One team continued on its route towards Jaipur by participating in events in Jodhpur and Ajmer districts today. The dak bungalow that we stayed in was a typical government place, badly run and with rats running around amongst the mattresses put in a cramped fashion in a small hall.
Since we all got up quite early (several of us got up at 4 am to get ready for the day), we decided to hold a review meeting at 5.30 am! We were in the bus to leave for Umaidnagar Panchayat on time. This was near Mathania and when we reached the village, there was early morning activity visible.
After this meeting, we had mirchi bajjis for breakfast along with some tea and then rushed back to Jodhpur. In Jodhpur, we were stopped on our way to CAZRI (Central Arid Zone Research Institute) at least twice by the city traffic cops saying that buses are not allowed on particular routes and the diversions took more time than we thought – we ended up going around in the city for more than 45 minutes and being late for the dialogue with the agriculture scientists and others in CAZRI.
We began the dialogue as soon as we entered. The Director of the Institute Dr M N Roy welcomed everyone. We presented our concerns mainly along the following lines:
- Income security for all farming households
- Environmental sustainability in Indian agriculture
- Securing rights of farmers over their resources like land, seed and water
- Ensuring safe, diverse, nutritious and adequate food for all
The gathering included a DDA from Jodhpur (Shri R G Sharma) and was facilitated by Dr L P Bharara, a retired Principal Scientist in CAZRI.
The Director said that the issues being raised by us are pertinent and are being discussed and debated within different government bodies too. He said that the compulsions related to securing 4% growth rate in agriculture should also be balanced with other concerns. Seed, according to him, was a prime issue and that there are several seed-related initiatives by the Government of India too. We have to tackle the issue of small and fragmented landholdings, he said.
He said one important objective of his Institute was to reduce input costs to leave more margins for farmers; environment-friendly, cost-effective technologies are what we need, he said. He also remarked that ‘produce more’ is not a valid approach anymore and that we should focus on the value chain so that farmers can also get higher dividends. He pointed out that forestry and natural resource management as whole is very important. He opined that farmers’ welfare is important. He congratulated the Yatris on the cause they are espousing and said that our role is important for policy-makers to be appraised on various issues.
We then had further discussions on how the GDP growth rates can be indeed met if only prices of agricultural produce are not pegged so low, how the concepts around small landholdings need to be looked at since these holdings are indeed more productive and efficient, can provide sustainable livelihoods, can take ecological farming and so on. We also pointed out that various government initiatives related to seed would not stand any chance given the space that is being provided to aggressive, monopolistic nature of corporations like Monsanto. We pointed out that researchers’ rights are also at stake here and not just farmers’ rights and that this should be a matter of concern for all NARS bodies.
Dr Roy said that when it comes to Seed, the extension and marketing mechanism that exists now is not effective enough and that we need to strengthen that. He also admitted that the issue of MNCs remains. About landholdings, he said that in some instances, large landholdings might be a more useful model. He also said that as agriculture scientists, they work within some boundaries but whenever they get an opportunity, he would try and raise the issues being discussed here.
After he left, Prof N S Shekhawat raised several issues – he said that importing of exotic species is causing problems in some instances, eroding the local diversity. He also felt that the existing conditions of Rajasthani farmers thankfully don’t allow them to depend on high-external-input, intensive agriculture models and therefore, the threat of big corporations taking over is low. He pointed to water depletion increasing in the state and how seed erosion is an issue of concern. He gave the example of ‘chaadi bajra’ which was high in its vitamin content, was high yielding and drought tolerant which is not available any more. He concluded by saying that we should be circumspect about importing technologies blindly just as we should not oppose technologies blindly. We need to look at promoting technologies, species and practices that do not destroy our culture, our biodiversity and livelihoods and that suit our climate and social systems, he concluded.
Dr R P Jangir of Rajasthan Agriculture University’s Mandor Centre (Zonal Director Research) said that organic farming is indeed important for conserving soil health; however, productivity of crops is also an important concern. He advocated intensive organic agriculture, especially for coarse cereals grown with traditional seeds. He said that for cereals, spices and vegetables, farmers should opt for organic. He also shared results of testing done on organic produce from the coordinated research project that he runs in different centres of Rajasthan – he said that protein content, keeping quality and taste had increased in the organic approach, as compared to the conventional, chemical cultivation.
