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THE CULTURAL DIMENSION OF ECOLOGY

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Ecological Cultivation in the Karanpura Region 

A Case Study  

Sachchidananda and Rajiv Ranjan Jha

What precisely is ecological farming? Is it something similar to natural farming and traditional agriculture? Is there any similarity with sustainable agriculture? How does it differ from modern and organic farming? Without entering into any exhaustive discussion on the subject, we can say that there is a convergence among all, i.e., natural, traditional, organic and ecological farming. We quote below an expert opinion on the issue recently presented by Gandhimati and Lanting (1994) (Table 1).

‘Eco’ is derived from the Greek oikos, meaning house or household. In current usage it implies the wisdom and authority to manage the interests of the household. In an ecological farming system the idea of an orderly household is expanded to include the managed environment, comprising the cultivated land and its surroundings, the plants contained or grown thereon, and all the animals associated with it.

Terry Gips (1986) stated that sustainable agriculture should be ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just, humane and adaptable. It has been explained by Coen et al. (1992) as follows:

Ecologically sound: The quality of natural resources is maintained and the vitality of the entire agroecosystem — from humans, crops and animals to soil organisms — is enhanced. This is best ensured when the soil is managed and the health of crops, animals and people is maintained through biological processes (self-regulation). Local resources are used in a way that minimises losses of nutrients, biomass and energy, and avoids pollution. The emphasis is on the use of renewable resources.

Economically viable: Farmers can produce enough for self-sufficiency or adequate income, and gain sufficient returns to warrant the labour and costs involved. Economic viability is measured not only in terms of functions such as conserving resources and minimising risks.

Socially just: Resources and power are distributed in such a way that the basic needs of all members of society are met and their rights to land use, adequate capital, technical assistance and market opportunity are assured. All people have the opportunity to participate in decision-making, in the field and in the society. Social unrest can threaten the entire social system, including its agriculture.

Humane: All forms of life (plants, animals, humans) are respected. The fundamental dignity of all human beings is recognised, and relationships and institutions incorporate such basic human values as trust, honesty, self-respect, cooperation and compassion. The cultural and spiritual integrity of society is preserved and nurtured.

Adaptable: Rural communities are capable of adjusting to the constantly changing conditions for farming, population growth, policies, market demand, etc. This involves not only the development of new, appropriate technologies but also innovations in social and cultural terms.

Coen et al. (1992) state that ‘farming practices that enhance, or at least do not harm the environment and are aimed at minimising the use of chemical inputs, rather than completely avoiding them as in organic farming, is Ecological Farming’.

Fukuoka (1985) has a strong belief in natural farming and states that there is no need for ploughing and weeding and mixing fertilisers and pesticides on the land.

In the Karanpura region we found that many farmers were turning away from their traditional mode of agriculture to modern farming systems. It was a farming totally dependent on modern fertilisers and hybrid and improved seeds. As a result the soil has lost its fertility and led to massive unemployment and migration to other states.

There is a difference in opinion among scientists on Gip’s definition, and its success also depends on the type of farmers, the community and the state and the government’s policy. To provide sufficient food for the survival of the community from their existing natural resources, recourse has to be taken to low-cost input agriculture practices. This will help in the revival of traditional cultural heritage by which women can be strengthened socially, economically and politically.


Approved World Vision Purpose / goal Life Style Mechanization Nutrient Management Pest & Disease Control Weed Control

HIGH EXTERNAL INPUT AGRICULTURE Free Market Forces, Profit Exploitation of Nature Profit Motive Consumerism Capital goods Heavily mechanized Application of fertilizers on economic criteria. Preventive spraying according to fixed schedule; all methods of pest & disease control are allowed; criterion for choice is profit. Herbicides & all other available methods
INTEGRATED FARMING Free Market; but look after the weak; responsibility for World + future Profit but maintain Ecology Consumerism within limits prolong the benefits Only when needed Organic manure base + corrective chemical fertilizers (close monitoring of the nutritional need) Integrated pest management, Only specific not systemic, not broad spectrum pesticides which are biodegradable can be used. Cultural methods + mechanical control
LOW EXTERNAL INPUT FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE Equality; empowerment of farmers; start with reality eco should not be disturbed Reduce dependency on external inputs by rationalizing use of internal resources As good as possible without damage to other & environment Only when it is not dependent on outside As much as possible organic matter, fertilizer if it is not making farmers dependent As much as possible through crop husbandry, use of local biological methods; specific pesticides (biodegradable), Integrated Pest Management Cultural methods + mechanicals control
PERMACULTURE Future Society as small autonomous social units; goodlife harm any with nature Maintain all natural cycles specially the energy cycle Simple good life high technology Only when it can be controlled by the social unit Basic organic manure + corective chemicals if necessary & if it is not making farmers dependent Same as above Same as above
ORGANIC FARMING Rejection of present society + values; use natural products healthy life Have respect for the process in nature Very very simple, healthy life no luxury Mechanization high level (1) Human Labour (2) Manure, biomass, no fertilizers Only Bordeaux- Mix is allowed + pest control through repellent, trap crops companion crops, artificial release of predators not allowed. Selective weeding
NATURAL FARMING Human as part of natural spiritual individual No interference in nature only sowing and harvesting. Simple Natural & healthy (stoic) life Human labour + simple tools What is taken from soil is returned No pest or disease control is done No weed control
BIOLOGICAL FARMING Rejection of present society  Respect nature + food quality Very very simple, healthy life no luxury Human Labour + simple tools Manure, biomass, no fertilizers Only Bordaux- Mix allowed + pest control through repellent, trap crops companion crops, artificial release of predators not allowed. Selective weeding
BIO-DYNAMIC FARMING Rejection of present society + values; use natural product healthy life Empathy with nature farming in line with invisible forces Very very simple, healthy life no luxury. Human Labour + simple tools Organic manure + ground rocks (minerals) No. of specific concoctionss are used Selective weeding.
The Need for Ecological Cultivation in Santhal Pargana

