Jasbir Sandhu and Shivananda Matapati
Promotion of sustainable agro ecological practices through recycling and reuse of resources not only reduce dependency on external sources, but also minimises waste. On farm diversity results in better nutrition and income while building an autonomy for better living. The story of Laxmi and Shankrappa proves this.
“Nothing was worse than struggle to light the kitchen stove, after a day’s long labour. But now, smokeless cooking with the turn of a knob has made my life much easier.” says Laxmibai, Borgi village, Karnataka. Laxmi Bai lives with her husband Shankrappa Hanumanthrao in Borgi hamlet in Jojana Panchayat located in Bidar district of Karnataka. Borgi, inhabited by 280 families is a mix of Lingayat and Muslim communities. Rainfed farming of maize, jowar and pulses is the major source of income for the farmers in the village.
Things were totally different a few years ago. The couple’s journey started with rainfed farming on their four acres of farm land, growing black gram, green gram, red gram and fodder. One acre was left fallow. Highly undulating land with poor soil health resulted in low produce. But they were able to manage with the little money from land. As the years passed and the family grew, feeding many mouths depending on their farm, became difficult. On the advice of local input dealer, they started using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Initially it gave them a good result with improved production. The profit earned from the farm was invested in buying cattle – four cows and one buffalo.
Over years, the couple realized that the quantity of chemical inputs applied was increasing without bringing in much gains in production. Moreover they had also started taking loan from local moneylender for inputs. Things became difficult in 2012, when erratic rains followed by long dry spells damaged entire crop. The income from dairy was just enough to feed the family. They had no money left to invest and the debt started mounting. This forced them to work as labour that year.
In 2013, Reliance Foundation (RF) started its interventions in the village to address the uncertainties faced by small and marginal land holders through participatory approach. RF mobilised communities to form Village Association (VA) for collective ownership, decision making and common welfare. Laxmi and Shankrappa were part of the first set of people to be a part of VA. Regular meetings and exposure visits further strengthened Borgi VA. Situation analysis done by VA members, reflected the prevalent agrarian distress owing to poor land conditions and scarcity of water.
Backed financially by RF, the Village Association carried out large scale deep ploughing, land levelling and border bunding. Laxmi’s farm was also included. The Village association also organised number of training programs on biogas, vermicomposting, biological pest management and seed treatment using local sustainable solutions. Laxmi with other VA members meticulously learnt the new skills and started producing and using biogas and vermicompost. RF supported the establishment of 14 biogas units and 47 vermicompost units in Borgi village.
Recycling and Reuse
Laxmi collects the dung in the morning from the shed and feeds into the digester. The dung is converted into biogas. The 1.8 cubic meters capacity of the digester is sufficient to fuel her kitchen, for preparing two meals for her family. The oozing slurry from the digester is used to prepare vermi bed. This is mixed with agricultural crop residues of crops like soyabean, green and black gram. To this, dry leaf material is also added which earthworms feed on and produce vermicompost. In the first round, though it took 90 days to generate vermi compost, the cycles got reduced to 45-50 days later on.
Insecticide sprays made from chilli, garlic and ginger extract were used to treat leaf caterpillar, stem borer and yellow vein mosaic
‘The compost from the unit meets 90% requirement of farm. This has drastically reduced the input cost and doubled the yield from 5 quintals to 20 quintals. Seeing the benefits, we have made two more vermi compost units. I have also sold earthworms to the women in my Self Help Group and also to more than 40 fellow farmers in Borgi and neighbouring village’, says Laxmi.
Further, Laxmi has dug a pit in the cattle shed to collect the animal urine. The cow urine is used as a foliar spray and liquid manure. In one of her visit to the farm of a progressive farmer organised by VA, she learnt to make the organic formulations like Panchagavya, Jeeva Amrut and Chilli Garlic spray that can be used to improve the health of animals and also serve as pesticide and insecticide. In preparing Jeeva Amruta, she used cow dung, cow urine, jaggery, pulse flour mixed with some soil and slurry water and left to ferment for two days. She sprayed it after each irrigation and also applied to soil along with manure to increase the soil health.
Insecticide sprays made from chilli, garlic and ginger extract were used to treat leaf caterpillar, stem borer and yellow vein mosaic. She made Panchagavya by mixing nine different ingredients easily available in her kitchen and farm like – banana, cow ghee, jaggery, tender coconut, milk cow dung and cow urine and fermented it for 30 days in a cool shady place. This served as immunity booster for cattle and raised the milk yield, when added in their feed, says Laxmi.
The VA also supported Laxmi in constructing an open well. By linking to various government schemes, the VA helped Laxmi get a drip and sprinkler system from agriculture department on highly subsidised rates. For the first time, the family cultivated vegetables like tomato, sponge gourd, brinjal, leafy greens in Rabi. They have also planted an orchard with jamun, sapota, pomegranate, guava and lemon and also purchased two more cows. Thus, the couple is busy reviving one acre of fallow land that has been left unused since ages.
People like Laxmi bai and her husband Shankrappa Hanumanthrao – who are small and marginal farmers supply 70% of our food. They face various challenges in their farms due to scarcity of water, degraded lands, lack of inputs, market, finance and absence of risk taking ability. Moreover, in the past few decades, increasing unpredictability of weather has made rainfed food production system even more vulnerable and uncertain.
The promotion of sustainable agro ecological practices through recycle and reuse of resources has enabled Laxmi and Shankrappa to sustain on their own. It has reduced their dependency on external sources, minimising waste and building an autonomy for better living. Diversity in farm has not only boosted the income but has also added to and nutrition on her plate improving the health of the family. Laxmi is respected and recognised among relatives and community who often seek her opinion on farming.
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India