An intimate account of Indian farmland

November 1, 2021

Hardikar uses his two-decade experience of reporting on rural affairs to connect the everyday life of Ramrao to policy decisions, workings of market economy and climate crisis. Every year, an insidious new factor is added to the list of old reasons compounding the problem of the peasantry. Liberalisation, loan waivers, unchecked sale of spurious agro chemicals, demonetisation, pest attacks, all leave a mark on Ramrao who is also battling personal losses.

किसान क्यों कर रहे हैं कृषि क़ानूनों का विरोध

January 3, 2021

दिल्ली बॉर्डर पर हज़ारों किसान पिछले एक महीने से धरने पर बैठे है। उनकी माँग है कि केंद्र सरकार तीन नए कृषि क़ानूनों को रद्द करे। उन्हें लगता है कि यह क़ानून उनकी ज़मीन और फ़सलों को निजी कम्पनियों के हाथों में दे देंगे। यह नए क़ानून सरकारी मंडियों से बाहर ख़रीद फ़रोक्त और कॉंट्रैक्ट खेती को अनुमति देते हैं। साथ ही साथ खाद्य सामग्री के निजी भंडारण पर लगी रोक को हटाते हैं। सरकार का कहना है कि नए क़ानून किसान को अपनी फ़सल का उचित मूल्य दिलाने में कारगर होंगे। परदर्शनकारियों का कहना है कि सरकारी मंडी से बाहर वे निजी कम्पनियों से मोल भाव नहीं कर पाएँगे। अभी तक APMC या मंडी कमेटी ही व्यापारियों और किसानों के बीच किसी भी तरह के कारोबार का निरीक्षण करती है व विवाद का हल भी । नए क़ानून सभी गतिविधियों को APMC के दायरे से बाहर करते हैं पर किसी नयी प्रणाली की बात नहीं करते जो इनका नियंत्रण करेगा।

Farm Laws 2020: Why farmers are protesting

December 20, 2020
Farmers during protest prayer at Singhu border. Image: Randeep Maddoke

Government claims the new farm laws will open up the agriculture market and help farmers get better remunerations for their produce. The protesting farmers, on the other hand, point out that they won't be in a position to negotiate with private companies in absence of a regulatory mechanism and oversight of Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC). The new laws allow traders to bypass government mandis but don't mention any regulatory mechanism or authority to monitor such transactions or agreements

In images: Farmers' Protest in Last Two Months

December 5, 2020
Farmers' protest crossing the border into Haryana.

India woke up to the determination of Punjab's farmers on November 26 when national television started relaying images of the long march to Delhi border. But the movement had been gathering pace since September 25 when the 31 farmers' unions first came together to sit in protest on national highways, railway lines and major corporate outlets. From November 26 onwards, they took the protest to Delhi galvanising support from other states and sections of society

Harvest of Hope: Women reap rich dividends through group farming

April 13, 2022

The states of Kerala and Telangana have created cooperatives of women farmers which has not only reaped financial benefits but also ensured better social status for the members. The women got familiar with farm practices, government institutes and private agencies, market negotiations and fund management, all of which helped them overcome gender, caste and class barriers

Agriculture in post-Covid economy has to be sustainable

August 11, 2020
Women are mostly invisible farmers.  Image: CCAFS/Flickr

As the world debates about the post-Covid economic model, farming is regaining its status as the most viable, decentralised livelihood generator. Right policies can ensure that it not only revives the economy but also acts as a carbon sink and neutralises pollution. As the biggest nature-based occupation that gives a bounty with little investment, agriculture also has the capacity to employ a large number of people. It can revive the village economy with greater possibility of equitable development

भूमि सुधार बस एक सपना ही रह गया

May 30, 2020
ग्रामीण भारत के 56 प्रतिशत परिवारों के पास कोई खेती की ज़मीन नहीं है। चित्र: मनु मुदगिल

