On my first visit to a village in Kanpur Dehat, I expected myself to have a brush with only a typical rustic life of Uttar Pradesh as per my mental note of what it would look like. Fortunately, I got a chance to take part in an SHG meeting, which gave a lot of food for thought for my way back home.
I got to see how agriculture is not only connected to the village’s economy but also to gender, culture and social beliefs. There was a stark difference in perspectives of men and women on the issues related to agriculture as well as food. Before visiting the village, I had my doubts as to why Shramik Bharti is promoting only women farmers, and not men. Little did I know that if you do a Google search on ‘Farmers in India’, you’ll not find even one woman’s picture.
Farming has been a men’s job. This visit gave an introductory answer to several questions about the village, agriculture and the organization’s work.
On a Monday afternoon, I found myself sitting under a tree, in a village of Akbarpur District. There were women from the village sitting on one side and men sitting on the other side. The faces of these women were covered with veil, but all of them were not as shy as they were expected to be. I was there with my team from Shramik Bharti, to observe what happens in an SHG meeting.
The discussion started with women expressing how unsatisfied they are, with their health and food intake. Since it was their problem and they understood it the best, we wanted the solutions to come from them as well. Nobody spoke for a few seconds. My senior from the team suggested that they should start eating good quality food. Now what does that mean? They are all farmers, producers of food. Who would eat good quality food if not them. I was confused.
“Change the way you do farming”, said Rana Sir, our farming expert. Don’t do farming only to earn money, but also for the sake of eating healthier food’’. The women seemed excited to know more about the ways in which they could do agricultural activities which will lead their families to eat safe and healthy food. The team also suggested to start Kitchen Gardening and Nature Farming. Nobody knew what those terms mean. I was as clueless as others.
Nature farming is a technique of farming where all the inputs used for production are natural and free from chemicals. The farmers use traditional seeds, make the fertilizers themselves and use organic pesticides. How does it benefit the farmer and the produce? This method makes the input cost of farmer zero because he/she is not buying anything from the market. The food produced is not only chemical free and healthy, but it’s also full of flavors. If you’re thinking that this would require a lot of hard work, then that’s true. Making the fertilizer with one’s own hands needs proper understanding and intensive physical labor.
Kitchen Gardening is an initiative here by Shramik Bharti where people are trained to grow vegetables on the roof of their house. The organization believes that vegetables grown at home will organically have more nutrition value. I could see a lot of blank faces when the idea of kitchen gardening was shared in the group. They thought that it was impossible, and would create unnecessary trouble for nothing.
A man who was standing at a distance until now, came closer. I had noticed him previously as well with his wide-eye, bare minimum clothes and his discomfort with the outsiders sitting and conducting meeting, he was quite noticeable. He had a strong opinion on all this, and started by saying “Aap log fir beej bechne aa gaye” (you people have again come to sell seeds). “I incurred a big loss last year because of you. I will not do it again,”, he said and suggested others to not get into our programs. He narrated his story telling how he went to a training conducted by the organization on nature farming and kitchen gardening, after which the farmers were given seeds to start a kitchen garden at their home. Instead, he thought of growing vegetables in the farm itself. Going ahead with this idea; he sowed seeds in the farm. It turned out be a failure. Two months passed and there was no crop.
Following this narrative, another men also started an argument, asking why do they need to think about the quality of food they are producing if it will not fetch them as much profit as regular farming would. I could clearly see the difference in the opinion of women as compared to men. To counter the men, Rana Sir said , “What will you do with profits if you will not be able to eat good food?”, but they were not ready to listen. Women, on the other hand, agreed that for them, eating good food themselves and giving it to their families is a priority.
The discussion ended with many questions and a strong willed commitment , to meet and discuss again about our farming practices. Personally, I was convinced about the idea of promoting women farmers as really empowering and progressive. In the present context in several parts of India, when men usually migrate to urban areas to do odd jobs, if women would shoulder the responsibility of working in farms, it would bring change not just at village level but for the entire country. It’s an established fact that if farmers eat well, the country eats well, and these women here, are keen on using agriculture as a tool for family’s health more than family’s income.
Featured Image: Flickr