Research and Documentation
Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan
Training Area :
Capacity Building of CSOs and Qualitative Research and Documentation of Case Studies and Stories of Grassroots Efforts Made by Civil Society Organisations for Alternatives for Reducing Agricultural Distress
At the moment, agriculture crisis has emerged as one of the prime socio-economic catastrophes in India for its direct linkages with and impact on employment, food and nutrition security. In addition, the concomitant ecological crisis entails sharp social inequality as well. In bringing about transformational changes to the scenario, numerous organizations have been working towards policy building, implementation and establishing economic stability by way of using a host of approaches including inter alia, eco-friendly techniques, promotion of seeds and non-chemical fertilizers, irrigation facilities, improved linkages with markets at different levels, resource stability for marginalized and women farmers, and agricultural labourers across agriculture and allied sectors.
It is recognised that whilst agriculture is one of the biggest sources of livelihood and food security, it is one of the biggest contributors in socio-economic development and peace as well. However, despite its significance and stature, regretfully, agriculture has been witnessing profound distress. Although, notwithstanding the distress, it is the agricultural sector that has remained virtually ‘unlocked’ during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis in India and has continued to function thereby reiterating its huge value and relevance for the human life. It is, therefore, time that the society at large may rather recognise it and establish due connectedness with the farmers and allied organizations. These entities, have hitherto, remained unheard. The communication with the stakeholders in agricultural sector and the allied sectors ought to occur with a rejuvenated sense, expediency and priority so that their experiences, urges, learnings and ideas could feed into the continuum of sector-wide thrust for a real and accelerated socio-economic development.
Consequently, this Concept Note seeks to flag a call to action so that stories of all farmers – be they small, medium or marginalised ones and those of the agricultural workers reverberate through the public space invoking requisite policy, planning and implementation of the government on the one hand, and shape public opinion and agenda for the wider society, on the other.
Existing Communication Gaps between the Key Stakeholders in the Agriculture Sector
The key stakeholders as seen in the Agri CSO Communication Perspective are the following:
- Smaller Civil Society Organizations working with Smaller and marginalized farmers within limited geography and demographic reach, with limited skills and capacities ensuring that smallholder farmers’ voices, priorities, and interests are actively heard and reflected in the design, implementation, and monitoring of the program.
- Larger or Bigger Civil Society Organizations working in collaboration with alliances and CSOs working with extended geography and demography, mostly skilled and capacitated enough on policies, financial and technological other issues.
- External Institutions and Bodies including- universities/ government bodies working towards developing interventions on seeds, water, intensive cropping, broader policies, or organization may or may not be working on agriculture but play a crucial role in determining the role of CSOs or in policy making or investing in researches and knowledge.
All these CSOs are working towards their mandated plans and construed sets of goals and objectives under their parasols of ideas and approaches. The chief issue, however, is that although numerous sectors raise their bars and seek to work towards agriculture and allied areas, gap persists in identifying stories smaller CSOs have been working around. Further, while the stories of the bigger CSOs, albeit fewer ones, are well noticeable and find a place in the grid, challenges and approaches of the much larger number of smaller farmers and CSOs focusing on the gamut of their experiences, learnings, challenges, problems and gaps therein rather go overlooked. Their narratives are yet to make a mark.
Case for According Primacy to Communication and Exchange of Narratives Across Agricultural and Allied Sectors
Significance of the Proposed Intervention
Vikas Samvad Samiti (VSS) has been working as a network partner on right to food, health, education, and nutrition and food security for the past one and a half decades. It has had the distinction of establishing comprehensive approaches for the policy making groups and capacity building of communication personnel, amongst others. VSS has developed as many as 10 related information packs followed by a white paper on the on the status of agriculture in year 2017. The White Paper was also shared with the state government of Madhya Pradesh. So far, Vikas Samvad has largely been engaged in bringing up the situation of hunger and malnutrition into public domain to stir the debate for triggering up key initiatives for dealing with food insecurity. In this journey, VSS has experienced that CSOs’ initiatives for food and nutrition security do not align with the issues of farmers and agriculture.
All along, Vikas Samvad has experienced that issues of health and education are well covered, documented and are presented well so as to widen the wisdom of the organizations working on health and education. The effort, coupled with the stories of grassroots experiences, has led to wider policy debates. It is notable that the stories from the grassroots are not just a set of documents. In fact, every single story entrenches a review for the policy and programmatic design and consequent call to fervent action. On the contrary, whilst significance of agricultural and allied sectors appears to be appreciated, narratives in respect of its key players, i.e., small and marginal farmers are rather conspicuous by their absence. The question arises whether the narratives are too complexed to find expression into stories evoking keen attention.