He felt that public private partnerships where companies are roped in to multiply seed developed by public sector bodies should be ok. He expressed some reservations about GM seeds.
There was a discussion on Bt Cotton after this and it was pointed out that the paper presented to Mr Jairam Ramesh by Director-CICR points out to number of crores being spent on insecticides on cotton actually increasing in the recent past and not decreasing!
There was a discussion subsequently on Project Golden Rays, the PPP between Rajasthan government and Monsanto through which large scale promotion of Monsanto’s hybrid maize seed is happening. The DDA, Jodhpur said that yields were better with hybrid maize seed and that there were encouraging results on the ground. However, since farmers were not buying hybrid maize seed due to high cost of the seed, the government decided to procure the seed from the company and distribute it free of cost, he said. He admitted that while this was ‘short-term thinking’, there were certainly other issues to be addressed in the medium and long term. He also said that farmers of Rajasthan were vigilant and that they will not just adopt anything that is given to them. He shared that a High Powered Committee was set up by the government of Rajasthan after the recent debate on this project and other PPPs, written a lot about media.
He also shared that organic farming area is high in Rajasthan, by default and that the government is planning to increase bajra production and even export it and a detailed plan has been created for the purpose.
There was a presentation on Organic Farming by CAZRI scientist Arun K Sharma subsequently. In this brief presentation, he said that varietal diversity has been an important component to deal with variability in temperature and rainfall in the area. He said that from their own experimental plot, it was clear that organic farming increases crop resilience to variability in climate, enhanced soil water retention and biological activity and that there was successful pest control with eco-friendly management practices. He also said that during a severe drought period, it was only his farm which produced fodder and grain while other plots did not yield anything. He also said that for all those people who keep asking questions on where are the resources required for organic inputs, his answer is that “input use in any case will keep coming down over the years as the eco-systems are restored”.
Several participants emphasized that unless we talk about rainwater conservation and tree plantations/afforestation, we would be incomplete in our approaches too.
After the CAZRI dialogue, with some quick lunch consisting of bajre ki roti and raita at a roadside dhaba, we left for Beawar tehsil in Ajmer district. We were asked to come to Jawaja village where SWRC has a campus.
We halted briefly to pick up members of MKSS (some core members and several student-interns) at Jawaja and headed to Madkochra village. It is always interesting to note that all meetings conducted in late evenings especially in villages ended up interesting and filled with good interactions.
Here too as we walked through the lanes of the village shouting our slogans, mobilizing people, Shri Shankar Singh of MKSS used his typical oratory style calling them all to the venue.
Once the villagers assembled, the yatris set up the big amplifier from the bus and so the sound system was in place too. Ramesh of AP started the meeting with a telugu song in his inimitable style and there was the translation of this meaningful song for all others by Kavitha Kuruganti.
The Yatris then spoke about various issues like seed sovereignty, necessity for ensuring a minimum income to farmers, importance and advantages of sustainable agriculture, protection of farmers’ rights and resources etc. Though the debate was a bit futuristic, given that most farmers here use their own seed, the total dependency on the MNCs later if the seed business is monopolized by them, as we see the early signs now, was totally understood by the locals and they were very vociferous in conveying their disapproval against such moves.
Shri Lal Singh of MKSS spoke very eloquently in a very adorable rustic style, involving the locals and their metaphors; he efficiently presented a summary of the issues raised, putting forth all points in a very attractive order.
Shri Chunni Singh in his vote of thanks talked about his experience of always being an organic farmer all these years and how the villagers still are not getting the message. Hence he was happy that KSY was here stressing the sustainability issue and also went on to question his fellow villagers whether they had ever seen him go hungry or being with lower yields, even though he does not use any chemicals. He spoke about the importance of using own traditional seeds and explained about an old and famous variety of wheat which is no longer available anywhere.
He also exhorted all the villagers to take up a dharna outside the district collectorate, as the next step on this matter, to convey a strong message that we do not need MNCs in our agriculture.
The discussions here were so alive with genuine interaction and local metaphors that the Yatris rated this as one of the best dialogues in the Yatra so far and settled down in Jawaja on this cold winter night.