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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Waynad Farmer's Suicide- inquiry report

            South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers' Movements (SICCFM)
November 18th, 2011
Kalpetta, Wayanad, Kerala
Interim Report of the South Indian farmers' inquiry committee into farmers' suicides in Wayanad district, Kerala.
The committee recognizes the Kerala government’s initiative in inquiring into the deaths of farmers in Wayanad district. Against the backdrop of the wave of farmers’ suicides, a committee was formed, as defining the causes of these suicides is of critical importance. This committee members are S. Kannaiyan from the South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movement (SICCFM); Mr Ravindranath president, and Mr Davidson State secretary of Kerala Coconut Farmers Association; B Manjunath and Pacce Nanjundaswamy from Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha and CK Janu, President of Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha. The committee spent time with four affected families in Wayanad. The homes of Ashokan of Palpally, Jose of Nallur Nadu, Sasidharan of Mallisserikkunnil and Raju Vargeesh of Meppady, Nathankunni were visited.

The reoccurring theme between these four families is ginger. Some had undertaken cultivation in Kerela, others in Karnataka. The cost of ginger production is very high, involving costs of chemical fertilizers, seeds and pesticides. In addition, one land-lease in Karnataka reached up to Rs 40, 000 per acre. The families explained that the current market price of ginger Rs. 500 / 60kg barely covers the labour-costs of ginger-harvesting, at the labour cost is RS 350 per day in Kerala.

Until last year the ginger price could reach up to Rs. 2000-3500/ 60 kg. The farmers took out loans ranging from RS 120 000 to close to 4 lakhs. The major loans were from Nationalised Banks, Scheduled Banks, Grameen Banks, and Cooperative Banks.  The Kudumba Shree (Self-Help-Group) also played a major role in advancing money.  From Self-Help-Groups, loans availed in different members’ names and were pooled together for agriculture activities in one family. Gold of the family members was mortgaged in different banks, including Muthoot Finance. As well as agricultural costs, the borrowings were also spent on essential purposes such as education of the children and medical emergencies.

Landless farmers or very small land holders (30 cents to 1.70 acres), all four men ended their lives by consuming pesticides. Speaking to the families of the deceased, none of these men were prone to depression: it is the drastic economical pressures which have led them to take such extreme measures. The agrarian crisis directly affects women, as the widows now bear the burden of these loans.

1.   All the institutional loans including bank loans, self-help groups loans and gold loans, to be waived by the state and central governments. Private loans should be settled by the government of Kerala up to RS 2 lakh per affected family as debt relief support.
2.  Widow pension of RS 5000 per month should be provided.
3.  Kerala government to cover the costs of children's education until higher education.
4.  As an immediate measure, state government should procure ginger crops and should announce Minimum Support Price for ginger and banana.
5.  In the case of landless farmers, government should provide at least 25 cents of cultivable land and a house.
6.  As a preventative measure, the implementation of a Helpline so that distressed farmers can call to share their concerns and grief.
7.  Provide disease free planting material through a systematic government program.
8.  Farmer specific crop insurance should be developed by the state and central governments to address crop losses.
9.  Kerala government should start a ginger processing factory to add value to the produce and to ensure price stability to ginger.

As far as banana is concerned, the price for consumers is always high and stable. The selling price for farmers fluctuates hugely, thus demonstrating the role of the middle-man. State governments should take immediate steps for direct marketing by farmers. 

As the SICCFM, we appeal to farmers to diversify their crops rather than practicing mono cropping to reduce the risk over crop failure and price collapsing. We also request farmers to be weary of the dependence on costly chemical pesticides and fertilizers. 

Even though ginger and bananas are essential in the Indian diet, the sudden collapse of the price of the ginger to 500rupees/ 60kg, combined with the heavy monsoon and fungal disease, is darkening the lives of farmers.
We foresee a wave of suicides of ginger farmers if the Kerela government doesn't take immediate action to address the root cause of the action.

