Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Unpleasant Reality of Smallholder Agriculture

Subhadra's purchase of a one acre plot of farm land and subsequent practice of sustainable agriculture on it has brought us face to face with the stark reality of smallholder farming. The other day the farmer who stays next to Subhadra's land and looks after it phoned to say that the spate of late rains had caused the groundnuts to start germinating in the soil and it was necessary to take them out immediately. Subhadra was away and so I had to rush to the farm from Indore. With difficulty I was able to get two farm hands as this being the busy season every one was occupied. However, since we pay Rs 200 per day which is slightly more than the statutory minimum wage for agricultural labourers and this is much more than the Rs 120 that other farmers pay we generally manage to find farm hands. For two days along with the two farm hands I first uprooted the groundnut plants and then separated the groundnuts from the plants.
But this was not enough as the groundnuts were wet and needed to be dried as otherwise they would germinate or get infected with fungus. Since it was raining continuously, the groundnuts could not be dried on the farm. So I carted the groundnuts in my car to Indore, cleared up the guest room in our house and spread the groundnuts on the floor on a jute sheet and put on the fan!! For two days our whole house smelt of groundnuts as they dried under the fan till the rains continued. After that I put them to dry in the sun on our roof. However, this required a constant vigil next to the drying groundnuts because of the threat of squirrels and birds which would come to eat the groundnuts if there was no one around. I had been in the middle of writing a research report for an assignment that I was doing when the groundnut emergency had arisen. So while keeping my vigil on the groundnut I worked on my laptop to finish the report!!
Eventually after three days of drying in the sun, the groundnut was finally dry enough to be stored. In the process the groundnut shells that were either empty from inside or had small nuts, shrivelled up completely and I could separate them. So in the end we had only about thirty kilograms of good groundnut after all this effort. If my initial two days of labour only are counted along with that of the farm hands we hired then the total cost of taking out the groundnuts from the farm at Rs 200 per day per worker was Rs 1200. Whereas the wholesale price of groundnuts in the market that farmers are getting is only Rs 30 per kilogram and so the return in the market for the 30 kilograms would be Rs 900. If we add the cost of preparing the soil and sowing the groundnut, weeding it and the post harvest operations that I did to ensure that the groundnuts didn't rot, then the loss is even more. This is why farmers cannot afford to pay the minimum wage to farm labourers and pay only about Rs 100 to Rs 120 in our area and themselves get even less.
In the case of our groundnuts, the productivity was low due to a variety of reasons. In between the rains had stopped in the month of August just when the groundnuts were filling up with seed. So there were many groundnuts that shrivelled up in the ground itself and many others did not fill up with seed and shrivelled up later when they were sun dried. Before this in July it had rained heavily and led to excessive growth of the plant and less of the groundnuts on the roots.
This brings us face to face with the stark reality of the unfavourable economics of small holder farming which is exposed to the vagaries of nature. The statutory minimum wage for agriculture in Madhya Pradesh is itself low at about Rs 192 per day but even that is too much for the farmer to pay to hired farm hands and so the actual wage rate is only Rs 120 and the small holder farmer also gets that much for his own labour. In most cases the farmer does not have adequate resources to prevent post harvest decay of the crop and so there is sometimes a substantial loss on that count also. All in all the farmer remains trapped in a vicious circle of low production, low income, malnutrition and low investment in agriculture.


zenrainman said...

What would you think is the way out of this desperate situation ? Can small holder farmers ever be economically productive to manage a livelihood ? Is migration the only answer ? Are there cases of small holder farmers doing reasonably well in your area ?

Rahul Banerjee said...

Vishwanath this is a difficult situation and frankly I have no solution at present. Ever since capitalist industrialisation started in England in the eighteenth century small holder farming has been devastated and people have moved to cities and towns and this process is still continuing in the third world countries which came to the table of industrial development later. This process is inexorable under capitalism. There are anarchist alternatives but as long as capitalism rules the roost I don't see how those alternatives can be implemented.

Chandra Vikash said...

Rahul da, you have already spelt out the solution. We need to create localised economies where grains are the currency. There may be a painful, messy transition simply b'coz of the pathological addiction of some of us of the capitalist extortion and exploitation of the small producer's resources to suit our selfish interests. But this seems inevitable within next 2 generations.

This will give way to consensus (sarva sammati) based localised panchayats, as it has been for thousands of years of panchayati raj before merely 266 years of mindless industrialism.

It's a travesty to call this as anarchy, which again is cast in the same western lexicon.

Rahul Banerjee said...

anarchism and anarchy are not the same thing!! anarchism, which basically speaks of small decentralised communities with minimal differences working through consensus to live in harmony with nature, happens to be an indian tradition in fact pre-dating western thought and action.