The slow death of an agrarian community

A look at how unsustainable agriculture brought about the end of an agrarian community.


 

agrariancommunity

flickr cc Simply CVR

Farmer commits suicide.

Farmers, driven to sheer desperation and frustration by debt and sense of loss. Just a couple of decades back, I too belonged there. An agrarian community which lived by land, swore by it and ate what it produced. I am no expert on farming nor do I understand the life of one. I am just a witness to its slow disappearance along with that of the farmer, farming and even the farmlands. It left no opportunity for my generation to either regret or reflect. An entire generation therefore just lived by, without flinching or giving a second thought to what they had lost.

The lessons at school taught me about Kharif and Rabi. They also talked about the different kinds of soil and that the clayey soil was the best for paddy. I learnt where in the country paddy was grown and where wheat. But I did not understand that the patch of  land in front of our house was as important as the large areas mentioned in the geography books. It was never taught to us that the paddy fields that sustained a community were as much a part of a sustainable economy and needed to be conserved.

It took a long time for me to connect to my roots and to even recognize that I was a farmer. I had neither reaped nor sowed. And the same was true for my parents. My grandparents were the last true link to my identity as a farmer.

Growing up in a small town, I lived with the smell of cow dung and the moist musky smell of the barns. The air seemed rife with the the raw green odour of freshly cut grass. The harvests season of paddy was the most happening period. Harvesting was followed by the rhythmic movement of men and women carrying stacks of cut sheaves of paddy through the winding small tracks on the sides of the field. The austerity, cleanliness and the myths associated with the reaping and harvesting added a sense of romance to all the efforts.

While my grandfather stood in the hot sun with his umbrella, his white mundu folded and tucked up, grandma and a bunch of women made Kanji (gruel for the workers and lunch for others in the house). The mood was that of celebration. All conversations hovered around harvest and related endeavours. But our life was normal. I went to school and my father to office.

Just thirty years back, the land across our house stretched endlessly into clayey fertile paddy fields. The house stood on a raised ground on one side of a narrow tarred road. Many flight steps lead from the road into the courtyard of the house. Houses were few and most household owned a piece of the field. Only the size of the landholdings and yield varied. The fields were muddy wet and sloppy during monsoon and hard and dry in summer. In the summer it was our play ground and during monsoons our lake. And in between it transformed into the lush green fields.

Men thrashed the paddy onto the prepared ground to separate the grain from the stalk. The women took the beaten stalks and spread it on the ground again. Five or six of them stood around it with long sticks and threshed them again, by whipping it. When the long, thin bamboo sticks rose up in the air and came lashing down, it made music that could be heard all around the houses.

The wind carried the aroma of wet grains, crushed stalks and the light banter of men and women across the fields. From the heap of grains piled in the courtyard, grains were measured and distributed as wages. The measure was not in kilograms. There was a wooden cylindrical vessel called parra. Each person got his share which seemed predetermined.

When did my grandfather stop doing this? I never noticed it nor did I miss it. I was always told to study to get a good job. So was every other kid in the neighbourhood. Slowly, the crops stopped growing. The courtyards were not dressed any more for harvest. The fields lay vacant. And they eventually cracked up and dried. Things went on as normal as nobody in my family was affected by this. Grandma had less to do and her coterie became smaller. Grandpa spent more time at the desk, reading and writing. Nobody   bothered to ask him what he felt.

The road in front of the house got raised to the level of the house. There was great excitement when this happened. The fields got raised too, filled with sand. The fine, fertile, clayey soil was covered by coarse loamy soil. My grandfather heaped the soil into mounts and planted coconut trees. Most others did the same. I heard grandma remark that men and women needed money in wages and not the share of yield any more, so coconut trees seemed logical. It needn’t be sown every six months. Were they sad? Maybe not.

I fear that may have been the beginning of unsustainable agriculture.

There was huge excitement in the town when the coconut trees were cut to make another road, a broader road running through the middle of the field. The price of land was expected to increase because of this. The canals that watered the land during sparse monsoons narrowed and morphed into drains. But things went on as usual for everybody else.

Today, the erstwhile field is filled with flats. Patches of coconut trees stand here and there. Those who have trees are burdened with the thought of not getting people to climb the tree to gather.

And thus, an agrarian community committed suicide. Agriculture was wiped out. No debts were incurred or may be it was compensated by selling off the land. Therefore no one was hurt. A slow calculated death unnoticed, not chronicled. Now I wonder how my grandfather would have felt.

My paternal home, a few hundred kilometres away, smells of wet mud and the aroma of unripe cashew sap. Here, very few still live by agriculture. But somehow I fail to notice the aroma of cashew being replaced by the pungent, impregnating stink of rubber sap being curdled to make rubber sheets. Rubber trees replaced all other trees. Monoculture had taken over the villages.

The transition has been on for many years now. The slow death of land and communities.

Those who planned their exit did so quietly without even letting the coming generation know that the “next century is yours and you will have lot of money…but no safe food to eat.” Those who opted to continue seem to struggle. It leaves one wondering who will save those who are saving us by growing our food.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Devi has been working for Prakriya Green Wisdom School in Bangalore since 10 years. A post graduate in literature, she graduated in Science and has a bachelors degree in education . She enjoys teaching mathematics and playing with science concepts. Making toys with recyclable material and the concept of making your own toys rather than buying is an idea that she explor... more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Devi has been working for Prakriya Green Wisdom School in Bangalore since 10 years. A post graduate in literature, she graduated in Science and has a bachelors degree in education . She enjoys teaching mathematics and playing with science concepts. Making toys with recyclable material and the concept of making your own toys rather than buying is an idea that she explor... more

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