Kisan Swaraj Yatra (Farmers Freedom Tour) traveled through the eastern regions of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar during 11-24 November 2010. Their call to save agriculture and environment was received with zeal everywhere.
|Logo of Kisan Swaraj Yatra. © Kisan Swaraj Yatra|
The Yatra started on 2nd October 2010, the 141st birthday of Mahatma Gandhi and ended on 11 December 2010 at Rajghat, the samadhi (memorial) of Mahatma Gandhi. See our earlier write-ups on the 28th day of the Yatra and then on the 35th day of the Yatra coinciding with President Obama's visit. These write-ups, including the current one, are based on the blogs maintained by the yatris.
On 10 November 2010 the last day for the yatris in Andhra Pradesh at Vishakhapatnam, adivasis (tribals) from different parts of the state as also Odisha highlighted about the loss of their land and livelihood. Meetings/discussions pointed out how new agricultural technologies has led to a loss of diversity and dietary practices. What is more, in the name of development, people have been displaced without being given any compensation due to the absence of proper land records. The day ended with cultural fest of song and dance indicating the symbiotic relationship between life and environment.
|Dance by tribal women in Vishakhapatnam as part of Kisan Swaraj Yatra, 10 November 2010. © Kisan Swaraj Yatra|
Visit to Koraput in Odisha on 11 November 2010 was interesting because of a trip to a village, Umari, that required the yatris to walk four kilometers. The women farmers were in the forefront of discussions and were recalling the traditional varieties of rice that grew in the region, but it was a matter of serious concern as these were fast disappearing (also see a recent write-up on saving rice in Down to Earth). The need for research and extension support that realizes the local advantages, which may differ from village to village, and integrates science that helps foster this was raised.
|Interaction with tribal women after trecking for four kilometers to Umari village, Koraput by members of Kisan Swaraj Yatra, 11 November 2010. © Kisan Swaraj Yatra|
Early morning travel on 12 November 2010 from Koraput in Orissa to Chhattisgarh through the Jeypore tracts made the yatris revel the beauty of the undulating terrain and the rich diversity of paddy. This was also the theme of the meeting later in the day at Jagdalpur. The state government exempted the yatris from paying road tax. A former union minister of state stated that the agricultural policies should not be based on 'one-size fits all' principle. The need for different perspective for the adivasi region that appreciates the fragility of the environment and eco-system, the psychology and culture of the people and their inability to take risks or invest hugely in farming was pointed out. Farmers explained how they preserve varieties of paddy, or how one farmer has come up with a new weeder to be used under the system of rice intensification (SRI) paddy cultivation.
|Yatris check out paddy varieties in Jagdalpur Kisan Swaraj Yatra, 12 November 2010. © Kisan Swaraj Yatra|
In Raipur on 13 November 2010 the yatris interacted with academicians and Gandhians and the issues that came up were how life-style and culture related changes were affecting the poorest, that there is need for awakening in the mind, that the younger generation should rise to the occasion, that there is large scale displacement and out-migration from the state. The yatris also interacted with biotechnology students of an institute and told that their knowledge is only one side of the debate. The day ended in an interaction with farmers and labourers at Ravaan village.
|Interaction with farmers and labourers at Ravaan village, Kisan Swaraj Yatra, 13 November 2010. © Kisan Swaraj Yatra|
The Yatra visited Jan Swasthya Sahyog (JSG), Ganiyari on 14 November 2010 to see how work with health led JSG to focus on food and agriculture. The group has preserved 150 varieties of seeds in the fields of farmers. "The traditional varieties include some exotic-sounding local ones like Gondhaphool, Basmukhi, Phoolmecha, Rikwa, Bhallu Dubraj (scented), Ram Galli, Bhainphat (scented and super fine) etc. One variety called DRK can yield 32 quintals an acre and another variety that attracted everybody’s attention was Naak kesar – which was purple and beautiful. The shoots and seeds were all purple. The striking feature of all these traditional varieties is that they are all tall and long-duration. The tall crops mean more fodder for cattle too." Later in the day at Bilaspur the discussion pointed out how the excessive use of chemicals in agriculture have adverse health implications. It was also pointed out that the present fertile condition of land is because of generations of effort and this cannot be compensated through monetary valuations.
