The remote Pithauragarh village of Satna District of Madhya Pradesh is one among the five Indian States that showed an increase of over 50 farmer suicides compared to 2010.
This is according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
Ironically, in this village lies a secret that can help arrest the suicide trend and also bring back the agri-Culture in this land of farmers.
Here, a farmer, is not only experimenting with indigenous seeds on his farm but is also inventing new methods for their conservation and promotion, becoming a role model for his fellow farmers caught in the web of hybrid seeds.
As one enters the house of sixty five year old Babulal Dahiya, the sight of his impressive collection of conserved seeds brings back images of a glorious ancient India on the wall, like a blackboard, are the varieties of paddy seeds preserved carefully in poly bags.
Flakes from the recent harvest stored in the cow dung plastered yard reflect the hard work invested in the farming practices. As a knowledgeable Babulal explains the merits of indigenous seeds, his wisdom is complemented by the fragrance of fresh saplings and the sound of the hand driven mill crushing the urad daal.
"These paddies, as compared to the hybrid ones, offer good taste, hence one gets a better price for them. Indigenous paddy crops can be grown using the traditional cow-dung fertilisers, while hybrid or dwarf crops necessarily require chemical fertilisers. Besides increasing the production cost, it also damages the fertility of the soil," shares a proud Babulal, flaunting the collection of the seventy varieties of paddy seeds he has collected by wandering from one village to another and growing them with the most traditional and natural methods.
"Harmful insects are naturally controlled by flies, honeybees, ants and other insects. Earthworms work 24 hours a day, eating into the infertile elements of the soil and making it soft, facilitating a healthy crop. As compared to the hybrid varieties which demand more irrigation, indigenous varieties take less time to be ready for harvesting and that too through a natural process."
Each variety of paddy has its own unique characteristics. Some like Sarya, Sikiya, Shyamjeer, Dihula and Sarekhni are ready for harvest within 70-75 days while others like Newari, Jhalore, Kargi, Mungar and Sekurgar take 100-120 days; and Badal phool, Korakhamha, Vishnubhog, Dilbakhsh are ready only 120-130 days after sowing.
The gradual extinction of traditional songs and folklores celebrating the beauty and colour of the innumerable varieties of seeds attracted Babulal's attention towards the conservation of vulnerable indigenous grains which have nearly lost the battle to the hybrid varieties. This concern drove him to conserve and promote not only the traditional ways of farming but the "farming in culture" as well.
In earlier days, when there were no radios and televisions to give us a weather forecast, the experience of our forefathers helped predict the weather appropriate for each stage of the farming process. They could gauge Nature's mood by assessing the colour of the clouds, the flow of the wind, and the pattern of rainfall.
An old saying goes, 'Purva jo purvai pabay, sookhi nadiyan nav chalavein', meaning, 'When wind starts blowing in the direction of the Orient star, it rains so heavily that even the dry rivers can offer a boat ride.' Based on such wisdom, the farmer created proverbs and folk songs which played an important role in passing on such ingrained wisdom to the following generations. Alas, the link has been broken, much to the dismay of the older generations.
"Like our indigenous seeds are becoming extinct, so also are we losing our agriculture-related vocabulary. The entire culture around our farming activities and life system is being hampered. We manage with words like rice, wheat and dal. Earlier, we had several varieties of pulses and grains: Sama, Kodo, Kutki, Mung, Udad, Jwar and Tilli, to name a few. People would be involved at every step, every procedure of farming, right from the day it was planted to the day it was harvested ," says Babulal whose vast collection of season-related songs and proverbs have been published in a book named "Sayanan ke Thathi" brought out by the Madhya Pradesh Biodiversity Board.
In olden days, the agricultural activities were self-reliant. Except for salt, people could procure all their daily necessities from within the village. They would produce all they required throughout the year on their farm.
They would grow multiple grains: Jwar, Mung, Udad, Tuar, Til or Kodo. They followed the concept of milwan farming (mixed farming). This would provide wheat, rice and dal. Similarly, the village blacksmith would prepare all the tools necessary for farming. He would barter it for grain during the harvest. The entire village was inter-dependent.
The Charkha Development Communication network feels that we will have to return to the wisdom of our traditions, our own desi seeds, plow-bullocks and cow-dung fertilizer-based farming if we want to save our tradition and, most important, the lives of our fellow farmers! By Babu Mayaram