next meeting too – in Dehradoon.
We reached very late (the earlier programme did not have a Haridwar programme scheduled at all) into Dehradoon, at around 1.30 pm, where people had been waiting for us from 10.30 am! What the activists, farmers and NGO workers had done however was to utilize the time to share issues related to farming, sharpen their thinking on various issues and come up with a clear set of demands from the Uttarakhand government. It was of course humbling to meet people like Vijay Jardhari of Beej Bachao Andolan, who continues to take care of his farming even as he tries to continue and expand the struggle related to agro-diversity conservation and farmers’ rights over seed, along with a team of farmer-activists and other supporters. There were many others in the gathering who are doing pioneering work on conservation of resources and rights of communities.

“Jahan Kisanon Ki Izzat Sasti, Wahan Insanon Ki Kaisi Basti?” said one of the slogans aptly.
Some of the main issues raised here include:

It was heartening to see that one of the first issues brought up in this meeting was about land titles in the name of women and proper recognition of women as farmers (social as well as procedural, for various government schemes and legalities). Why are women, who put in their important roles into farming, not recognized for their contribution? We demand joint titles on all landholdings in this state, asserted the women in the meeting, supported by the men.

  • Uttarakhand government should immediately stop its blatantly-contradictory approach to organic farming in the state; though Uttarakhand had been one of the first states in India, to declare an organic farming policy for the state, it continues to promote and allow sale of chemicals in the state. Further, organic farming as closely connected to the livelihoods and culture of the people is not clearly recognized by the state and a market-driven model of organic farming is being pursued.
  • The damage to crops this season by an unprecedented drought first, followed by heavy rains subsequently has not been addressed by the government by adequate compensation to farmers. A strong demand to the state government emerged on this front.
  • The fact that appropriate seeds were not being evolved or promoted for different agro-ecological zones of the state came up.
  • Land (title) regularization was another issue that was brought up. All the participants felt that this was a long-pending issue.
  • Damage to crops from wildlife was a major issue confronting the farmers here – these losses reach upto 60% and the government is not taking any appropriate measures on this front, everyone felt.
  • Greater emphasis is required on traditional knowledge of the communities here, since difficult terrains like in Uttarakhand have always sustained lives and livelihoods through the experiential knowledge and wisdom of the local communities. This cannot be discounted by the government. The state has to promote such knowledge in any effort to improve livelihoods.

The detailed discussions that preceded the session where we walked in obviously helped, not to mention the enormous experience of the groups here. A plan to have a rally in Dehradoon was cancelled as there was no police permission for the same!

We left this place for Ponta Sahib at an early hour, an unusual thing in this Yatra…..

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