5. Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Land Reforms and Farm Workers
From the perspective of poverty alleviation, it is important to plan an agricultural development strategy which makes it possible for more food to be grown on the fields of poor farmers. Efforts to maintain an adequate level of farm productivity should be linked to land reforms which make available more land to the landless and marginal peasants. Several studies indicate that small peasants work hard and make extra effort to raise yields.
In Bundelkhand real land inequalities are greater than what is indicated by land records. A lot of land that is either supposed to be in the possession of weaker sections or else is shown as a part of the village commons has actually been encroached by big landowners. There are a large number of landless families who have been given land on paper but due to several reasons have not been able to occupy this land. There are several allottees (tarseem bataa) who do not know exactly which plot of land was allotted to them. Such allottees work hard to make a plot of land cultivable only to be told later that this is not their land and they have to shift to another piece of land. Some unfortunate persons spend a good part of their land trying to reclaim several plots of land without being able to claim any land as their own for a long time. There are uncertainties regarding certain other Category 6 land and Matroom land.
The scope for redistribution of ceiling land has not been explored properly. It should be possible to identify and distribute much more surplus land, but this work has been neglected. There is much scope also for benefiting several landless families by proper distribution of Bhoodan land. Yet another source of land for the poor can be the land which is temporarily vacated by receding reservoir water.
By ensuring that patta allottees are actually able to cultivate the land and by tapping numerous sources of land which can be given to the poor for cultivation, it should be possible to provide food security to a very large number of poor families. In addition the benefits of soil and water conservation and irrigation should be made available to these small peasants with a low-resource base on a priority basis. This should get top priority in land development work.
A constant source of tension for many poor peasants is that the land being tilled by them is claimed by the forest dept. as its own and so they are threatened with eviction. Many such evictions have already taken place. As a bill for land and other rights of tribals is likely to be passed soon, it is being hoped that this problem will be sorted out to a large extent but actually the situation is more complex. Many tribal communities of BU such as Kols and Sahariyas have not yet been accepted in official records as scheduled tribes. Hence benefits extended to scheduled tribes may not be available to them. In addition some of them belong to other communities. In some cases this land was given to them by the revenue department only a few years back, and just when they had made it cultivable by their hard work they are being asked to give up this land. In all such cases a just solution based on protecting the livelihood of people should be found.
In some cases at the time of land consolidation work (chakbandi work) the better quality land of poor peasants has been exchanged with inferior quality land of influential persons. This needs to be checked. Consolidation of holdings has been marred by so many irregularities that in future this should be continued only if adequate safeguards for the weak and the poor can be provided.
Despite these numerous problems, the example set by the ABSSS in Manikpur block of Chitrakut district shows how sustained effort over several years can succeed in significant land benefits for the poorest sections and release/rehabilitation of many bonded workers.
Thousands of farmer families have been displaced by projects which either did not yield expected benefits (as in the case of several dams in Chitrakut district) or else did not materialise at all (as in the case of Bargarh glass factory). Dam evictees in Lalitpur district (such as evictees of Rajghat project) were not rehabilitated property. Now many farmers are threatened with displacement by the Ken-Betwa river link project. In future care should be taken that displacement of farmers on a large scale is avoided as far as possible, particularly from fertile farming areas, but if some displacement is unavoidable then satisfactory rehabilitation including alternative land should be arranged. Recent media reports have said that there are plans to take back some of the land earlier given to people displaced by projects like dams and industries. If this is true then this is clearly unjust and the government should take back this decision.
Farm technology should be in tune with the low resource base of the most farmers and their inability to make big investments particularly in increasingly uncertain weather conditions. While credit at low interest rates should be made available to farmers (in particular compound interest should not be charged), the trend towards encouraging farmers to borrow for non-productive purposes should be discouraged. In particular the auction of farmers' land for non-payment of dues should be firmly banned.
The tendency for equating agricultural progress with the spread of crop varieties which respond better to higher doses of chemical fertilisers should be given up. On the other hand the potential for obtaining good yields using local resources such as compost, neem or other plant-based pesticides should be explored as much as possible. The growing market for organically grown farm produce should be tapped to obtain good returns for farmers.
