TALKING SHOP: Gujarat, India

Gujarat hosts organic revival meeting for joyful and committed farmers
1,000 organic farmers and activists gathered earlier this year in the Indian state of Gujarat, near the Pakistani border, to discuss transitioning to organic, brainstorm new ways to market, and to reaffirm their commitment to organic … even when the markets are not there.

By Matthew Blom

Support group: For farmers pushing bravely against the norms of society, the organic revival provided at least three days when they were no longer alone.

Gujarat, India is a region accosted by thorny shrubs, needle-laden ground creepers, and long expanses of lifeless desert. Local news tallies the heat-related deaths, and often boasts the nation’s highest temperatures. Rising out of such adverse surroundings comes a small but growing group of men and women seeking ways to support human life without harming health—or Mother Nature. Many gathered recently to empower each other in their common goal: bringing health-giving, organic produce to their communities and beyond.

All-cow home brew shows many benefits

Organic farmers agree they want to “work with nature.” Strict adherents accept no additions, but others delight in experimenting with concoctions of natural ingredients that boost production or deter pests.

At the Gujurat organic conference, a group from Tamil Nadu had a mission -- to share the recipe of a miracle brew that they call panch kavya. This special combination of five dairy cow ingredients is sweeping the organic movement of that southern state with astonishing results. Claims for its benefits far exceed the current science that explains its function.

A dilute solution of the product is sprayed on or used as a root drench to enhance flowering; fruit set, weight, color, and taste; rooting depth; and resistance to pests and drought. It is said to deliver up to a 20 percent yield increase. In an unknown application route, it is even alleged to cure AIDS.

You can make this at home using the Tamil Nadu recipe.

Combine 5 kilograms of cow manure and 3 liters cow urine. Stir daily for one week. On the seventh day add half a kilogram of ghee (clarified butter), 1 kg additional manure, 2 liters milk, and 2 liters milk curd. Stir for another seven days.

S. Poongodi, an organic farmer from Tamil Nadu reports, “On the fifteenth day, you have the most wonderful solution on earth.” This brew is then processed to remove solids and used in a 3 percent water solution.

Experimental additions include 2 kgs of jaggery (cane sugar), 12 ripe bananas, tender coconut water, or toddy, which can all be added on the seventh day.

Experiments with panch kavya are continuing.

-- Matthew Blom

The Organic Farming Conference, held at the Gandhian Institute in western Gujarat (bordering Pakistan), brought together a diverse group that included farmers, doctors, professors, the health conscious, even a tax auditor. They gathered to share experiences and successes, question failures, and give visions for the future. The three-day event included several keynote speakers, but its main focus was the farmers themselves and their thoughts from the daily grind in the field. Many farmers in attendance were already 100% organic, but the event’s aim was to assist those wanting to make the organic transition and needing the strength to push through. Kapil Shah, the main coordinator of Organic Farming in Gujarat, opened by stressing that the focus of this gathering was to assist transitioning farmers, provide support and connections for those already organic, and to discuss the ever-present question of where and how to market organic produce.

Farmers here grow a wide range of crops. Rain-fed crops consist of millet, groundnut, sesame, castor, cotton, pulses, etc.; and with the expansion of irrigation, crops such as sugarcane and various fruits are increasing.

The 1000+ participants seemed to run the gamut of diversity found in farming. The loud and boisterous, middle-school educated man who’s simple joy of life helps clarify one’s perspective on happiness; the quiet, thoughtful one who contemplates walking the life of peace and the role of farming as it contributes to that lifestyle; and the former big city hustler, who left the concrete jungle for a better life in the green one.

DAY ONE: Emphasizing local control, and local markets. Discussing the logistical and social barriers to organic transition.

Gripe-fest: In another show of support, regional leaders share the progress and frustration their groups have faced.

The first day provided an opportunity for regional groups to share their progress and advice. Each region within Gujarat holds quarterly meetings to discuss current issues and “increase confidence that we’re on the right track.” They reported current strengths and future opportunities for growth. Words of advice were plentiful. The first rule of organic farming is: know your soil, then improve it. In addition, prepare yourself well in advance of the actual planting of the first seed. Don’t import farming inputs. Make your own compost, your own vermiculture (composting with worms), and self-produce herbal pesticides. One region’s reporter offered this comparison: “When Gandhi called for home rule of India, ceasing to import British goods was of utmost importance. So also, you must home rule your farm and eliminate all external control of it.”