आज़ादी के समय भारत के कृषि ढांचे की विशेषता भूमि के असमान वितरण और किसानों के शोषण से थी। ब्रिटिश सरकार द्वारा नियुक्त जागीरदारों और जमींदारों जैसे बिचौलिये किसानों से उच्च किराया इकट्ठा करते थे। इन बिचौलियों को खेती और कृषि भूमि के सुधार में कोई दिलचस्पी नहीं थी। किसानों के नाम ज़मीन नहीं थी, उनके कार्यकाल की कोई सुरक्षा नहीं थी और देश के विभिन्न क्षेत्रों में विभिन्न भू-राजस्व और स्वामित्व प्रणालियां प्रचलित थीं। भूमि सुधार का तात्पर्य कृषि भूमि के साथ किसान के संन्द संस्थागत परिवर्तन लाये जाने से है। इस संदर्भ में भूमि सुधार के लिए दो प्रमुख उद्देश्य अपनाये गए है: एक, कृषि उत्पादन में वृद्धि और दूसरा, कृषिकों के प्रति सामाजिक न्याय

Covid-19: 60% farmers suffer yield loss, 10% could not harvest crop

May 24, 2020
Even good harvest could not help during lockdown.

More than half of the farmers who harvested their crop during the national lockdown suffered a loss of production as compared to last year, found a survey of 1,429 farming households across 200 districts of the country. Around 10 percent farmers could not harvest their crop due to low market price or inability to access their land due to travel restrictions. The lockdown has also impacted preparations for upcoming sowing season for more than half (56 percent) of surveyed farmers.

Why Punjab failed to douse farm fires this year

January 8, 2020
Farmers burning straw in Punjab. Source: Neil Palmer Wikimedia Commons

Paddy stubble burning in Punjab is often blamed for air pollution in north India. The government has been introducing alternatives over the years but these are yet to make a substantial impact on the ground. High operational cost of machines weighs heavy on the already indebted farmers. Additionally, lack of training in machine-use results in higher input cost and lower production. Local solutions and traditional collaborations with herders are some of the low-cost ways that need to be promoted which may help farmers move away from the practice of straw burning.

Organic way to deal with disability

August 3, 2015
New set of smaller and lighter farm tools for those with functional disabilities have also been made.

In Madhya Pradesh, a unique experiment with organic farming is mainstreaming persons with disabilities. Currently 165.76 hectare is under organic farming in the area through over 327 farmers. Of these, 81 are women and 161 are persons with disabilities or their family members. There are 74 trainers, mostly persons with disabilities who act as peer educators providing information on preparation of natural compost, pest control, farm maintenance, livestock management, and government schemes.

Number crunching helps farmers manage water

June 3, 2019
The weather station at Randullabad that helps farmers plan their crops. (Photo by Manu Moudgil)

It is easier to estimate surface water by looking at ponds and tanks and plan accordingly. On the other hand, groundwater is hidden in complex layers of soil, rocks, sand and gravel. Farmers possess traditional knowledge about groundwater, but that is not always enough to make informed decisions especially when means of extraction, like borewell technology, have changed drastically. This is why organisations are now working on the transfer of technical knowledge to people. 

A roadmap for next government on farm crisis

May 9, 2019
Can direct income support help farmers?

BJP-led goverment came up with PM-Kisan scheme to provide Rs 6,000 annual income support to small farmers while Congress party is promising Rs 72,000 for poor families through NYAY scheme. How will these help deal with consistent farm crisis and where will the money come from? How the new government can deal with indebtedness of farmers, loan waivers. Is there a way to implement market reforms that will ensure that farmers get the minimum support price for their crops? Food and trade policy expert Devinder Sharma talks in details about these aspects, chalking out a roadmap for the next government.

How Borewell Restoration Is Helping Farmers Repay Their Loans

March 27, 2019
Irappa Saugli grows 80 types of crops on his organic farm thanks to recharged borewell.

In 2013, there were 2.6 million deep tubewells and/or borewells (deeper than 70 m) in India irrigating 12.68 million ha of land. However, around 12% of these borewells had either dried up or supplied less water than expected. Expenditure on borewells is one of the reasons for mounting farm debt. This is why artificial recharge of aquifers is essential. But exhaustive awareness campaigns promoting crop water budgeting and better market links for traditional crops are also required to ensure that the water saved is also used well.

In Bihar, shared solar pumps solve irrigation trouble

Increase in farm area and replacement of diesel with sun are major benefits. Source: AKRS)

Agriculture in Bihar has languished primarily because of high input costs, especially that of energy due to inadequate grid electricity supply and a high price of diesel. Rural electrification through grid supply is not happening in Bihar due to lack of public investment. Also, the existing groundwater markets are neither increasing irrigation nor achieving equity. So, there is a need for an alternative. The Bihar government launched a scheme for solar irrigation in 2008—Bihar Saur Kranti Sinchai Yojana—as a solution to the lack of adequate electricity for irrigation.

