Generations of Agriculture
Deepak Kumar is an Indicorps 2012 Fellow partnered with Center for Development Orientation & Training (CDOT) in Bihar Sharif, Bihar. Deepak’s project focuses on promoting organic farming practices through establishing and strengthening farmers collectives.
In an attempt to compensate for my lack of Hindi proficiency, a Sohdih farmer gestured to the sky. He was trying to convey that farmers are dependent on two things: the weather and the government. I doubt I will forget such a powerful statement as I continue on with my 2012 Indicorps Fellowship in Bihar. I had always read and heard about the fact that Indian farmers are a marginalized group. However, to hear from their own mouths that they acknowledge how little power they have firmly cemented it into me. Agriculture in India employs 52% of the workforce yet only accounts for 17.2% of the nation’s GDP.1 At the moment, farmers have no significant political power or market presence. The gravity of such burdens is evidenced by the fact that from 1995 to 2010, over 250,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide. The Hindu Rural Affairs editor P. Sainath has called this “the largest recorded rate of suicides in human history.”2 The point is that you can read about an issue, listen to speakers and discuss it amongst all of your social circles. However, when you hear it from the people themselves, it suddenly becomes more real. It becomes more credible.
This conversation stirred some thoughts in my head. Due to my privileged American background, I’ve always had the belief that whatever I do in life will be creative, self-fulfilling and most importantly, autonomous. I knew that with all of the resources I had at my disposal, I would ultimately end up in a career which allowed for me to be extremely flexible in decision-making. Understanding this, I could not think of many other professions in which a person is so dependent on such substantial factors that they cannot control.
It can be argued that there are quite a few jobs in which people have no control (in factors ranging from creativity to working hours to wages). The difference is that, from what I have seen over the past two months, farming is not like other jobs. It is a way of life that requires time and commitment – so much so that farmers literally must live where they “work.” From many of the farmers I have met, their land has been passed down paternally for countless generations. As a testament to this, when I asked one farmer in Muzzafarpur how long his land has been in the family, he did not know the answer.
The way farming has been portrayed to me is that the end results farmers obtain are in no way correlated with the amount of effort that agriculture actually demands. So what is the next step? How can we take this forward? This meeting reminded me of the inherent importance of why I am here: for my community to create meaningful, sustainable change. It reinstated to me how essential it is to pursue organic farming, farmer unity and market linkages. Unlike the use of chemical fertilizers, organic farming will allow for future soil fertility and improved health. Through farmers’ collectives, they can take action as a unified whole to create their own change. Finally, with stronger market linkages, farmers can make strides in creating their own niche in the market for futures with more economic independence. This conversation made me realize the true necessity of engaging with India’s agricultural community, which has the weighty responsibility of providing us all our daily food.
1. “The World Factbook – India.” CIA. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2012. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html>.
2. “Every 12 Hours, One Farmer Commits Suicide in India.” India Tribune. N.p., 08 Feb. 2012. Web. 31 Oct. 2012. <http://www.indiatribune.com/index.php?option=com_content>.