|Rice varieties in a field in Ganiyari, Chattishgarh, facilitated by Jan Swasthya Sahyog, Kisan Swaraj Yatra, 14 November 2010. © Kisan Swaraj Yatra|
Back to Odisa on 15 November 2010 at Sambalpur the day began in an interaction with media persons and many local television channels were showing the footage of the Yatra. The issues of farmers organization like Paschim Odisa Chasi Samanvay Samit (Western Odisa Farmers Cooperative Society) taking up work in conserving traditional varieties of seeds and promoting ecological farming was applauded. The issues of farmers' suicides, diversion of irrigation water for other usage and appropriating community resources for the benefit of corporations were raised.
|Farmers rally in Sambalpur as part of Kisan Swaraj Yatra, 15 November 2010. © Kisan Swaraj Yatra|
In Bhubaneswar, on 16 November 2010, the Yatra urged the state government to scrap 'Project Golden Days' done in partnership with Monsanto to cultivate maize with tribal farmers. The yatris released the report Monsanto-ising Indian Agriculture and on the occasion, Kavitha Kurangati, a co-author of the report stated the following:
"It is apparent that corporations like Monsanto are only out to grab ready markets for themselves through taxpayers’ funds whereas it is the responsibility of the government to protect the livelihoods of the marginalized. It is clear from what is emerging on the ground with projects such as ‘Project Golden Rays’ that high-external-input-driven farming with hybrid seeds will only increase indebtedness of farmers, is already changing their dietary habits posing questions on future nutrition security, is threatening environmental sustainability in fragile eco-systems and is taking away our seed and food sovereignty. There is a need to question the intentions of the government when it partners with corporations like Monsanto which have a sordid history of corporate crimes, falsification and omission of data, bribing and anti-farmer behaviour like suing and jailing farmers in the name of IPRs (Intellectual Property Rights)."
|Farmers strike down the Memorandum of Understanding between Government of Orissa and Monsanto, Bhubaneswar, 16 November 2010. © Kisan Swaraj Yatra|
Baripada in Mayurbhanj was the the last stop for the yatris in Odisa on 17 November 2010 and they were satisfied with a huge gathering of 700 or more people where farmers took the pledge to do away with chemical fertilizers. Thereafter there were a couple of breakers in the journey, first in getting a gate pass to exit Odisa and then to pay the road tax to enter West Bengal, but the candle light and floral welcome at Contai made their day.
|Yatris welcomed in Bengal style with flora petal and the blowing of conch, Kisan Swaraj Yatra, 17 November 2010. © Kisan Swaraj Yatra|
Yatris began the day on 18 November 2010 with a cycle rally and then visited different organic farms, witnessed street plays and saw the inauguration of an organic shop that marked a new beginning. The leaf plates in the shop were a boon for the yatris who had all along been on non-plastic stuff to eat from. The next day (19 November 2010) was in Kolkata that began with a seed exhibition. Discussions that followed emphasized the relevance of cow in India's agriculture, the methods of growing paddy under drought conditions of Kalahandi in Orissa and the need to organize farmers . Yatris left for Bankura and spent the night at Basudaha farm, a no-plastic zone and a low resource-use area. The farm, over the years, has conserved 690 varieties of paddy. In their last day in West Bengal on 20 November 2010, there was a padyatra (march) by yatris through a few villages and a post-lunch event explained how ‘wealth’, ‘paddy’ and ‘prosperity’ were synonymous in the local culture.