Why pesticide deaths will continue

October 18, 2017
Photograph of one of the farmers who died while spraying pesticides. Source: Kavitha Kuruganti

As many as 50 persons died and around 1,000 were hospitalised with 25 losing their vision after exposure to chemical fumes from spraying of pesticides in Yevatmal district of Maharashtra. Most of those affected were farm labourers who neither had any safety apparatus nor were guided on the ideal way to use the pesticides. These cases hence were unlike intentional intake of the pesticide by desperate farmers to end their lives. 

Watch this video to know why farmers are protesting all over India

June 14, 2017
Farming is purposefully being made non-profitable.

Journalist P Sainath is known for his in-depth knowledge about rural India. On June 11, 2017, he interacted through a public webinar by People's Archive of Rural India explaining the present agriculture crisis in wake of farmers' protests in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. He also touches upon how the new cattle rules will impact rural economy, the water crisis and geneticially modified (GM) crops. Sainath also offers solutions to these issues through examples from the ground where things are moving positively.

Why you should be worried about GM Mustard

June 9, 2017
Indian Mustard has more than 65 different varieties. Source: Abhijit Kar Gupta/Wikicommons

GM Mustard may soon become India’s first genetically modified (GM) food crop. On May 11, 2017, the Environment Ministry's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) had recommended commercial use of GM Mustard seed, DMH 11, developed by Delhi University. While GM crops are grown in a few countries, including US and Canada, many more have rejected or are undecided because of possible health and ecological risks linked to this technology. In India, the issue gains more complexity. as agriculture here is known to involve millions of farmers with small but independent landholdings. 

'जी.एम. सरसों से छिन जाएगी हमारी आजादी'

June 8, 2017
भारत में 65 से अधिक विभिन्न प्रकार के सरसों हैं. चित्र: CCAFS/Flickr.

पर्यावरण मंत्रालय जल्द ही जी. एम. सरसों को मंज़ूरी दे सकता है। मंत्रालय की जेनेटिक इंजीनियरिंग स्वीकृति समिति ने 11 मई 2017 को दिल्ली विश्वविद्यालय द्वारा विकसित जी. एम. सरसों के बीज, डी. एम. एच. 11, के व्यावसायिक उपयोग की सिफारिश की थी। यदि पर्यावरण मंत्रालय इसे स्वकृति देता है तो डी. एम. एच. 11 भारत की पहली जेनेटिकली मॉडिफाइड (जी. एम) खाद्य फसल बन जाएगी। आलोचकों  का सबसे बड़ा आरोप है कि परीक्षणों से संबंधित वैज्ञानिक डेटा को अभी तक गुप्त रखा गया है। जी. एम. सरसों से जुड़े बायोसेफ्टी परिणामों को जनता के बीच लाना चाहिए। सरसों सत्याग्रह के प्रोफेसर राजिंदर चौधरी बताते हैं कि इस निर्णय के खिलाफ लड़ना महत्वपूर्ण क्यों है। 

This drought has government backing

May 15, 2017
Bukya Syamulamma has been left all alone to take care of her younger brother and sister .

Anantapur is experiencing the consequences of a sixth consecutive drought year. One would think that the district administration and the state government would be better prepared but the facts belie this hope. A collapsed government apparatus is denying  wages under MGNREGA, does not compensate farmers who had insured their crops and make almost no effort to make essential services like water available. At least 42 per cent of the agricultural borewells in the district have dried up and the groundwater levels in the district have fallen to 70-90 meters at many places. 

‘हर बीज एक राजनीतिक बयान देता है’

March 10, 2015
 बहुत सी परंपरागत फसलें बीमारी से निजात पाने में मददगार होती हैं, जिन्हें प्रतिकूल परिस्थितियों में उगाया जा सकता है।

आलू जो कि बेल पर उगता है,  चावल को पानी में भिगोने के बाद कच्चा खाया जा सकता है, दलिया (फटा गेंहू) प्राकृतिक रूप से मीठा होता है। यह सब सुनने में भले ही अटपटा लगे। लेकिन हमारे किसान सदियों से यह सब उगाते आ रहे हैं। इनके अलावा, ऐसी बहुत सी फसलें हैं जो कि खासतौर पर बीमारी से निजात पाने में मदद करती हैं और जिन्हें प्रतिकूल परिस्थितियों में उगाया जा सकता है। लाल चावल के बारे में आप क्या कहेंगे जिसे इसकी पौष्टिकता के चलते खासतौर पर गर्भवती महिलाओं के लिए पकाया जाता है? या धान जिसे सुंदरबन के खारे पानी में उगाया जा सकता है?

