“Kuifje in India” (4)- International Master of Science in Rural Development (IMRD)

The Hindu (“India’s National Newspaper since 1878”) opened yesterday’s edition with agricultural news on the front-page. “Skyrocketing fertilizer prices floor farmers” was the title of the story about increasing costs of inputs. Small and marginal farmers, who constitute almost 80 per cent of the total of farmers in the State of Karnataka, has been hit hard by the skyrocketing prices of all fertilizers. The prices of most fertilizers doubled or even has gone up with over 250 per cent since 2010. It’s rather complicated why the costs are skyrocketing that high, but once again it makes clear how vulnerable marginal and small scale farming is for external costs. Going ‘organic’ or going for a maximum of ALEI (Agriculture on Low External Inputs) is the strategy that most of my colleagues at the UASB plea for, and they really ‘go for it’. Although a ‘top university’ in a scientific way (UASB is nr. 3 ranked of all Agricultural Universities in India), everyone I met so far isn’t just a ‘top scientist’, but also ‘a grass root worker’; very committed with the poor and the very poor, and always trying to find ways to help and to give mute people a voice or some kind of a future.

I participated many seminars and presentations, and I did speak with many professors, researches and teachers. And they all touched my heart, because their heart was always with the oppressed and the poor. I had the opportunity to meet the highest person in charge (Prof. dr. Gwonda, the Vice Chancellor) several times, and every time I spoke with him, I was impressed by his commitment with the message and mission of his institute. To help the poor and the very poor; to empower the weak and the marginalized.

Anyway, to reduce costs for small farmers, and to make them more independent and less vulnerable, the UASB developed many strategies, but all based on the idea of an ‘integrated approach’ of research, extension, training, education, marketing  and empowerment! Technology isn’t seen just as a tool for problem solving and making progress, but also as a way and an instrument to meet people, to start dialogues and more over: to help them to organize their own identities and  interests.

Intermezzo: Their approach and philosophy reminds me to lectures I gave years and years ago to students Irrigation and Land Water Management. In one of those courses, I read  parts of Vargas Lloysa’s book ‘Garabomba de onzichtbare’, in which he describes that a school is build to emancipate the oppressed and illiterates , but every time when the school was almost finished, it burned down. So the whole process of building the school (at dark, illegal, risk full) had to start again and again. Reading the book, you start to hate the oppressors, because without any doubt they’re the ones that burned down the schoolhouse time and again. But going through the book, it turned out to be the other way around. Garabomba himself (he, who tried to organize the local peoples against injustice and inequality) was the one who set the school in fire. Why? Because building the school was for him a tool to organize people. When the school was finished, and people were still not organized and not aware of their situation, he had to find new ‘technologies’ to organize people…by burning the school!

A presentation by professor Shivamurthy (in his office, just for me) made me aware of my ‘horizon of relevance’; I remembered Vargas’ book and the period I worked with the same theoretical concept: technology as an instrument to emancipate people, by giving them means to handle problems, instruments to improve their practice, but also by  bringing them together and create solidarity and power. His project “Participatory research for empowerment of SC and ST rural poor women through production of neem based biopesticide and Trichoderma by utilizing locally available raw materials” was very successful; not only because “the landless and illiterate rural women have produced 1100 kg. of Trichoderma within two years and intern generated about 730 man days of employment with an income of Rs. 88, 000/- by selling at the rate of Rs 80 / kg”, but also because he managed to empower and organize the very poor. One of Shivamurthy’s conclusions was: “Improving Knowledge and skills of farm women beside raising  Income and employment  had resulted in improving their social capital”.  

Extension means ‘capacity building’, and science means  ‘action research’: “The project was implemented as an action research mode by defining roles and responsibilities of all the stakeholders and the project team.”

The DBT Rural Bio Resource Complex, related to the UASB does more or less the same. In creating links  between science and practice, between technology and users, they do organize farmers at the same time. Officially it is stated that: “In order to minimize costs of production, maximization of profit and creation of additional employment opportunities, various associations has been started”. But these ‘associations’ are more the just instruments to ‘reduce costs’; they emancipate the poor and the illiterates.  I mention just a few of those “Commodity Based Associations” :  Fish Farmers, Corn Growers, Jack Fruit Growers, Flower & Vegetables Growing  Associations, Rural Bio Fuel, Organic Farming Farmers Associations etcetera.

It reminded me to the years that in Wageningen ‘action research’ also was part of the academic culture, and it was a nice experience that ‘action research’ still is alive; not at WU, but here in India!

Jan Schakel