Grassroots Reachout & Networking in India on Trade & Economics (GRANITE)
Tamil Nadu Fifth Outreach Meeting
Madurai District, November 03, 2006
Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), the project partner in Tamil Nadu conducted the Fifth Outreach Meeting under the GRANITE project in Madurai on November 03, 2006. This meeting was held in partnership with PACT, an NGO based in Madurai, which has been engaged in campaign movement on right to food in many districts of Tamil Nadu. Farmers from the six districts e.g., Madurai, Dindigul, Pudukottai, Theni, Tirunellveli, and Sivagangai attended the meeting. This outreach meeting focused on agriculture since such a wide geographical spread was being covered in one meeting and the entire day was utilised to collect perceptions of the participants.
Among other participants include representatives from six NGOs of the six districts. A total of 63 participants, approximately 10 participants from each district and three staff from PACT attended the meeting, which included equal number of women participants.
The objective of the meeting was to bring stakeholders relevant to the agriculture sector of the district on 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. It also intended to study the recent trends and changes in this specific segment by gathering perceptions from the weavers, wholesalers and government officials
A Brief Profile of the District
Madurai is situated in southern part of Tamil Nadu. It is bounded on the north by the districts of Dindigul, Thiruchirapalli and on the east by Sivagangai and on the west by Theni and south by Virudhunagar. There are around 58,716 small farmers, 2,05,771 marginal farmers, and 4,01,867 agricultural labourers. The main irrigation facilities are the Periyar, Vaigai and Sathiyar dam. Some of the main crops grown are paddy, millets, pulses, cotton, oilseeds and sugarcane. Madurai city is famous for Jasmine flowers, which are transported to other cities of India.
The meeting started with an introduction of all the participants followed by a brief overview of the project, including the specific purpose of the meeting. It became clear right at the start that the farmers did not know anything about international trade, especially the trade agreements, as their problems were at the local and state administration levels.
From the introductions it was clear that all the participants practiced rain-fed agriculture, and therefore were very dependant on rain for irrigation. Almost all the farmers had small landholdings of 1- 3 acres.
Proceedings of the Outreach Meeting
- Due to rain fed farming, no chemical inputs are used. Therefore, by default, the agriculture practice is ‘organic’, though many of the farmers did not know anything about ‘organic farming’.
- Since most of the farmers were largely dependant on the rain as their main source of irrigation, production has been affected badly due to untimely rains. Cropping takes place only for three months in a year while villager face drought the remaining nine months.
- Combined with low-prices, many farmers have shifted their agricultural activity from cultivating food crops to fruits such as mango orchards.
- Unlike many other districts, cooperative societies in these six districts are also mired in corruption, such as irregular supply of seeds and fertilisers in addition to harassment of farmers when questions were raised by them.
- Farmers who own more than 10-15 acres of land are the usual beneficiaries of the schemes that are offered by the government and the cooperative societies.
- Cost of input is higher than the cost of output. For example, farmers buy 36 kg of groundnut (1 bag) at a cost of Rs 1000/- for sowing but after cultivation, when the produce is taken to the market to be sold, it only fetches Rs 200/- for the same 36 kg.
- Recent changes in agriculture have also resulted in a shift in employment patterns in the villages with many people opting out of agriculture and seeking jobs in factories, textile mills going even as far as the nearest city.
- Loans are not forthcoming from banks, as banks give loans only to those farmers who have pump sets, while most of the small land holder farmers want the loans mainly to sink bore wells and augment their irrigation facilities.
- In all the six districts, a recent trend of acquiring farmlands for the promotion of teak plantations by many corporate plantation groups led to a big outcry by large group of farmers. These plantations are resource intensive, especially water. Backed by finance, deep bore wells were sunk by these plantation owners leaving little ground water for the farmers. Many of these plantations went bankrupt soon after buying the farmlands and these lands are now lying idle. Some of villagers have got together under the banner of the Campaign for Right to Livelihood to get their lands back and also prevent the water bodies and groundwater in their villages. In another instance, the women self help groups (SHGs) members in Sivagangai district fought a lone battle against the coco-cola plant.
- In addition to the already shrinking agricultural land, the participants claim that the government also indulges in deforestation which further adds to the drought conditions as well as poor top soil fertility.
- Due to small size of landholdings and poor performance of agriculture in the past few years, many farmers have been forced to work in the fields of the bigger landlords against very low wages, which proved to be completely unsustainable for many farmers.
- During the course of discussion, it became clear that many of the farmers were not well informed on the recent schemes and benefits announced by the government for farmers.
- Farmers grievance day in all the districts were not being observed at all.
- Through the formation of SHGs many women in some of the districts have got together and used their savings to convert their barren lands into orchards. Saplings such as mango, sapota (chiku), guava, coconut, etc., are the most commonly grown saplings. The SHGs have also used their resources to de-silt some of their local water bodies and catchments areas to improve water supply in their villages.
- Interspersed with the saplings, lentils and vegetables are grown and these being short-term crops give the farmers some income intermittently.
- Every district has a rain fed farmers association, which is dysfunctional and has not been able to do much to protect or lobby for the interest of the member farmers. The farmers also lamented the lack of cooperation amongst themselves to take any collective action or representation of issues and problems to the appropriate authorities.
- Government’s water policy does not protect the interest of the farmers and appears to give more importance to the private players. There have been instances of water rights being sold. Focus should be on the protection of water and enhance water catchments.
- Farmers wanted the land rights i.e. patta for their land to be given to them, as they wanted security of land tenure.