Santhal Pargana is one of the divisions of south Bihar. It comprises five districts, Godda, Dumka, Deoghar, Sahibganj and Pakur. Santhal Pargana is included in the area covered by the Jharkhand Autonomous Council.

There was a time when the Santhal Pargana division of Bihar had rich natural wealth. The region was covered with thick forest and received heavy rainfall during the monsoon. At present, barely 13 per cent of the land is covered by forest. The forest is the dry deciduous sal, and what we see today are naked hill slopes and barren land which has lost fertility. Five rivers, Mayurakshi, Chir, Ajay, Mor and Brahmani, flow in the area. Besides, there are hundreds of monsoon streams, drains, rivulets and several perennial streams. Because of the destruction of the forest, the water retention capacity of the soil has decreased. The level of water has gone deep down, thus affecting the ecology of this region in several ways. Many wells and streams have dried up. During the summer all sources of water dry up leading to inconvenience for human, animal and plant life. The forest, which once had timber trees and about 1,200 species of plants, has withered and biodiversity has been reduced.

The Rajmahal hills in this division were well-known for the rich deposition of fossils but are now devoid of plants and wild birds and beasts like tigers, elephants, bears, wild boar, peacocks, etc. These are hunted by the Santhals and have disappeared because of the shrinking forest cover. The region has also a rich mineral resource base comprising china clay, fire clay, gypsum, quartz, coal and road metal. For human development, several dams were constructed in this region, which led to the displacement of tribals and other inhabitants. They have been deprived of their land and belongings as many areas were submerged in deep water, thus doing heavy damage to the ecological balance of this region (Verma et al. 1994; Sachchidananda and Jha 1995).

Beginning of Ecological Cultivation

Early in 1982 Sri Bajrang Singh, the secretary of the Badlao Foundation (BF) and an activist in the JP movement in Bihar, came in contact with the late Mr Khudi Ram Sen Gupta, a famous Gandhian. They moved to Kewatjali near the Mihijam and began the struggle to restore the ecological balance in the region in which 39 villages were submerged by the erection of the Maithan dam. Employment generation for the landless and homeless people was first started for tribal women. The stiff fight to restore the degraded ecosystem helped people to stand on their own feet once again.

Some years later another dam was going to be constructed on the Patro at Budai, a village in Madhupur block of Deoghar district. The irrigation department had surveyed the area for the construction of a big dam by which 43 tribal villages would be submerged. The infrastructure for the dam was already created. People’s experience of such dams was painful. The Maithan example was fresh in their minds. All the leading NGOs of the region came together to oppose the construction and forced the government to abandon the project. It was proved that people’s unity for a just cause is a powerful force.

During the struggle against the irrigation department at Budai, Bajrang Singh had come in close contact with an ex-serviceman, Sri Binay Singh, a local villager. The latter had 14 years’ experience in the conservation of forests and in wasteland development. He went for a six-week training course at Pondicherry conducted by ETC/AME, Holland, in early 1986. He initiated the idea of reviving traditional agriculture with low-input agricultural practices in and around Budai, by which the farmers would desist from the use of fertiliser and hybrid seeds. He planned to conserve the natural wealth and to develop an alternative to modern agriculture without disturbing the components of nature, water, land, forest and animals. Being a local resident, he was well acquainted with the slow penetration of fertilisers, pesticides, monoculture practices and hybrid seeds in this tribal dominated region.

The Netherlands Organisation for International Development Cooperation had initially agreed to support the project ‘extension and training for ecological cultivation’ in 1986. A team of four young members under the direction of the late Binay Singh started work in two extension centres at Porida and Budai. Porida was situated in a non-forested area whereas Budai was in the forest zone. Each extension centre consisted of 10 villages. By the end of 1989 the contact programme with villagers was completed. Then there was training of staff members and all relevant information related to the future strategy was collected. The agricultural practices of tribal and non-tribal farmers were analysed. The areas more ecologically viable for the next phase were identified. The factors of social justice and economic soundness were also discussed for the selection of the what was later termed ecological farming.

The next phase was started in late 1989 and continued till the beginning of 1990. In this, training and extension of ecological cultivation was spread in Jamtara and Jarmundi CD Block. The follow-up of the old project was continued in Madhupur CD Block only in the Budai area, i.e., the forest zone, but 10 new villages were added to the 10 old villages of the Porida extension centre. The farmers’ selection for introduction of ecological cultivation, their training, exposure, etc., were the major components of the work. The non-formal education centres in all the villages were involved in the programme. Green manure was for the first time introduced in the region in 1989, when 40 farmers of 10 villages grew daincha (Sesbania sesban) in their paddy fields.

