Grassroots Reachout & Networking in India on Trade & Economics (GRANITE)
West Bengal Third Outreach Meeting
Nadia District, West Bengal, August 7, 2005
A small village Balia of Chakdah block from Nadia district of West Bengal was the destination of the CUTS Calcutta Resource Centre (CUTS-CRC) team to organise the third outreach meeting, under the GRANITE Project. The meeting was held on August 7, 2005. It was arranged by a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), Baila Bio-Agro Mission who mainly promotes the techniques of bio farming among the local farmers. The farmers discussed the problems specifically related to seed distribution, productivity of farmland, hazards of high use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
The outreach meeting was held to understand the concerns of the farmers regarding their livelihoods and relate them with effects of globalisation and World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements.
Balia Bio-Agro Mission is one of the important contacts of CUTS-CRC. Tarun Bhaduri, Honorary Secretary of the organisation is actively involved in several activities of CRC and enriches by sharing their field experiences. The organisation promotes organic mechanism among the farmers to produce agricultural items. The organisation is active in Nadia and recently expanding its activities in the adjacent districts of North 24 Parganas, West Bengal.
He is closely associated with GRANITE initiative since the launch meeting. Before conducting the outreach meeting, we briefed him about the objective of the same. The meeting was organised at Balia High School and the total number of participants was 45 including farmers from the distant villages of the adjacent North 24 Parganas. Partha Dutta of Development Research Communication and Service Centre, a reputed NGO working in the agricultural sector, was alsopresent in the meeting.
Meeting at Balia
At the outset, Mita Dutta, Centre Coordinator, CUTS-CRC, welcomed all and explained the objective of the discussion to the participants. She stressed that more and more farmers should come forward to utilise such platforms, so that their voice should be heard at the decision-making level.
- The conversation began with sharing of experience by the farmers. They informed that main crops grown in this region were paddy, jute and vegetables. They mainly produced three varieties of paddy – Aus, Aman and Boro. But 5-10 years ago tomato was the main produce of that region. But later it got affected by some bacterial disease, which caused huge loss to the farmers. Even local Agricultural Development Officer (ADO) could not solve this problem. According to him, introduction of hybrid variety of tomato intensified this problem. He also opined that this hybrid variety affects the yield of other crops also. In this context Partha Dutta cautioned the farmers about the quality of seeds that they were procuring from the market (checking of expiry date, etc.) and emphasised on the importance of seed exchange practice among the farmers. In this context, the recent ‘Seeds Bill’ was also discussed.
- The farmers reported that by and large they follow the instructions of the local seed distributors. In case of default, they complain to the seed distributor or local ADO. Such complaints mostly remained unattended. The farmers also accepted the fact that usually they do not take any bill while purchasing seeds from the market. So in case of failure, they were not in a position to claim demurrage from the particular distributor.
- The farmers reported that multinational seed, fertilizer and pesticide companies train the local unemployed youths for marketing their products at the village level as distributor. With attractive packaging and tempting marketing schemes they successfully lure the farmers to buy those products despite of its poor quality. But due to insufficient training provided by the companies, the so-called distributors have limited knowledge of farming and they advise the farmers to use their products on trial-error basis, which adds up to the cost of production.
- The Government-distributed seeds are also of low quality. Even the agricultural extension officers do not recommend those seeds. Further to that, it reached farmers after the cropping season was over and not sufficient to cater to the minimum requirements of the beneficiaries. Farmers also informed that certain external pressures made the distribution system biased.
- Farmers were not getting proper technical support from the local ADO office. For example, the soil testing facilities were not readily available. The total testing exercise becomes fruitless due to excessive delay in getting the results and also at the same time farmers were loosing trust in the department. In this context the non-functioning of the mobile government sponsored soil-testing vans in that area was also highlighted. Lack of training and follow-up programmes for the cultivators was also flagged as one of the important concerns.
- The farmers confirmed, about 5-7 years back one bigha (unit of land) land used to yield 700-800 kgs of paddy. But each year the productivity of the same plot of land has decreased by 40-50 kgs. At the same time, the requirement of fertilizer raised from 50 kgs a bigha to 60-70 kgs per bigha, thereby increasing the input cost and lowering the profit margins at the minimal. The subsequent losses and the nominal profit margins turned the marginal farmers to labourers. In addition, the delay in repayment of loans and heavy default cases has led to drying up of the institutional credit in the agricultural sector. Thus, the farmers were easily falling prey to the debt trap of the local moneylenders.
- The use of low cost bio-compost manure produced from domestic animals was absent. This was due to the scarcity of fallow lands. So the farmers were forced to sell out their livestock. For manure they become entirely dependant on the market.
- The peasants were not properly trained regarding the precautions to be taken while spraying the pesticides or insecticides in the field. They were forced to rely on their own ill experiences or the instructions of the distributors, which also was not readily available.
- The farmers have to buy water for the crops that need heavy irrigation. The rate of hiring the motor pump is about Rs 20 per hour without diesel and Rs 50 per hour if the owner of the motor pump provides the diesel. Along with the high cost of fuel the proportion of impurities present in the fuel had also increased which reduces the life span of the motor pumps.
- The participation of women folk in agriculture was only in form of agricultural labourers. Only women from very poor families opted for this activity. There existed gender discrimination in form of wage difference in certain selected agricultural activities.
- Related to the market the farmers informed that they sell their commodities at the local markets only. The farmers do not find it profitable to invest on marketing of their produce to a distant market. Further, they had experience of being unable to sell their goods at distant markets due to interference of the local unions. Lack of storage facilities for the perishable items posed another problem for the farmers to get good returns of their product.
- The lack of transparency of the panchayat (village council) resulted in the reluctance of the farmers towards the decentralised government machinery. In a nutshell, lack of participatory attitude of the panchayat system caused the failure of the ideology of micro planning at the village level.
The issues highlighted in the discussions were:
- Proper institutional arrangement is required that will expedite the soil testing process and ensure proper quality of the inputs which will reduce the cost of production. It should be monitored that the farmers are not misguided by the wrong advice of the distributors.
- The farmers put forward the requirement of a platform where they can share the existing best practices in the field.
- Packages of the agricultural inputs should have highlighted pictorial version of the instruction such that the illiterate and semiliterate farmers can easily understand it.
- Government seed distribution system (free of cost) has to be reviewed. The agricultural extension workers should properly enlist the BPL and marginal farmers of his region to check any unwanted delay in seed distribution.
- The communication gap between the government officials of the concerned departments and the farmers should be bridged. Many farmers complained that they have not ever met the local agricultural extension worker – this should not be the scenario. The extension officers should make themselves readily available in the field for any sort of technical guidance and assistance.