Sunday, January 15, 2012
We ushered in the new year with an energised start that saw a gathering of 14 veteran natural farmers up at Patanjali Yog Peeth in Haridwar to discuss the potential of agriculture with a new dimension. Agriculture that is safe, sustainable, user friendly and affordable by marginal farmers.
I am truly delighted to share the highlights of this 4 day meet (1st - 5th Jan) with you.
The 'One small step towards chemical free agriculture' as Devinder coins it, is his brain child.( article below). For a long time now, it has been Devinder's mission to equip marginal farmers and release them from debts by linking like-minded green guardians on a common platform, help provide alternative safe farming practices. Hence, revolutionize the safe food movement, a dream now slowly manifesting not just for him but for all of us.
By educating and winning the trust of most spiritual leaders on food and trade issues, Devinder's concerns finds a voice to awaken and alert a vast devotee following. His perseverance is bound to bear fruition. His consistent proactive advice and interactions with Swami Ramdev, the yoga guru whose unceasing zeal since 2002 has been to educate the masses daily on a package of seven simple breathing exercises whose message to all, more so to young India, is to take charge of the mind, body and soul. In fact while at the deliberations, we were invited by Swami Ramdevji to partake in his yog session amidst 40,000 devotees. Most admirable, especially when you get to witness first hand a 100 Surya Namaskaars in record time of 4 mins! Whilst each one of were dazed, overwhelmed at his energy levels, it also unraveled how unfit we all were! Swamiji does not just advocate good health through yog but to indulge in safe foods and avail the benefits of Ayurveda to make it an integral part of one's life rather than to be at the mercy of hospitals.
To this effect, Swami Ramdevji wished to explore how safe sustainable agricultural practices could be brought into the forefront of National food security that starts at the grass roots. Hence, 14 best practitioners in this field were identified from across the country and then invited for a 4 day deliberation at Haridwar. We had the privilege of Swami Ramdevji's energised presence throughout these 4 days from 9am- 8.30pm!
I have yet to know of any spiritual leader who takes such deep interest and quality time out to understand the best practices presented by each one of our veteran farmers. My joy knew no bounds as i had the privilege and opportunity to present and share my farm learnings with Swami Ramdevji, Devinder and our humble agriculture gurus. This was aired live on Aastha channel. The genuine interest, the probing dilemmas, the crisis faced by our farmers, the solutions were dissected and tackled in earnest by Swami Ramdevji. Most inspiring to see his intensity during our presentations, the grave questions asked, jotting relevant points in his small black note pad, then summed it all up with much ease.
It did not just stop there. The most important issue that arose was how this would translate on the ground. Then came an action plan to execute three safe sustainable farm models in Hardiwar to start with, as seeing is believing! Prompt decisions were instantly taken by Swami Ramdevji and Acharya Balkrishanji to allocate land in Hardiwar for the 3 farm models. Suresh Desai a founding member of an Organic Farmers' Club with over 400 members in Belgaum District of Karnataka will design a model, Subhash Sharma- whose 32 acre farm in Yavatmal is flourishing, and has become a model for hundreds of other farmers will design the second one. And me and team Annadana the third one...on the traditional vegetable and cereal for the purpose of seed production, multiplication and conservation. Concurrently Team Annadana will also design a seed bank, one that is replicable.
Further, to strengthen our models, the back up ammunition of time tested knowledge and expertise arising from our team of Krishi Vigyaans or Krishi Rishi as Swami Ramdevji fondly calls us are Natbar Sarangiji who maintains 365 indigenous rice germplasm collection, Raghuvanjiji on 100's of varieties of indigenous wheat, Dr Surendar Dalal expertise has no bounds on insect and pest management, Dr Narayan Reddy on his wisdom of integrated farm practices, Rajbir Singh from All India Pingalwara Amritsar sharing his successful experience, Amarjit Singh Sharma from Faridkot who continues with vigor in producing and marketing safe crops in the most infested toxic bowl of Punjab, Shoor vir Singh from Uttar Pradesh whose knowledge on 95 varieties of weeds and their uses is just incredible, Ahir Mayan Hamir from Kutch with his expertise on groundnuts and castor and the young new age farmer Poorvi Vyas, with her research and development background so handy to document and aid each one us willingly and cheerfully.