An extensive programme of ecological cultivation with demonstration plots was started in 1992 for the sustainable development of the area. The headman of Karanpura had donated 2 acres of community land for the establishment of a demonstration centre on the outskirts of the village. The main extension office at Madhupur, about 29 km from the operational area, was finally shifted to Karanpura in March 1995.

The project continued up to August 1995, and after that the BF decided to go in for more elaborate activities related to land and water development, animal husbandry, strengthening of women’s organisations and some innovative income generation schemes for women.

Why Farmers Opted for Ecological Cultivation

A survey was made of farmers who had adopted ecological cultivation to find out which communities had opted for it, the age group to which it appealed most and whether landholding and education had anything to do with it. The survey also revealed the actual land under ecological cultivation and the farmers’ reasons for going in for this kind of cultivation.

1. COMMUNITY-WISE BREAK-UP OF THE ADOPTERS

Communities

No. of households

%

Scheduled Castes 3 05.45
Scheduled Tribe 24 43.63
Backward Castes 17 30.90
General 11 20.02


55

100.00
It was revealed that the bulk of the adopters were tribals. They were followed by the backward castes.

2. AGE-WISE BREAK UP OF TH EADOPTERS

Age bracket

No. of farmers

%

Below 20 years 1 01.81
21 to 30 years 12 30.93
31 to 40 years 25 45.45
41 to 50 years 10 18.18
Above 50 years 2 03.63


55

100.00

Farmers between the ages of 21 and 40 yeras have gone in far ecological cultivation. It is clear that it appeals to the younger farmers.

3. BREAK-UP OF FARMERS BY LANDHOLDING

Acres

No. of farmers

%

Less than one acre 1 01.81
1 to 2 acres 15 27.28
3 to 5 acres 18 32.72
Above 5 acres 21 38.19


55

100.00

This table reveals that the rate of adoption goes up with landholding.

4. FARMERS' BREAK-UP BY EDUCATIONAL LEVEL

Educational Level

No. of farmers

%

Illeterate  22 40.00
Literate 15 27.20
Upto class IX and above 18 32.72


55

100.00

It is seen that educational level has no correlation with the adoption of ecological cultivation.

5. LAND UNDER ECOLOGICAL CULTIVATION

Land in acres

No. of farmers

%

Less than one acre 17 30.90
Up to 2 acres 22 40.00
Up to 5 acres 14 25.47
More than 5 acres 2 3.63


55 100.00
It was found that the farmers going in for ecological cultivation did not practice it in all their plots.

Asked about the reasons for the adoption of ecological cultivation, the following frequencies were revealed:

1. Light ploughing 20
2. Retention of moisture 11
3. Produce tasty 25
4. Retention of soil fertility 1
5. Lower cost of cultivation 10
6. Crops become disease and insect resistant 7
7. Environment-friendly 4
8. Conducive to good health 1
9. Use of compost 9
10. Use of local seeds 8
11. Can be practised even in poor rainfall 11
12. Seeds are strong and healthy 13
13. More Staw yield 9
14. Assured crop 7
15. Produce does not rot 4

 

The five most important reason for the adoption of ecological cultivation in order of priority are the following.
  1. Tasty produce
  2. Light Ploughing
  3. Soil moisture is retained.
  4. Seeds are strong and healthy.
  5. Production even with less rainfall.

 

To probe deeper into the matter and to get the feel of the farmers in respect of ecological cultivation, we made some case studies of farmers. Some of their observations have been quoted in the narrative below.

Laloo Thakur of Kulharia village has been farming from the very beginning by traditional means. He is a matriculate and is not able to analyse the benefits of ecological farming, but from his personal experience he can say that after doing farming by traditional means, his land has regained strength, his health has improved and economically he has profited. ‘At first I cultivated paddy by applying compost and green manure. Besides paddy for the past five years, I am also cultivating potato, bitter gourd and other vegetables’.

Behrabank village of 55 households is mainly inhabited by small farmers. For increasing the yield of their crops the farmers adopted modern methods of agriculture about a decade back, but they have now returned to natural farming. For the past four years they are practising ecological cultivation of maize, paddy, potato, pulses, etc.

Gradually the villagers came to abstain from the use of chemical fertilisers. Thirty-year-old Mahesh Prasad Singh has been acquainted with Badlao for the past five years and saw farmers doing natural farming, but he was convinced only last year and now is doing this kind of cultivation on 1.6 acres of land. He observed, ‘Today we make compost and spread it in our fields. Earlier we used to throw it away. Through the use of compost we have been able to save money spent on urea. My land had become tough and infertile, but this year it has improved to a certain extent. By the use of traditional seeds, even if there is less rainfall, there is a chance of the survival of crops’.

The change brought in cultivation has affected not only men but even women. They have also motivated other women to follow this mode of farming.

