Saturday, May 23, 2009

‘No Pesticides No Coke’ - Natural Farmers chill out with traditional health drinks

Natural Farmers chill out with traditional health drinks

‘No Pesticides No Coke’ seems to be the catchphrase among 80 plus villagers – 40 women and 40 natural farmers. They all pledged it while attending a natural farming workshop at village Bhotna. Both men and women attended the workshop with an urge to learn and understand the basic concepts of natural farming and plan for their crop mix for the Kharif season.

The meeting/workshop was almost like a mini festival where some participants where serving tea and water to the participants. People were heartily involved to make it successful. The scorching heat doesn’t stop them from assembling in the local Gurdwara and thanks to a few Gurdwaras in villages where we still see a bunch of trees intact and we can still enjoy the bounties of nature.

Banner after banner shows the way forward. Although the women’s meeting was supposedly conducted to understand the preparation and importance of traditional drinks, they fully enjoyed the training workshop with the farmers.

After a long session on practicalities of natural farming, natural ways of pest management by way of understanding the life cycle of pests. People realized that pest management is possible without using pesticides. No Pesticides No Pest is a practical thing. It came out clear from the response of the participants that 40 plus farmers will grow the crops and vegetables by natural methods. After that the KVM team discussed the nutritional benefits of millets.

The comparison between Bajra, Rice and Wheat surprised everybody as the former scores more in terms of Iron/Minerals/Beta Carotene/ Vitamins and Calcium on the nutritional chart. Whereas many women have already increased their intake of bajra, some newcomers recalled that their parents and grandparents used Bajra as their essential component of their diets and are healthier than them.

The total cropped area under Bajra cultivation in Punjab in 1960-61 was 123,000 hectares which has reduced to meager 5,000 hectare in the year 2005-06. The difference is visible not only in the number of hectares but also in the public health. There have been some folk orations which reflect a strong association between Bajra and strength of teeth and bones.

Benefits of Bajra are not only confined to human health only, it works well to create biodiversity in the fields. It was a wonderful experience that more than fifteen couple, both husband and wives present in the meeting decided to grow millets at a small scale and they also motivate others to try millet cultivation.

A group of women of landless families mostly dalit and farm labourers also joined the meeting to get seeds to grow vegetables in their courtyards. The kitchen gardening and the self reliance in vegetables is catching the insights of more and more women. Really, Natural farming also brings equality, equity and social justice in society without any political jingle.

In the end everybody was served with seven kinds of traditional drinks made from fruits like mango and Bel, Jaggery etc. Farmers in the 50 plus category said that they are tasting the traditional drink prepared from Barley and Jaggery after 30 years. The rounds of sharbats were an interesting scene and almost everybody pledged for a ‘SAY NO TO COKE’. When asked who will shun the use of COKE, everybody raised hands in response and will only serve traditional drinks in their homes. Women decided to learn the recipes to prepare traditional drinks and will involve more women in the process of learning. The meeting was attended by a host of children from the village who got double servings of all the drinks as they were shifting bases while the drinks were being served.

Meeting ended in a festivity mood and a strong will to go natural and make their field Pesticide free and make their homes Pesticide - Coke Free. Thanks to time-honored drinks.

Village Bhotna, district Barnala
May 13, 2009

Womens for Millets - A Stitch in time saves nine

Millets …A Stitch in time saves nine

The whole of Punjab is witness to an agro-ecologic
ally torn society, the one with a rickety, barren and dry surface of earth, which has since ages been regarded as ‘Mother Earth. She has always served its children with food, water, metals and much more. And the children have since the last three decades proved to be the most unscrupulous of the creatures,
the one burning the wheat-paddy straw with no sense of the devastation being done to the holy mother; the one who are numero-uno in the country for the application of pesticides. Any ray of hope?

A group of young women learning Stitching at a local Gurdwara in village Jeeda of district Bathinda attended a women meeting conducted by Kheti Virasat Mission. Their sewing machines were still lying nearby and some even hold the cloth being stitched in their hands while the meeting happened. A group of fifteen young women in the age group of 17-23 attended the meeting. Most of them belong to farmer families.

A healthy discussion about the effect of pesticides on our health engaged the women/girls in the meeting. Many knew about the health effects of using pesticides but its effect on reproductive health was discussed in detail. They kept discussing the cancer, blood pressure, uric acid, diabetic cases in the village and the way none is spared of these diseases which were unheard of some thirty years ago. Even if there were such cases they could be numbered.