The base for less expensive and reasonably well yielding farming practices can be created by moisture and water conservation, increasing green cover and strengthening animal husbandry. Once such a base is available, even small holdings of one or two areas can provide a satisfactory source of livelihood. Innovative use of even small plots of land to combine agriculture with horticulture, herbs and farm-forestry has given encouraging results.
Food security and self-reliance should remain the leading concern in guiding the selection of crops. Traditional crop rotations which help to maintain the fertility of land should be respected.
A situation is emerging when several new crops, varieties or rotations may be introduced with or without contract farming type arrangements. In such a situation it is necessary that farming communities should discuss the criteria on the basis of which any changes in time honoured crop-rotations should be made. How assured are the returns on new crops? Do these crops involve expensive/untried technology? Above all, what will be the impact of new crops/rotations on land fertility and water table? In addition it is necessary that agencies advocating new crop rotations should be transparent and accountable regarding the authenticity of the information provided by them.
BU has pockets of land known for crops of special quality and flavour. For example parts of Jhansi district were known for the quality of turmeric, ginger and arbi grown here. Parts of Mahoba district were famous throughout the country for the high quality of paan grown here. The Kathia variety of wheat grown in some parts is famous for its flavour and particularly for the quality of dalia made from this wheat. Other parts are famous for scented rice varieties like Tulsi Bhog, Kala Sudanas and Ram Bhog. Some other parts are famous for special quality of groundnuts. Singhara has been grown in abundance around ponds and tanks.
All these are in decline due to a complex of reasons. But efforts should be made to protect and promote these special crops or crop-varieties for which parts of BU offer conducive natural conditions.
There are other important but neglected crops which can be grown in adverse conditions - Pasahi paddy or wild paddy, Savan and Kakun which can be ready for harvesting in sixty days or Kodon. These crops have a role particularly in providing some food security to poor families in difficult times. Pulse and oilseed crops (dalhan and tilhan) should have an important role in agriculture here.
Overall there is a strong need for protecting traditional seeds and crop varieties, which can provide the base for organic farming based on local resources and skills.
In most parts of BU male farm workers get a wage of Rs. 40 to 50 while women get a wage of Rs. 25-30. In a few villages wage may still be as low as one and a quarter kgs. of grain in a day. In some villages the system of bonded labour still exists in agriculture. Firm action should be taken for the release and rehabilitation of bonded workers. Legal minimum wages for farm workers should be implemented particularly on large farms with a better paying capacity. Labour displacing mechanisation of farm work should be discourage. In particular any attempt to mechanise crop harvesting work should be banned as landless farm workers get their main chance to get better earning in harvesting work. The legal rights of equal wage for women workers should be enforced.
Increasing green cover along with water and moisture conservation can also create conducive conditions for the progress of animal husbandry with special emphasis on cows and bullocks to increase milk production as well as draught power. This area is known for several famous bullock breeds such as Ajaygrahi (light weight) and anipur (heavy). Some areas like Patha also host nomadic pastorales from Rajasthan who are reputed to be good breeders of animals.
Despite the potential for dairying a well-organised infra-structure to procure milk and milk products from farmers at a remunerative price does not exist here. This potential should be tapped with provision for local, village-based processing of milk. In addition goat and sheep rearing based on local breeds can be promoted in areas suitable for this.
This region has well-developed, huge rice-milling centres in Atarra and (to a lesser extent) in Khurhand. The strength should be maintained but also modified to ensure that the processing of staple food preserves food nutrients to the maximum extent. For example, excessive polishing of rice should be avoided.
Anna-pratha or the system of leaving loose farm animals has been frequently criticised for its harmful impact on agriculture. Community solutions to such problems should be found after a careful consideration of all aspects (instead of solutions imposed from above and forced on people).
If there is integrated planning for all the minor or non-timber forest produce, then near well-forested areas collection of various kinds of produce is different seasons can provide some income for the greater part of the year.
Planning for sustainable forest-based livelihoods should include not only the existing natural forests but should also include new tree-growth in and around villages -the result of successful afforestation work.
A key to the development of this region and in particular to improving livelihood prospects of vulnerable people is to protect forests and increase green cover. Livelihood protection policy and protection of forests are closely inter-related, but in addition efforts should be made to increase public consciousness about long-term interests and the great importance of forests for sustainable livelihoods. It is a challenge to improve the existing precarious livelihood is such a way that poor people instead of depending on selling firewood are able to earn equal or more income from protection of forest and wild life.