Contact: S Kannaiyan 

International seminar on Agroecology

Nov 6th. Mysore
Tilly Gifford
Stephanie Wang

Palekar, Basawareddy, Puttanaiyah and Nandini Jairam
The Rani Bahadur Auditorium of the B.N Bahadur Institute of management of Mysore University hosted a one-day seminar which was the closing event of this five days exchange program. As the opening speech, Chukki Nanjundaswamy first introduced the importance of agroecology and the work of La Via Campesina to face farmers issues such as suicides. She also situated natural farming as a mean of struggle: “Natural farming is not just about technologies, but it’s also about resisting capitalism”. Finally, natural farming is an opportunity to address and redefine our relation to nature. As an opening ritual, water was given by the first panelists Subhash Palekar, Peter Rosset and chairpersons Puttanaiyah and Nandini Jairam.
Presenting La Via Campesina’s campaign on Agro-ecology, Peter Rosset explained how agroecology has many definitions, some referring to it as the science of how agro ecosystems function, others as a movement to transform farming system and others as a set of ecological principles. For La Via Campesina,  Permaculture, agroecology, Natural Farming, Zero budget natural farming and organic farming are only different names for same principles.  However “organic farming”, as defined by Tamil or Cuban farmers for instance, should be differentiated from the neo-liberal organic farming. The latter uses monocultures, expensive external inputs, sophisticated technologies and is advocated, for example, by the Indian state.  Neo-liberal organic farming might produce healthier food, but it does not challenge agribusiness’ dominance over world food production. Farmers practicing this kind of farming still need to cope with the high prices of organic fertilizers and pesticides. As organic produces are now being sold by multinational companies such as Walmart, it is obvious that the term “organic” is no longer linked to a sustainable peasant-based form of agriculture; it is being co-opted to generate capitalist dependency. La Via Campesina’s posture is clear: “Farming is ours”.
Then, Subhash Palekar, who developed the concept of Zero Budget Natural Farming, explained that in natural farming, the farmer needs not purchase anything from the market and can expect an income within the first year.  He need use only a fraction of the water and electricity required by chemical farming. For Palekar, Natural farming is not a technique, but a movement.  He argues that there are currently 4 millions natural Farmers in India. A single Indian cow specie for 30 acres is all that is required. It is a network to support the right of the farmer to set the rate of their produce themselves. According to Palekar, food crisis, farmer suicides, climate change, ecosystem break-down make natural Farming all the more urgent and necessary. In other words, it is in self-defense that we act to preserve ecosystems, in self-defense to not poison our human community with chemically mediated foods.
Basawareddy from Northen Karnataka shared his experience of Zero Budget Natural Farming in dryland areas. Using Jeevamrutha and neemastra, rain fed farmers obtain excellent yield. For instance, chichpea, pulses and millet sprayed with Jeevamrutha reached a yield of 10 quintals/acre, establishing a new state record. On chemical farming, farmers only obtain 4-5 quintals/acre. Other techniques used include drying cow dung and jeevamrutha and store it until needed. He also mentioned that ¾ acre of his land is dedicated to grow food for his home consumption.
KRRS President Puttanaiyah then addressed the audience, stating that their demand for governments is that ZBNF has to become global. He also reitered his long-standing demand for a special policy for rain fed areas.
After lunch, Partap Aggarval, who introduced the One-Straw Revolution in India and was the first one In India to adopt Fukuoka’s natural farming method, spoke about Fukuoka’s philosophy and experience in Japan. It is only after repeated trial and errors that Masanobu Fukuoka succeeded.
Kim Jeongyeol explained that in South Korea, 6% of the population work in the land. With such small numbers, farmers alone cannot defend their agriculture. Civil society must be onside.  In India however, near to 60% of the population rely on agriculture for their main livelihood. The demographic and natures of the struggles will be different, hence the importance of the network to support and unify the peasant farmers movement.
Arul Nandy from Sri Lanka then explained that in their country, and also in India, a huge portion of the profits of agribusiness products are dedicated to “commissions” at all stages of institutional transactions. Obviously, massive money is at stake to keep us addicted to chemical farming and within a neo-liberal framework.

