Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Natural Farming Movement in a Sangat mode - Report by Amarjeet Singh

It is unfortunate that Punjab with the total area of 2.5% of area of the country consumes 18% of the pesticides consumed in the country – exclaimed one of the participants of the training camp on natural farming (Kudrati Kheti). This aptly describes the reason behind emergence of Kheti Virasat Mission and what they have achieved in the last 4 years of their existence was quite evident all through the 3 days of the training camp.

With participants coming from Gujrat, Haryana and Rajasthan, the state level training camp really turned into a national level one. The experts on the issue who attended and passed on their teachings included Dr. Omprakash Rupela (former principal scientist ICRI SAT India), Shri Dipak Suchade , expert in Natueco farming – a practice of organic farming from Devas, MP and Dr Raghunath expert in Non Pesticidal Management NPM from Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad.

I think the camp provided a wonderful platform for experts to pass on their knowledge and farmers to discuss their doubts and learn new techniques. The audience comprised of a big range of small farmers with about a quarter acre (primarily from Gujrat) to large farmers owning more than 100 acres. In that context, I believe that the questions that came up broadly represented the complete class of farmers across India.

There was both passion and discontent floating around amongst the farmer participants. Some of them were really passionate about natural farming aligning with the philosophy of poison free Punjab. On the other hand there were also few who were discontent with the produce they were getting and the question – Jhaad kitna aaya (How much was the produce?) was the first one to come in any session and response to any energetic farmer’s experience telling. Such a mix was a true evidence of genuine evidence of hard work put in by KVM people in convincing these farmers to practice organic farming (even if it is on a smaller percentage of their big land holding) and also bringing such critical issues to the forefront in a common audience. Till the time such issues are resolved widespread adoption seems unlikely and the only way to resolve it is through a dialogue and not putting it behind the agenda during these public camps. Kudos to KVM people for their effort so far.

Dipak Jee was probably one of the most passionate person in the camp – every time he demonstrated the different steps involved in the process of Natueco farming, he will get completely immersed and the pleasure was quite apparent on his face and his activities. He patiently addressed some tough, into the face questions from farmers giving convincing answers almost all the time. Wherever he went too deep into philosophical ideology behind natural farming, Dr. Rupela chipped in with his wonderful Punjabi extending those justifications on practical grounds and sometimes even with scientific explanations. They formed a very fantastic team together.

The amount of effort that went into the planning and organization was quite evident. The sessions seemed to be hand picked so as to cover all the major issues – ranging from introductory sessions, practical demonstrations of the technique of Natueco farming, interactive question and answer sessions to addressing the marketing challenges through success stories of independent farmers were all very relevant, involved the audience and lead to quite a lot of healthy discussions.

The idea of comparative studies of Dr Rupela wherein he wanted some of the farmers to come forward to take up two plots of 1 acre each with organic farming practiced in one and chemical in another seemed really bright. The ultimate objective being to demonstrate practically the benefits of organic farming on the specific soil structure of Punjab and to test a conglomerate of organic farming approaches that can be practiced on such a small piece of land. It was quite interesting to see that the number of farmers that came forward for such a study were more than what Shri Rupela wanted.

Finally, such a successful camp wouldn’t have been possible without the dedicated efforts of the team of KVM. They made all the prior arrangements for the successful coordination, pitched in at the right moments to steer the direction back to the topic whenever it was digressing, involved the whole community of audience, tried to address the language barrier amongst the audience and the speakers and plethora of other small and big activities. It was all done quite successfully. An interesting and differentiating factor was that the organization runs primarily in a Sangat mode - extending the Sikh philosophy of getting personal funds from the donors and members while not buying into the large funds from big organizations. Any support to the organization, small or big, surely goes a long way in converting the dream of chemical free Punjab into reality.

Organic groundnuts, organic kinnoo and processed rose water other amazing stuff was on offer for the palates all through the three days which told their own story of success of the chosen few who have dedicatedly pursued organic farming with the right approach. Their taste will linger on, together with the taste of the deep discussions held all through the camp, for a long time to come.

The author is currently Assistant Professor at Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi. He is interested in exploring how technology (particularly widely available mobile networks) can be used to help in rural setting. He is greatful to Umendra jee for their invitation to attend the training camp and giving him an opportunity to be amongst the farmers and interact with them to understand the issues involved first hand. If you have any ideas about how technology can benefit you, please send a note to him. He will be very interested in getting ideas on ground wherein technology can be used for the masses instead of the selected few.

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