Remembering P V Satheesh

The millet crusader, a pragmatic visionary and a change maker

In late 90’s, I went to Zaheerabad on a field visit to learn about DDS work. It was a revelation to me – an ample demonstration of what can be achieved in a context which is extremely challenging and that too with members of a constituency, totally neglected and ignored. He was indeed ‘operationalizing’ the terms like ‘food security’, ‘fodder security’ and ‘food sovereignty’ in the lives and livelihoods of people…much before they were explained and articulated, everywhere, globally. He showed the World how this can be achieved – the Local production, Local conservation, Local storage and Local distribution. That too, in rain fed areas, while motivating poor and illiterate Dalit women to take control over their food and nutritional choices, backed by scientific studies to showcase the richness of their choices. It was a shining example of how reviving local choices like Millets can change the health and well being of communities at household level, sangham level and village level.

While reclaiming and reviving poor quality lands, organized thousands of Dalit women in 30 villages, creating total household food security through millets, legumes, oilseeds with low external input systems. Gradually, moved from household food security to Sangham level food security.  Introduced community collective cultivation of food crops through through leased lands to enable food access to the landless. Most spectacular was spearheading Community led localized PDS based on Millets, thus, changing food habits dominated by conventional Rice -wheat based PDS systems back to traditional and nutritionally superior foods. Brilliant was the effort to introduce participatory and transparent poverty assessment tools to decide the entitlement limits for communities in this alternative PDS.

Firmly believing that these experiences need to be scaled up beyond Sanghams, forged networks such as, Medak Food sovereignty network and Alliances for food sovereignty, and AFSA in 4 states, so on and so forth. (Later he spearheaded such movements all over the World). The alternative PDS impact study in 2003 indicated spectacular achievements. Only 132 out of 75000 people were left hungry. This too was tackled through community kitchens by Dalit women feeding the remaining hungry.!

In the 1990’s itself, recognizing that Seed Sovereignty as the first link in the food chain – promoted conservation of local nutritious millet varieties through Community Gene fund in 1997 and  Community Gene banks of DDS. Later, in 2006, it became Community Food Sovereignty Trust of Dalit women.  On several occasions, highest dignitaries were invited and the women themselves made the presentations showing (in amphi theatre setting) with women taking leadership; adopting and adapting local ecosystems; showcasing ecological and healthy crops and bountiful yields; taking care of community health and nutrition; eliminating distress migration. During one of the occasions, where I was invited to observe, I could notice Shri Satheesh sitting in the back row motivating those 500 people while struggling with his health and letting the people themselves hog the limelight. He never believed in diluting the thrust…by not saying Millets also are required, but by saying, Millets alone are required. He firmly believed that it was the only way of reviving them.  This is one shining example how he dreamt change for the betterment of poor households, how illiterate women from remote villages showed global path ways for development.

Empathetic, empowering women and celebrating their resolve and human dignity

It was a sight to behold – poor Dalit woman from a small village  holding a video camera and shooting our field visit. I thought it was yet another way of helping them to learn and get confident. I never knew that on a later day, being invited along with my Chairman, Dr. Dwarakinath garu to a Press event in Bangalore, I would witness release of their videos in mainstream media gathering in Press club. With these women in traditional attires on the dias, dignitaries released and played the videos which stunned the audiences for their quality and heart warming content. When our Chairman congratulated Dr. Satheesh and wanted his autograph on the video set, Sateesh invites the Dalit Camera woman clad to do the honors in her traditional style.

Later I was pleasantly surprised to see these women deboard the plane in Germany,  be recognized as one of the official photographer team capturing the proceedings of an International workshop. They were doing it so quietly and confidently. Everyone in the gathering felt proud about their accomplishment. It is truly a triumph of human dignity in my opinion at a highly celebrated setting like Planet Diversity workshop.

Back home, when I visited their community Radio studio, I was surprised with audio recordings made by communities themselves. They were prepared sufficiently in advance to run continuously for a 2 year programs, in advance.  They were still awaiting a license to narrowcast their programmes. It was a perfect example of perseverance and vision.

Fierce commitment for ensuring objectivity and justice

Another facet which fascinated was the way Farmer’s Jury was organized and conducted. Small holders, who really represent the constituency were identified from diverse agroecological zones in Karnataka, through transparent and strict criteria. These farmer representatives numbering around 30,  were organized into a jury. They occupied the podium in an amphi thetre in Fire Flies Ashram in Bengaluru, in their traditional attires. Representatives from Government, NGO, Research, Private Sector entered witness box. The farmer’s jury posed questions to them.  They present their ‘defence’ to queries raised by farmers, explaining their relevance and contribution in helping farmers. I was a witness in the box as a NGO representative. After this process, the collective jury judges the contributions and formulates their consolidated recommendations.

These recommendations were presented to a large audience of agriculture professionals, technocrats, policy makers and media in a formal public gathering. The recommendations were presented by Farmer’s Jury member representatives with all others on the dais. More importantly, the whole process, two of the most highly respected individuals in the society familiar with agricultural development and natural justice (a retired hon’ble Chief Justice), were requested to  observe the process so that no bias creeps in any time. I felt this was highest level of maintaining integrity and transparency in collecting perspectives rather than pushing preformulated agendas. This requires tremendous passion, commitment and guts! Shri Satheesh spearheaded such process.

These are just snapshots which reflect his personality, passion and commitment which should inspire every development professional.

This is purely my personal reflection on a personality whom I can never forget – as a personal friend as well as a development role model. I was fortunate to have had experienced his development processes, few times. It is everybody’s bounden duty to remember him, especially in the year of Millets and carry forward his vision for the well being of farmers and humanity.

KVS Prasad


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