Just a few villages from Nu Tech Farm, in the same desert region
of Kutch, lives a lively offbeat old farmer and herbalist known
locally as “Doctor Haria.” Though he never went through
medical school, Mulchand Haria was born the son of a physician and
was the first in the region to make the switch to organic farming.
He has since become a local guru of regenerative agriculture and
is the owner of “Kutch Sanjivani (Life-Saving) Farm.”
Haria knew from the beginning thathe wanted to remain on the 4-acre
family farm outside of the village of Bidida, rather than pursue
a medical career as did his two brothers and, later, his son, all
now living in Ohio. “I had a chance to go to America and make
a lot of money but money isn’t necessary,” he said.
“My main motive is to produce my own food. I wouldn’t
get anywhere in the U.S. I wouldn’t be eating organic food.
Health is money and here there is health.”
||"I had a chance to go to America and
make a lot of money but money isn’t necessary. My main
motive is to produce my own food. I wouldn’t get anywhere
in the U.S. I wouldn’t be eating organic food. Health
is money and here there is health."
Living in the house where he was born, Haria bought 50 more acres
and began managing 150 acres that were purchased by his brothers.
By raising crops such as sapota, chikoo, millet, carrots, tamarind,
lemon trees, neem and mangos, as well as keeping three cows, Haria
figures he meets 80 percent of his family’s needs from the
land he farms, as well as earning money from whatever surplus he
For years Haria bought into western agricultural enticements and
increased his production by using chemical fertilizers. After a
while, however, he began experiencing the same problems as Shah
and many other farmers in the region – the fertilizers he
was using fed only the plant and left his soil hard, dry, and eroded.
“If you use chemicals after five years the soil is damaged,”
Besides depleted soil, Haria was concerned with the disappearance
of water in the region.
Reformation of a water bandit
Because fertilizers and high yielding varieties of seeds need more
water to be effective, their introduction with the green revolution
of the 1960’s led to a dramatic increase in irrigation in
India, and especially in the desert environment of Kutch. A 1996
survey conducted in 100 villages showed that 64% of Kutch irrigation
wells and 45% percent of drinking wells had gone dry. This caused
new, deeper wells to be dug – in 1960 there were 18,000 wells
in the region by 1993 their number had increased to 32,000.
change: In 1992, Haria gave his farm a make-over,
planting crops that require little water. Mangos and cashews,
closely related crops, also thrive in extreme heat.
Additionally, due to the proximity of the ocean, the salinity
content of deeper water is high and unsuitable for many plants.
Haria realized he was contributing to the problem by his use of
irrigation and didn’t feel good about it. “I don’t
want to be a bandit stealing water,” he said.
Looking for alternatives, Haria attended a seminar on organic farming
in 1992 and was attracted to the holistic healing approach. “We
weren’t earning any money from chemical farming,” he
said. “What they said made sense.” Haria soon abandoned
modern chemical farming, drastically reduced his use of irrigation,
and began experimenting with new methods.
Early on he realized the importance of growing crops suitable to
the environment. “The first thing is you must plant crops
that require less water,” he said. “The coconut requires
water so we don’t plant it here.” He began planting
acres of Mango trees, which need water for only the fist 2-3 years
and has recently been experimenting with cashews, which also can
grow with little water.
In addition to combating water loss Haria needed to repair his
depleted soil. He concentrated on feeding the bacteria, which aerate
the earth and decompose organic matter. He supplied his crops with
compost, striving to maintain at least two-percent carbon in his
soil. “If you keep two percent carbon, you need only half
the irrigation,” he said. The carbon feeds bacteria, which
make soil porous, thus preventing leeching and enabling nitrogen
from the air to enter plant roots.
Focusing directly on the soil helped repair the earth but to maintain
premium health required a full overhaul to his former methods. Haria
covered weeds instead of pulling them to conserve biomass and water.
