09 / 1997
Karnataka Rajya Ryota Sangha, the Karnataka State Farmers’ Association, is one of the largest farmers’ associations in the country. The ideology of the organisation heavily draws on Gandhian principles. KRRS, formed in 1980, is headed by M.D. Nanjundaswamy since 1986.
Nanjundaswamy allows me to accompany him on a day trip to Mindya dictrict, South West of Bangalore. It will take about two hours to reach the town of Mindya. We leave early in his car which - let it be said in passing - is an Indian brand car. He would not buy American, not now that the GATT agreements have come into effect.
We are flying through dry areas, where ragi cultivation dominates. Once in a while, we pass through ’Green Revolution areas’, as he calls them. On these irrigated lowlands grow crops such as paddy, sugarcane, and coconut trees. In a truck in front of us, Nanjundaswamy notices a man at the back with a green scarf on his shoulder.
"He is in our movement" he tells me.
The green scarf is the symbol of KRRS. Some of the members wear it daily. I realize, as the day goes by, that this emblematic scarf conveys a sense of belonging and commitment to the movement. No wonder Nanjundaswamy lets no picture be taken of him without his scarf and an assorted green hat.
KRRS claims a membership of about 10 million farmers, which represents about one quarter of the farmers of the State. The movement is at the origin of the nation wide Seed Satyagraha, or ’seed freedom’ sparked off in December 1992. The attack on the office of Cargill Seeds India Ltd. in Bangalore sent a clear message to multinational companies involved in the seed industry. KRRS view the latter as a looming threat since for their benefit, farmers may be impeded to multiply and sell seeds. During a rally organized in Delhi in March 1993, KRRS, along with other farmers’ associations and unions voiced their opposition to the Dunkel Draft. In their view, this text embodies the principles of a top-down approach to globalisation insensitive to the realities of the Indian economy.
To Nanjundaswamy, the attack on Cargill primarily aimed at raising a public debate on these issues. Globalisation and its impact on the Indian farmer need to be examined. "We agree to globalisation with diversity, he states, but not to globalisation in uniformity." And examples of what this unwanted and unacceptable model "imposed from the top" breeds do not lack around Bangalore. Lately, contract farming has entered the sectors of floriculture and horticulture. Stawberries, grapes, or maize are grown on large areas of land in Karnataka. The farmers receive the seeds and the inputs from a company which then buys the harvest at a fixed price. This farming pattern as well as traditional forms of cash crop cultivation displace food crops grown for the family consumption. KRRS has been telling farmers to move away from sugarcane, tobacco or cotton. The association also attempts to discourage farmers from selling their land to private companies or large landowners who offer attractive monetary compensations. Indeed, the recent land reforms has liberalised the acquisition of land and legalized the purchase of land for non-agricultural activities. But many of the small farmers who agree to sell their land end up working as labourers for meagre salaries.
This discussion has seen us through the two hours of journey to the small town of Mindya, where a wedding is celebrated. Another 50 km from Mindya, we meet an activist who practices natural farming, along the lines set by Fukoka, the old Japanese farmer.
The building of a seed bank in the area is on the agenda. The project is in its infancy, but it shows that the erosion of diversity is an issue of concern to the movement. Among KRRS’s ambitions is the production of an alternative seed supply on a mass scale and the creation of retail outlets where farmers’ seeds would be available. KRRS will not comply with a law making illegal the multiplication of seeds by farmers on their own farms. If it becomes necessary, the farmers of KRRS will breed their own seeds, thus reaffirming their traditional role as breeders which is being systematically obliterated in the plant variety protection legislation worldwide.
Assessing KRRS’s unity of action from the leadership to the grassroot level is an impossible task. The movement is also contrained by the heterogenity of its members. To give but one example, the committment of sugarcane growers to a truly alternative agricultural model seems highly unlikely for obvious economic reasons. Yet the mere dimensions of the movement give it a great potential in terms of addressing issues of sustainability and conservation on a large scale.
Farmers against Dunkel ~ Action Alert, 1993, issued by the Public Interest Research Group, New Delhi.
Personal study on biodiversity in India. A book is on the point to be published in India. For further information, please contact the author (see address)or Fph.