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Punjab model has proved ruinous, say farmers, activists

Vinaya Deshpande

MUMBAI: Appealing to the farmers and policy-makers not to emulate the Punjab model of Green Revolution, some farmers from Punjab said here on Sunday that the revolution had completely ruined the State. “Punjab is now called the cancer capital of India. The Green Revolution has given farmers only three things: debt, serious illnesses and polluted and scanty water sources,” said Balwinder Singh, a farmer, while talking to reporters during the Kisan Swaraj Yatra which reached Mumbai on Sunday.

“The Chief Minister now says that the government will fit RO [reverse osmosis water-filtering process] in every village. But what will happen to the cattle and other animals that drink from the contaminated water source? They are all going to end up in our stomachs. Jo barbaadi ki hai, wo wapas hamare paas ayegi hi ayegi [whatever we have ruined will come back to us],” he said.

Farmers and activists opposed the Eastern India Green Revolution project introduced by the Central government. “Even the Planning Commission has acknowledged the negative evidence in Punjab like high toxicity levels and reduced production. Why does the government still want to invest Rs. 400 crore in such a project?” asked Saroj Mohanty, a seed breeder, farmer and activist from Orissa.

Activists raised concerns about the skewed investment in agriculture, use of pesticides, genetically modified crops.

“After more than six decades of independence, 66 per cent of agricultural land in the country has no irrigation facility. The government doesn't invest in the breeding skills of the farmers. It doesn't encourage successful models of sustainable and high-yield agriculture,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, an activist of the Kheti Virasat Mission.

The activists said the government policy envisioned only 6-15 per cent of the country's population to depend on agriculture. “Where will the rest of the agriculture-dependent population go? Will we be able to create opportunities for them elsewhere?

“It seems like the government is purposely trying to make farming so unviable that people want to leave it or commit suicide,” said Aarti Pankharaj.

The activists said the absolute number of farmers who will be displaced will be in millions. “It will be the largest displacement. It is a civilisational debate now. Do we accept the larger development paradigm where farmers are being pushed out of rural agriculture?” Ms. Kuruganti said.

With reference to more than two lakh farmers' suicides in the country in the past 15 years, she said that there were also many farmers who had in fact successfully shown there was hope. “The community-managed sustainable agriculture project being run on 28 lakh acres in Andhra Pradesh is the best example in this case. This NPM [Non-Pesticidal Management of crops] is the world's largest State-supported project and is mainly run by women farmers. Their yields have improved tremendously. It is not true that organic farming brings down the yield.”

“Win-win” situation

She said the government should boost such role models and give them wide publicity so that more farmers move to the “win-win” situation. “Only the big corporates will face losses if this is done. We will be able to achieve food sustainability, non-toxic food supply and seed sovereignty,” she said.

The 71-day yatra plans to engage urban consumers, legislators, administrators, local self-governments and farmers. It will travel 15,000 km through 20 States before reaching Rajghat on December 11.

The activists appealed to the urban consumers to act in enlightened self-interest to promote non-toxic food on their platters.

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