Skip to main content

How Madhya Pradesh NGO Srijan helped Dalit farmers go organic on their small farms

By Bharat Dogra* 

Phulabai is a Dalit woman farmer who, together with her husband, Sarman Chadaar, grows guavas and pomegranates on tiny plots of land. On another smaller plot they grow a diversity of vegetable crops with a few papaya trees standing in the middle of these.
When I recently visited their one acre farm in Digaura village of Tikamgarh district (Madhya Pradesh), Phulabai was harvesting guavas for Sarman to take these to the nearby market on a bicycle. 
Both of them looked very happy with the healthy and abundant yield of guavas and beans. As these are organically grown, sometimes health conscious persons themselves come all the way to their farm to buy their vegetables and fruits.
Both Phulabai and Samran are very satisfied with their farming. As they make their own organic manure and pest repellants on farm, their expenditure on cash purchased inputs are minimal. Once pomegranate harvest starts coming in another year or so, we will be even better off, says Phulabai with a glowing smile.
A lot of thought has gone into their one acre farm which is further divided into three categories. In the first part several varieties of guava are grown together with some legumes inter-cropped during an initial stage. Another portion of the farm is devoted to the pomegranate orchard. 
The third part, called a multi-layered garden, is the most intricate part of the farm with several creeper crops, root crops, green leafy vegetables and papaya trees being grown in such a way that one plant can be supportive and helpful for another one. A creeper, for instance, can get the support of the stem of another plant, or a smaller plant can grow better in the protective shade of a bigger one.
On the economic side, the diversity of farm produce means that instead of there being just one or two harvesting seasons, some produce or the other is being harvested all the time for sale and self-consumption.
Earlier they were like any other subsistence farming household, struggling for sheer survival on their small farm, but when they came in contact with a programme being implemented by Srijan social organization for improving livelihoods, their hidden creativity got a chance to flower and today they get many visitors who come to see, admire and learn from the highly creative use they have made on just their one acre of land.
“Earlier we had to take loans for sheer survival, now we can lend money to others if need arises”, says Phulabai with a mix of pride and happiness.
Balchand Aharwal is another Dalit farmer who has attracted widespread attention and admiration for making very wise use of his 2 acres of land (in Lithaura Tal village of the same district) for creating small but very beautiful and highly productive multi-layered garden and orchard. As he was an early starter, in his case pomegranates are also being harvested, along with guavas, papayas and a host of vegetables. 
“This adds greatly to our family’s nutrition and in addition we have a steady, year-round flow of cash income as well”, says a beaming Balchand.
Orchards and gardens are generally associated with bigger and more prosperous farmers. However, in several villages of Bundelkhand region of Central India several such promising efforts can be seen of farmers from weaker sections, with very small farm holdings of just one to three acres, cultivating gardens and orchards on a part of their small holdings. These efforts have two more important features. 
These efforts are often led by women farmers and these grow organic produce. These have been initiated by a voluntary organization Srijan, its various partner organizations and strengthened by farmers’ producer organizations as well as self-help groups of rural women. A lot of thought has gone into working out the details of multi-layer gardens in terms of local conditions and various constraints of small farmers.
While big business talks of non-viability of small farmers, they can be happy and earn enough in ecologically protective ways
At the same time, in the course of implementation, it has emerged clearly that while small and marginal farmers may have some constraints in terms of resource-base, they also have several strengths in terms of their ability to bring more affectionate caring to their gardens and orchards, plants and trees. 
They realize that in the situation of their resource constraints, they must try their best to reduce costs, increase yield and produce a diversity of produce with year-round cycle of some sales and income. This brings out the best of their creativity. 
They keep experimenting in numerous small ways and making improvements on the basis of local factors, apart from the guidance they receive from Srijan. While working very hard, they really appear to be enjoying this work. Phulabai and Samran have expanded what was a small hut into a more robust looking and comfortable structure so that they can spend most of their time closer to their orchard and garden.
This augurs well for creating a paradigm of horticulture development which is more suited to the needs and constraints as well as the creative potential of small and marginal farmers. Orchards and gardens are not just for the rich, the poorer and weaker sections too can grow them with loving care in healthier, ecologically protective ways and also get significant nutrition and income benefits from them. 
The nutrition benefits are particularly important in the hamlets of weaker sections in villages of Bundelkhand region where fruit consumption, and to a lesser extent even vegetable consumption, has been very low in recent times.
The examples quoted above are important also in the context of development debate on whether it is economic viability for small and marginal farmers to strengthen and sustain themselves. This question is all the more important in India where small scale farming is the most common source of livelihood. 
Those who want to spread big business-led farm development have been trying to discourage small farmers and small farmer-based farm development in every conceivable way, arguing that small farming in just not economically viable. 
On the other hand, those who are committed to equality based, livelihood-protective farm development have emphasized that the real challenge is to find ways and means of increasing sustainable net income for small farmers for which earning must increase at least moderately while costs can be reduced even more significantly. 
Any solutions that are found must be sustainable ones, based on protecting the resource base of soil and water. If alongside it can be ensured that these solutions also contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, then this becomes a truly win-win situation. 
It is in the context of such small farmers that the slogan Chhota Kisan Zindabad acquires its true significance as a small organic farmer not only provides healthy food and protects environment, but with due caution observed also becomes a constant contributor to climate change mitigation and adaptation. 
What is most remarkable, how happy these farmers' families are with their highly creative work. This creativity is able to absorb the interest of even those farmers who had been careless about their work in the past. 
During my visit to Tikamgarh district I came across a farmer of Lakhaipur village who was known as a habitual drinker of liquor in the past, messing up his work badly and getting into fights all the time. After took  up organic farming in a multi-layered garden, villagers say, he has given up liquor, remains absorbed in his work from dawn to dusk and has created a beautiful and highly productive garden!  
Small farmers can in fact be the most caring organic farmers as in the small land holding they recognize almost all plants and their needs in every nook and corner of their fields. In addition the farming for healthy food production as practiced by these informs involves nil or minimal GHG emission, while they make substantial contribution to absorbing of such gases by improving soil and by growing trees. 
Hence, the truth is exactly the opposite of what big business interests say -- while they frequently talk about the non-viability of small farmers, in reality small farmers can be perfectly happy and earn enough in ecologically protective ways if allowed to work freely and without disturbance. If the government shifts its subsidies, currently given for ecologically destructive farming, to these farmers then their economic condition will improve further. 
Or else the government can give a lump sum payment every year to such farmers in recognition of the contribution they make to environment protection and production of healthy food, increasing it at the time of droughts and floods, disruptive weather and disasters.
---
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food', ‘Man over Machine' and ‘Planet in Peril'. Pix: Kamlesh Kurmi. This is the first article of the series on sustainable farming

