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Changing times, changing tides: Globalisation, farmers, health and education in India

By Shridhar Kadam
on June 4, 2015

In India, we are the people who for centuries have been working hard, day and night to feed the whole nation. We ensure that our countrymen can get a decent meal for less than a dollar. However, our own per capita income is less than two dollars a day. What a paradox! Yes, I am talking about the farmers in India. This is the group of people in whom suicide is becoming one of the common cause of death. Now let me tell you the story how we reached this situation taking example of my village.

I was born in 1970 in a village named Lakhangaon in Maharashtra, India with a population just over 1000 people. My village is six kilometres away from Ausa, our nearest town and around 20 kilometers from our district headquarters, Latur. It was the 70s, when I was in my early childhood. We had no roads or electricity. However, we had the river flowing almost throughout the year, a fully flowing well for drinking water, all varieties of food grains, plenty of green vegetables, several trees of local fruits like berries, guava, tamarind, mangos, custard apples and so on. We were very happy people. As school children we were lucky to get school education under close supervision of our teachers as all of them were staying in the village as there were no road connectivity. Once a while we used to go Ausa for selling our vegetables and purchase some essentials. The only items we used to purchase were clothes, salt, kerosene and medicines because we could not produce these items in our farms.

The days changed in late 80s and early 90s when we faced two disasters. One was natural, the earthquake. The other one was however another manmade, globalisation! We recovered from the natural disaster bravely but succumbed to globalisation. Let me tell you, how. In late 80s our village was connected with Ausa and Latur by roads and the some parts of the village was electrified. Earlier, we used to store food grains for months because there were no all-weather roads available. Now our food grains go to markets straight from the field, flooding the market and dropping prices. We started visiting frequently towns and observed that there were many opportunities of getting good health and education. However, it was increasingly becoming private sector led and hence had to be purchased. We initially thought that our children would also get good quality education and health. In addition, we started to see many ‘luxury’ items like motorcycles, TVs, phones and so on.

To get the ‘benefits’ of globalisation, we decided to earn more from our farms. Hence we shifted from food grains to cash crops. We started lift irrigation with the help of electricity. Within few years, sugarcane became our main crop instead of foodgrains and vegetables. We used to visit towns to sell our foodgrains and vegetables; now we go there to buy these. With increased income we started owning ‘luxury’ items like motorcycles, TVs, mobile phones and so on. Within a short time these became ‘essential’ items. Teachers from elsewhere started travelling by motor cycles and they were no more staying in our villages. We started buying expensive health care and education from private hospitals and schools. However, even with the increased income only few could afford healthcare and education in the towns and cities. The investment to grow cash crop increased over time with increasing use of fertilisers and pesticides and yield became uncertain. We were caught in a debt trap. Local games vanished and we started just watching cricket that too totally commercialised. There was nothing to replace local fruits.

At the end, we are marginally richer than before, but no more a happy community! We compete with urban people for accessing expensive health and education, often in the private sector. We continue to produce affordable food to all. My only wish is that in the increasingly globalising world, our children’s health and education are not compromised.

About Shridhar Kadam

Shridhar, son of a primary school teacher born in a small village, Lakhangaon in Latur district of Maharashtra, India completed his primary education at the Government school in the same village in Marathi language. He had to shift to nearby town to complete his education. Later, he obtained a degree in medicine and chose to study masters in public health, his passion.
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