Extracts from a newspaper article by New Delhi colleague, Devinder Sharma
As 2010 fades into history, I wonder whether the New Year will bring any hope for farmers. For several years now I have been silently praying and hoping that at least this New Year farmers will have something to cheer . . .
Here is a farmer who has shown the way. Meet Subhash Sharma, a farmer from Daroli in Yavatmal district in the heart of the suicide belt of Vidharba. At a time when thousands of farmers in Vidharba have taken the fatal route to escape the humiliation that comes along with increasing indebtedness, he provides his farm workers with bonus and leave travel concession . . .
A new generation farmer
Sharma is not a big landlord. He owns only 16 acres of farm land. And like most of the farmers in the country, he too was in the thick of a vicious cycle of external inputs and perpetual indebtedness. Fed up, he then decided to abandon the fertiliser-pesticides model of farming, and shift the organic cultivation, and the turnaround has led me to a new beginning.
He says that the only way to pull out farmers from the vicious cycle of indebtedness is to push them out of the Green Revolution model of farming. It is during the workshops that he is conducting in several parts of the country that he teaches them by practical training on how to shift to natural farming practices and thereby emerge out of indebtedness.
From 16 acres of land, if Sharma can demonstrate an economically viable model, with inclusive social equity and justice, you too can do it. Here lies the answer to agricultural growth and also to country’s food security. He has even built up a corpus, a Social Security Fund, of approximately Rs 15 lakh, for meeting any eventuality that the workers might encounter. If some death in their family or the marriage of the girl child does bring additional burden, some relief comes from the Social Security Fund. He also shares the cost of education of their children and other health expenses. Isn’t this a dream that every farmer cherishes but is never able to realise?
Well, when was the last time you heard farm labourers being given an annual bonus and leave travel allowance? Now, don’t be startled, Sharma provides an annual bonus to his team of workers – 16 men and 35 women – who labour on his farm. They get something like Rs 4.5 lakh every year as bonus, which means roughly Rs 9,000 per person [More than £100]. How many farmers, including big landlords, in Karnataka for instance provide a bonus to farm workers?
Sharma ends by reflecting that farmers’ unions have failed to take on the task of reviving agriculture. They could bring in natural farming systems which are not only sustainable but profitable. He believes that there is no reason why every farmer in Karnataka cannot aspire to be a new generation farmer like Sharma.