This is the context in which Chethana undertakes the campaign focusing on Land as source of life and livelihood with a three pronged strategy of
- Mobilizing people on the issue of land rights: Since landlessness and rural poverty are linked, according to Chethana, providing entitlement to land for the majority of the landless is a necessary pre-condition for removing rural distress. It is also necessary to meet the goals of social justice, human dignity and a livelihood base for the most deprived. Though this in itself may not be sufficient to remove rural poverty or make agriculture a viable economic activity, it will provide the economic and ecological base for a sustainable agricultural entrepreneurship. The issue of landlessness has been dealt with in post independence period through the redistribution of land using legislated land ceilings, tenancy reforms, and abolition of the intermediaries. However the land reforms were not properly carried out in many states mainly due to the lack of political will and the collusion of the administration with the propertied caste elites using many loopholes in the land reform acts.
Hence, our efforts would involve putting pressure on the government to implement land reforms in letter and spirit and address the issue with a renewed focus on revising the ceiling limits and exempted categories, improving land revenue administration, quality of land, and meeting the challenge of miniscule holdings. We also must work toward identifying fraudulent and illegal land holdings by the rich and work towards its distribution or access to the poor.
The concern for land entitlement has taken on a new dimension in the context of land alienation that is taking place in two fronts. One is the forced displacement of people from land, from hearth and home, and livelihood through such initiative as Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and Coastal Management Zones (CMZs), Agro-business, and such other developmental initiatives prompted by neo-liberal economic considerations to bring in foreign or national direct investment. The other is migration of people from rural areas in search of employment and even selling of the whole village and people moving out to urban centers in search of livelihood with associated social costs in the context of mounting agrarian crisis.
It is important that the government involve in the lives of people with ‘crisis intervention strategies’ that will address the issues of hunger, severe malnutrition and death primarily of women and children and death, which prompt people to migrate to urban centers with associated consequences. It is in this context that the governmental schemes such as NREGA and FFW become very significant and that Chethana’s involvement with facilitating their mobilization around these programs become necessary.
NREGA, in addition to giving 100 days of labor and thus enhancing their income, increases the bargaining capacity of the worker, establishes the concept of minimum wages and gender parity. It also provides for a platform for people to come together and addresses the needs of the community for roads, canals, water reservoirs and such other basic infrastructure needs for further development.
- Promoting of sustainable and ecologically sound agricultural Practices Chethana is committed to promote an evergreen revolution that would enhance productivity of land in perpetuity without associated ecological harm. It is not to go back to the past but to integrate the past into the present with adequate scientific basis so that agriculture is made economically rewarding and intellectually satisfying and undertaken with social and ecological commitment. Small and marginal farmers, who constitute 25 percent of the global farming population, have to lead this revolution. This would involve linking scientific and research and Training institutions with sustainable and organic agriculture practices and evolving more and better practices that can stand the scrutiny of scientific investigations and can be applied to larger areas of land and made acceptable to greater number of people. The goal is to make organic and sustainable agriculture a movement with participation of people (small and marginal farmers) both in the development and maintenance of land, water and other essential natural resources and also their conservation with the formation of farmer’s collectives. Attempts must be made to make the state an equal partner in this endeavor, with making available the services of agricultural extension officers, subsidies, credits and marketing mechanisms.
The components of this strategy include:
- Soil enhancement with particular reference to soil organic matter and micronutrients. Soil health cards should be issued to farmers.
- Diversity of cropping instead of Mono and cash cropping.
- Rain harvesting, conservation and efficient use of water through water budgeting.
- Use of technology and inputs for conservation/sustainable farming; production and use of organic manure, pest replants, seeds and crops that suit the land and weather conditions.
- Enhancement of the knowledge and skills of farmers through “Farmer Schools”.
- Producer oriented and socially conscious marketing mechanism.
- Promotion of rearing of poultry, cows, goats and such other animals as integral to sound ecological farming practice and supplementary income generating activity.
Here again, Chethana would like to translate ecological and livelihood concerns into holistic development of the quality of life of the people and the community
- Promoting Women’s Alternative Livelihood Initiatives While improving small farm productivity, concurrent attention must be paid to on-farm and non-farm employment which has a base in the natural resources specific to an area. The small and marginal farmers and the farm labor cannot sustain themselves by farming and the income generated from it alone, but they have to rely on other income generating activities and other productive endeavors using readily available natural resources and the traditional skills. These skills have to be updated and thus, value must be added to the time and labor of the poor, particularly women.
The Women’s Alternative Livelihood program is aimed at promoting an agro-processing, agro-business and non-farm employment revolution in the rural areas with small women’s groups as the basic unit of operation. The “alternative” nature of the program is defined as per the following norms given below:
- It will be a collective effort of women with women’s empowerment as one of the crucial components
- Their productive activities will be agro-based or local natural resource based
- Their activities will always keep in focus the enhancement and conservation of local resources
- Their work environment will be more domestic, casual and less time bound, with sufficient space to take care of the needs of children and family and also one that facilitates inclusion of children and the elderly in the labor.
- Community needs will be the basis of production, but surplus production will be distributed through socially committed market mechanisms.
- There will be a profit sharing mechanism, which ensures that community needs are also met from the profit that the quality of life of the community in general is enhanced.
This livelihood initiative is to be built on the already developed social infrastructure of women’s co-operatives. Emphasis will be given to up-gradation of skills and product diversification, so that value is added to women’s time and labor and the products meet the needs of the community. These groups should be networked within states and across states to create market linkages and outlets, take up questions of women’s rights, land rights and human rights issues and also resist the withdrawal of the state from its role in providing food at reasonable price (rationing of basic food items at fair-price). They can also be a pressure group against government’s attempts to withdraw from meeting primary health care needs of the community and providing quality education for their children.
Since, women are the best agents of social change in a society, it is expected that questions of quality of life, gender parity, responsible parenthood, food and nutrition, alcoholism, prevention of HIV/AIDS and such other vital issues could be discussed and acted upon. This is seen as a means of general empowerment of women. They can also be in the vanguard of women’s participation in decision-making and decentralization of power by devolution to local governing institutions.
The following action plans and a set of demands have been evolved to form the basis of our campaign, our negotiations with the state and also networking with other groups that work for the same cause.