It's time we make farming renewable

December 29, 2015
Our farmers always saw farming as means of caring for the earth.

Climate change talks are often centered on renewable energy. Nobody talks about making farming renewable. Around 50 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to chemical farming. It emits carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuel required to make chemicals. To prepare 1 kg of urea, 2 litre of diesel is burnt. When used in farms, urea produces nitrogen oxide which is 300 times more harmful than carbon dioxide for the earth. Instead, if you give the earth proper organic matter, it will give you lot of food. A 0.5 per cent increase in organic matter in the soil helps with 80,000 metre increase in moisture retention. 

‘Every seed makes a political statement’

March 10, 2015
There are various crops which can grow in adverse conditions.

Seeds are related to our culture, health and social and national sovereignty. The fact that we know little about them signifies the marginalisation of traditional seeds in wake of hybrid seeds pushed by private companies and hailed by policy makers. But more than the market, it impinges upon our right to choose what we grow and eat. Traditionally, the seeds could be farm saved and shared among neighbours. They were rarely bought. But today, farmers can’t grow these ‘quality’ hybrid varieties as they are designed to give a good yield for just one generation.

Irony of Indian farms

February 22, 2015
Rural India has 90.2 million agricultural families with an average monthly income of just Rs 6,426.

It's an open secret that agriculture in India is stagnating. The latest situation assessment survey done by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) paints a bleaker picture. Rural India has 90.2 million agricultural families with an average monthly income of just Rs 6,426. Of this earning, only 60 per cent came from cultivation and rearing of livestock; rest being from daily wages and salary. In fact, agriculture is not the principal source of income for 56 per cent of the marginal families (with less than 0.01 hectare farm).

From starvation to surplus, how women farmers in Odisha are changing trends

October 4, 2014
Women farmers have led to the wave of change in Kashipur with organic farming.

Growing crops had never been easy in Kashipur. Farmers practised shifting cultivation, depending on rains to produce whatever little was possible on the rocky slopes. But with onslaught of bauxite mining, large scale felling of forest trees and changing weather patterns, the going has got tougher. The region in Odisha’s Raygada district has always been in news for wrong reasons. More than 50 starvation deaths were reported from this area in 1986-87, which forced the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to pay a visit

The pied piper of Shahkot

September 13, 2014
Sher Singh with his organic produce.

Marketing remains a major bottleneck for success of organic farming. All the growers are tapping into a very small segment of urban customers and thus registering losses. Solace and inspiration can, however, be found in certain flag bearers of organic who have developed local markets for their harvest. They require no swanky showrooms, certification or a brand name. Good quality produce flying off from their counters and cash flowing in remain the only credential for the success. One such farmer is Sher Singh of Mirpur village in Jalandhar district of Punjab.

Who will sow those seeds? A video

June 1, 2014
Our policies are pushing farmers out of agriculture little realising the grave consequences.

Over 15 million farmers left agriculture between 1991-2011 due to rising input costs and little profit. Food and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma talks about the current model of development which is pushing farmers to low-paying dailywage jobs in cities. MSP benefits only 30 per cent farmers as most of the farmers have no surplus to bring to the markets. These are the people in terrible distress and hence committing suicides. He proposes direct farm income and local production, storage and distribution network to deal with the crisis. 

'We need to get out of the Bt trap'

April 24, 2013
'We shouldn't take failure of Bt Cotton lightly'  Source: 'Cotton for my shroud'

Born to the families of teachers, Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl always wanted to 'change the world'. Moving from English literature to mainstream journalism to independent film making, the husband-wife duo has developed a valued understanding of India's development model and how it fails us. Their film, 'Cotton For My Shroud', which focussed on suicides by cotton farmers in Vidarbha, got recognition at the 59th National Film Awards. Here they talk about their motivations, urban-rural divide, GM food and why we need to question the constructs foisted on us.

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