Kiran Kaur from the same village is volunteering the village level environmental health status survey and many girls promised to support her during the door to door survey.

The stark reality is that although they belonged to farmer families, they purchase vegetables from the local vendors. They do possess space for kitchen gardening in their homes but is underutilized. After I distributed the seeds for vegetables, all of them promised for a return of double number of seeds of the ones distributed and will also save them for the next season.

Bt. Cotton and Soil and animal health took its turn and the women realized that there are some cases of Bt cotton allergy in the village. The effect of Bt cotton and the loss of yield on the subsequent crops was discussed.

A discussion on earlier meetings on women and millets held at other villages and their success captivated them and generated their interest for conducting a similar event at their village. A chart depicting the nutritional comparison between Jowar and Rice, and Bajra and Rice made them think for a change in food habits and culture. Jowar and Bajra are miles ahead of Rice in many nutrition supplements or to say Rice stays nowhere in the comparison. While we discussed the nutritional difference between millets and rice, the apt response was nobody told us about their significance in our foods and we always thought that bajra and jowar are animal fodder.

The women realized that this is a kind of corruption and unruly behavior at the part of our health officials, where a large section of pregnant women suffer from anaemia and malnutrition and are not advised millet rich diet that is rich in Iron, protein, calcium and many micronutrients.

The women agreed for the screening of a millet based documentary called “Millets – The Miracle Grains” at their training place.

The mouth watering traditional drinks meeting at village Bhotna made them realize the importance of such drinks. The adverse effect of Coke and Pepsi made them say a complete no to the soft drinks.

The meeting unfurls various skills possessed by girls in the village. A girl named Virpal Kaur said she will write an article on ‘Need for Natural Farming and its importance’. The girls also vowed to spread the word against crop residue burning and to become true daughters of Mother Earth.

Perhaps the stitching begun by young girls to sew the culturally and agriculturally worn out society may save Punjab from a complete devastation!

14th may, 2009
Jeeda, Bathinda

Women Action For Ecology making waves in villages

A sequel to Bhotna food mela
Bhotna Food Mela cum Women Meeting on 2nd April 2009
The second women meeting at Bhotna village was even more interesting. Many more traditional dishes were prepared and the method of preparation was explained by the women. Many kinds of sweets called Bhoot Pinne, Gur ka Sharbat, Chibran di Chutney, Jowar di roti, Chaulan dian pinnian, Kanak da mithha dalia, moth bajre di khichri, lassi, nimbu da khatta mittha achar, etc and rather five different varieties of Bhoot Pinne were prepared. Bhoot Pinne are a kind of laddoos prepared from jaggery millets like Jawar, bajra or wheat. Women explained the method of preparation.

Seven children were also present at the meeting. At the end of the meeting the mouth watering dishes were served. Everybody, particularly the some seven children present at the meeting liked the dishes and said that they would ask their parents to prepare these dishes. A video of all the dishes where women were explaining their method of preparation was also made.

Moth Bajre ki Khichri and Bajre ki Roti cannot become a routine affair because of the onset of summer season and such dishes are generally consumed in the winter season.
Some women gave in their names that will plan for Bajra cultivation in Kharif season. There names are as under.
1. Amarjit Kaur
2. Jaswant Kaur
3. Balwinder Kaur
4. Manjit Kaur
5. Mukhtiar Kaur
6. Manjit Kaur
7. Manjit Kaur
8. Surinderpal Kaur
9. Harbans Kaur
Bajra and Jowar is already cultivated for fodder purposes but not for human consumption. Punjabi farmers have this additional excuse that birds destroy their Bajra fields. I am still looking for reasons to combat that.

An exercise to find out the number of local greens that can be identified by women and the ones that are still being used as food and medicinal herbs was done by showing them a book called Nourishing Traditions Local Greens published by Andhra Pradesh Farmer Managed Groundwater Systems Project. Some women identified with 30% of the greens. They are not much aware of the medicinal value of most of the greens. Perhaps a wider exercise needs be done with the older women.

A session on traditional seeds was part of the meeting. A woman named Harbans Kaur possessed the traditional seeds of almost all the vegetables. Many women possess one ort the other kind of traditional vegetable seeds, but they don’t store a good quantity of seeds for the next season and seed exchange among them is yet to be introduced.

