Local social and ecological context
The area in which the farm is based faces serious ecological and social challenges.
- Natural climatic extremes from extreme wet to extreme heat create numerous growing challenges.
- Eight months of the year is dry with no rain, while over 2000 millimeters of almost continuous, heavy rains drop during the four-month monsoon season from June-September. March to May can see temperatures in excess of 40 degrees C.
- Mainly the local farmers grow hybrid rice with chemicals in the monsoon and tur dahl on the mud walls around the paddies. Other legumes can be planted following monsoon utilizing the moisture from the paddy fields.
- The soil on the farm and in the area, is mostly deep clay soil, with some sand, compact, and there is little to no healthy, living topsoil. The soil just outside of the farm continues to erode due, in part, to the over-grazing cattle and goats of nearby farmers, which threatens the soil life and plants that could otherwise offer to restore the soil. A considerable amount of top-soil has been sold to local brick kilns leaving infertile areas in the locality.
- The farm is on the edge of a moist, tropical, deciduous semi-evergreen forest, on one side mixed in with an arid-environment (6 months) of the year. The forest is in a state of decline due to burning in the summer for hunting purposes, over-grazing and over consumption of timber and coppice for revenue generation. A forest conservation project is currently underway to protect this unspoiled area while enabling sustainable’ green’ development to take place.
The people of the village in which the farm is located are almost 100% Adivasi Warli (Scheduled Tribe). They naturally lived sustainable lifestyles and historically their gods were based on nature. Over 20 years of using chemicals on the farm land, and an increasing population putting a strain on forest resources, largely for sale as cooking fuel had led to a departure from this heritage. They are famous for their art, which celebrates nature, village life and the tradition of farming.
Combined with the close proximity to Mumbai and the introduction of TV promoting consumerism, means lifestyles and attitudes are changing. There is pressure on the educated to work in urban factories or migrate to Mumbai in search of making a living. Older men, historically farmers, stay behind and typically become heavy alcohol users. Poverty-deaths by alcohol or disease are common. Ending up in city slum dwellings brings worse conditions than they have in the village and a huge strain on society. Most villagers aspire to earn $3-$5 (Rs 150-200) per day. If this can be achieved in the rural environment then numerous problems can be alleviated.
Saha Astitva aims to remind the local people of their sustainable heritage, to assist in empowering them and to value the traditional farming methods that are still in their memories. We do this by employing members of the local community and encouraging participation in the farm management. One day we aim for our staff to manage the farm completely. We are encouraging low level eco-tourism in the village. We are encouraging farmer training and environmental education in partnership with other NGOs. By researching high-value crops, by linking to markets, by getting the government to sponsor forest based jobs we aim for green economic regeneration of the area to take place.
The farm’s vision for the next 5 years is to open as an organic lifestyle awareness centre and to operate as a green rural development centre.