To summon up, the seminar began to share the common ground between farmer struggles, on how to widen the demographic of practices to include the voices of those least represented, to make the rural voices louder in calling for self-determination and in shaping policy. The challenge is now to support the small and marginal farmers’ voices.

Asian farmers visit Karnataka’s natural farms- Day 4

Nov 5th.  Mysore
Tilly Gifford
Stephanie Wang
The day began with each of the represented countries’ feed-back on the Natural Farming programme thus far. Illustrating the critical role of networks such as La Via Campesina, Nepal delegates laid out their journey into Natural Farming.  They first encountered ZBNF at the Sri Lankan Via Campesina congregation in 2010 which Subhash Palekar attended. Since then, as well as supporting Nepali peasant farmers in using such techniques, they have been making progress in having Food Sovereignty inscribed into the actual constitution of the country.  Seldom is there scope to get governments to endorse a system which undercuts agribusiness and corporations, instead giving autonomy to the small farmers. This would be the first country to include such progressive clause in its constitution – a very exciting prospect.
The Nepali delegates came seeking concrete technical information from Karnataka farmers, on pesticide control techniques within ZBNF. They were especially interested in visiting the larger scale natural farms, such as those of Krishnappa and Nandini. The Nepali story illustrates the massive role of networks such as La Via Campesina:  the interest in ZBNF was seeded; a cross-pollination of technical advice occurs; in this fertile and optimistic political landscape might just be sprouting a constitutionally enshrined Food sovereignty.

As the delegates fed-back, questions about transferability of techniques arose, according to natural resources and capacity. Kim Jeongyeol from South Korea proposed to match-up delegates, via the network, not only according to country but according to crop. For example, the rice farmers should be linked up for a more technical and concise exchange.
All the countries have more or less developed presence of Natural Farming.  The critical question is how to re-frame the issue so as to increase the numbers of practitioners?
Many of the world’s smallest and economically marginalized farmers are the one’s least positioned to take the risk of experimenting with new techniques and new crops. However, in Karnataka the price of the two prominent chemical fertilizers has literally doubled in the last 2 and half months, since government subsidies have been cut. Against this economic backdrop, Natural Farming is a critical and timely safety net,  which could be saving small  farmers from debt and bankruptcy, loosening the grip of  agribusinesses - who sell the vicious trap of matching seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. 
In Puttanpura, Nagarajappa walked us through his journey of trial and error on his 4 acres plot of sugarcane, coconut, banana and areca nuts that are under Natural Farming since 4 years now. Having tried the system inspired by Kailash Murthy, it failed because of irrigation issues. He then installed a bore well system and is now back to successful Natural Farming. He explains how profitable his coconut crops have proved to be with these techniques, increasing yearly from Rs 8000 to 10 000 to 12 000 coconuts.
Among the delegates there was some healthy debate about whether ‘zero intervention’ is applicable to all land, or not. One delegate suggested to weed out the Touch Me Not weed, Mimosa Pudica, and use the root for its medicinal purposes. It was also suggested that utilization of Jeevamurta and beejamrutha would increase the crop yield. Nagarajappa replied “Now I have no help from my sons or family, I have had to stop doing jeevamrutha 2 years back. I don’t have the physical capacity. So I simply do irrigation and mulching.” All in good humor, he requested the delegate to send him his son to help him apply the Jeevamrutha.  Indeed Natural farming needs to be adaptable. It must be tailored to the land, as much as to the physical capacity of each farmer.
Jaime Tadeo, a well known farmer activist from the Philippines said “if you criticize as a friend, you polish my person. If you praise me when I’m wrong, you send me to perdition”. It was agreed that this is indeed the purpose and richness of the programme for farmers from all over Asia to come together to criticize, learn and exchange.
In Amrita Bhoomi, the whole caravan was served delicious naturally grown food. Amrita Bhoomi is a People to People center dedicated to the transfer of knowledge, training and development of sustainable agricultural practices.
Before heading to Mysore, the caravan stopped at Chenbasapa’s jaggery production site run by bio-gas. All sugarcane used to make jaggery comes from his farm.
Talking about reclaiming science, a distrust of the scientists so often in the pockets of government and agricultural lobby, who don’t practice and but meddle and preach. Luckily among our delegates we had redeeming scientists, who practice farming and contribute their knowledge to the movement.

