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Conserving water, planting trees, advocating natural farming – all a community effort here

Bharat Dogra reports on efforts of voluntary organisations to propagate natural farming methods among Dalit and Adivasi Communities in Madhya Pradesh

Even though Satai, a Dalit hamlet, is located close to a town, the agricultural land there lacked irrigation facilities for ages, and so could not be cultivated properly. Recently, Haritika, a voluntary organisation, sparked new hope by constructing a tank with the enthusiastic involvement of people of the hamlet located in Bijawar Block of Chattarpur District in Madhya Pradesh. Fruit trees were planted on some of the farmland, and trees like sheesham, sagwan, mahua, tendu and peepal on community land.

Haritika activist Sandeep Khare says within a short time, the livelihood and green environment of the Dalit habitation improved significantly. Haritika, acting on its own or in cooperation with other voluntary organisations like Srijan, has been able to improve livelihoods and the environment in other places in the block too, by combining water conservation, tree planting and natural farming efforts.

Kasaar Village has a big tank but its capacity had been eroded by the accumulation of silt over the years. With the help of Srijan, Haritika activists mobilised the community to remove the silt and deposit it in the fields as a fertiliser. Gautam Chaudhary of Haritika reports that good coordination was established and, what is more, the ground has been laid for continued efforts in this regard under a Niti Ayog Project.

The efforts of desilting and fertilising the fields were extended to advocating natural farming methods. Though this met with initial resistance, the good yield of groundnut and sesame crops using natural farming, even at an early stage and despite adverse weather conditions, encouraged many farmers to explore the option. Over the last three years, about half of the villagers have adopted natural farming to at least some extent.

In Lakhanguvan Village, involvement of women self-help groups under the rural livelihood mission has yielded good results. Vegetables and water melons are the most popular crops, and some of the women have also received organic produce certification. A natural farming centre set up here to make available organic fertiliser and pest repellents to those who cannot produce them on their own farms has contributed further to the spread of natural farming. Women have also shown much initiative in marketing produce and achieved success.

In Ramnagar Village, Halkibai and Kariman, an Adivasi couple, are very encouraged by the increase in their income after they planted an orchard of about 1400 mango, guava, lemon, amla (gooseberry) and jackfruit trees. A solar pump helped too. Apart from providing plenty of nutritious fruits for their extended family, they were able to earn an estimated Rs 60,000 annually from the sale of these fruits. Halkibai and Kariman are now looking forward not only to extending their agricultural activities, but also to building themselves a small cottage where they can live more comfortably and nurture their gardens better.

Haritika activist Angita Raghuvanshi is upbeat about the positive response of Adivasi farmers like this couple to the organisation’s initiatives. In another village in Hata Block of the neighbouring Damoh District, she says the Adivasis showed great learning and adapting abilities to create productive multi-layer vegetable gardens.

Haritika is now working towards large-scale planting of trees under a carbon credit scheme with Bijawar as the hub. In Malgoje Ashram (Amrautia Village), nearly 15,000 trees were planted recently. Water conservation work has been taken up nearby. Ashram inmates say villagers have been given the freedom to collect fruits from the orchard, even though the ashram is a gated place. As carbon credit programmes have their own dynamics, special care is taken to maintain high levels of community involvement. The decision taken to plant only indigenous trees is also respected.

(The writer is a senior freelance journalist and author who has been associated with several social movements and initiatives.
He lives in New Delhi.)