Skip to main content

Small Dalit farmers 'get into' highly diverse, mixed, creative farming in Buldelkhand

Pajan Lal with his wife Bhuniya
By Bharat Dogra*  
If you meet Komal Prasad Aharwar in passing in his village ( Teraih, in Talbehat block of Lalitpur district, Uttar Pradesh), you may well ignore him as any other ordinary villager, but once you speak to him at length about his livelihood, you are likely to be highly impressed by the recent initiatives of this Dalit farmer.
Komal Prasad is a small farmer owning about 4 acres of land. He tells with great enthusiasm about how in recent times he has converted this entire land to natural farming. Not only this, he has also converted smaller portions of his farmland to gardens of multi-layer vegetable growth and to clusters of fruit trees like guava, lemon and jackfruit.
While Komal’s wife Sheela is an equal participant in the careful tending of the farm and garden, he also helps her in managing a natural farming centre which provides enough scientifically prepared organic fertilizer and pest repellant to not just meet their own needs, but also to sell at a modest price these products to those farmers in the village who due to various reasons cannot prepare these on their own farms.
Komal’s enthusiasm increases as he talks about the soil quality improving with natural farming and tree growth, with the soil becoming more porous and retaining more moisture. He says happily: Do you know earthworms are coming back in good numbers? Do you know how useful these are for soil? Oh I see more frogs too and they eat up the terrible mosquitos and harmful insects. We see more birds now and they are helpful for farming too. Did anyone tell you that we have started seeing peacocks again.”
Finally I come to my most important question: Do you think that with these changes your small land holding can sustain you adequately?
Komal does not hesitate even for a second before answering: Yes of course. Our expenses have been reduced in a big way, our productivity particularly from vegetables and orchards is increasing.
Several other farmers in this village to whom I spoke are also quite upbeat about their prospects. 
The combination of natural farming, multi-layer vegetables and fruits came to their village a little over two years back, thanks to the efforts of Centre for Advanced Research & Development (CARD) and Srijan voluntary organizations under the Bundelkhand Initiative for Water Agriculture and Livelihoods (BIWAL) program, which receives financial support from a group of philanthropists called Caring Friends.
Starting with 10 lead farmers who adopted almost the entire range of recommendations for successful, scientific natural farming together with more productive use of small farms, more and more farmers of this village have been joining this initiative, first bringing in a part of their land and then extending it.
Pajan Lal Kushwaha has even less land than Komal Prasad: just about 2.25 acres. Yet he is no less confident about his ability to make a satisfactory livelihood. He has converted most of his land to natural farming, and is in the process of converting the remaining land too. Pointing to one patch of his land he says that at least five vegetables are being mixed cropped with maize, after duly considering which vegetables can be best grown here. 
Then pointing to a very green space he said that this multi-layer garden involves even more careful knowledge-based planning about which vegetable growth will be supportive to each other so that many vegetables can be grown, with the help of wires and bamboos, with creepers at the top, followed by smaller plants and then root vegetables at the bottom. 
Then there are suitably spaced fruit trees of lemon, guava, papaya, jackfruit ad mango. With such a diversity of crops there is always something being harvested for sale at the neighboring markets, and good rates are available for organic produce. Hence there is a steady stream of income coming in all the time. In addition there is also steady income from the sake of buffalo milk.
The farm, garden and animals are tended with a lot of care mainly by Pajan Lal and his wife Bhuniya, helped by a son and daughter-in-law. The nutrition of the entire family has improved since they took up natural farming with emphasis on diversity of fruits and vegetables.
Pajan Lal has three brothers in the village and they too are following his new path of hope. One of them Jagdish says that he started his tryst with natural farming on a part of his land with such poor soil quality that this had been yielding close to nothing. He felt he had nothing to lose here and so willingly started natural farming here, putting in a lot of organic fertilizers. 
To his delight, he could achieve reasonably good production even on this land. It was as though the land was hungry for organic fertilizer produced with cow dung ad cow urine as the base and with additions like some jaggery and gram flour.
This village has good irrigation but in other villages experiencing water scarcity, this initiative of BIWAL and CARD has implemented several water conservation measures so that this model of natural farming can also be supported there.
While conversing with these farmers I felt very happy as their happiness was infectious and as natural as their farming. However, it is not just the good yields, improved income and reduced expenses which explain this happiness. One gets a strong feeling that the very act of highly diverse, mixed and creative farming is a very happy experience (as long as any serious unexpected problems do not appear) and it is this happiness that too was getting reflected in the course of this conversation.
There is a very real farming crises in India as well as at the world level, even in some of the richest countries where even farmers having 100 acres or more may be very unhappy and frustrated in the middle of mounting problems and debts. It is possible, in fact very likely, that the small, very ordinary farmers of Teraih village are contributing to finding solutions to this serious crisis in their own small but nevertheless significant way.
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include “Planet in Peril”, “Man over Machine” and “India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food”



