S Maxwell Lyngdoh
And on the 8th day God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a caretaker!” So, God made a farmer! – Author Unknown
If you closely follow the writings of P. Sainath, you will get to see detailed and endless miseries that our farmers have been going through for ages together – pre and post-independence. Like him, few others have come forward to voice out grievances expressed by them, in an effort to reach mainstream policymakers and those in authority. However, their very voices have been left unheard or to put in simple words – we have pretended not to hear them out! In the opinion of P. Sainath, he says “Read the press on rural India. You’ll be struck by the fact that—in the press—the rural poor almost never speak. They invariably ‘lament’ or ‘plead’ or ‘cry’ or ‘beg’ for attention. Sometimes, they even ‘wail’ or ‘weep’. They rarely just ‘say’ things the way the rest of us do. Because we have decided that that is the way they are”. It is indeed a sad state of affairs to witness the plight that our farmers are going through all over the country. In simple words, their existence is basically the reason why we still have meals in our tables every single day. Only a small proportion of the population realizes this, many others take things for granted. What we need to value is their labour, their dedication; their hard work and their selfless involvement to ensure that good produces are being brought into the market. Leave alone money and income of any kind. Most importantly, what we need to realize is the traditional knowledge and approach of cultivation which they learned from their forefathers, perhaps irreplaceable in many contexts.
My write up this time is not about what has been written and debated endlessly in the recent past. Rather, I would like to write about what I have witnessed and observed over the years. I recalled a chat that I had with a friend, who has his business roundabout Iew Mawlong area. He expressed his distress over the fact that how our farmers who travelled from very far away villages are taken for a royal ride – simple because of time constraint. Upon interacting with them, he learned that they leave their homes in the dawn to board a bus along with all their goods and raw produce. Some leave home as early as 3 or 4 am, walk a distance, till they reach a spot for road connectivity. The same group reaches the main Iew around 11am or 12 noon and they have to board the bus back home by 2pm or 3pm latest. In actual, they have approximately 2 to 3 hours maximum time to complete all their pending business, from selling their goods to buying medicines for the family members, necessary materials to take back home and before that, negotiate for a decent price to meet all the plans. In almost all such events, the buyers take full advantage of their situations, and hence the result of them being suppressed to the maximum. Of course, the ‘middle man’ malpractice which farmers are much aware yet can do nothing. These are few such treatments that they have been receiving. The list can perhaps go on…
Secondly, how many of us who buys goods from our farmers – in police bazaar or iewduh area or laitumkhrah and rynjah areas, to name a few, do it with thoughts and open hearts that we are contributing to their pockets to support their families. I suppose, many of us will only negotiate and suppressed them with our best negotiation skills, that leaves them high and dry or even go homes empty-handed. The attitude of looking down at them and not rationalizing their situations has resulted in poverty still dominating at best with our farmers. Have we ever considered that they have travelled long distances which involve money? Have we ever thought that they have family members and children waiting at home for food? Have we ever given a thought that the best possible way to support them is to buy products from them even at a reasonably higher rate. Perhaps, the only time we don’t negotiate is when we go to big malls and brands and the seller dictates terms to us as we humble obliged.
Thanks to the sudden lockdown that has directly or indirectly unveil actual conditions which were brushed under the carpet, be it the pathetic situation of the illegal migrants, the actual conditions of the farmers or for that matter, the health scenario of our country India. The pandemic has reflected factual images for all to see and it has broadened the picture which cannot go unnoticed. As India commemorates National Farmers’ Day on December 23, it is, in fact, an irony that thousands of farmers are on the streets demanding repeal of the new farm laws. The challenges of Indian farmers still remain the common ones like landlessness, availability of raw materials like seeds, manures, fertilizers and biocides, lack of mechanisation, soil erosion, agricultural marketing, inadequate storage facilities, inadequate transport and scarcity of capital. Ironically, there is a huge disconnect between farm and market. On one hand, there are excess buffer stocks of food grain in the warehouses; while consumers often face a scarcity of staple vegetables like onions. The farming sector is under deep financial stress because the price at which produce is sold does not match the sector’s growing requirements for investment. On the other hand, the anxiety among the farmers that the government will stop procuring grain at the minimum support price without having put an alternative system into operation has given an already distressed farming community a rude shock. The falling per-capital landholding with each successive generation is exacerbating the situation. None of these problems is addressed by the new farm laws not would they be resolved by the laws being rolled back. In fact, these challenges have built up over the past decades when the minimum support price system has been functional.
Insufficient water supply still exists as one of the core problems, although it may not be there in some States. Less use of modern farming types of equipment has led the farmer to be dependent on traditional methods. Government schemes to facilitate easy and enriching agricultural processes have never reached small farmers or has only reached them after long delays from all stakeholders. While the efforts to address the problems of farmers are ongoing, our attitudes towards them and their genuine sufferings and hardships need to change. A study conducted in 2014 (Lyngdoh) on the reach of media to address agricultural issues shows that not much coverage is given to farmers and their issues primarily because of unavailability of space in both the print and electronic media and that the news was found to be not attracting enough viewership/readership. Since the issues of the farmers are not given proper coverage like all the other issues, it skips off the minds of even those who are concern about their welfare. However, even if there are informative messages disseminated through various media vehicles, provided by the government, they tend to miss the details, either because of illiteracy, the difference in language or the content is too complicated.
As we are all geared up to celebrate the New Year 2021 on this festive season, let us spend some time to reason out how our approaches should be towards the farmers henceforth. The one thing we can all do is to support and encourage and be there for them by buying their goods at reasonable rates – good enough to sustain their livelihoods. Let us realized that they have been supporting mankind since time immemorial and it is about time they are taken care of in the right manner as rightful citizens of this country. We cannot justify the ‘acts’ of the farmers – just or unjust as long as they are not taken care of as deserved. In the words of Faraaz Kazi, he opines “Their hands are tied not by ropes but by the greed of the intermediaries that the system has generated, who eat up the farmer’s income while it is on its way into his hands”.
(The writer can be reached at email@example.com)