Asian farmers visit Karnataka’s natural farms- Day- 3

4th November
 Tilly Gifford
Stephanie Wang
In the morning, a programme was organized by the Ashram with music, offering of garlands and speeches. KRRS general secretary Chukki Nanjundaswamy, KRRS president Puttanaiah and Chandravan Ashram’s swami welcomed the international guests to Karnataka and spoke about Indian agriculture. 
The caravan arrived at midday at Kailashmurthy’s farm in Doddindavadi village, Kollegal taluk, Chamarajanagar district. Inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka, he practices non-intervention, or “Do-Nothing Farming”, ie no tilling, no ploughing, no weeding, no fertilizers or pesticides. One may use jeevamrutha or farm manure the first 2 years. He strongly believes that all plants take most of their needed nutrients from sunlight, not from the soil; hence there is no need to use any kind of fertilizer. The only input, provided through drip irrigation, is water.
Kailashmurthy stresses the importance of introducing resistant, high quality varieties. For instance, he introduced an American variety of plantain banana which is resistant to panama disease and nematode pest, both destructive for banana crops. Eager to be sure of the resistance of the variety, Murthy had to rely on this imported variety which is issued from tissue culture. Then, he waits for each variety planted to adapt to conditions of that micro-environment.
“The banana trees sulked for 4 years before bursting into fruit. Essentially, you’re training them to go wild again”, he explains. “Once they adapt, they’re off.”
He planted this land 18 years ago with areca nut as a main crop. He explained that now he regrets this choice, as his philosophy would steer him clearly towards food crops.  Kailashmurthy advocates non interference, but also suggests creating conditions of stress – drought conditions for example, to increase the resilience of the plants and encourage them to fruit.
International delegates were concerned about how to grow short term vegetables with this kind of farming. Kailashmurthy is convinced that although delicate to grow, any vegetable crop can be grown successfully if grown in its proper agro-climatic zone:
 “Not many different vegetables are eaten now in India. Before, each crop was seasonal. Vegetables from the rainy season offered health benefits accordingly. Vegetables are delicate to grow and so the variety is being lost. ”
Now, we are growing winter vegetables in summer and summer vegetables in winter. Such unnatural process requires higher inputs from the farmer as he fights against nature.
He drives a rod into the earth. Impressively, it sinks at least 1m into the ground. “This is due to encouraging the biodiversity and creatures living in the ground. Also we don’t use tractors and machines that make the ground compact.”

Driving through the nature reserve, home to tigers and deer, we arrive at BR Hills. The Tribal Welfare organization welcomed us with a meal and a performance of tribal songs and dances.  This residential school educates and feeds 600 children from the area. Delegates joined the stage with peasant songs from Korea and Nepal, before retreating to bed. The next morning the first evaluation of the project was due.

