Training Modules

    Biofarm Village : Concept & Implementation

    "The celestials, human beings and demons, went to their Source. They sought the means to happiness. The Source through thunder spoke to them the syllable DA. 'Did you understand?' 'We understood,' the celestials said. 'You told us, "Be self-controlled (damyata)" 'Aum,' the Source said. 'You understood."

    One of the important points of difference between sustainable agriculture and chemicalised agriculture is that while the former is biomass based the latter is yield based. The dominant thinking for almost the last five decades, has concentrated on the reductionist target of yield and this in turn has resulted in agriculture becoming more and more single crop oriented. Monoculture of the mind bred monoculture in agriculture. This in turn has made the agricultural fields highly vulnerable to external factors—from invigorated pest attacks to market forces violently unstable and unpredictable.

    So what is the alternative?

    System approach to a problem states that more the number of diverse elements in a system and more varied their interactions are, more stable the system will be. In the case of a farmer more diverse his field and more number of dynamic interactions between his farm elements, freer he will be from the vagaries of external factors. That is the theory. But can the theory work at the ground level?

    Natural Resources Development Project of Vivekananda Kendra (VK-NARDEP) tried system’s approach to sustainable agriculture at a village in Kanyakumari district. The system principles did work successfully – though changing the mindset and the change itself are not as easy as it seems in theory.

    Kozhikodupothai—a village in Kanyakumari district has been a silent epicentre of a change—a slow and steady and often not painless, transition from highly chemicalised rose cultivation to sustainable organic food crops and vegetable cultivation. Lure of one of South India’s largest flower market made the farmers of the village shift from paddy cultivation to chemicalised rose cultivation. Even as they discovered over the years that there is a decreasing return over increasing inputs they found themselves in a vicious cycle.

    The basic philosophy of the system’s approach is that as we increase the farm level and homestead level diversity of subsystems (livestock units, poultry units, biogas, vermi compost etc)
    [web of life]

    web of life
    and link them intelligently in tune with the local ecological and economical context of the farmer, the external dependency of the farmer will reduce progressively over the years and his food security will increase. At the next level this shall empower the farming community to use and take care of the local common resources through coordinated people’s efforts. All it takes shall be patience, perseverance and suitable technologies which are eco-friendly, locally relevant and which are not capital and energy intensive.

    Introducing backyard Azolla beds and poultry units goes hand in hand. Livestock is linked with biogas plants. Biogas slurry goes to Azolla bed and Vermi compost
    [Azolla in Field]

    Azolla in Field
    units, which in turn give their output to the livestock and the farm respectively. Azolla spilled into homestead vegetable garden and local physicians identified traditional herbs and herbal home gardens were established cutting down household medical expenses. This highly reduces the fertilizer cost of the farmer. The village which was once low on egg consumption is today not only self-sufficient but produces surplus eggs which are sold in the market. These changes essentially involved linking various subsystem of the farm. Each could have been highly unstable and hence short-lived in itself. But the interlinking of the subsystem through nodal points of alternative technological interventions helped stabilise the system. Thus Vivekananda Kendra ensured an expanding web of relations between the subsystems of a typical farm house. If all goes well then the web expands.

    "The Source spoke to them the syllable DA. 'Did you understand?' 'We understood,' the humans said, 'You told us, "Share (datta)' “Aum”' the Source said, 'You understood.'"

    The household level integration led the way to increased social interaction. Weekly meeting of the farmers engaged in sustainable agriculture was organised to discuss the problems, challenges, solutions and experiences of the farmers. The weekly meetings transformed into farmers’ association which in turn linked with NABARD. A common tools and services centre was created by the farmers’ association. One of the key features of weekly meetings is the high number of women participation. They underwent training in the preparation of herbal medicines from home herbal gardens and also livestock and local plant extracts based bio-liquid formulations like Panchgavga and tri-leaf extracts etc. These were essentially revival of local knowledge systems by VK-NARDEP with expert guidance. Women found that these skills and knowledge help them to participate in agriculture in a more empowered manner than just offering passive labour assistance to their menfolk.

    With increased quantum of organic inputs soil organisms visibly increased in the fields. Soil analysis and tests also confirmed soil becoming healthier in terms of such vital parameters ranging from soil macro fauna to organic carbon content of the soil.

    The bio-liquid formulations based on the cow popula
    [Liquid Fertilizer]

    Liquid Fertilizer
    tion were prepared by individual women and soon collective preparation was taken up by groups. VK-NARDEP provided labeled bottles and quality checking. The common service centre was upgraded into a agro-eco shop. Seminars on sustainable agricultural technologies are today being held at neighbouring villages.

    Techniques like SRI and innovative steps like Ipomea compost (made from a biomass rich yet notorious water weed) are being practised by farmers who today experiment with such innovations and share their experience with the other farmers at the association meet.

    "The Source spoke to them the syllable DA. 'Did you understand?' 'We understood,' the demons said, 'You told us, Be compassionate (dayadhvam), “Aum”' the Source said 'You understood.'"

    VK-NARDEP witnessed the effect of SRI in Kozhikottupothai. The need to have skilled labour cost and also the high labour cost were the deterrents initially. However one farmer who was also a retired agricultural officer came forward to experiment SRI in his plot. Already for the last two years he and a group of 19 farmers have been practising various integrated organic techniques. This time (2006-2007) SRI was also added to the basket of interventions made. Clearly for the farmers the SRI provided a major saving on water usage. With also substantial increase in yield the practice has created a cascading effect on other farmers on the village and today many farmers are taking up SRI cultivation in the region resulting in very high saving on water – in rice cultivation.

     

     

    2005-2006

    2006

    2006-2007

    Percentage decrease in water usage in paddy field

    12

    10

    35

    Percentage N

    0.029

    0.030

    0.0035

    Available K

    29.78

    30.04

    28.46

    Soil macro-fauna

    0

    20

    28


    Once known only for high debt rate of its farmers and quarries in neighbouring hills, today the village stands transformed into a vibrant example of sustainable agriculture and social infrastructure building and connectivity. Thus at this hill locked village that immortal statement ‘Expansion is life’ stands vindicated– from soil biodiversity to social infrastructure.

    Embedded in these eco-technological interventions is a philosophy as old as the Upanishads. The consumerist elite, the toiling farmers aiming at profit and the vested interests which the profit mongering created, all these three pursue an elusive happiness based on a reductionist idea of pleasure which in agricultural realm became an excessive fixation with yield alone. For this they destroy the web of life with chemical agriculture and poison the soil and food. Seldom they realise the wisdom that ‘what they do to the web of life they do to themselves.’ Ultimately they poison their own food chain. They go for cash crops and make themselves vulnerable to the push and pull of market forces that are not in their own control. But all that still impoverishes them and lands them in a vicious cycle.

    On the other hand when they started practising sustainable agriculture, their farming became more kind and compassionate towards other animals. They shared their fields with all life forms. Insects and micro-organisms harmoniously shared the field with not just the crops but also other life forms including birds and snakes. A wonderful dynamic harmony of nature sets in the field and their own food security and self-reliance increased. And they changed their life style from aping the consumerist urban and western lifestyles to a life of conservation.

    G.Vasudeo

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