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. 

'Anti-poor stand': Even British wouldn't reduce Railways' sleeper and general coaches

By Anandi Pandey, Sandeep Pandey*  Probably even the British, who introduced railways in India, would not have done what the Bhartiya Janata Party government is doing. The number of Sleeper and General class coaches in various trains are surreptitiously and ominously disappearing accompanied by a simultaneous increase in Air Conditioned coaches. In the characteristic style of BJP government there was no discussion or debate on this move by the Indian Railways either in the Parliament or outside of it. 

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Why convert growing badminton popularity into an 'inclusive sports opportunity'

By Sudhansu R Das  Over the years badminton has become the second most popular game in the world after soccer.  Today, nearly 220 million people across the world play badminton.  The game has become very popular in urban India after India won medals in various international badminton tournaments.  One will come across a badminton court in every one kilometer radius of Hyderabad.  

Faith leaders agree: All religious places should display ‘anti-child marriage’ messages

By Jitendra Parmar*  As many as 17 faith leaders, together for an interfaith dialogue on child marriage in New Delhi, unanimously have agreed that no faith allows or endorses child marriage. The faith leaders advocated that all religious places should display information on child marriage.

How embracing diversity enriched my life, brought profound sense of joy

By Mike Ghouse*  If you can shed the bias towards others, you'll love the connections with every human that God or his systems have created. This gives a sense of freedom and brings meaning and joy to life. Embracing and respecting how people dress, eat, and practice their beliefs becomes an enriching experience.

'28% rise in sedition cases': Top global NGO alliance rates India's civil space 'repressed'

By Rajiv Shah Rating India's civic space as repressed , Civicus, a global civil society alliance, in its new report submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) on the state of civic space in the country has said that the use of sedition law against the Modi government’s critics continues. "Under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sedition cases have increased by 28 per cent with over 500 cases against more than 7,000 people", it says.

Ayurveda, Sidda, and knowledge: Three-day workshop begins in Pala town

By Rosamma Thomas*  Pala town in Kottayam district of Kerala is about 25 km from the district headquarters. St Thomas College in Pala is currently hosting a three-day workshop on knowledge systems, and gathered together are philosophers, sociologists, medical practitioners in homeopathy and Ayurveda, one of them from Nepal, and a few guests from Europe. The discussions on the first day focused on knowledge systems, power structures, and epistemic diversity. French researcher Jacquiline Descarpentries, who represents a unique cooperative of researchers, some of whom have no formal institutional affiliation, laid the ground, addressing the audience over the Internet.

Post-poll mob lynching spree, bulldozer justice: NAPM seeks united resistance

Counterview Desk  Condemning what it calls "the horrific spree of mob lynchings across the country after the Lok Sabha election results", India's premier civil society network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), has called for "united resistance" against "hateful communal politics, mob lynching of religious minorities and caste-based oppression".