In Lamba village, Kanti Debiya is a widow, the first non-tribal woman who felt that the presence of the forest is necessary. She tried to induce women to protect the forest. In her words, ‘to protect and revive our tradition is the first step in the field of ecological farming’. Today she is doing ecological cultivation on 4 acres of land. She also imparts training in ecological farming to children at NFE centres. Kanti Debiya expresses her views on ecological farming. ‘Now all the ingredients of modern farming like seeds, manure, pesticides and implements are too costly and not within the people’s reach. I am a poor woman and I have seen with my eyes the land of big farmers destroyed by the use of fertilisers. They have the means to change the soil when it becomes infertile, but it is a costly affair and not possible for poor people. I use traditional seeds, compost, and also irrigate my field in the traditional manner. The yield is not less compared with hybrid seeds, and it is a matter of delight for us that it is very tasty. Even the rice gruel is sweet.’

Was Kanti Debiya really successful in her effort? After seeing Halodi Soren of Nawada village and Sunita Devi and Tagi Devi of Dakodih, who practise ecological cultivation on their fields, we find that residents of this region have given importance to the traditional mode of agriculture, which is sustainable. Jama Devi of Kakali village and Jaso Devi of Bikhandih are also following these steps. All these women are active members of the Mahila Sabha. They participate in the monthly meetings and discuss matters such as how profitable is ecological cultivation, and learn from the exchange of experiences.

Both Jama Devi and Jaso Devi are secretaries of the Mahila Sabha in their village. This has certainly led to greater self-confidence in them. Jaso Devi’s husband is in government service. Therefore her economic condition is good and she can afford to cultivate by modern methods, but she has deep faith in ecological cultivation.

They planted plants on the bund, dug pits for making compost and motivated their husbands, daughters and other members of their families to adopt ecological farming. From Baratar village men migrate to other places for wage labour. Their fields remain fallow. The forest has been destroyed. For irrigation they depend on rain alone. The cost of cultivation by modern means is high. Therefore, slowly they turned from cultivation to wage labour.

Through the efforts of the Mahila Sabha the villagers went in for dry land farming by the natural method. People realised that they can carry on cultivation even with poor rainfall if they use traditional seeds for various crops. The farmers started sowing these varieties of seed on barren cultivable upland. The main reasons for turning to ecological farming are low capital input, less labour, assured crop, little harm from pests and insects, high yield and health-giving farm produce. The life of the soil is retained if essential nutrients are supplied.

The villagers are happy and came forward to sustain this mode of farming. They understand that they can no longer destroy their natural environment. They have realised that it is good to plant trees. The soil has once again become fertile and soft. They can see frogs, fish, earthworms, algae, etc., in the paddy fields during the rainy season.

All this provides the base of their faith. This has given strength to Jama Devi, whose husband is handicapped. She has faith in ecological farming. She cultivates vegetables by this method and takes pride in selling them in the local market.

The tribals are very eager to preserve their traditions. They have kept alive their traditional method of cultivation and their mode of cultivation is in tune with ecological cultivation.

Reasons for Non-Adoption of Ecological Cultivation and its Poor Spread

A quick survey of farmers not adopting ecological cultivation was conducted in the same area.

1. COMMUNITY-WISE BREAK-UP OF NON-ADOPTERS

 

 

No. of Households

%

Community 10 20.00
Scheduled castes 05 10.00
Scheduled tribes  15 30.00
Backward castes 20 40.00


50 100.00
It is seen that there are very few tribal non-adopters. The bulk of them come from the backward castes and the general population.

2. AGE-WISE DISTRIBUTION OF NON-ADOPTERS

Age of non-adopters

No. of households

%

Below 20 years Nil 00.00
21-30 years 12 24.00
31-40 years 20 40.00
41-60 years 10 20.00
Above 50 years 08 16.00


50 100.00
Age does not seem to have any correlation with non-adoption.

3. DISTRIBUTION OF NON ADOPTERS BY LANDHOLDING

Landholding

No. of farmers

%

Less than 1 acre Nil 00.00
1 to 2 acres 12 24.00
3 to 5 acres 10 20.00
Above 5 acres 28 56.00
The bulk of the non adopters are in the higher landholding group.

4. EDUCATION LEVEL OF NON-ADOPTERS.

Educational level

No. of farmers

%

Illiterate  18 36.00
Literate 20 40.00
Up to class 9 or above 12 24.00


50 100.00
The bulk of the non-adopters are illiterate or literate without any particular formal education.

5. REASONS FOR NON-ADOPTION

1. Bumber crop by modern methods 20
2. limitating other farmers 25
3. More profitable 15
4. Assistance from the CD Block 18
5. Absence of any alternative to upland cultivation 20
6. Less availability of compost 22
7. Increase in soil status 8

 

The five main reasons for non-adoption are given below in order of priority:
  1. Limitating other farmers
  2. No alternative to upland cultivation
  3. Bumper crop
  4. less availability of compost
  5. Assistance from the CD Block

During the 1980s publicity for high-yielding seeds and fertilisers was started by government agencies. Almost in every village, under the cooperative loan scheme 8 sacks of urea were distributed to each villager. Groundnut seeds, wheat, paddy and oilseeds were given free of cost to small and marginal farmers so that they could get at least one square meal a day. These steps were to increase the productivity of their infertile land.

