Raphael left us in September with a moving speech to our 10 young warli advisai youth. He told them the Saha Astitva eco-farm offered them opportunities for a great future. That the future was in organic farming and that they were capable of managing the eco farm.
It started with Franck, who encouraged them to begin to make conscious decisions on the farm and to move beyond th mentality of being labourers. This essentially can end up with no care being taken; plants die because of this. Franck implemented a watering system, which meant they had to check using a stick th level of moisture in the soil before watering in the winter instead of blindly watering. A plan was drawn up for the farm, paddy (growing area) by paddy. Each day the plan was filled in for which area had been watered.
Regular farm inspections took place with them and discussions began about why a crop was filling or succeeding. After a MOFCA meeting last April at Vikrangard, Kalyani returned to the farm with a handful of leaves. She asked the boys what they were. They immediately created a raised bed to allow for adequate drainage during the monsoon and went about planting the leaves. Now we have our first ever sweet potato crop!
Environmental education trust, Sukh bhumi aided the process no end. Every few weeks, the Sukh Bhumi farming consultants would come to the farm and we would discuss recipes to manage certain pests. The boys were educated in types of good bugs and bad bugs. Recipes like papaya leaf extract, neem, dishpan (a mixture of 10 local leaves stewed for 20 days) could be applied. Planting information: spacing and timing would be discussed. More instruction on making perfect vermicompost and regular loaning of village agricultural books so they can read between meetings.
Volunteers like Sean (see Nature Nose) would come along and work with them on construction to build new structures exposing them to new skills.
Then Raphael came along in June and became their friend. Encouraging them, climbing the mountain, finding out about local plants and roots and engaging them in rice trials to see what could work well. Soon every aspect of farming would be discussed.
When to plant (according to the cosmic planting calendar supplied by Manas), what to plant, how to create beds. To till or not to till. When to harvest the seeds. How to store the seeds.
Recently Kalyani and Daniel went away leaving a list of jobs with them particularly for winter planting. Two weeks later, the result was astonishing. Last year it took months to build out vegetable beds. This year it took days! Using organic farmer, Gaurang Barot’s loaned tiller, plowing in the cow dung, silt, and loosened soil; mulching, using amrut pani.
Planting week by week, greens like spinach, dill, red amaranth and fenugreek leaves; planting in rows tomatoes, radish and cluster beans. Even now we are eating delicious fresh salads and radishes, much earlier than last year.
Now we have moved onto companion planting. Laxman thinks the fenugreek leaves can’t be grown next to spinach is we are using a sprinkler. Fenugreek needs less water. Vijay felt we could not grow watermelon next to cluster bean as water melon requires more water, but we realised that as the water melons are sunken the cluster beans could grow on the raised part. They didn’t like the watering system for the onions last year so they create sunken beds, but covered in mulch. Asking about an infestation on the chickpeas, they preferred to use neat cow urine and pulverised neem leaves and the problem went away.
Now following the French girls great work on seed savings, we will begin to make more order out of our seed bank. Next will be more decision making on planting schedules, developing ideas about companion planting; developing ideas on trap crops. We want to see more dense mixed planting. And we are developing links to the market place.
They’ve come a long way in the last 8 months. There is some way to go. But we definitely celebrate their response to the opportunities that have been given. We are delighted with them. We are happy they are improving their lives. That they have found meanigful work close to their homes; so they can stay in their communities, look after their families, and begin to create better lives for themselves, because they are there. They are respected. They are capable and more than anything they are moving in the right direction. Jai Jai!