Grassroots Reachout & Networking in India on Trade & Economics (GRANITE)
Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh
May 18, 2006
Consumer Guidance Society (CGS), Vijayawada – the GRANITE project partner for Andhra Pradesh – in collaboration with Bapuji Rural Enlightenment and Development Society (BREDS), a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), organised an outreach meeting on May 18, 2006, at Rajannapet, Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh. Tribal farmers from Rajannapeta, Boddumarri, J C peta, S J Puram, Konangi and T Kothur participated in this meeting.
The objective of the outreach meeting was to bring tribal farmers to a common platform, to discuss the opportunities and challenges in the era of globalisation and World Trade Organisation (WTO) and to share and learn information and opinions with reference to their livelihood.
Methodology of the Outreach Meeting
- Mobilisation by the BREDS staff;
- Distribution of a two-page pamphlet in the target villages, prior to the meeting;
- Interactive meeting in local language i.e. Telugu;
- Partnership with organisation having credibility among local farmers; and
- Explaining complex issues through examples and analogy.
The outreach meeting began with the inaugural remarks by Samba Murthy, Coordinator, BREDS and was subsequently addressed by Dr D Narasimha Reddy, Project Coordinator and Member, International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM)-Asia Board, Diwakar Babu, Nodal Person, Sanjeeva Rao, Velugu Association (working for tribal land rights). This was followed by interaction and individual reactions of the farmers.
Srikakulam district is located in the northeastern coast of Andhra Pradesh, and is richly endowed with forests and forest resources. The farmers in this district belong to a particular tribe, called Savaras and most of them own less than one acre of land. Farming is the chief occupation: farmers also do share farming on farms owned by others. Some of the farmers do have horticulture plots, on which they grow cashew or mango. However, they do not consider these plots as part of agricultural land. Only those plots where paddy or millets are grown are considered as farmland. Thus, in reality they might own more than one acre of land. In any case, the income they get from either source is very less. For cashew, they are paid Rs 33 against per kg by local traders.
The farmers face the issues including low prices for agricultural and minor forest produces, rainfall based farming, reliance for food and other products on the market, changing lifestyles, incursion of migrant farmers, lack of clarity on land rights and titles, general illiteracy, lack of government extension support, exploitation by traders, unreliability of the local markets and dwindling forest resources.
It is in this background that CGS in partnership with BREDS set out to organise the outreach meeting, inviting farmers from surrounding villages to share and learn from each other. BREDS is operating in 252 compact tribal and dalit villages coming under 14 revenue mandals of Srikakulam district. More than 70 percent of the participants were women.
Highlights of the Discussions
Dr D Narasimha Reddy, Project Coordinator
- There is a lively linkage between local economy and life with the larger world. This linkage has been increasing with the globalisation process in recent years.
- Competition is being encouraged in production through trade. Because competition is between the large
- landholding farmer in US and the small landholding farmer in a remote tribal village.
- During the last few years, global changes can be seen in the form of changes in local policies such as removal of agricultural subsidies and governance.
- Domestic agricultural reform programme has been taken up in the context of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA).
Diwakar Babu, Nodal Person
- Subsidies do have a large influence on the agricultural prices and the competitiveness.
- While subsidies in India are quite low, developed countries have very high subsidies, primarily because of the disparities in the agricultural situations.
- Agriculture in US is practiced by very small percentage of population, while in India it is a livelihood for the bulk of population.
- Irrespective of subsidies, it is important that in a free trade regime, there is a need for level playing field.
Responses from the Participants
Tribal farmers said that they could perceive the following impediments regarding their livelihood in recent years:
- Lower prices for their produce;
- Withdrawal of government subsidy for fertilisers, seeds and pesticides;
- Increasing dependence on private loans;
- Failure of agricultural cooperatives and agricultural extension system; and
- Rising cost of production
Further, they said changes in living styles have increased dependence on outside world. There exists a gap between income and expenditure: farmers are spending more on daily requirements and getting lesser incomes. To bridge this gap, families are migrating to cities for better incomes.
General discussion yielded the following consensus among the participants:
Given the present circumstances, pursuing organic agriculture is the best option for the farmers, as it enables them to be independent in production and also decreases the risk of unremunerative market prices.
However, a woman farmer was quick to point out that labour costs are hidden in organic farming since women do most of the work, their effort remains unacknowledged.
They also agreed that the present options before them include:
- Advocacy for better policies;
- Articulation of their problems with the government;
- Migration to other areas, in search of better wages, income and sustainable livelihood;
- Committing suicides;
- Capacity building of the local populace in terms of literacy, skills and management approaches; and
- Building community strengths.
They said that the gap between income and expenditure was less before and it is increasing with the changes in the lifestyles because the dependence on the outside world is increasing. One example that came up during the discussion was spending on factory-made shampoos against the previous usage of local resources. Self-sufficiency is no longer the case with the farmers, who used and possessed their own seed for farming. Presently, they buy seed from the market. With the growth in population, pressure is mounting on the resources reserved for tribal people and guaranteed by the Constitution. In practice, the tribals are losing due to the changes in lifestyle and hence losing ownership of local resources.
While the farmers were quick to point out the differences between the previous way of living and the present one, and listed the characteristics, such as quality of food, usage of resources, and changes in relationships etc. They were hesitant to pass any judgment as to which is the best way of life. This was a significant aspect to be observed, considering that most urban people, who have availed most of the modern amenities, would have a different understanding of the tribal way of life. One male, old farmer said that while the past life had its own merits, it is up to the present generation to understand the present life. While they passed comments on the government service delivery and political leadership, there was no rancour or bitterness in their tones.
Community bondage, which is seen in every aspect of tribal life, especially marriages, food production and food gathering, is declining. Marriages have become ostentatious, which has increased the burden of spending. On the other hand, community involvement in social gathering is decreasing. This is one problem, which enables the outside, trading world to control the resources and way of life of the tribals.