Asian farmers visit Karnataka’s natural farms- Day 2

November 3th, 2011
Tilly Gifford
Stephanie Wang
Delegates are interviewed by local medias in Shivalli
The caravan started this second day with a visit of Boregowda’s seed bank in Shivalli. In traditional India, 1 lakh (100 000) varieties of paddy existed, however the Green Revolution and the aggressive marketing of hybrid seeds by the Indian government along with agribusiness has resulted in a drastic loss of native varieties. Concerned about this loss of biodiversity, Boregowda makes available to farmers a seed bank of 70, mostly native, varieties of paddy. He has evolved a program to provide seeds to the small peasant farmers. The latter can either buy the seed at minimal cost, or simply borrow them if they return double the quantity after their harvest.  The important role of seed-banks such as Boregowda’s became apparent when it was explained that other seed banks do exist - in Tamil-Nadu, and Karnataka universities for example - but are used for the detrimental projects of Monsanto, Gargil and Mahyco, and largely inaccessible to small farmers.
In Bannur, delegates made their way, bare-footed, through paddy field to reach Krishnappa’s land. With great enthusiasm, Karnataka’s model farmer of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) guided the guests in this journey through this wild, but methodically planned form of farming. Different fields with different growth stages and crops visually demonstrated that ZBNF can prove successful within a very short period of time. 
Beginning at a vegetable plot planted only 1 month ago, we were lead to an adjacent plot  5 months old, then 1 year old, all the way through to 4 and 5 year old plots. On the first plot one could clearly see the layout and pattern in planting – sugarcane, onion, marigold, pepper, bean and ladies finger. The second plot was dominated by huge sugarcane plants where up to 12 stems per seedling could be observed. The 8X2 feet beds were separated by water channels, through which Jeevamrutha circulates and bring its nutrients to the soil.
On the last plot the areca nuts and coconuts tower overhead, with cocoa plants and teak trees for natural fencing. The careful architecture of the layout of the planting was explained. On a 9 X 9 feet area, Krishnappa plants one banana tree, surrounded by 4 arecanuts, 2 coffee and 2 gliricidia plants. Gliricidia is a nitrogen-fixer whose leaves are used for mulching and pest control. Such configuration not only brings biodiversity to the farm, but provides a diverse and profitable source of income for the farmer throughout the year. Krishnappa’s popularity can be attributed to the fact that he explains clearly the economics of ZBNF, which is the crucial aspect for any farmer who considers switching from chemical to natural farming. In fact, Krishnappa says that anyone undertaking ZBNF as he does can gain an income after 3 months only, covering the initial expenditures and bringing the final input to zero.
Prasanna , a civil engineer by training, is under Krishnappa’s tutor age for this 1 acre model farm in Arkere.  Krishnappa visits his site twice a week, providing advices. Prasanna began Zero Budget Natural Farming just 3 months back and the visitors could see all the standing crops. Along with banana, which is the main crop, an interesting diversity of inter crops are grown: cauliflower, pepper, brinjal, cabbage, tomato, pulses, chilli, bean, marigold, onion and maize. Prasanna argues that all first inputs will be covered by the profits made of the inter crops, and that a good profit will be left in the farmers pocket. 
For this type of farming, Jeevamrutha is a key element. It is not a fertilizer that feeds the crops, but a microbial culture that promotes microbial activity of the soil.  
Finally, the caravan head back to Srirangpatnam for a second night at the Ashram.