Kakali is a small village of 18 households. In 1985 it had only 8 households. Recalling past days, its people look at their barren land and in a sad voice regret that they fell prey to the bait of the government. Earlier they used to get at least some produce from their land, but after the use of fertilisers the cultivable land has been totally destroyed. The rice is not tasty and so is the case with potato and maize. Even the straw is useless. Above all, year by year the price of hybrid seeds and fertilisers is increasing. Thus they are caught in a trap. They can neither return to ecological cultivation because people will make fun of them, nor can they abstain from the use of fertilisers because it is matter of sustenance for their families.

After reaching this pathetic state, almost all the farmers of the village should have returned to ecological cultivation. But it was found that only small and marginal farmers adopted this method of cultivation. Under this category were mostly the Santhals. Their faith in their traditional method further inspired them to go in for ecological cultivation. They rear pigs, goats, hens and pigeons, etc. Their waste is used to make compost. The non-tribals mainly migrate to Punjab and neighbouring states to work as labourers. They are affected by the agricultural revolution in these states. They come and discuss these matters in their villages and establish direct links with the Block Development Officer and the Agriculture Extension Officer. They feel that with the use of urea and DAP, crops can be cultivated on barren land also.

There are about 100 acres of upland in and around Karanpura. Mohan Das has 1.2 acres of upland and for the past two years he has been cultivating Gora paddy introduced by the Block. This year the farmers put compost in maize but urea in paddy fields. They have been impressed by ecological cultivation. Their land was infertile from the beginning. There was also a scarcity of water. But now the situation has worsened. The land is becoming harder and for short-term gain they are destroying the productivity of the soil. This has been accepted by the farmers who have less than 5 acres of land. They use compost and green manure for paddy. For millets they use the waste of pigs but in wheat, maize and potato they put urea and DAP; otherwise production is affected. One tribal farmer, Lothra Soren, said that maize can be cultivated without the use of urea because the seed is of the local variety and he also experimented with it on 1 bigha of land, but nobody believes him.

Din Dayal Mishra of Behrabank says that he has 10 acres of land but he can make only 10 bullock carts of compost. ‘I have to increase the yield from the land for the better future of my children. Hence it is necessary to put urea and pesticides in the fields. We require 120 kg paddy seed to sow in 1 bigha of land of the local variety whereas only 40 kg of hybrid seed is required for 1 bigha land. The yield is also doubles if hybrid seed is sown’. This was the view expressed by many farmers of Balampur, Behrabank, Nawada, Kakli, Lamba and Jorasimar villages.

This year this block is famine struck. Those who can afford pump sets have sown paddy but others could not do so. This was the helplessness expressed by the farmers who had faith in modern agricultural equipment.

But on one point all of them readily agreed. This was that the forest has been destroyed and animal wealth has decreased. There was a scarcity of raw materials to make compost. So they started using alternatives such as urea and DAP. The farmers do not make a cost-benefit analysis. They only look at the production but do not calculate the cost incurred on hybrid seeds, fertilisers and pesticides. One farmer, Kartik Roy of Kakli, was bold enough to say that a time will come when they will once again return to ecological farming. ‘Last year the farmers sowed paddy seeds from the Block and the yield was good. I sold rice worth Rs. 5,000 but our animals refused to eat its straw. Even the traders were not willing to buy it. Today also I see the heap of paddy straw in my portico and feel that every year I used to sell paddy straw for Rs.500 and this year I bought it for Rs.300’.

But the use of chemical fertiliser is spreading day by day. Out of shame, the farmers of Nawada village deny that they have seen fertiliser but they accept that they use urea for the cultivation of maize. It sounds rather strange to hear that application of lime to the land was meant to reduce its acidity. It had an adverse effect. The field workers failed to spread this message in the right way. So in 1992 the farmers put lime in their fields but no compost. As a result production decreased. Now they have no faith in this method. They have seen the cultivation of cereals, oilseeds, vegetables and the plantation of fruit trees at the demonstration centre with the use of compost. But they express their apprehension and say, ‘it might be that they are putting something else into it’.

In Santhal villages like Hiratand, Karanpura, Nawada, Tumbo, etc., they have now revived and kept alive their traditional art of tasar cultivation. They bring cocoons from the forest and wait till the larvae come out and then tie them on asan, arjun or sal trees. But in these villages also urea and hybrid seeds of vegetables have been introduced. The farmers are now trying to use both modern and ecological cultivation. They now understand to which crop they have to apply urea and to which, compost.

Publicity material distributed among the farmers by the Agriculture Department and commercial firms manufacturing fertilisers, insecticides, etc., stress that hunger can be obliterated only by the use of such products. For the cultivation of barren land and upland even small and marginal farmers have started using fertilisers and hybrid seeds, in the hope that they can increase their production.

Steps Taken by the Badlao Foundation to Spread the Idea and Coverage under Ecological Cultivation

Till the 1980s traditional agriculture was practised by the inhabitants of 20 villages of the Karanpura extension centre. Before exposure to the outside world and the propaganda for modern agriculture, they only sowed local traditional varieties of seeds which were resistant to drought and various pests. They grew abundant plants in rotation which provided shade, stopped weed growth and conserved moisture. They were also intercropping and putting animal waste and plant residues in their fields. In place of insecticide and pesticide, neem juice (Azaderacta indica), sinduwar (Vitex negundo), etc., were used. Cowdung was also spread on plots for pest control.

