As India’s rural areas are passing through many grim problems, the installation of a new government is being seen as an opportunity by them to provide relief from many serious problems.
Top six priorities
While rural India has many expectations from the new government, the below six issues should be prioritized.
- On the whole in recent years, the needs of rural areas have got less priority over the needs of urban areas. This should be reversed. The needs of farmers, landless farm workers and rural artisans should get higher priority.
- National level inter-linking of rivers has been widely publicised but this is a project that will cause ecological devastation. Therefore this project of inter-linking of rivers should be given up once and for all.
- Similarly the technology of GM (geneticaly modified) crops has been widely publicised, but there are hundreds of well researched reports to show that these can have very harmful and destructive impacts and hazards which are irreversible. Therefore the technology of GM crops should be strictly banned.
- Large-scale displacement of villagers and farmers as well as diversion of fertile farmland should be avoided.
- Farming technology as well as related technology should be ecologically friendly with emphasis also on increasing genetic diversity in the form of protection of rich diversity of indigenous seeds and indigenous breeds of farm animals.
- The poorest villagers should get the most help from people, with emphasis on well-implemented land reforms and employment works emphasising water and soil conservation.
These six priorities can be seen to be of greatest importance for our rural areas in the near future. In addition we need to look at several other aspects of poverty eradication, ecological renewal and social reform.
Policies need a significant shift
Keeping in view climate change related new threats, government policies need a huge and significant shift (including budget allocation, overall thrust of governance and other aspects) in favour of poorest and marginalised sections, small farmers, rural life and farming based livelihoods (with their lower GHG emissions and importance for food security), environment protection and disaster prevention as well as better relief work at the time of disasters and adverse conditions. It can no longer be business as usual for the government as new threats bring new responsibilities. Budget allocations should shift very significantly in favour of agriculture, and related activities and environment protection.
We need a change that strongly favours organic farming. What I wish to emphasise here is that the government policychoice has to shift from encouraging farming based on chemical fertilisers and pesticides to a farming which uses environment friendly methods of maintaining soil fertility and keeping away harmful insects or other pests. The financial, administrative, scientific and other resources which the government was earlier using for subsidising the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides need to be diverted entirely for directly helping, encouraging, rewarding farmers who are practising organic farmers or else are in the process of shifting to organic farming.
Traditional seeds – basic treasure of genetic material
In the conditions of India’s villages, along with organic we need to strongly say, “as low-cost as possible” and “as self reliant as possible”, these two aims being strongly interrelated. Our context is basically that of small farmers with a low resource-base. Dependence on chemical fertilisers and pesticides made them indebted. It is certainly not desirable that one dependence should be replaced with another dependence, for example dependence on expensive marketpurchased bio-fertilisers. So the entire emphasis should be based on making the best possible use of local resources (dung, crop-residues, leaves, cow-urine etc.) and farming practices like maintaining diversity, suitable rotations etc., to become as self-reliant as possible in maintaining the fertility of land and in keeping away harmful insects and pests.
A question that needs to be asked is whether the promotion of organic farming can be compatible with the green revolution’s seeds which were specifically aimed at being more fertilizer responsive.
Clearly there is a contradiction here and so we have to go back to the rich diversity of our traditional seeds as our basic treasure of genetic material on the basis of which farming can progress on a sustainable basis. So the existing system of production and distribution of seeds has to be changed as well.
It is very clear that we can’t look at organic farming in isolation, we also need to look at systems of water-and-moisture concentration, good green cover in the form of trees and pastures and overall conducive conditions for animal husbandry to flourish well. These are very important in themselves but these are also important to create conducive conditions in which organic, low-cost self-reliant farming can be successful. Similarly crop and variety diversity, crop rotations which maintain fertility of land are integral to our understanding of organic farming.
Land distribution among the poor should get very high priority, and optimum use of all the existing laws (including ceiling laws) and favourable administration orders should be made.
A system of farming which integrates agriculture and animal husbandry should be adopted, with encouragement for care and concern for welfare of farm-animals. Protection of cows and bullocks should be encouraged in a big-way in a secular sense – so that everyone can be a part of this effort. Promotion of animal husbandry and welfare of farm animals should get high priority.
Cottage and small-scale industrial activity should be encouraged in villages and small towns. The spirit of swadeshi
and maximum possible self-reliance of village communities emphasised by Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom movement must be revived to meet contemporary needs. Growth of desi (indigenous varieties) cotton can become the base of revival of hand-spinning and hand-weaving (khadi cloth). Cottage industry like khadi/handloom should get increasing strength from the emphasis on reducing GHG emissions and environment-friendly textiles. A wide range of cottage industries related to agriculture, animal husbandry and minor forest produce, as well as other cottage scale labour-intensive industries can be started. The kind of smallscale industrial activity that doesn’t displace or threaten farmers but instead provides additional livelihoods to them should be encouraged.
Social reform work should be emphasised with special emphasis on reducing alcoholism and all forms of addictions.
Rural decentralisation and panchayati raj should be strengthened at all levels.