Kisan Swaraj Yatra Reaches Rajghat: Thousands take pledge to reclaim sovereignty of our food and farming
New Delhi, 11 December 2010: Smt Sonia Gandhi met with a delegation of Kisan Swaraj Yatra members today and assured them that she shares the concerns raised by the Yatra. Meanwhile, thousands of citizens from all across the country came together today at Rajghat, the memorial of the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi, to proclaim their sovereign right over food and farming. The event marked the culmination of the 71-day long Kisan Swaraj Yatra which started from Sabarmati on Gandhi Jayanti, the 2nd of October. The Yatra is a pan-Indian outreach and mobilization effort to draw fresh attention of the nation to the continuing agrarian crisis in India. The Yatra, one of the biggest initiatives in the recent past to bring together people from all sections of society on the issue of sustainability in Indian farming, interacted with farmers and others in 100 districts of 20 states that it cut across in the last 70 days. There were public meetings, farmer interactions, field visits and citizen forums in 100 districts as part of the Yatra, through which a dialogue was struck with nearly twenty five thousand people, including farmers, consumers, agriculture scientists, political parties and governments. The Yatra was organized by ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture), a newly formed loose network of hundreds of organizations across the country.
Meeting the delegation from the Kisan Swaraj Yatra, Mrs Sonia Gandhi assured that the Government will do its best to reduce the suffering of farmers and examine the proposals for a Kisan Swaraj policy put forward by ASHA.
The Kisan Swaraj Yatra, which found a loud response with farmers and others all over the country so far, is calling for a comprehensive new path for Indian agriculture – a path that will provide livelihood and food security for our farmers, keep our soils alive, and our food and water poison-free. More than 220 farmers and other citizens have travelled across the country with a message of hope to farmers of the country, with an awakening call to all Indians about the need to save our food and farming systems and with a challenge posed to the governments, both at the Centre and States, that are adopting short-sighted, anti-farmer policies.
Sharing her experiences of the Yatra with the gathering, Kavitha Kuruganti, co-convenor of ASHA said, “Farmers are indeed struggling to have a viable livelihood and dignified living through farming and to hold on to their resources in most places. We found that the ecological crisis in our agriculture is real, as a result of intensive agriculture models and the damage is being experienced tangibly, whether it is related to land or water or seed. We also found that seed sovereignty is no longer an ideological or theoretical concept – choices related to Seed are indeed narrowing down for farmers, with seed monopolies of big corporations growing; issues around good quality, affordable, locally suitable diverse seeds in an accountable system throw up the need to look into seed self-reliance urgently. The Yatra also found that ecological farming based on farmer-level innovations related to soil/pest/disease management and seed-breeding is indeed being practiced on a wide scale and the government is yet to pick up its pro-active spread, given the current economic, environmental and health imperatives. Nearly everyone that the Yatris interacted with had concerns about food safety and quality and implications for their health. Farmers repeatedly raised the issue of high costs of farming coupled with non-remunerative prices pushing them into distress”.
Giving a clarion call against the takeover of our food and farming by multinational agri-corporations, Kodihalli Chandrashekhar, President of Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha [KRRS] declared that the time has come for a second freedom struggle, this time to regain our land, water and other natural resources from the grip of these MNCs. He further stated that the latest ploy of the agrochemical companies is to take over the most essential component of our farming – our Seed. He lamented that our governments, be it in the Centre or at the state level are crafting laws like the Seeds bill and BRAI in support of profit-hungry corporations, to the detriment of farmers”.
The day started with people paying homage to Gandhi and taking a pledge to protect food and seed sovereignty of this country. This was followed by felicitation of around 30 progressive ecological farmers in different corners of the country and with a special recognition accorded to an entire village – Enabavi of Warangal district in Andhra Pradesh – which through ecological and self reliant agriculture is showing the way forward for the nation. Participants pointed out that lakhs of farmers around the country are showing that such farming is indeed viable and conserves the productive base of farmers.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr G.V Ramanjaneyulu of ASHA shared the demands of the Yatra as such: “The government has to guarantee income security to all farming households, ensure environmental sustainability in our agriculture and protect the rights and resources of farmers including on seed and land. Only then can we have sustainable livelihoods assured for our anna daatas”.
Apart from the farmers echoing the need for self-reliant ecological farming and taking part in large numbers in hundreds of events that the Kisan Swaraj Yatra took part in, the active involvement of urban and rural consumers made the Yatra a unique experience. “With food price inflation shooting through the roof even as farmers really do not benefit from such high prices, and our food being rendered highly unsafe due to mindless usage of agrochemicals and with the threat of GM foods looming large, ecological farming that will assure safe, diverse, nutritious and sufficient quantities of food for all has become the need of the hour for every citizen of our country” said Kirankumar Vissa from Sahaja Aharam, a consumer co-operative from Andhra Pradesh.
The Kisan Swaraj Policy is based on the four pillars of economic sustainability of agriculture-based livelihoods; ecological sustainability to preserve productive natural resources; people’s control over agricultural resources including land, water, forest, seed and knowledge; and, ensuring non-toxic, diverse, nutritious and adequate food for all Indians.
The gathering at Rajghat was also addressed by eminent Members of Parliament and political party leaders like Sitaram Yechury of CPI [M], D Raja of CPI, J.P. Nadda of BJP, Thathagat Satpathy of BJD, Javed Raza of JD [U] in addition to letters of support extended by Jayant Chaudhary of RLD, Rajiv Pratap Rudy of BJP, Rattan Singh Ajnala of SAD and others.
The Yatra has asked for immediate cancellation of public-private partnerships with corporations like Monsanto (in different universities and with extension departments), has asked for the proposals for ‘Green Revolution in Eastern India’ to be based on lessons learnt from the mistakes of the earlier Green Revolution, to address the serious shortcomings of the proposed Seeds Bill and BRAI and to ensure that no more GM seeds are approved in the country given the negative experiences with Bt Cotton in different parts of the country.
Kisan Swaraj policy is a charter of demands by ASHA to ensure sustainability of our farming, protection of the livelihoods of the farmers and farm workers and food safety and security of the nation. The policy can be accessed at http://www.kisanswaraj.in/wp-content/uploads/Kisan-Swaraj-Policy.pdf.