Farmers were illiterate but they knew about the green leaf covering (Azolla) in paddy fields. Today research has proved that Azolla fixes atmospheric nitrogen. There is an interaction between plants and animals. Through this mode of cultivation not only were food and fodder obtained but various valuable medicinal plants which cured both human and animal ailments.

Gips (1986) states: ‘The brilliant biological structuring of such traditional agroecosystems is rapidly replaced by green revolution practices’. We found that farmers were forced to sow higher yielding hybrid seeds by which at least three dozen local varieties of seeds of rice, maize, millets, pulses, oilseeds and vegetables have disappeared. The expensive package of chemical inputs which was introduced in this region is unsuitable in the agro-biotic conditions such as the going down of the groundwater level due to massive deforestation. The ultimate result is drought and rotting of soil.

A survey was made in 1987-89 in 20 villages of Karanpura. These were divided into two equal groups, one in the forest area and the other outside it. The first step was to make contact with farmers, to study the existing traditional system and listing the activities to be undertaken in the next phase as required by the villagers.

BF first started its work in 1986 by generating awareness on the environmental situation. From this campaign the issue of ecological cultivation in Madhupur block emerged. Thus such farming practices that enhance or at least do not harm the environment were identified. It was highlighted how chemical fertilisers damage the soil. The benefits of using natural manure in the long-term perspective were emphasised. Songs, plays, posters, newsletters and video films were used to spread the message of ecological farming. A cultural team was formed to train local singers and went around many villages. The training of staff was organised, and they in turn conducted training programmes for selected small and marginal farmers, landless labourers and women. The emphasis was on soil erosion, its protection, salinisation, decreased productivity, increasing pest resistance, water contamination and the use of pesticides and fertilisers, afforestation, gender aspects, etc. The true situation in regard to fertilisers was explained to the farmers. Though these were offered to at low rates, they would not afford to purchase them when the subsidy was withdrawn. This happened after 1994 due to a hike in the price of DAP. Poor farmers could not grow potatoes and maize that year.

Awareness generation was continued in the set of 20 villages in Karanpura and later spread to 60 more villages of Godda, Dumka and Deoghar districts. From time to time new activities were incorporated. To make the new generation aware of ecological cultivation, recourse was taken to non-formal education. In 1988 ten NFE centres were started with teachers educated to at least class VI. By 1993, 35 more NFE centres were opened in three more extension centres.

The NFE centres proved a boon for this programme. The visits of children to the forest and the demonstration centre, when it was established, provided them opportunities for broadening their knowledge of ecological cultivation and environmental conservation.

All of a sudden it became difficult to convince and motivate farmers to give up the use of chemical fertiliser. So they were asked to use green manure on a piece of their land and to observe the difference over the years. This was agreed to by some farmers. The villagers realised that the use of chemical fertilisers leads to various health disorders in animals as well as human beings. From their first-hand experience they observed that yields started decreasing after reaching a peak. Steady increase of financial and material inputs was required if yield was to be maintained. The soil deteriorated and lost its fertility. It required even more water and chemical fertilisers.

At this point five farmers came forward to take the initiative. They agreed to accept scientific support for traditional agricultural practices in part of their fields. These farmers had on an average 3 acres of agriculture land and cultivated paddy, maize, potato, onion and vegetables.

These farmers were taken for a short excursion tour in 1991 to different places in the state where work related to traditional farming was being conducted by NGOs.

The BF concentrated on the revival of traditional practices for paddy because it was the major cereal. After the second year a change in soil texture and micro-organisms was observed. Farmers realised that the water retention capacity of the land had increased. Twelve local varieties of rice were cultivated with compost and green manuring. The more popular varieties were Gopiasar, Kapursar and Mainasar. Farmers mixed green manure, farmyard manure and, when necessary, neem leaf extract as insecticide and pesticide. The yield increased to 4 maunds, i.e., 160 kg per bigha. The experience of the five successful farmers changed the thinking of others. It convinced them that their traditional system was less costly and gave good results without much effort. The fields of the five farmers acted as demonstration plots which other farmers from the village and from outside could visit. Farmers who were enthusiastic about ecological cultivation formed Gram Vikas Samitis in 20 villages.

The BF provided information, seeds of green manure, cereals and vegetables collected from various parts of Bihar. Subsequently, for the empowerment of women separate Mahila Sabhas were formed in 1993. Till 1995, such organisations in 20 villages were constituted. Compost pits were dug and differences between aerobic and anaerobic decomposition by bacteria were demonstrated. Farmers were not interested in the difference between these two. They were convinced only when the compost produced by the two methods was shown to them.

The demand for daincha till 1989 was limited to 40 farmers. This increased subsequently. Initially seeds were brought from Calcutta. By 1994 each farmers had produced seeds of green manure in his fields and the distribution of daincha seeds was stopped. At the end of 1991 about 165 farmers used daincha seeds given to them, whereas by the end of 1995 about 385 farmers were putting daincha in paddy fields and also producing surplus seeds for sale.

By trial an error farmers discovered that the leaves of palas (Butea monosperma) could be used as fodder for buffaloes and as green manure for paddy crop. Intercropping of sanai and kudurum was restarted for fibre, and the residue was used for green manuring. The flower of the kindrum was also sold in the local market.