This experience has given Vikas Samvad a vision to bring out the stories of farmers, agriculture and CSOs working on and for them. In the preliminary analysis, it was found that even in the agriculture sector, numerous organizations have been working on increasing economy, productivity, climate change, diversity and agriculture etc. However, it is observed that they have not received adequate motivation and support for documenting their experiences or stories. The players in the sector and the civil society organisations essentially need to be endowed with skills in storytelling. These skills range from dialogue, writing the narrative and interspersing the photo features with the audio-visual and digital media.
It is notable that in the absence of stories of the farmers and CSOs, not only the opportunities for much-needed real time inputs for policy reviews are missed, stagnant policies continue to erode social capital for want of humane touch. The moot question is that how a policy can be formulated for farmers without even listening to them! Of course, VSS does not claim that only these stories comprise the solution. What is important is that policy enunciation devoid of the viewpoints of farmers and CSOs shall only remain a lifeless paper which would only exacerbate their plight and distress.
Data and statistics are mostly placed at the centre of any documentation on agriculture related issues. In fact, the contribution of agriculture to GDP, productivity or quantity of various agricultural products and price of agricultural products in the market have been considered to be the most important aspects. The connectedness with the society at large appears to be stopping at these numbers without realising that there is another side beyond these numbers – misery of farmers and allied workers who are the drivers of the agricultural and allied sectors.
Statistics also speaks on plight of the farmers. It is, however, again confined to the documentation of numbers of farmers’ suicides or farmers’ income. The stories of the agricultural society, their vibrant experiences, the challenges faced by the agricultural organizations have never been portrayed.
It is not that there have been no policy initiatives in India, but agricultural schemes and policies could not produce the desired results due to lack of communication with the immediate stakeholders, documentation of experiences, learnings and knowledge of farmers and organization working on agriculture at the grassroots level. Stories of experiences of organization working on agriculture can help make policies and plans practical.
The following point wise core arguments have been considered for advancing the proposed intervention:
- Real Time Evidence: As the atmosphere for discussion and debates over the issues of agriculture and small and marginalized farmers has already been heightened and set-out, this initiative will invigorate agricultural policy making and programmatic reconfiguration from a farmers-oriented perspective.
- Criticality of Engagement with the Farming Community:To improvise the rural economy and employment situation in the country, agriculture and allied sectors are placed as factors of high importance. Under such a situation, this initiative will act as a catalysing and enabling force in securing a critical and sustainable engagement with the farmers. With stories capturing the processes and content of engagement with and for the smaller farmers and CSOs, the intervention shall go a long way in instituting pragmatic and farmer-centric policies and programming; with a sector-wide approach.
- Systematic/Structured Institutional Initiative: So far, there has been no systematic institutional initiative in place that can render documentation of Farmer’s voices and life experiences and dissemination of genuine and evidence-based stories.
- Techno-scientific Studies and the Connect with Human Emotions: Techno-scientific studies on various aspects of agriculture done thus far have failed to connect with the larger (including non-agricultural ones) audience as the same have been devoid of human emotions. This initiative would greatly help in bringing about the requisite and organic connect across the sector-wide domains.
- Regional Variations: These initiatives would seek, identify and capture the regional variations by relating the emerging stories duly contextualised with their respective geographical origins.
- Collaborative and Learning Approach: Recognising that developing the cross-understanding towards the perspectives, principles, ideas, goals of organization necessitates breaking the ice and myths on working patterns, this intervention of rendering a communication hub would play a crucial role in productive working with dissent and widening the perspective for freeing from biased notions and beliefs. Consequently, greater mutual acceptance amongst the organisations across the continuum of sectors will lay down a larger area of congruence for collaborative and learning-focused joint action.
- Establishing Cross-linkages Amongst Different Networks: It will help in developing the rationality on cross-linkages amongst different organizations. For instance, MGNREGA has three outlooks –the right to employment; creating permanent community assets and three – decentralized governance, accountability and transparency. Experience informs that organizations working on MGNREGA might not be capturing all the three outlooks. Those who work on right to employment also need to keep a tab on creation of community assets. The VSS shall seek to use stories from the three outlooks of MNREGA in building rationale for a purposive dialogue amongst the stakeholder organisations. Likewise, it is observed that the organization working on creation of assets and deployment of natural resource management might be missing out on role of Panchayat. After all, it is the Gram Panchayat which formulates the Village Development Plans and that the community ought to have a say in Social Audits of schemes and programmes that are being or have been implemented.