In the context of the crisis situation of farmers, the most discussed issue has been the extent to which the procurement price can be increased. However a neglected issue which may be even more important is the extent to which the farming costs can be decreased. In recent years the costs of farmers including the costs of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, weedicides, farm machinery and seeds of big companies have increased greatly and this is an important reason for the indebtedness of farmers.
Another problem is the heavy use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides has harmed the natural fertility of soil. Big companies have been linking their seeds to specific agri-chemicals and farmers are caught in a trap of expensive seeds linked to other inputs. High hazard agri-chemicals also lead to serious diseases and poisoning cases which are both difficult and expensive to treat.
Promoting Organic Farming
All of these problems can be sorted out by shifting to alternative available technologies which are eco-friendly, low-cost and self-reliant. In the context of the needs of our villages and our small farmers it is important that organic farming should be of a special type i.e. as self-reliant and low-cost as possible. Some big companies promote organic farming based on high cost certification procedures and expensive inputs and big cuts for middlemen. This type of organic farming is not suitable for our small and medium farmers, who constitute over 90 percent of our farmers, as this will merely shift them from one trap to another.
We need low-cost and self-reliant organic farming based on mutual certification by farmers, best possible use of local resources and collection/protection of indigenous seeds. The government should invest heavily in promoting this but it has failed to do so. In fact government policies have been a hindrance rather than a help in achieving these objectives.
Now if we look at the situation from a health and nutrition conscious consumers perspective then this consumer too has suffered/faced a lot of difficulties as it has become very difficult to get food grains, vegetables, fruits and other foods which are free from the residues of harmful chemicals. They are also looking for healthy food and may be willing to pay somewhat higher price if they can be assured of regular supply of healthy food.
Hence it can be a win-win situation if efforts to spread low-cost eco-friendly farming practices among farmers can be promoted in a big way. If so happens then these farmers can be linked directly to groups of health-conscious consumers who will be happy to pay a good price for a regular supply of healthy food. When consumers meet farmers on a regular basis they will also have a better and more sympathetic understanding of the problems of farmers and some of them may be willing to help them in other ways as well. Such an assured market will also make it possible to include more value adding processing of their produce, for example supplying papads, pickles, jams and butter to consumers directly in the process generating more employment in their village and household.
Reaching out for more
I recently visited some villages in Jharkhand and Odisha where some voluntary organizations like Centre for World Solidarity and Living Farms have been making such efforts on a small scale. Several of these are tribal villages where chemical fertilizers and pesticides reached rather late. After experimenting with these inputs several tribal and other farmers realized that these have increased health problems among them and so when these voluntary organizations approached them with offers of training for organic farming and low-cost mutual certification procedures the farmers were quite receptive.
At the other end these voluntary organizations have been talking to city resident associations, women’s groups, hotels and school canteens regarding the possibilities of procuring organic food including millets directly from farmer groups.
These efforts have already given some good results. People have started giving more attention to those farmers who have shifted back to traditional organic farming practices and were also able to achieve better results in terms of net income. They could achieve this as their costs came down significantly.
Lakhiram Sardar of Anjuvila village is one such farmer in Saraikela district who grows a rich diversity of vegetable and fruits, besides food grains, on a small farm. He says loud and clear that giving up chemical-intensive farming and shifting to organic farming has helped him to increase his net income significantly. Similarly Prayag Mahto, a farmer of Parvatu area near Ranchi says that it was difficult to come out of crisis as long as he remained struck with chemical intensive farming but things are much better now.
These voluntary organizations while highlighting the efforts of such farmers are trying to find a good market for them in nearby cities. In Jharkhand such efforts are being made in Jamshedpur and Ranchi while in Odisha such efforts are being made in Bhubaneswar. Resident associations, women groups, school canteens and hotels are being contacted for this. School children have been taken to organic farms. Food festivals based on organic food have been organized. Delicious traditional dishes cooked here have opened up the door of rich traditional and organic food for those who were earlier influenced heavily by TV advertisements of junk food. Some students have responded to the campaign for healthy food by asking their parents to buy organic food directly from farmers. Nutrition gardens of organically plants have been taken up in a few schools. Most of this work has been taken up under a project India for Eco Food–Safe Food. It is hoped that these various efforts will lead to a regular demand for organic food and these consumers can then be linked up with organic farmers including tribal farmers directly.
Women of Sursi village in Saraikela district are happy as their request for a low cost mutual certification system has been accepted. They hope that in due course of time this will help them to get better price for their organic produce.
These small efforts have shown that there are much greater possibilities of linking organic farmers with health-conscious consumers and this work needs to be taken up on a larger scale with better investment. In addition work of collection and protection of indigenous seeds needs to be supported on a large scale.