Farmers introduced vegetables in their baril land (upland) in the kharif season. They fenced the land with locally available plants such as sinduwar (Vitex negundo), siju (Euphorbia nerifolia), Opuntia spp., behaya (Ipomea cornea), ber (Zizyphus jujuba), babul (Acacia arabica) and also constructed mud walls to stop open grazing. They also came to learn that the locally available fodder leaves from forest trees such as piyasal (Ptericospermum mursumpium), murga (Adina cordifolia), amaltas (Cassia fistula), kachnar (Bauhinia purpurea) were valuable. Even the leaves of ber and babul were collected for goats and sheep.

Gora, a dryland rich variety, was introduced in 1993 in 2 acres of land of two farmers. The seeds were initially brought from Ranchi and later the farmers procured them by themselves. In 1965, 40 acres of dryland was under gora paddy cultivation. Farmers used compost with DAP. Small farmers have now been sowing local varieties of paddy, maize and vegetables and using compost. Non-tribals used only cowdung while tribals used pig refuse and agricultural waste.

Soil pH varies from 4 to 4.5. Farmers earlier mixed ash, as it was thought to be rich in potash, to reduce acidity. After proper soil analysis dolomite (lime) was mixed, but the BF could help only 40 farmers because of its limited resources.

For fodder as well as green manuring and to enrich soil with nitrates, locally available nitrogen fixing plants such as sisam (Dalbergia sisco), karan (Pongamia pinnata), babul, palas, and others brought from outside, such as subabul and gerardia, were grown by farmers on the bunds of fields.

Farmers have developed small kitchen orchards to grow at least jackfruit, papaya, custard apple, mango, wood apple, ber, guava, drumstick, mahua and sal trees. The traditional mode of irrigation, dhekul has also been revived.

Documentation of more than 100 folk songs related to agriculture, forests, hills, trees and birds, in addition to songs of marriage, religious ritual, etc., was completed. From time to time booklets, newsletters and books related to them were published.

Ecological Cultivation and Integrated Development

Ecological cultivation has led to the integrated development of the people of Madhupur Block. In order to bring home the idea of ecological cultivation, Gram Vikas Samitis were formed, comprising both men an women. People were motivated to attend GVS meetings, where issues were raised, discussed and solved. Training was provided to the members of the GVS on the process of ecological cultivation.

Women were offered large participation in social life. They worked both inside and outside the house but had no say in decision-making. They are not allowed to sit with men. But now things have changed. Women of 20 villages are free from shackles. They can take their own decisions on important matters. This has led to their social and moral uplift.

Some women stated that they bring articles of daily use from the forest like fuel, fodder, broom grass, natural toothbrushes, sakhua leaves, etc. They do not allow others to cut trees or destroy the forest. They make brooms, leaf plates, etc., and take them to the market. This is an additional source of income for them. Some women have shown exemplary courage in the face of all odds and have surpassed men by their extraordinary work. Forest cover in and around Lamba, Hiratar, Behrabank, Nawada, Kakli and Karanpura villages has been protected by them even though it is owned by the government. They also receive the cooperation of the forest department. Only after getting permission from it can women collect dry leaves, fuel and fruits from the forest. Earlier, they used to cover long distances to collect fuel and fodder, but after the beginning of ecological cultivation and conservation of the environment they find these articles close by, thus reducing their work load.

After the formation of Mahila Sabhas many women opted for cultivation independently. Jama Devi of Kakali herself decides how and what vegetables she has to cultivate and where to sell them. Kanti Debya is adamant on the point that she can cultivate potato and maize without the use of chemical fertiliser. Men honour and abide by the decision of women for planting on community land. The women put pressure on their men to stop the use of hybrid seeds and fertilisers because it is harmful for posterity.

Women raise their voice against any feud in family or society, demonstrate against the corruption of the police and demand the proper management and functioning of government schools and hospitals. During the last two years, 20 such complaints have been resolved. They are eager to acquire their rights in Panchayati Raj. In the coming election, they are ready to contest. They have opened accounts in the Mahila Samriddhi Yojana, a government scheme, and they also visit banks and post offices. This is a manifestation of their empowerment. They have attained equality of status with men and have gained decision-making power.

After the formation of MS and GVS, anti-social elements in the villages have been eliminated. People of about a dozen villages gheraoed the house of a timber smuggler to teach him a lesson. Such an action could not have been imagined five years back.

Ecological farming can succeed only if the people and organisations feel responsible for it. In the beginning of 1992 it was decided that an irrigation well would be dug with people’s participation. But the organisation did not start its work until every member of the Mahila Sabha and the Gram Vikas Samiti was convinced. They maintained details of soil excavated, articles bought, masonry charges, diesel pump, blasting material, etc. The well was completed in barely Rs.22,000 when the ordinary cost of digging such a well is about Rs.50,000.

Children attending NFE centres were also given education in cultivation. Small tips are given to them regarding the benefits of ecological farming. As a result it is seen that children make extensive plantations by the roadside, near the temple and on community land. They have planted fuel, fodder and fruit trees. Children in Behrabank alone planted 500 saplings in 1995. Women feel pride and satisfaction in feeding their children with edibles prepared with grain and vegetables grown through ecological cultivation. They taste better than food prepared from other agricultural produce.

