The agricultural situation in Orissa
Today, Orissa stands at a crossroads. It can either intensify its agriculture further by continuing to adopt a model of more external inputs including GM seeds which would tighten the control of external agents on food & farming systems and disempower the people. Or it can get out of its ecological, economic, socio-cultural crisis in agriculture by adopting ecological agriculture as the only sustainable way out of the crisis. Local production, storage and distribution deepens food sovereignty, enhances cultural diversity.
Agriculture and the people
The lives and livelihoods of small & marginal farmers of Orissa are in jeopardy, while more than 80 percent of the total workforce is directly dependent on agriculture. This includes about 3.4 million cultivators and 2.1 million agricultural labourers. Agriculture is the backbone of the state economy, employing over 65% of the total workforce and 80% of the workforce in rural areas. 82% are small and marginal farmers.
However, the plan outlay/new investment by the state Government in Agriculture has declined by 29% in last 30 years.
63% of women and 73% of children in the state suffer from anemia. The infant mortality rate (IMR) in Orissa is 100/1000.
In the Dongria Kondh community, the hill tribe in the Niyamgiri hills, 250/1000 children die within the first year after birth. Living Farms works with this community.
The state of hunger Orissa is ranked as alarming in the recently released report on the Global Hunger Index 2008. Orissa, which ranked 5th on the Nutrition Index in 1994, ranks 12th in 2008.
According to the poverty rectification report released in March 07, the Orissa poverty line is Rs 325.79 (USD 6,5 / EUR 5) per capita per month i.e. less than Rs 10 /- (USD 0,20 / EUR 0,15) per capita per day. 49% of the total population of Orissa comes in this category.
Many are unaware that on a day to day basis farmers are getting displaced in the state which is not very visible. From 1981 to 2001 15% of farmers have been uprooted from their farms.
The recent "developments" in the state are the shift of food growing lands to commercial crops driven by market force, industry & mining. These continue to put traditional crops and farming systems of dry land and hilly regions under serious threat.
The area under rice – one of the staple food grains – has increased only by 3.76%. During the same period the area under millets – another major staple food grain and more nutritious than rice – has decreased by 21.7%. The area under cotton has increased by 106%, under floriculture by 800% and biofuel is being grown in 20,000 hectares in 2007-2008. This has led to a disaster in the ecological and environmental health in the state.
There has been an increase of 66% in the use of pesticide in the last five years. A recent survey on the impact of pesticides on human health in west–southern and a part of southern Orissa – which turns out to be a cotton growing belt – reveals alarming trends. Incidents of ulcers, multiple abortions, sterility, breathing difficulties, erosion of nails, loss of appetite etc. are prevailing in villages of this region.
This shift of food growing land to cash crops also has an adverse impact on some of the expenditure-saving and non-economic livelihood strategies of small farmers, such as food collection and gathering activities. This has lead to a severe decline in the overall availability of food sources and food diversity. This has serious implications both for food sovereignty of the state.
The transfer of a technology model adopted by the agriculture department has created perpetual external dependency and de-skilled the farmers by replacing their traditional knowledge base. This has led to a gradual increase in costs of cultivation due to externalization of inputs. Especially fertilizers, pesticides and seeds combined with dependency on institutional and private money lenders for credit has put them under major threat. As a result there are serious indebtedness problems in the rural areas.
According to the report "Situation Assessment Survey – Indebtedness of Farmer Households" published by the National Sample Survey Organization of the Indian Government in 2005, 47.8% of farmer households in Orissa are indebted. Of these approximately 75% have less than 1 hectare of land.
A trend of farmers committing suicides due to debt traps has begun in the state. In the last year alone 12 farmers are reported to have committed suicide. Many have gone unreported.
What is the government doing?
The preamble of Orissa' new Agriculture policy says:
"It is quite distressing that the farmers feel at the lowest rung in the social hierarchy. It will be an important task to bring back the glory and self respect of the farming community. There are no policy tools that can achieve this directly. However, putting the agriculture sector on a better path and resurrecting its importance across the sectors will go a long way in making farming a respectable profession."
However, the inner text reflects a different approach
- In order to facilitate "easy" availability of seeds to farmers, seed sale centers will be opened in each Gram Panchayat (administrative unit in local government) through a network of private seed dealers. This will tighten the control of private seed corporations over our seeds, threaten our seed biodiversity and make farmers externally dependent.
- Hybrid rice in the state will be promoted at appropriate agro-ecological situations with quality safeguards. Hybrid seeds cannot be conserved to grow in subsequent seasons. This implies farmers need to buy seeds every year. This increases their production cost per hectare and keeps them dependant on seed corporations.
- Scientifically bred, drought and pest resistant high yielding and environmentally safe varieties will be promoted.
- Only after assessing the risks and benefits associated with Genetically Modified (GM) crops as per existing rules and procedures, such crop varieties would be introduced. As per the existing experiences in India findings of only GM industry sponsored studies have been taken into consideration by the regulatory bodies.
- The demand for Agricultural Education is changing very fast and public institutions may not be able to meet the demand. In the general education sphere, private institutions have played a pivotal role and therefore, the State will consider allowing private institutions to venture in the Agricultural Education Sector.
- Contract farming and private market yards will be encouraged
- Farm Mechanization will be encouraged – 50% subsidy on all agri machineries.
Bt Cotton seeds are already available and Bt Cotton is being illegally grown in the state since 2002. The state refuses to act and say that they are helpless in the matter as the government is yet to officially allow Bt cotton in the State.
The irony is that the state government has been proclaiming rather loudly that it is against GM crops. But so far no punitive action is being taken against the companies who are contravening the law.
This is a massive disaster in the making in the form of farmer suicides and uprooting of farmers from their farms in the state where 82% of farming communities are small and marginal farmers having less than two hectares.
In the prevailing situation of crisis, Living Farms believes in creating possibilities by closely working with farmers, by integrating the traditional knowledge and wisdom with the principles of ecological and sustainable agriculture which empowers farming communities and puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems rather than the demands of markets and corporations. Emphasis needs to be put for genuine land reforms.
The conventional "Organic farming" is promoting only input replacement – from chemical inputs to non chemical. This needs to move towards establishing area specific appropriate farming systems which would be resilient with farmers gaining more control over the production resources and managing the support systems. We need farming systems which would sustain and improve agriculture and improve community food sovereignty and help farming communities deal with risks and vulnerabilities. We also need to ensure that so far excluded farmers determine research agendas and policies for food and agriculture in the state.
The work carried out by Living Farms over the last three years has shown that it is possible to evolve ways to involve farmers/growers in collaborative action research to evolve solutions to location specific problems on extending the food growing period, improving nutrition at household level restoring & increasing varieties and species diversity of crops .This has also created possibilities of horizontal communication amongst farmers. However, Living Farms is small compared to the magnitude and complexity of the crisis.