When farmers pick up farming terms. This may sound strange to say. But for those working at Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN), this is nothing unique. Over their course of working extensively on rural livelihoods, they have seen that that small and marginal farmers across the country are quickly and increasingly becoming familiar with these terms. They refer to organic fertilisers, fungicides, and pesticides prepared from locally available materials. And extension workers, either from government agriculture departments or nonprofits, are visiting villages and training farmers on how to prepare and apply them on their farms.
This was not the case 20-30 years ago. Back then, many of these same extension workers were visiting villages and encouraging farmers to use chemicals and adopt processes that would increase their crop yield. Conventional knowledge then, was that relying on locally available materials and traditional knowledge for farming practices was not as scientific as what the green revolution had taught us.
Farmers pick up farming terms– they are different now
Today, we’re seeing that the products and processes being prescribed to farmers are different from a few decades ago—they are not chemicals, but organic. However, ironically, the approach seems to be the same: Farmers are expected to follow what the external agencies are prescribing, rather than applying their own knowledge and skills. This is a growing problem within the organic farming space in India.
In 1974, in his book Labor and Monopoly Capital, American political economist Harry Braverman argued that capitalism had a pervasive tendency to reorganise jobs at lower skill levels than previously. According to him, separating intelligence from muscle helps capitalists dominate both. He termed this process ‘deskilling’.
We have been seeing deskilling in Indian agriculture too. Now the time has come when farmers pick up farming terms. Earlier the farmers eventually became laborers who blindly followed instructions given by seed or pesticide companies.
After the green revolution, agriculture in India was transformed. While this form of agriculture increased the yield of some crops to a great extent, it also gave rise to many more serious issues. The most talked about is the impact of conventional agriculture on the degradation of the ecosystem. In the process farmers pick up farming terms.
Gradually, people started talking about organic or natural farming as an alternative to conventional agriculture, as it could take care of the issues related to environmental degradation. And this is when farmers pick up the farming terms.
India home to 30% of all organic producers
Today, India is home to an estimated 30 percent of all organic producers in the world. This has shown a positive result because of the trend of when farmers pick up farming terms.
Most of them are small-holder and marginal farmers and have been subjected to some form of deskilling as a result of the green revolution. The conceptualisation of organic or natural farming is based on environmental sustainability. Nevertheless, it may continue to promote deskilling if it is promoted or structured in the same way that conventional agriculture has been promoted or structured.
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Today, in organic farming, we are seeing agencies—government and non-government—prescribe standard products and processes that farmers are expected to follow. Here, the products may be different than in conventional agriculture, but the process is the same. It does not help farmers re-articulate their understanding of nature. Nor does it enable them to use their wisdom to shape farm practices with both traditional and modern technologies, based on their own experiments and experience. It will be better for everyone when farmers pick up farming terms.
We need an alternative approach, one that can re-skill farmers. This reskilling includes when farmers pick up farming terms among other things. This concept of when farmers pick up farming terms will enable them to rediscover the principles of soil fertility management, moisture conservation, and nutrient cycles. One that lets them experiment with many processes and products using locally available inputs so that ultimately, they can adapt their experiments and approaches to best fit their context. In fact, it’s a good concept of when farmers pick up farming terms.