|Display of rice varieties in Basudha farm, Kisan Swaraj Yatra, 20 November 2010. © Kisan Swaraj Yatra|
The yatris had a single meeting in Ranchi, Jharkhand on 21 November 2010 where the focus was on "the implications of the proposed 'Green Revolution in Eastern India' and 'Genetically Modified (GM) seeds' in the context of drought in Jharkhand." The community rights over jal, jungle and zameen (water, forest and land) was raised. Another point mentioned was how the input intensive cultivation is not only costly but also uses more water, which is untenable in a rain-fed region. Farmers stressed the need to have their own seeds, that the land they inherited from their forefathers is what they owe to future generations. The discussions on GM seeds/crops pointed out a move to 'colonize' agriculture through corporate business and as an infringement on our basic rights, stress intolerance of such crops, lack of proof of biosafety, and evidence on health and environmental impacts among others.
|Yatris walk into the sukhad virodh abhiyan meetings, Ranchi, Kisan Swarj Yatra, 21 November 2010. © Kisan Swaraj Yatra|
Bihar leg of the yatra started in Patna on 22 November 2010. The aspects that came up in the meeting was that farmer related issues did not come up in the recently concluded elections for the state assembly and that there are no farmer-friendly policies, that the 'Green Revolution in Eastern India' was identified as 'Loot ki kranti' (exploitation-revolution), that the American farming model is not suitable to the Indian condition, that the issues in front of the farmer are also relevant for the urban consumer, that more such meetings are needed in the nook and corner of the country and that these meetings should be apolitical. Three demands were put for the new government.
- Promote organic farming in the state
- Not allow any GM seeds in the state including open air trials and make a legislation to that effect
- Pick up lessons from the earlier Green Revolution and ensure that the Green Revolution proposals are in the benefit of farmers and in a sustainable livelihoods framework
|Yatris at Gandhi Statue, Patna, Kisan Swaraj Yatra, 22 November 2010. © Kisan Swaraj Yatra|
On their second day in Bihar (23 November 2010) the yatris had a meeting with scientists of Rajendra Agriculture University, Samastipur. This university had come into news as they refused to take up trial for GM maize for Monsanto last year. There was a long discussion and three demands were put forth to the university.
- To take up more research on ecological farming
- To shun any GM seed development, trial and commercialization, from the university side
- To disallow any proposals on Green Revolution in Bihar, based on intensive models a la Punjab
|Director Research, Rajendra Agriculture University, Contributing to Kisan Swaraj Yatra, 23 November 2010. © Kisan Swaraj Yatra|
Later in the day, farmers of Vidyajhamp a village declared to work toward being GM free and they will use their own seeds and in another gathering it was pointed out that Bihar should not become a laboratory for multinationals and biotech industry.
|Vidyajhamp village declaring itself to be free of genetically modified seeds/crops, Kisan Swaraj Yatra, 23 November 2010. © Kisan Swaraj Yatra|
The last day in Bihar (24 November 2010) coincided with the day the election results were being declared. It was also important for the Yatra as it visited a visited a number of villages in East and West Champaran, the the undivided district being the place from where Mahatma Gandhi started his first satyagraha (non-violent resistance) against the British. Two panchayats, Barsaha and Savangiya, declared that they will be organic and will also join the yatris at Rajghat on 11 December 2010. In another meeting in Madhopur, scientists from Krishi Vigyan Kendra accepted the advantages of organic farming but raised the issues of food security. In response, yatris pointed out the dependence on imports for our fertilizers. "They cautioned farmers not to fall for such false arguments and reminded that the only way the country can become sovereign, is to be self reliant when it comes to agricultural inputs and that is only possible when we do ecological farming shunning agrochemicals and GM seeds." They also came across a farmer keeping mounavrata (keeping quite or not talking, as a method of resistance/protest) for four years to propagate the use of low external input sustainable agriculture.
Melodious songs by a local artist reminded that our traditional agriculture was both ecologically and socially sustainable. As election results started pouring in, the yatris got delayed in reaching their final destination, but were elated on reaching because the farmers were still waiting. Long live farmers!
(See our write-up on the Yatra in North India and we will soon come up with one on the final event at Rajghat).