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By Indra Shekhar Singh, 21st February 2016

To celebrate the International Year of Pulses,Navdanya launched a Dal Swaraj Yatra on 4th of February 2016. In a brief span of 12 days, we traveled through five districts across Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh during one of the worst droughts in the past 50 years. During the Yatra we met 3000 farmers, 400 students and spread awareness about organic dals to 15000 people spread over 60 villages. Beside the lectures, we also distributed 300 kgs of desi organic dal seeds of arhar, moong and urad variety. After giving the seeds we provided farmers with relevant training materials in the form of pamphlets, flyers and Navdanya publications on dals, organic farming and health hazards of eating refined oils. We gave out many copies of Khadya Telo Ki Asliyat and Rasayan Mukt kheti to the farmers, to combat pests and revive their traditional ways of agriculture. During the course of the yatra we collected ten thousand signatures for the Satyagraha for Gandhi’s Ghani and 500 farmers registered to join our network.

Our yatra started on our arrival in Allahabad on the 4th. On the first two days, we partnered with Azaad Bachao Andolan, Allahabad and toured the Kausambhi area of Allahabad. Here we met farmers and recorded the change in cropping patterns and the current data on the prevailing drought after which we on the 6th proceeded to inaugurate Varanasi’s first all women’s seed bank in Varanasi. Executive director Navdanya Dr Vandana Shiva was the chief guest at the event. She induced 100 new women members to bank at the event.

The yatra then travelled to rural areas of Allahabad. During the three day period, they went through 20 villages and meet over 1500 farmers. During the meeting the team discussed the current agrarian situation of the area. Overall our message through the medium of newspapers and word of mouth reached over 7500 people. The damage caused by drought was evident for most of the water bodies had dried up in February. When we inspected the wells, their levels had also dropped drastically. People complained there may be no water left for the summer season.

In a meeting with the village elders, we asked, “Were their no drought before? What did you do then?” Two of the 80 year olds farmers replied, “We had droughts, but never like these. In our childhood we had trees planted in the area and the well water never dried up. There was always enough water to drink for people and cattle. But these are times of Kaliyug, and the climate disaster is upon us”. Judging from the cattle carrions and parched forests across our journey, his words proved to be true.

We found out that disrupted rainfall had the area set up for a disaster as the worst drought in over 50 years was upon them. Over consumption had eaten up water bodies such as lakes, wells, ponds, etc. In particular, the trans-yamuna region of Allahabad traditionally has been growing Dals, oilseeds and millets but the Green revolution technologies and propaganda have change the cropping patterns. Now the area mostly grows wheat and rice. The area does not have enough water to sustain such water intensive crops and hence is heading towards a collapse.
A bank manager of a National bank privately showed us data of the rising farmers’ debt in the area. It was Rs 12 crore from his branch alone.

As the three days got over we headed towards MP. Our first destination was Rewa, where we addressed farmers, children and teachers on our Yuva Anna Swaraj campaign and gave them relevant material including books and other literature on dals and Monsanto.

After Rewa, we headed toward Satna. Here we stayed about 15 kms from the city. A large group of people had come to hear us speak 50 of whom were women from local self help groups. The village pradhan was present at the meeting and assured us of support for our campaigns. We distributed seeds and built a base for the Annapurna network and seed bank in the future.

A women’s NGO offered us land of about 2 acres for producing seeds. We also toured around five other nearby villages to get a sense of the drought and conditions of the local farmers. We also documented local traditions of seed saving and agriculture. The water situation was worse here. All along the farmers cut up the local Mahua trees and replaced them with Eucalyptus trees for cover despite having no water. The stream from the near-by forest had dried up and century old ponds evaporated. The most farmers we meet had lot on the knowledge of seed saving and traditional grains.

After travelling extensively in Rewa and Satna we returned to Swaraj Vidyapeeth for the inauguration of Allahabad’s first organic seed bank, organic produce and training centre on Saturday.
On the last leg of our yatra we visited the Phulpur area of Allahabad and visited two villages in the area. Farmers from ten other villages each gathered to hear us. We spoke about the importance of organic farming and briefed them about GMOs and the artificial dal crisis that has currently engulfed the country.
To wrap up the yatra, our team went to a school Ganga Gurukulam to spread the message of non-violent agriculture and involve children in the movement for saving the environment.

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