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Tiding Over Farm Woes: Reaping The Advantage

By Devinder Sharma

22 December, 2010
Deccan Herald

Farmers’ unions, who only organise protests demanding higher prices, have failed to educate their members

As 2010 fades into history, I wonder whether the New Year will bring any hope for farmers. For several years now I have been silently praying and hoping that at least this New Year farmers will have something to cheer. But, unfortunately, it has not happened. With every passing year, their economic condition has further deteriorated.

Excessive use and abuse of chemical fertilisers has poisoned the soils; hybrid crop varieties being pushed at a subsidised price have destroyed the soil fertility and sucked the groundwater dry; drenching crop fields with all kinds of chemical pesticides has not only poisoned the food that we eat but have also brought in more pests; and finally the farmer is left high and dry with no income in hand.

There is no denying that much of the blame would rest with farm officials and university scientists for creating a bloodbath that we witness on the agriculture front. There is hardly a day when dozens of farmers across the country are not drinking chemical pesticides to end their lives. In the past 15 years, more than 2,00,000 farmers have committed suicide. Millions of farmers continue to somehow live in perpetual indebtedness.

Blaming the government is not without any reason. But somewhere deep down, farmers do know that they are equally at fault. The greed to make a fast buck has lured them to unsustainable farming systems. Over the years, farmers have become completely dependent upon what seems to be a well laid out trap by the agribusiness industry. No wonder, the profits of the industry grew whereas farmers were left to die.

However, much of the farm crisis has in many ways been created by farmers themselves. How long can you go on passing the buck to the government and the agricultural university? Why can’t you resolve to turn agriculture more income-generating and sustainable in the long-run? And don’t tell me it is not possible. If you had refrained from following the herd, and adopted low-external input sustainable faming systems you would have been the role model.

Here is a farmer who has shown the way. Meet Subhash Sharma, a farmer from Daroli in Yavatmal district in the heart of the suicide belt of Vidharba. At a time when thousands of farmers in Vidharba have taken the fatal route to escape the humiliation that comes along with increasing indebtedness, he provides his farm workers with bonus and leave travel concession. If this farmer can do it, there is no reason why others cannot live in eternal happiness.

Sharma is not a big landlord. He owns only 16 acres of farm land. And like most of the farmers in the country, he too was in the thick of a vicious cycle of external inputs and perpetual indebtedness. Fed up, he then decided to abandon the fertiliser-pesticides model of farming, and shift the organic cultivation, and the turnaround has led him to a new beginning.

He says that the only way to pull out farmers from the vicious cycle of indebtedness is to push them out of the Green Revolution model of farming. It is during the workshops that he is conducting in several parts of the country that he teaches them by practical training on how to shift to natural farming practices and thereby emerge out of indebtedness.

From 16 acres of land, if Sharma can demonstrate an economically viable model, with inclusive social equity and justice, you too can do it. Here lies the answer to agricultural growth and also to country’s food security. He has even built up a corpus, a Social Security Fund, of approximately Rs 15 lakh, for meeting any eventuality that the workers might encounter. Some death in their family or the marriage of the girl child does bring additional burden, and some relief comes from the Social Security Fund. He also shares the cost of education of their children and other health expenses. Isn’t this a dream that every farmer cherishes but is never able to realise?

Well, when was the last time you heard farm labourers being given an annual bonus and leave travel allowance? Now, don’t be startled, Sharma provides an annual bonus to his team of workers — 16 men and 35 women — who labour on his farm. They get something like Rs 4.5 lakh every year as bonus, which means roughly Rs 9,000 per person. How many farmers, including big landlords, in Karnataka and for that matter in the rest of the country provide bonus to farm workers?

The problem is that farmers’ unions have failed to educate their members. They only organise protests demanding higher prices or opposing trade policies, but rarely do you find them taking upon themselves the monumental task of reviving agriculture. Instead of spending energies to contest elections, ryot sanghas need to take on the responsibility of holding ryot pathshalaas to resurrect farming, bring in natural farming system which are not only sustainable but profitable. There is no reason why every ryot in Karnataka cannot aspire to be the new generation farmer like Sharma.

Copyright 2009, The Printers (Mysore) Private Ltd.