“I cultivate sugarcane on 20 acres. For the past few years, I have barely managed to procure 80 tonnes of produce per harvest. I lost Rs 28,000 per acre and incurred Rs 560,000 in losses. I had to borrow Rs 900,000 from banks and was forced to shell out Rs 200,000 as interest. I struggled to pay my debts and today my situation is back to where it was. There was a time when farmers were considered Annadaatha. We were bestowed with the honour of feeding humankind. And, look at the state we are in today! We are pleading to be heard. No one wants to listen to us. I am uncertain of what the future holds for me. My life has come to an end but what about the little ones? I have completely discouraged my children from getting into farming. Agriculture isn’t reliable anymore. Our climate system has altered and we can’t read weather patterns as we used to before,” said Ramappareddy.
His daughter-in-law remained silent. Her frail body stood against the door frame. She caught strains of voices coming from our direction. Some filled with despair, others with anger. She paused before heading inside; her reluctance visible in her actions. Soon, her body sagged and she sank with weariness to the floor. Her eyes never met ours instead she concentrated on her chores leaving us wondering what her silence meant.
Far away, an engine cranked into life. The tractor was set in motion. Aside from the soft whirring sounds, not a breeze stirred the landscape. Ramappareddy wore a pensive look as he gestured a few farmers to join us. “There’s no dignity left in farming anymore,” he said swaying back and forth in his chair.
“It’s true,” replied Maheswara Reddy, “Our children would rather get a degree and move to cities in search of better jobs. No one wants to become a revolutionary. No one wants to change the existing system. This is perhaps one of the main reasons why youngsters don’t join our organisation too. They would rather become doctors, engineers or opt for anything that assures them of a financially stable life. But if there’s no farmer, there won’t be any food. How will the society survive, then?”
A hand held over his heart, Ramappareddy’s older son Venkatesh brandished a smile as he walked towards us and greeted, “Namaskara.” His eyes told a different story. Unlike his father, he did not wish to pursue farming. “I have no choice but to continue working in the fields. I want my children to study well and get a good job somewhere away from here. There’s no future in farming. Not anymore,” he said wiping his forehead with his hands.
Rain-fed agriculture was predominantly practised on cultivating farms in these regions till the seventies. Owing to gradual climatic deficiency and periodic bouts of water scarcity, the government resorted to facilitating remedial measures by introducing small-scale technological advancements in irrigation. Not only did the construction of Devarabelakere pick-up dam change the characteristics of the landscape in Siriganahalli but it also brought forth a whole new perspective on agriculture amongst those who primarily relied on traditional farming techniques.
“All of a sudden farming did not require regular showers for succor. Ever since we made the shift from seasonal rains to pump-irrigation, our lives changed. Those were different times. We were all chasing the ‘high-yield variety’ dream. Our seeds had been given a new lease of life, they said. We were amazed by its capabilities. Plants grew faster and production rose almost instantly. However, we paid a heavy price for these ‘miracle seeds’. And, for the longest time, we thought all our worries would vanish. Although these seeds improved crop yields, they also advocated excessive usage of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. When I was a boy, our seeds held life within them. Today, I see ‘nakli seeds’ everywhere. As our lands became increasingly reliable on chemicals, we gave up organic farming in its entirety,” said the 60-year-old farmer.
They called it green revolution, explained Arun as he listened to Ramappareddy. For the first fifteen years, farmers did exceedingly well. Gradually, as haphazard usage of fertilisers depleted the soil cover of its nutrients; environmental degradation, excessive salinity and irreversible impairment of ecology rendered their lands useless. Although grain production saw a heightened rise in the initial stages, threats of deforestation, erosion and pest resurgence loomed large in these regions.
“After the seventies, everyone opted for practices that encouraged farmers to prefer mass production instead of quality yield. We shifted to mechanised farming and increased our dependency on chemicals. However, the worst was yet to come. For the past five years, we have witnessed massive weather fluctuations unlike any other decade. The amount of rainfall received in these areas has seen immense reduction. Moreover, surface water reduced and lands turned infertile. A combination of all these factors is perhaps one of the main reasons why farming has caused immense distress in these villages,” said Arun as he struck a conversation some men seated beside us.
At once, voices loud and coarse echoed in the air as farmers expressed their angst at the deleterious effects of green revolution that had begun to show in and around Davangere Taluk over the past few years. In the sixties, India faced a potentially calamitous and protracted drought in addition to battling food scarcity in several regions. It was during that time that rapid scientific advancements in agricultural production had gained a foothold globally. The identity of farming then transitioned into an industrial movement; one that thrived on the sustenance of vast profitable enterprises. The prime focus of subsequent agrarian initiatives revolved around harnessing maximum crop yield through technology. Soon, farmlands grappled with vanishing biodiversity and hazardous environmental consequences which were brought forth by a chemically-reliant agrosystem.
“We all eventually adopted a mono cropping culture. We grew paddy year after year. Since vegetables required far greater time and effort, we stopped cultivating our own food. There was a time when we grew everything from raagi, jowar, millet, bajra to even corn. Now, the lands are no longer what they used to be. I tried planting some coriander and okra on my farm a while ago,” said Ramappareddy shifting his gaze to his grand daughters — Vaishnavi and Kanika — playing in the courtyard. “Nothing happened,” he said, after a pause, “I waited for some signs of a healthy sapling. The crops never bloomed. Some blame it on the chemicals. Some say the soil has too much water. Who knows? I grew helpless and eventually gave up all hopes of growing any vegetables. Like everyone else, I too decided to plant cash crops on my farm. Today, I buy my food from the bazaar…”
(to be continued…)
Project ‘Rest of My family‘ is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.
Through #RestofMyFamily, we will focus on highlighting social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about. We hope to make a direct impact to the lives of those people we meet and find suffering due to various social issues; to connect the ones who need help to the ones who can help….
As a part of the first leg of the project, we have now embarked on a one-year drive (#DriveForChange) through rural India. Find more about the campaign here: http://igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/539502