After seeing the yield of crops and vegetable raised at the demonstration centre the villagers have gained confidence and are inspired to follow and practise such cultivation.

The tribals of this region are very poor. They cannot afford to practise modern agriculture with hybrid seeds, chemical fertilisers, pesticides and modern agricultural implements. Even it they somehow manage, while they may get larger yields, the cost would be very high. So for them ecological cultivation is cost effective. They don’t have adequate funds to invest in land. It is therefore good for them to go in for ecological cultivation and make modest gains.

The Impact of Ecological Cultivation

The main objective of the BF is to ensure immediate and long-term supply of food, basic health and self-respect for the people in its operational area. All its programmes, from ecological cultivation and income generation to organisation of people’s groups, are attempts to achieve this objective. Ecological cultivation has succeeded in achieving some level of stability and security. The traditional culture of the villagers ensures that its diverse resources such as land, vegetation, water, animals and forest are treated as part of the ecosystem. The people did not understand the scientific logistics of the integrated ecosystem. In recent decades, this traditional knowledge declined due to several processes, new technology, new values and environmental degradation. In the struggle for survival the villagers fail to realise that the greatest benefits from these resources can ensue only from their integrated and sustainable use, maintaining their original linkages. Soil can use waste coming from vegetation, animals and human beings, atmospheric gases and moisture and turn them into rich nutrients, thus enhancing its own productivity and moisture retention capacity and in turn producing food and nutrition for humans and animals. Any break in this chain disturbs the entire cyclical process and the food security chain is destroyed. The end result is poverty, malnutrition and ill health, which in turn enhance insecurity, apathy and helplessness.

The BF understands some aspects of this degenerative process but its programmes do not address the problems in a holistic way. Ecological cultivation seems to be limited to the application of green manure and cowdung with some stress on bunding. Its awareness building campaign against the indiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides has definitely made an impact. But people have now fully understood the different aspects of ecological farming. Many of the farmers appear to be convinced about its efficacy but are apprehensive about adopting it completely.

There is some evidence that empowerment of the people is taking place both at the economic and psycho-social levels. Some people have benefitted substantially from agricultural development. The utilisation of local knowledge and skills has introduced viable alternatives. Ecological cultivation has much potential. The idea of a revolving fund, from which farmers could withdraw cash for seeds and return it at the time of the harvest, reduces indebtedness and ensures a reliable source for the supply of seeds. People’s contribution in the form of labour for the construction of a well and the building of a schoolroom are examples that show how they have come to ‘own’ the development programmes introduce by the BF. At the psycho-social level decision-making by men and women through Gram Vikas Samitis and Mahila Sabhas has not only made them self-reliant but has raised their confidence and improved their self-image and self-respect.

The bottom-up approach in the BF information flow has been impressive. People have realised the need for a change in perspective. The general openness of the process involved in ecological cultivation and the keeping of accounts is a useful strategy for improving participation and removing any apprehensions.

The production from land at present sustains the people for only six months. Thus both in terms of food security and utilisation of agricultural skills the existing potential is not fully used. Ecological cultivation must focus on increasing productivity so as to sustain the growing population. Its essence is the integration of all the resources within a village in a regenerative and mutually reinforcing process.

References

Bhattacharya, K.K. and P. Bhatt, 1995, ‘A NOVIB report on Badlao Foundation’ (unpublished).

Food and Agriculture Organisation, 1960, Fertilisers and their uses.

Fukuoka, M., 1985, The natural way of farming. Tokyo: Japan Publications.

Gandhimati and Lanting, 1994, ‘Some approaches to agriculture’. The conceptual workshop on sustainable agriculture, Bangalore (unpublished).

Gips, Terry, 1986, ‘Breaking the pesticide habit’. In Alternatives to 12 hazardous pesticides. International Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, pub. no.1987-1.

———, 1994, ‘Matching poverty alleviation with sustainable land use’. ICCO-NGO workshop at Anantpur’ (unpublished).

Pal, M. and G. Memmon, 1994, ‘A NOVIB report on Badlao Foundation’ (unpublished).

Sachchidananda and R.R. Jha, 1995, ‘Ecology: the wisdom tradition.’ Unesco workshop, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

Sachchidananda and Anirudh Prasad, 1994, Tribal development and voluntary action: a case study of the Badlao Foundation. New Delhi: Inter-India Publications.

Verma, S.K. et al., 1994, ‘The Impact of mining on living and fossil flora of Rajmahal hills’. Department of Environment, Bhagalpur University (unpublished).

Coen, Reijntjes et al., 1992, Farming for the future. London and Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Acnowledgement

We are thankful to NOVIB, Netherlands, for continuous financial and technical assistance, to Mr Bajrang Singh, the secretary of the Badlao Foundation, for providing facilities and co-ordinating the work, to Ms Rashmi Varma for her sincere compilation of field data, and to Mr Rana Pratap Singh for his assistance in typing documents.

The farmers of the Karanpura region are specially to be commended for their support, cooperation and patience in conducting the ecological project in their respective plots.

Finally, our thanks go to the field staff of the Karanpura Project, without whom the work could not be documented.

 

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