This army fights for food security

Urvashi Sarkar | Updated on November 07, 2014 Published on November 07, 2014

Jai kisan The Food Security Army soldiers

A board near the tractor yard of the Food Security Army

They train to operate agro machinery and run farms with the discipline of a military

It is an important day at the Agricultural Research Station of Kerala Agricultural University, Thrissur. A group of instructors are seated classroom-style, listening closely to station head Dr U Jaikumaran’s instructions for a ‘passing out parade’.

This parade is not for military cadets but members of the Food Security Army, who have been trained military-style to operate agro machinery.

During the training period, members wear uniforms, follow strict schedules, eat at a canteen, regularly perform march-pasts, learn the use and care of their machines, and graduate at the ‘passing out parade’. They also work in ‘regiments’ and ‘battalions.’

The Food Security Army is born out of the belief that any attempt to address India’s agrarian and food crises must be infused with purpose, discipline and professionalism.

Missing farmers

“Forty years ago there were 23 lakh agricultural workers in Kerala. Now there are only 10 lakh. Young people no longer want to work in agriculture,” says Jaikumaran.

“A major reason is the lack of recognition or appreciation for agricultural work — people who work in agriculture are called mazdoor or coolie. Another reason is the drudgery, hardship and health risks — people injure their backs from bending constantly over their fields, get skin diseases from prolonged exposure to UV rays and carrying cow dung. The lack of social security and sustainable livelihood is another hindrance.”

The Food Security Army underscores the idea that agricultural workers deserve respect on par with army personnel. The motto ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’ aptly highlights this. “The agricultural worker provides food security to the nation just as the soldier secures its territory,” says Jaikumaran.

Field of study

Over 15-20 days, the residential training programme incorporates fixed syllabi, and theory and practical sessions. The focus is on mechanised agriculture — students learn to operate, repair and maintain tractors, paddy transplanters, tillers, coconut tree climbers (women, too, are trained to climb the trees), threshers and harvesters.

Since 2008, nearly 4,300 have joined the Food Security Army, including 1,800 women. Open to all, the fee is ₹10,000-15,000 per person. Panchayats, cooperative societies and voluntary organisations often come forward as sponsors.

Trainees arrive from all over the country, including Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Those who complete the course are assisted in forming Agro Machinery Operation Service Centres (AMOSCs), or Green Army, and given machines on rent. These centres function at the panchayat level and are of three kinds: individual, self-help group and cooperative.

People who own farmland but lack machines and the know-how can contact these centres. “Depending on the service provided, agro service centre members are paid ₹500-2,500 per day. Women and men are paid equally. This is different from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), where workers get lower wages for mainly unskilled manual work,” says Jaikumaran.

Currently there are over 50 registered AMOSCs across Kerala. They are funded by the central Rashtriya Kisan Vikas Yojana, the state government, and block and panchayat authorities.

Labour bank

The Food Security Army programme has helped create labour banks across Kerala which are addressing several aspects of the agricultural crisis. On one hand, these banks are cultivating large tracts of land left fallow after the migration of workers to Gulf countries.

The skilled agricultural service providers have also eased the burden of women farmers struggling to tend land on their own. Radha Mullakara, a 62-year-old farmer with five acres in Parlikad village, has hired the Green Army. “I am able to sow 3.5 quintals of paddy per day, compared to 2 quintals earlier,” she says.

The writer is a freelance journalist who works in the development sector. Views are personal

Published on November 07, 2014
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