In search of famine

HARVESTING HUNGER·A video film by Krishnendu Bose·Duration: 53 minutes

By Rustam Vania
Published: Wednesday 28 February 2001

the film title Harvesting Hunger chills one to the bones and the film itself is a despondent tale of the agricultural scenario in the country. "It is apprehended that millions may go hungry in this decade. Harvesting Hunger is a journey into this world of hunger, famine and food insecurity," says the film maker. With the opening up of the economy and winds of liberalisation sweeping across, Indian farmers stand at crossroads today. The film tries to explore this issue of 'progressive intrusion of the market economy and increasing corporatisation of Indian agriculture'.

The issue is introduced through four case studies narrated by individual farmers from Punjab, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The first, a portrait of a farmer and his family in Hoshiarpur in Punjab, describes the 'yellowing of the Green Revolution' how intensive chemical farming has been a double whammy for farmers. With declining fertility caused by overuse of fertilisers and pesticides have come increasing costs of inputs. As one farmer says: 'My forty years of toiling in the fields has come to grief.' A sad lament to come from a once proud and prosperous farmer of Punjab who produced most of the foodgrain for a newly independent India. In contrast to this is the case of the farmers of the infamous Kalahandi district in Orissa. With the withering away of traditional natural resource management, Kalahandi faces famine and impoverishment.

Another particularly tragic case is that of a widow of a cotton farmer from Andhra Pradesh in Warangal district. It examines the debilitating effects of money lending leading to suicidal deaths. Unable to bear the shame and burden of crippling debt, cotton farmers, in a cruel twist of fate, kill themselves by swallowing the very pesticides that they bought to protect their crops. The film has an interesting sequence where a profiteering retailer for a pesticide company says with ill-concealed glee: "It is so good that you will return for more!"

The camera then shifts focus to an ongoing battle between a group of emotive and militant Karnataka farmers who are dead against the entry of a us agro giant Cargill. Fearful of the takeover by the us giant, these farmers of Bellary are ready to 'fight to the finish'.

The highlight is the anchoring of the film by Vijay Jardhari, a remarkable farmer-activist from Garhwal who founded the Beej Bachao Andolan. He provides a glimpse into sustainable agricultural systems which could perhaps solve the present crisis in Indian agriculture. "We hope the film serves the purpose of cross pollination of ideas," says director Krishnendu Bose. The film has won the Special Jury Award, Okomedia Film Festival, Freiburg, Germany, 2000.
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