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Why We Can No Longer Afford To Ignore Agriculture For The Sake Of Industrial Growth

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A farmer plucks pumpkin flowers from his field in Kolkata, India, February 28, 2016. To match INDIA-BUDGET. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri - RTS8EPY
Image credit: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri.

Looking at the past few plan documents of our country and GDP’s sectoral composition can, beyond doubt, clarify one thing. There’s a growing negligence in examining the prospective role agriculture can play in accomplishing our cherished long-term goals of inclusive and balanced growth. There has been a proliferation of industries based on the glorious experiences of developed countries without any attempts to understand the institutional framework and the larger picture or the ground reality of our country. There are policies like ‘Make in India’ being implemented today but very few with the same kind of intensity and goodwill are currently trying to boost agricultural productivity.

Several policymakers have labelled Indian agriculture to be a stagnant traditional sector and have, in fact, stressed the need for expanding our manufacturing and service sectors, often, ironically, at the expense of agriculture. Our policies’ exclusive focus and increasingly unbalanced allocation of resources, coupled with unpredictable climate change, has led to a surge in farmer suicides in our country over the past few years.

Generations have gone by with obsessive excuses for the declining share of agriculture in GDP. It is argued that this is an inevitable outcome of the very limited scope for division of labour unlike in the modern sophisticated manufacturing and tertiary sectors of our economy. But what needs to be examined is whether we have really taken any initiative to ensure optimal capitalisation of agriculture with growing opportunities, increased access to markets and timely assistance. This could have been done through effective sales promotion campaigns so that every farmer practising near-subsistence farming could gain better value for his produce in the markets.

No person is arguing that industrialisation isn’t necessary. As countries progress, industrialisation and mechanisation are almost inevitable. What needs to be established is whether agriculture has truly stagnated before we give up entirely on this sector which employs a huge chunk of our population. Closely observing the ground reality, it becomes almost explicitly clear that agriculture is definitely not a stagnated sector. Also, several important studies have to be conducted in rural areas to ensure that all the infrastructural requirements have been met for the agricultural sector to be able to deliver to its full potential.

Of late, policy makers have justified their lack of optimism about agriculture by giving various excuses. For example, it is said that the agricultural sector is unfit to deliver even after several waivers like subsidised electricity and irrigational facilities. There is no attention paid to the fact that in several areas in our country, agriculture is practised more for subsistence than generating tonnes of marketable surplus. On many occasions, farmers are given no guidance on marketing their produce.

Thus, there is an unbalanced rush to revive India’s manufacturing sector without delivering on aspects like cold storage facilities, entitlements for agricultural labourers (not necessarily farmers because government allowances given to farmers may not always trickle down to the landless agricultural labourers who are the actual tillers of the soil). By examining the trajectories of the ‘East Asian Tigers’ (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan) for instance, we can understand the centrality of agricultural reform to any country’s sustained economic development.

There is also another fallacy that there is always a surplus of agricultural labourers in the countryside who must be transferred to productive industries in the urban sector. It must be borne in mind that in several areas across the country, there is a serious dearth of agricultural labourers. Furthermore, expecting the agricultural sector to thrive and catch up with the mechanised industrial sector is way too unfair unless we ensure basic facilities like refrigeration, packaging, etc. These become all the more imperative when there is a bumper crop and eventually many tonnes of perished consumables have to be thrown out due to the absence of these facilities.

This negligence can impair our sustainability in the long run because there can be no question about the significance of agriculture on which the majority of our population depends for its livelihood. At least, until the time our industries are developed enough to absorb people who fall out of agriculture. Unfortunately, over the years, there have been very few attempts to create linkages and incorporate our agricultural sector into our broader economic framework. Thus, the agricultural sector should not be considered stagnant without exploring avenues for improving agricultural productivity.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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