He planted trees on the west side of his crops to provide shade
and create a cooler microclimate. Small bushy legumes were intercropped
between the mango trees and cashews to fix nitrogen levels, add
biomass and help keep the soil temperature down. Space between his
mangos was let to lie fallow for most of the year, planting vegetables
between them when the rains came.
A doctor is born
After several years, Haria’s farm began coming to life again
and he became convinced that regenerative agriculture was vital
to farming in the region. “The problem of soil erosion is
gone,” he said. “We don’t lose topsoil that would
run into the sea. The water drains from their farms to my farms
The holistic approach worked with pests as well. “The plants
can repel pests if they are strong,” he said. “If the
body is strong there won’t be disease. Plants are indicators
– if something is wrong with my plant there’s something
wrong with my soil.”
Once again, Haria was making a living off of his land. His mangos,
which had become his main crop, produced 25 kg after five years
and after several more years with no irrigation or fertilizer, 500-600
kg. And he found that when he fed his cows organic fodder there
was a greater percentage of fat in his milk, for which to make butter.
“Everyone says without chemicals you produce less but it’s
not true,” he said. “Every year production goes up and
input costs go down, so there’s a big profit.”
Additionally, the curtailment of chemicals has led to one of Haria’s
most important herbal remedies – distilled organic cow urine.
Haria learned this secret from his father, who used mostly herbal
remedies at a time when there were no chemicals. Organic cow urine
is now being used in the local hospital and has been effective treating
many ailments, including acne and tuberculosis. Haria is currently
trying it on a patient with throat cancer and hopes it will be effective
with AIDS treatments. He collects three to four liters every morning
with a bucket and can sell it for 100 rupees ($2) a liter.
After getting encouraging results on his own farm, Haria began spending
much of his time talking with other farmers in the region, educating
them about the benefits of regenerative agriculture. Haria has helped
many to make the switch, including his friend Vijay Shah. “Vijay
learned from me,” he said with a grin. “He was my first
: Haria shows Derek his living soil. Years of
work have returned nutrients and micro-organisms to the
Haria estimates that there are now 50 – 60
Kutch farmers who have stopped using chemicals but that they still
constitute less than one percent of irrigated farms in the region.
“We are trying to convince farmers of this area but it is
hard,” he said. “They are starting to learn because
they are losing money from chemical farming – they have hard
soil. Now they are understanding that this is the real farming.
That is not real farming.”
Haria has also begun voluntarily managing 300 organic acres for
the local NGO, “Bhagwan Mahavir Cattle Help Center.”
Kutch is the only region in India where cattle actually outnumber
people and here, as with the rest of the country, the cow is revered
as a goddess and must be treated well. This organization harbors
sick cattle and other livestock for farmers for up to two years,
nursing them back to health, and then giving them back to the farmer
at a low price. Haria manages the cattle ranch and has introduced
methods such as pruning desert plants to grow horizontally, so as
to provide shade for the cattle.
Like Haria, this NGO touts the healing properties of organic cow
urine and sells it in a small store. In front there is a urine-filled
bucket from which zinc and copper wires leading to a working calculator
and a steadily ticking clock. When pressed for an explanation the
employees exclaimed, “The cow is the daughter of the sun!
The horns work as antennae!” All you have to do, they said,
is change the urine every four months.
With his propensity for healing, regenerative agriculture seems
to have been predestined for Haria and organic methods have given
new life to him and his farm. “Now I am happy with this farming,”
he said. “Production is good, quality is good, and there is
less input. My health is good and my family’s health is good.”
Haria firmly believes that organic methods are crucial to farming
in Kutch, India, and around the globe. “All the farmers are
migrating from one place to another,” he said. “I am
not migrating. You spend one rupee and earn 100. And others benefit
as well. Ecologically, economically, and health-wise, organic farming
can save the whole world. Organic farming is the way. I know it
is the only way.”
Serving as a sort of alternative agricultural physician, Haria
continues to farm his land with a smile, and to revitalize the region
with natural, holistic methods of farming.
Coming next: Jason and Derek are reporting from
Nepal and several other countries in the region in a kaleidoscope
presentation of their last weeks in Asia.