The issue of Crop residue burning (wheat straw) was also discussed among the women. Women were already aware of the fact that residue burning causes immense harm to their crop field but due to a lack of will, and the haste of farmer at the onset of kharif season to sow as early as he can and a lack of proper system in place, crop residue burning is still widespread. A committee of women was formed from among the ones who were present in the meeting who will start a campaign in the villages against the crop residue burning. The members include:
1. Amarjeet Kaur
2. Harbans Kaur
3. Mukhtiar Kaur
4. Shinderpal kaur
5. Balwinder Kaur
6. Manjit Kaur
7. Gurdial Kaur
8. Harbans Kaur
9. Sukhveer Kaur (student of 10th Standard)
10. Manjit Kaur
11. Mohinder Kaur
12. Harpal Kaur
13. Angrez Kaur
14. Mandeep Kaur
15. Shinder Kaur

Another meeting was planned in which women will be apprised of the distinction between friendly pests and those that destroy our crop; Practical demonstration of Jeev Amrit and the general concept of natural farming will be discussed. A need for natural farming and the role the women can play in pest management will also be discussed.

Women initiative at Bhotna –III
Women hands sow seeds of health and safety
Woman offered space for kitchen gardening to landless woman
April 15, 2009, village Bhotna, Barnala

Twenty five women of village Bhotna have started growing vegetables in their courtyards. Earlier they were dependent on either the vegetable purchase from the local vendors in the village or the vegetables grown in their fields which were sprayed with different pesticides. Vegetables were even earlier grown in the farm fields and also the courtyards but fertilizers and pesticides were used on them. Now the vegetables are not sprayed with any pesticides. On the top of it most women have sown the traditional varieties of vegetables. This is the first step towards poison-free food and farm self-reliance.

This happened after three village level meetings with women on the effects of using pesticides on our foods. Most women already knew this. This is not the scenario of just this village. People are very well aware of the health impacts of using pesticides, but a fear of shift towards an alternative agriculture that they have shun for decades has stopped the ecological agriculture from finding a better space among them.

Even during the meetings the women were reluctant to take up atleast in the talk in the homes for a 1 acre shift towards natural farming. The first argument is who will listen to their voice. The green revolution has badly hit the social fabric of Indian agriculture particularly the Punjabis. The women who used to select and preserve their seeds of the next sowing season are bereft of that because of the invasion of seed companies. They no longer go to their farms, thanks to the virtual money with the farmers be it bank loans or the cash flow and thus the fascination of using motorbikes to go farms; women don’t even carry food to the farms for farmer would go home and have lunch at home. The virtual affluence and the responsibility of selecting and preserving seeds have reduced the status of womenin Punjabi homes.

Women are not aware of which crops are affected by what kind of pests. Many of them don’t know what land holding their family own and are vaguely aware of how much of what is sown in each part of the land.

It slowly happened that even if not the talk of sparing 1 acre of land for natural farming,women find it clicking to take up atleast the cultivation of vegetables in their courtyards for a poison-free food for the family. Some seeds of traditional varieties were distributed among them and were readily taken up by the women. Now twenty five women are already working on kitchen gardening inclusive of the ones who will not let the spray of pesticides in the farms if the vegetables are cultivated in the farm land.

Women are made to grow seeds of traditional varieties and an exchange of seeds is already taking place though not at a larger level. With some discussion on the policies of seed companies, women are finding it good to save for the next season, at least the seeds of vegetables. Some seeds of traditional varieties will be distributed among the ones who don’t possess them.

Women were asked to talk within their families about reserving one acre of land towards natural farming which may include vegetables, rice, jowar, bajra, maize and some oilseeds. Some women have already reserved some space for natural farming and that too for maize. It was resolved that women should follow bajra cultivation as an important agenda and seeds was decided to make available the seeds for the same.

While we were jotting down the names of the women who are into kitchen gardening, one woman who had provision for growing vegetables at home but don’t keep good health and busy with children offered the privilege to another woman to grow the vegetables at her place, who does not possess any such space at home.

Another fascinating experience was that a practical demonstration of preparing the Jeev Amrit was given at the meeting and the demonstrators were none other but the two womenfrom the village who are already into natural farming. The women liked the idea of using Jeev Amrit instead of using Urea and Pesticides in their farms. The usage and the effect of using jeev amrit was also discussed with women, who said they would discuss the same with their husbands.

A flipchart containing the friendly and crop destroyer pests was also discussed. The different stages of a pest were also discussed. Since women are the first and the worst victims of using pesticides, they need to understand the natural ways of pest management so that they can take up the work of discussing this within families in order for a shift towards natural farming.

!n the end women vowed to attend and bring more women to the training workshop in the village which is a part of kharif training to natural farmers by Kheti Virasat Mission. A date was fixed for monthly meeting in the village.