Another representative suggested opening your mind to small, local markets. Don’t limit yourself to marketing only in the big cities. Since the markets are still unappreciative of the organic difference, cottage industries should be integrated with farming activities. A melon grower stressed the importance of educating buyers. In his area, farmers held meetings with local communities and brought fruits for sampling. They now have difficulty filling all of their orders.

Certification and marketing, while still in their infancy, are becoming increasingly important terms for the farmers. The National Standards were recently translated into the local language of Gujarat. But for the most part, problems here remain more basic. Proper roads for transport stand in the way of many simply getting their produce to the markets undamaged. When finally at the market, organic farmers find their produce is treated no differently than conventionally grown counterparts.

Gandhi was once approached by a disciple praising a new 40 horsepower tractor. "It is said to have the power of 40 horses.It will revolutionize work on our farm!" Gandhi retorted, "Wonderful! Does it also give the manure of forty horses?"

Culturally, the social and family restraints put pressure on farmers wishing to convert to organic. The strong, joint family system of India brings many voices to the table when changes are discussed. Many reported being strongly discouraged by family members--“Without pesticides and fertilizers, how is it possible?” “People will laugh at us for trying something so silly.” “The neighbors will think we are crazy.” Family meetings and joint decisions have to be resolved before any changes could occur.

DAY TWO: Sharing personal experiences with organic farming. Discussing the importance of good labor relations on farms primarily dependent on hired help.

The second day of the conference included composting and alternative technology demonstrations, group brain-storming sessions, and booths selling or promoting organic items. The main emphasis, however, was placed on inviting the farmers to convey their personal experiences. One by one they rose to tell stories of their convictions to make the organic transition, and their subsequent experiences. Once again they echoed that changes in the community are discouraged and highly criticized. “If you don’t spray, your children will go hungry.”

Turning up converts: A composting demonstration draws a large audience. One of the main focuses of the three day event was to encourage farmers to transition to organic.

A man from the audience stood at this point to say that after 10 months, his neighbors finally converted from criticism to “sitting right here next to me!” Again and again, the powerful farmers showed their convictions: “Come what may, I opt for organic farming! You must remain strong in your decision, and have faith in God.”

A recurring concept was the importance of one’s relationship with hired farm help. In a country containing one-sixth of the world’s population, hands are easier to come by than machinery. On most farms, the work force comes from the surrounding communities working like a swarm of locusts to complete the tasks at hand. From age 12 to those seeming 112, they are the force behind the farmer.

To improve these relations, farmers shared a few successful ideas. One onion grower allows his female workers to come later in the morning because of their extra obligations in the home. A papaya grower, after enlightening himself to the financial situation of his workers, offered interest free loans to assist them. Through her efforts, one mango grower reported with great pride, “they now even work in my absence.”

The farmers of Gujarat are making changes in their farming even though the risks are high, the social pressure heavy, and their efforts will go entirely unnoticed by the consumers.

A small group coming from the southern state of Tamil Nadu offered the following Gandhi story about the mostly non-mechanized methods of farming in India. Gandhi was once approached by a disciple praising a new 40 horsepower tractor. “It is said to have the power of 40 horses. It will revolutionize work on our farm!” Gandhi retorted, “Wonderful! Does it also give the manure of forty horses?”

DAY THREE: With markets scarce and resistance to organic high, farmers reaffirm their commitment to organic farming as essential to human health

The third day was devoted to reporting key points from the group discussions, and concluding thoughts from the farmers. These final speakers demonstrated where the farmers’ true power lies. The market for organic produce here is virtually non-existent. What this means is that these farmers are making changes even though the risks are high, the social pressure heavy, and their efforts go entirely unnoticed by the consumers. Their motives are not often profit driven (although, many have reported profit increases), but rather sprout from various roots of disillusionment with chemical practices. The powerful proclaimed this message: “The most important aspect of farming is health. Poison should not enter our bodies or our earth.” Organic produce may go unnoticed by the minds of the consumers, but not their bodies. In the midst of the Western Indian desert, may the powerful continue to be strong in their vision of nurtured of lives living on a healthy planet.

Matthew Blom is a nomad wandering the world finding happiness, peace, and love, and attempting to leave the same in his wake. He is deepening these efforts through Vipassana Meditation, organic/natural farming, natural living, an a sun-cooked/fruitarian diet. He is enrolled in Global Learning University where tuition is free, classrooms have no walls, teachers are everywhere, and no report cards are sent home (plane, bus, train, ferry, bicycle, elephant, and camel fares not included). He lives with his green satchel, and the wonderful beings he meets along the way exchanging work for shelter, fruit, and continual learning experiences.