July 2016 By Punya Srivatsava Tired of eating poison-laced food in the name of chemical farming, a few good men and women decided to go back to the art of growing food in collaboration with nature, instead of exploiting it, says Punya Srivastava “Ask me what are the joys associated with farming and you are likely to be at the receiving end of a verbal volley by an otherwise taciturn individual. I can go on endlessly telling you about watching a seed spring its ears, hearing the chatter of birds come to get their share of mulberry, catching a glimpse of the long-tailed pheasant crow alighting from a tree to settle around a bush to pick an insect, glancing at the early morning dew shining like pearls on the broad shoulders of a banana leaf, stepping barefoot on the moist grass of a November dawn, lying on my back on a January noon watching the clouds being chased in the cerulean skies…” This lyrical passage is by Maharashtra-based blogger and organic farmer Hiraman on his blog www.sundayfarmer.wordpress.com. What an evocative picture he paints with his words – of a world so intimate with life… in every form. Picture yourself waking up to the birds chirping at your window, with a cool morning breeze enticing you out of your stupor. As your feet touch the mud-paved floor, a cold tingle invigorates your entire being. The sight of lush greenery all around, the aroma of farm-fresh produce sizzling on a wood-fired oven, the delicious fragrance of the greens, and the soothing coolness of the whole ambience – all of them vie for your attention. And you… you gently soak into each one of them in succession, revitalising yourself with every breath drawn. What a treat it would be to experience all this each day of your life! However, living as a farmer is obviously not a cakewalk, as it includes uncertainties, back breaking hard work, perseverance, solitude, and selflessness. Add to it, organic farming, and the situation becomes even more fraught. “It indeed is a challenging and winding, but rewarding path,” admits Kolkata-based environmental author-editor-activist, Bharat Mansata. India always had an indigenous organic way of farming with practices suitable for soil fertility and local environment. It was only when the country’s agriculture and economy fell into British hands that the chemical-induced downfall began. Organic farming further shifted to chemical farming in the 1960s when the Green Revolution became the government’s most important programme to sustain a rich and stable agricultural economy, and to provide food security to its ‘bursting at the seams’ population. Fifty years later, the repercussions are making their presence felt, and it is time to acknowledge our depleted soil and overwhelming dependence on chemicals, even as the incidence of cancer shoots through the roof. Fortunately, many are waking up, especially in the urban milieu. These heroes are our organic farmers – a new breed of individuals who were not disposed to be farmers but ultimately found their life’s calling in playing caretakers of the soil. The organic revolution started in India roughly around two decades back but has only recently become a movement, that too amidst a niche group of people. Understandably, educated urbanites battling the double whammy of polluted environs, as well as toxin-infested food have had enough. A number of them are giving up their comfortable lives to give back to Mother Earth. Organic farming is knocking at the door. When India lost its way Bharat Mansata, who has authored books like The Great Agricultural Challenge and Organic Revolution, says, “Realising food’s value is one of the biggest motivations behind the surge in organic farming.” Mansata is also the founder of Earth Care Books – a Kolkata-based publishing house. The appalling condition of food security in India that started 50 years back, though seemingly met on paper, has still not been appeased on ground. And those who have been unfortunate enough to partake of this chemically-laced food over the years have been going through chaotic health and lifestyle disorders. As Mansata points out, inorganic food is riddled with toxins, and is injecting the food chain with more chemicals at every cycle. If we are what we eat, then those of us who eat inorganic food are ticking bombs, unaware of the number of toxins leaching our blood. The snowballing of the organic movement also gained impetus from the rapid soil degradation that took place within years of practising neo-farming or Western methods of farming. This plundering of the soil’s richness in order to extract more and more to satiate our collective greed has damaged the planet beyond control. We have moved away from nature, brought machines into the sacred act of birthing food, banished other life forms from what was their share too, and driven away from the comforting lap of