Comments

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

BSF should take full responsibility for death of 4 kids in West Bengal: Rights defender

By Kirity Roy*  One is deeply disturbed and appalled by the callous trench-digging by BSF in Chetnagachh village under Daspara Gram Panchayat, Chopra, North Dinajpur District, West Bengal that has claimed the lives of four children. Along the entire stretch of Indo-Bangladesh border of West Bengal instead of guarding the actual border delineated by the international border pillars, BSF builds fences and digs trenches well inside the Indian territory, passing through villages and encroaching on private lands, often without due clearance or consent. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

Social justice day amidst 'official neglect' of salt pan workers in Little Rann of Kutch

By Prerana Pamkar*  In India’s struggle for Independence, the Salt Satyagraha stands as a landmark movement and a powerful symbol of nonviolent resistance. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, countless determined citizens walked from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in Gujarat. However, the Gujarat which witnessed the power of the common Indian during the freedom struggle is now in the throes of another significant movement: this time it is seeking to free salt pan workers from untenable working conditions in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK).

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Jallianwala massacre: Why Indian govt hasn't ever officially sought apology from UK

By Manjari Chatterjee Miller*  The king of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, apologized in July 2023 for his ancestors’ role in the colonial slave trade. He is not alone in expressing remorse for past wrongs. In 2021, France returned 26 works of art seized by French colonial soldiers in Africa – the largest restitution France has ever made to a former colony. In the same year, Germany officially apologized for its 1904-08 genocide of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia and agreed to fund reconstruction and development projects in Namibia. .