In a day’s work here in Kanpur Dehat, I get several opportunities to meet the farmers and listen to their stories, of despair, struggle, and prosperity. One such interaction happened with Geeta and her husband, Ramesh in Chabbanivada, a pre-dominantly agrarian village where people have small pieces of land that they cultivate for self-consumption. A few farmers also get surplus which they sell.
The other day, I reached the village around 10 am when Geeta was working on her farm. It was mid-November. The sowing season had begun. Every day, she would finish her household chores by 8 am and go to the field for farm work. Until two years back, her family used to give the farmland on rent and consider farming as a loss-making investment. Today, however, they seem to be deeply connected to agriculture. “We don’t buy our vegetables from the market, we cultivate them on our own,” she said, leading me to her Kitchen Garden.
I was curious. In today’s times, when people are seeking opportunities outside farms, how does this family which was earlier not involved in agriculture, grows its own food?
Geeta narrates her story saying, “When Armaan Bhaiya (my team member at Shramik Bharti) came to my house for the first time, he talked about making a Self-help group (SHG) of women in the village”. A conversation among the villagers about the SHG group had then started and multiple discussions across a few days had resulted in an affirmation towards formation of a group. It was unanimously decided that Geeta would be the leader as she was the only literate woman in the group. Back then, the purpose of such groups was only to encourage savings and manage credit.
“I didn’t know how to read and write properly. Since I left school decades ago, I haven’t had an opportunity to touch the books. This made me anxious about leading the group, opening a bank account and managing other women’s finances along with my own.,” said Geeta. With an assuring smile to her husband, she said, “I wouldn’t have chosen to be a leader if my husband had not encouraged me”. Ramesh, her husband had supported her whenever she felt stuck, be it managing meetings or maintaining accounts.
After two years, when the group was managing well, Shramik Bharti came up with a new proposition. This time, the idea was to improve farming practices in the village. “Honestly, I was not very keen on learning and getting involved in this project”, she said. Her disconnect from farming had prompted her to think in this way but since she had the responsibility of a group, she couldn’t give no for an answer.
The training given to the women was an intensive four-day workshop on farming. Geeta shared that she still remembers the discussions that happened around the quality of food and water we consume these days. A pertinent question that she recalls was, “If we put chemicals in our crops, isn’t it getting included in our food as well?” She had never thought along those lines.
The issue of food loaded with chemicals, that comes along with Urea, DAP and a variety of other such supplements used in agriculture needed to be addressed. But for Geeta and her family who was not involved in farming, a declining level of groundwater and its growing contamination was a more pressing concern. They were keen to know if Shramik Bharti can do something about that. But, the organization could only suggest that agricultural activities must be carried out using locally available resources such as Cow dung, Cow urine, Jaggery, and gram flour.
It can then be called Nature farming which may not solve all their issues but would reduce water consumption and contamination that has happened over the years because of excess usage of chemicals that have compacted the soil, reduced drainage, stopped air circulation and eventually affected the groundwater.
Geeta attended more training sessions but couldn’t do much about it on her own. However, she started conversations with other people living in the village, about things she had learned in those sessions including chemicals used in agriculture, their affect on health, food, water etc. Her interest in farming was growing.
She was now also free from household responsibilities. Her children were already married and settled. Ramesh and Geeta decided that they will start farming in a small patch of their own land for their personal consumption. Other people in the village, who also attended training, started exploring Nature Farming in small parts of their respective lands.
Today, they have come a long way. Ten households in Chabbanivada practice Nature farming. They aggregate their produce and sell it together. People shared that it requires more labor to adopt this farming practice but they are glad about saving the amount of money they used to spend on buying fertilizers and pesticides. Moreover, the requirement for irrigation has reduced to a great extent and that’s a relief!
Picture Credits: Shramik Bharti
*Names changed to protect the identity