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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 43, New Delhi, October 10, 2020

A Five Point Program for Reducing Farmers’ Distress and Rural Poverty

Friday 9 October 2020, by Bharat Dogra

News reports of increasing distress among farmers in many parts of the country in recent times have been accompanied by worsening overall poverty in rural areas, particularly among landless people. There has been more recent by opposition by farmers that the changes which the government is bringing are not along the right lines and in fact can aggravate problems. A big challenge is to find the right path which can not only resolve pressing problems of farmers but also reduce significantly the poverty of even worse off sections including landless farm workers and artisans. What is more, the solutions should be of a durable nature and in conformity with other highly desirable objectives like protection of environment.

In this context a five-point program is proposed here for resolving all these problems together and that too on a sustainable basis. This may be briefly summarized here-

1. An agro-ecology approach to farming based on self-reliance at village level , protection of environment, prioritization of staple food production in mixed farming systems and drastic reduction in cash costs of farmers.

2. Small and cottage-scale processing of food and other crops, also supported by other initiatives for diversifying livelihoods of rural communities in non-polluting ( or less-polluting) traditional and modern livelihoods.

3. Decentralized food security system in which government procures a part of food crops of local farmers at fair price-MSP and supplies to ration-PDS shops and nutrition programs of same village.

4. A huge initiative for making available land to all landless households for farming and/or forestry related work.

5. Social reform committees in all villages led by women and youth to carry forward diversity of social improvements.

Now we look at all these initiatives in greater detail.

Firstly we should accept an agro-ecology approach based on protection of environment, self-reliant farming making good scientific utilization of local resources and involving very low costs. This approach should be adopted to increase and maintain farm production at a good level. This approach involves careful observation of nature and natural processes with a view to never disrupt them but instead learn from nature to improve farming and food system, make it healthy and sustainable. Giving more attention to soil and moisture conservation and greenery is part of this effort. In this approach cash costs of the farmer can be drastically reduced while opportunities of creative and interesting work are much more. The work of women farmers deserves more recognition and their immense creativity is likely to flower more in the agro-ecology approach. This is particularly so in the collection, protection and use of seeds of indigenous varieties of crops and in selection of most appropriate mixed farming systems and crop rotations. GM crops are highly destructive towards environment and health and should be given up entirely. Crops, trees and animal husbandry should be well integrated. Staple food crops should get first priority.

Secondly we should adopt small and cottage-scale processing of food and other crops in a big way so that paddy, pulses, oilseeds, milk, spices, cotton etc. can be processed at village and panchayat level paving the way for the prospering of several labor and skill-intensive livelihoods at village level, also making available healthier food to villagers as well as their farm and dairy animals. The creativity of women in particular will find many openings in this work. In addition crafts can be revived . Several basic needs can be met where possible by non-polluting cottage and small industries in villages or nearby kasbas/para-urban areas, in tune with the spirit of swadeshi and self-reliance. Improved access to information technology can add further to the possibilities of more diverse livelihoods at village or kasba level.

Thirdly food security system should be decentralized so that at the local level the government purchases a share of the staple food crops at a fair price/MSP and makes the same available to local nutrition programs ( ICDS, mid-day meals, sable, others) and ration ( PDS) shops in the same or neighboring village. Hence apart from cereals purchase of certain amounts of vegetables, pulses, fruits, edible oils, milk, spices etc. will also be included as these are all needed in nutrition programs.

A huge initiative should be started for providing, as far as possible, at least some farmland/kitchen garden land to all landless households and for ensuring homestead rights of all. Agro-ecology should be used for cultivating this land. If farmland is not available, initiatives for developing present-day wastelands of various categories can be launched, providing the landless stable monthly income as well as rights over this land, to grow indigenous trees and other plants ( or create suitable conditions for their regeneration) in ways that imitate or resemble local natural forests. This effort should also include a big focus on water and moisture conservation, using schemes like MGNREGA, learning from tradition to find best methods for local conditions. When tree grow up, the same households who have nurtured them can have rights over their minor forest produce ( fruits, flowers, leaves, seeds etc.), to be harvested on sustainable basis without harming the trees. Cottage industries based on this minor forest produce can provide yet more livelihoods. In this way all rural households get a land base and a more secure livelihood base.

Last but not the least, social reform committees should be constituted in all villages under the leadership of women and youth to work for reducing consumption of liquor and all substance abuse on a continuing basis, apart from also campaigning for abolition of all untouchability, discrimination, communalism, factionalism and old enmities, dowry system, needless ceremonial expenses, corruption and other social evils. In addition, this social reform committee will also work for educational and health reform as well as for transparency and governance reform.

Such a program can bring big hope for resolving the farmers’ crisis while at the same time reducing poverty very significantly and this too on a durable basis. Such a program will lead to the flowering of immense creativity among rural people, particularly women and youth, and also bring significant social reforms. Both at the level of a government program and an initiative of people, this has very rich possibilities.

Such a plan is not just capable of resolving the crisis of farmers but in addition, this can also make a big contribution to helping all landless households and reduce poverty to a very significant extent.

The writer has been involved with several social movements. His latest books include Protecting Earth for Children and Earth Without Borders.

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