Work has already commenced in the selected fields with best practices in soil fertility management being implemented. A team of reliable, enterprising points of contact co-ordinated by Vinod Kumar Birkhani, Uttarakhand open university, school of agriculture and Sanjay Khare, a dedicated sevak from Patanjali Peet Yog are monitoring this whilst we have come back to our respective destinations carrying forward the energy to our teams.
There is a buzz, an excitement, a challenge to plan and showcase low cost sustainable farm models and we hope to see this through in 2012.
An overwhelming response of interest and support continues to flow when Devinder Sharma's wrote about this on his facebook. Those interested to lend support may connect him on firstname.lastname@example.org
One small step towards chemical-free agriculture
by Devinder Sharma
For quite sometime now there has been a silent resurgence in sustainable farming practices across the country. After the environmental destruction wrought by the chemical-based external input driven agriculture for almost four decades now, I find a large percentage of farmers trying whatever they can to salvage the situation. While on the one hand I can count a sizable number of progressive farmers in different parts of the country who discarded chemical-based farming system (and some of them were even awarded and honoured for achieving record yields) and opted for more sustainable farming practices, there is quite a significant proportion of the farming community which has moved away from the Green Revolution approach to farming.
Call it organic agriculture or natural farming or holistic farming or whatever variation you can think of, the fact remains that Low External Input-based Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) is now being increasingly adopted. Innovative farmers are trying all kinds of permutations and combinations, and I am really amazed at the extent of wisdom our farmers carry. I am not going to list here the innovations being applied, but all I can say is that the mainline agricultural research system would certainly be the gainer if they were to move out of the 'lab-to-land' approach and follow the reverse mode of 'land-to-lab'.
For quite sometime I had wondered if I could ever bring some of these innovative leaders together on a platform and chart out a strategy to put this all together and spread it across the country in a mission mode. I am aware of the reluctance on the part of the agriculture universities as well as the policy makers to extend a helping hand. At the same time, I was also aware of the limitations that the civil society has. Although several groups/individuals are spearheading the silent movement in their own way, but given the monumental constraints that prevail, it isn't moving ahead at a pace I would have expected.
At my own level I had discussed the possibility of forming a consortium with like-minded groups/farmer organisations to spread sustainable farming practices far and wide and to even the remote corners but somehow it didn't work out. It was then that I met the Yoga Guru Swami Ramdev who is better known for the monumental role he has played in promoting healthy living through yoga. Healthy living is directly related to healthy food, which in turn is directly proportionate to cultivation of healthy crops. Over the period, we discussed the possibility of laying out sustainable farming models, where soil, water and food is not poisoned, and then preparing an outreach programme through regular training and learning exercises.
The New Year provided an opportunity. 14 well-known practitioners in sustainable farming methods assembled at Haridwar (at the foothills of the Himalayas) for deliberations which continued non-stop for 4 days. We would sit from 9 in the morning and the discussions would go on till 8.30 in the evening. Such was the intensity of deliberations and the commitment to the cause that even after dinner the participants would once again assemble for an informal round of discussions. Well, to cut the long story short, it has now been decided to layout three models of chemical-free farming, each catering to the requirement of farmers who farm in one acre, two acres and five acres. Once the farming system comes up in Haridwar, we would throw it open to farmers to adopt and improve upon depending upon their local conditions and requirements. This would simultaneously be followed with preparations for a nationwide training programme, which too would depend upon the need and the requirement of different regions.
The plots were selected, earmarked and soil preparations began the day the deliberations ended. Soil samples have been drawn, and we are now getting ready for the next step. Meanwhile, a week-by-week action plan has been laid out, and the package of practices to be immediately followed is also being worked out, and improved with each passing day. Soon after Swami Ramdev made public the initiative on Aastha TV channel, I have been deluged with requests and support from hundreds of people from across the country. Let us hope that this small initiative galvanises the country to move away from 'business as usual' in agriculture, and ends up promoting healthy farming. I am looking for the day when agriculture does not lead to suicides, does not push farmers into distress, and above all does not usurp the natural resources. The Haridwar initiative is a small step, and I am aware we have a long journey ahead. #