Asian farmers visit Karnataka’s natural farms

Tuesday, November 2nd
Chandra Van, Srirangpatnam.
Tilly Gifford
Stephanie Wang
The group was warmly welcomed in Chandra Van Ashram
This morning, 41 people left Bangalore in direction of Mandya District. The delegation included farmers and social movement activists from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Timor Leste, Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, South Korea, Mexico and India. They are all part of the international peasant movement, La Via Campesina. The legendary Karnataka Rajya Ryota Sangha (KRRS) and South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements (SICCFM) are hosting this natural farm visit, coordinating an itinerary of successful sites of natural farming. 
 In Kikkeri, the delegation was welcomed with drums, flowers and an inauguration ceremony. 
The first natural farm visited was Nandini and Jairam's Jaladharshini farm, in Mandagere. It might seem a strange sight to see Nepali, Sri Lankans and a Korean group complete with translators assembled to study three large vats of cow dung. But in fact, this is Jeevamrutha, one of the key pillars of Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF), the method popularized by Subhash Palekar. To Afsar Jafri's question of the trigger of them moving away from chemical farming, Nandini and Jairam shared how they didn't feel like eating their own chemically mediated tomatoes anymore. It seemed unethical to feed humankind with poisonous food.
A lot of technical information was swapped between farmers, especially about input cost and return.
After lunch, the group visited Mudhu Kumar's sugarcane field in Sindaguatta near KRPett. Without any input except jeevamrutha, the sugarcane grew prodigiously tall and sweet.
Under a rainy sky, Soma Sekhar explained the inner-workings of his 9 meters length bio-digester, under the gaze of the delegation. We were then showed the mulberry plantation which feeds the hearty, fat silk worms.
Heavy thunderstorm meant the visit to Manju's farm skipped and the caravan accepted hospitality in Muddu Kumar's house where they were served tea and snacks.
 Another tea ceremony was provided by fellow KRRS members, eager to meet the international farmers.
Finally, the delegation arrived in Chandravan Ashram in Srirangpatnam where they enjoyed the river bank before attending a ritual at the temple. Then, simple but delicious food was served and the guests retreated for the night.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Indian Farmers National Rally in Delhi: Will Mr. Singh listen?

Stephanie Wang

Delhi, October 18th, 2011

Indian Farmers protested against the deep agrarian crisis 

Thousands of farmers from all over India gathered in Delhi on October 18th and protested against the ongoing collapse of India's agriculture and peasantry. Demands were articulated around the necessary implementation of a protective market for domestic agricultural products, as well as a decent social security for the farmers. Other demands include the rejection of the new land acquisition Act and Free trade agreements in agriculture (see the memorandum below). These demands were established by the farmers leaders of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Khand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. They met on October 16 and 17 and discussed in detail the most crucial issues affecting farmers livelihood today. All agreed that a stronger state support should be provided to the farmers as a protection to world market's volatility and unequal competition. They discussed about World Trade Organization and neo-liberalism, both being responsible for the deeper crisis in agriculture. Furthermore, they rejected Free Trade Agreements which are giving access to the corporate to trade and control the life of peasants.
On the 18th, after hours of speeches delivered by their representatives and leaders, farmers moved behind the stage and broke the police barricade in Jantar Mantar. This decision was taken the previous day by the farmers’ representatives to express the anger and determination animating India’s peasantry.
Later, hundreds of protesters rushed in the police station and occupied it to tell the central government, through a non-violent action, that the people’s unrest can never be muted.
Finally, a group of 8 farmers’ representatives made their way to the North block to meet the Prime minister. Unfortunately, he was out of the country and they could only meet his representative, M. Narayanaswamy. The farmers delegates lend him out the memorandum which was received positively. He said the farmers demands would be discussed within the inter-ministerial committee which would then take appropriate action. The farmers strongly communicated their dissatisfaction to the government concerning agriculture, trade, prices and the overall crisis of agriculture. Finally, the farmers’ leaders left Mr. Singh's office with a promise that a meeting with him will be arranged by November 10th.
Once again, despite the massive mobilization of farmer citizens from all casts, age groups, genders and states, Medias preferred to cover irrelevant and alienating events instead of covering the protest.
On October 17th, leaders also discussed on how to strengthen the Indian Coordination Committee of the Farmers Movement (ICCFM)'s organization. S. Kannaiyan, representing the South Indian Coordination Committee of the Farmers Movement, pointed out the necessity to democratize decision making processes within the movement, in terms of gender, caste and age. Chukki Nanjundaswamy, the General secretary of Karnataka Rajya Royatha Sanga(KRRS) , also suggested to initiate mobilizations at state levels in order to bring in more young leaders in the movement. Indeed, women, marginalized farmers and youth should be encouraged to take part in the movement. For instance, women and tribal leaders did delivered speeches during the rally, but only after men did. The senior leaders were in complete agreement with the younger farmers representatives.