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Pragathi Bandhu Groups

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In their article “Regional Economies and Small Farmers in Karnataka” (EPW,18 November 2017), Seema Purushothaman and Sheetal Patil have provided a closer look at the widening rural–urban divide, from the perspective of the agrarian community, using the case studies of Mandya and peri-urban Bengaluru. While discussing agriculture-related issues in the Bengaluru Urban and Mandya districts of Karnataka, where the percentage of both small and marginal landholders are quite high (around 90% of the total population), the authors have explained the issues faced by the farming communities through the use of abundant data.

The authors mention that “Traditional agrarian norms and institutions around sharing seed and labour, crop selection, community decisions on planting and harvesting, etc, are almost non-existent now. Without the emergence of alternative local institutions, this disappearance leaves a conspicuous vacuum … Agricultural extension agencies in the public and private sectors tend to overlook the need forsociocultural institutions. This results in widening the above lacuna often seen in individualisation and deskilling among farmers, helping a sweeping globalisation agenda to take over the unique strengths of our farm sector (small, communitarian, biodiverse and persistent), erode the welfare objectives of the state and add new vulnerabilities to farm families already at the mercy of the monsoons.” I do not understand why the authors have taken a negative view in this regard.

Further, the authors have concluded that “in the near future, farming will continue to be crucial to India even if it is not anymore the ‘back bone of Indian economy.’ It will remain the single most important occupation of the masses—contributing to their food, culture, identity, and welfare. Is there an inevitable trade-off in pursuing local agrarian capital?” The authors also opine that, “Promoting an inclusive growth policy calls for transforming agrarian landscapes into vibrant regional economies with their own different logics of accumulation. This kind of plurality of robust agrarian economies may be something that is necessary for sustainable societies in countries like India.” In my view, the authors have concluded their article without extending any concrete suggestions.

In this context, I wish to extend my own views based on my study of the successful experiment of the Pragathi Bandhu Group (PBG) project, which focuses on marginal and small farmers in Karnataka.

For the development of marginal and small farmers, the Shri Kshetra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project (SKDRDP) was started in 1982 by Veerendra Heggade, as a charitable trust at Belthangady taluk, in the Dakshina Kannada district. It operated on an experimental basis, with the basic objective being to develop marginal and small farmers, through the formation of self-help groups (SHGs) under the banner of Pragathi Bandhu. Initially, SKDRDP adopted a few villages in the Dakshina Kannada district and the farmers were encouraged to develop their lands with the assurance that SKDRDP would meet all their basic needs. This initial experiment of Pragathi Bandhu acted as a catalyst for a “demonstration effect” and as a result the model spread to other districts of Karnataka. By creating SHGs of five to eight small and marginal farmers whose lands are contiguously located, each member of the group works on the land of the other members for one day in the week. This helped to solve the problem of each farmer, as none of them could individually afford to hire labour for farming.

To support the Pragathi Bandhus, Heggade developed a dedicated team of “Sevanirathas” (field officers of SKDRDP). These were workers who were well-versed in the latest farming techniques, sanitation, and banking, and who could guide and help the farmers in their endeavours. My study indicates that hundreds of marginal and small famers have benefited greatly after the formation of such SHGs. Their standard of living has also improved. According to SKDRDP data, around three lakh marginal and small farmers were beneficiaries of the project. In view of this successful intervention, I believe that the authors need not be disheartened, as agriculture will continue to sustain itself in India as shown above.

Shankar Chatterjee

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Updated On : 1st Dec, 2017

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