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God save the farmers

God save the farmers
Sahara Times

An agri-rally undertaken by a group of social workers reveals the pathetic condition of farmers across the country
By Amitabh Srivastava / Dehradun
After traversing across ten states on a bicycle to have a first hand experience of the plight of farmers, Anil Prakash Joshi says, “The experience has convinced us that there is God somewhere. Had God not existed, the figure of farmers suicides in the country would have been much more higher than the toll of 40,000 or 50,000 mortality that we hear.”A noted scientist and social activist, Padmshree Joshi is not new to such voyages. Under the aegis of an NGO, Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organisation (HESCO), he had undertaken various journeys and led agitations for the right to water and the gharat owners in the country.On January 12 this year, he along with an eleven-member team that included members from 18 to 80 year olds, he launched a bicycle yatra from Kanyakumari to Dehradun. It covered Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi before reaching to Uttarakhand on March l6.Talking to Sahara Time Joshi said: “We had a very tough tour. Eating habits of every state is different and so is the quality of water. Many of us faced problems such as diarrhea, vomiting and upset stomachs. We had to seek help from doctors at several places but let me tell you it was an eye opening experience. The condition of farmers in almost every states from north to south is alarming and it is a matter of shame because we are an agriculture economy.”Fast depleting farm lands and lack of interest among children of farmers in their ancestral means of livelihood is going to create an alarming situation in the coming years, he said. “There are villages in Tamil Nadu where farmers would prefer to keep their daughters unmarried rather than giving them away to children of farmers,” he said.He says, “The economic development of the country has been largely in industrial, civil and construction sectors. In the agriculture sector and for the farmers, the development has been lop-sided. In India, marginal farmers are not represented in the GDP and there is fear that they will not be represented in future too. The reported economic gains of the country are not reaching to most of the farmers of India.” But the irony is that rural India has become the biggest market for the urban products even though the materials for these products come from the rural India. Due to aggressive marketing strategies and better-equipped urban population, these products are marketed throughout rural India, the largest market for industrialists. Slow invasion of Industrialists in retail market of fresh products is the proof that farm produce is highest in demand in the country.A strong advocate of participation of all stake holders in the development process. Joshi says, “The present SEZ approach will create a deepening economic imbalance. The SEZ policy must seriously review the matter on common interest plan where immediate and long-term interest of both farmers and industrialists are taken care of. There should be clear shareholding of farmers in a given SEZ. He should not become loser of his land merely for some present monetary benefit but his long-term association with SEZ should guard his future generations. Since these SEZ are coming up in almost all states of the country, landless farmers must be involved in this process to check the migration which otherwise has begun to take political dissension in many states.”The Agri Yatra (bicycle yatra) covered around 3,800 kms across 65 districts and about 7,000 villages. His team comprised social activists, students and farmers from 18 to 60 years that met over one lakh farmers during the journey. One common refrain of the HESCO team in its various interaction with farmers was that the government had to enact a Forest Act to protect the forest and wild life. It is the time for passing an Agriculture Act to save farmers and agriculture produce. Asked about the loan waiver announced by the UPA government, Joshi said, “Any relief given to farmers to save their lives is welcome. But most of the farmers have bad experiences with banks and are very unhappy. Small and marginal farmers who really need the money do not qualify to get the loan according to the criteria set by them. The banks are using the money given by us to create more imbalances and discrimination. I have been suggesting both to the government and asking farmers to raise their voice to demand a kind of rural bank system. The banks should become stakeholders along with the farmers. I feel that the banks should not ask farmers to pay back the money but they should get their money by selling his crops when they are ready.”“The lop sided policies of the government towards agriculture, 60 years after Independence has led to a situation where hardly any farmers’ children wanted to take up farming as a livelihood. To solve this problem, farmers recommended that there should be a provision to provide education on agriculture at the school level between Classes VIII and XII,” said JoshiIn most families it is the women who are maintaining the tradition and profession of farming. The men folk and children are getting disillusioned and looking at other options particularly white-collar jobs, the team said.