nature to the seemingly comfortable technology-driven lifestyle. A handful of food manufacturing giants have taken over the world’s food production and are dictating terms to nature. The Earth warriors Bhaskar Save: The father of organic farming in India was deeply influenced by Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural farming philosophy This new band of people, who I like to address as Earth warriors, have taken it upon themselves to bring back the goodness of natural farming in order to create a sustainable and holistic way of living. The late Bhaskar Save is the first and foremost name in this list. Hailed as the Father of Organic Farming in India, Save started this revolution in 1960 after the modern method farming (MMF) started destroying his farm soil within three years of implementation; the soil started losing its porosity and fertility due to the use of agrochemicals. He then decided to go back to Gandhi’s philosophy of ‘live and let live’, choosing to let nature take care of its own creation without interfering in its course with methods like tilling, manure, watering, crop protection and weeding. Japan’s celebrated philosopher and founder of natural farming, Masanobu Fukuoka described Save’s Kalpavruksh farm in Valsad, Gujarat, as “the best in the world, even better than my own!” His farm flourished with abundance and was a university in its own right for farming enthusiasts across the country. Save’s way of natural farming is the most optimum way of living in harmony with nature. It supports minimal land tilling, focuses more on naturally growing the food grains, and devotes time in understanding the character of the soil, local climate, local fauna and microbes essential for soil fertility. In a way, it focuses on a greater yield of fruits, vegetables and herbs and less on food grains which ultimately get converted into refined foods, and impact the proper functioning of our digestive systems. “Natural farming is the purest form of organic farming where after a certain period of time, human interference is not needed, and the land becomes a self-sufficient supplier of water, energy and fertility to the local eco-system, rather than a net consumer,” says Mansata. Navadarshanam is another such initiative by a group of urban professionals who left city life and moved to 110 acres of land near Thally Reserve Forest in the Krishnagiri district of Tamil Nadu to form the Navadarshanam Trust in 1990. One of the aims of this group of concerned citizens was to “explore and adopt holistic and natural ways of fulfilling our outer and inner needs, and to give up the path of development which fans consumerism, profiteering and growth measured purely in material terms.” Following the Gandhian philosophy of recognising love as the fundamental law from which all other laws are derived, the team of T S Ananthu and wife Jyoti Ananthu, Rama Pai, Dr Partap Aggarwal and wife Sudesh Aggarwal set the ball rolling on 35 acres of land. Rama Pai is a botanist turned farmer who gave up chemical farming after coming across Fukuoka’s famous book, One-Straw Revolution. Dr Partap Agarwal, who taught anthropology in Colgate University, America, came back to India and joined Friends Rural Center at Rasulia in Madhya Pradesh to work on Natural Farming. His motivation again was Fukuoka. Over the last 26 years, Navadarshanam has worked on various initiatives in the field of eco-restoration, organic and natural farming, food and health, and alternative technologies in the areas of housing, energy and cooking fuels. Today, it sells around 40 health foods, under the aegis of Navadarshanam Trust Self-Help Group, which mostly constitute their organic produce. The Thally region is also witness to Vijay and Gracy’s initiative in restoring soil richness through their three-acre organic farm, Asta. Situated beside Hosur-Thally road in the Krishnagiri district, an acre of this farm land has been turned into a forested patch while most of the rest has been cropped. “The need to live an organic life turned us into organic farmers,” says Vijay Kundaji, a techie who charted this path in 2007. Environmental causes, considerations and movements through most of their lives influenced them, while their reading, exposure to practitioners and travel led them to believe in the virtues of ‘treading as lightly as possible’ on land. Organic farming – regenerating the soil and growing without chemicals or industrial inputs – was therefore a first step, when they obtained access to Vijay’s family land. “My sister Deepika has, over the last two decades, been a diligent seed saver and organic gardener based in Auroville, and her work has been an inspiration to us,” says Vijay. Sunita Dighe: Enjoying the bliss of farming and solitude Social worker and activist Sunita
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