Farming has been a challenge especially for the farmers in mountainous regions of Uttarakhand due to the immense water scarcity for irrigation of crops and the rampant animal menace. In the conventional way of making manure majority of the farming community was using semi-decomposed manure in their fields. As a result of this the land fertility doesn’t improve in accordance to the efforts of the farmers also leads to low yield which is also a cause a growing nutritional deficit within the people of the mountainous regions.
Upon realising the severity of this issue, I ensured that since the very beginning of my farming career in Khaldhar village (Rawari) of Dwarahat Block, Uttarakhand, I would practice advanced and innovative method of agriculture. To make this possible I tried to gain as much information as I could using the help of various agriculture departments that were in close proximity of my village. By contacting line departments, I gathered information on various advanced techniques in agriculture and allied activities.
I made sure that I participated in numerous training programs and lectures organised by line departments and research institutes in my village to improve my knowledge regarding organic farming. It also taught me the use internet which in turn enabled me to prepare homemade traps for commonly found insects that harm the crops. I also learned about bio-pesticides that were effective against beetle bug and other pests that damage crops. As a result of my learning I built a fruit fly trap myself and also procured one from the market to stop the menace to cucumbers by the fruit flies. Along with that I also prepared a cow urine sprinkler which prevented other common bugs and pests that harm the crops.
(Fermented Cow Urine being used to ward off monkeys) (Homemade Trap for Fruit Flies)
In the process of farming I constructed a kitchen garden next to my home which spans an area of 2 nalis. Here I planted different varieties of tomatoes, 2 varieties of cucumbers, 2 varieties of brinjals, pumpkins, ridge gourd, bottle gourd, potatoes, onion and garlic. Apart from growing vegetable in the kitchen garden I also planted various fruits to reduce the dependence of my family on produce that was inorganically farmed and sold in the market. To further boost the nutritional status of my family I planted watermelons, strawberries, avla (Indian gooseberry) and kandhari pomegranate. In an attempt to increase the variety of produce that I grew on my farm I have also begun making murabba and tomato sauce from the surplus produce that I obtain from my kitchen garden to sell them locally and boost my income. To further make use of the farm residue such as that outer coverings of bottle gourd, I made a creative attempt of using them as pots in which I have planted strawberries.
(Mr. Bhandari with local variety of Bottle Gourd) (Mr. Chandan Singh Bhandari with Sikkim’s variety of Garlic)
(Strawberries planted in pots made out of Bottle Gourd Shells)
To diversify my agriculture practice, I arranged 2 cows for animal husbandry by making use of various government schemes that helped me obtain them under subsidies. In order to provide the animals with adequate shelter I contacted the village panchayat to get a cowshed made under the MNREGA programme. With the help of Lok Chetna Manch I was also able to procure 25 chicks for my poultry farm. To improve the nutritional content of the feed for the chicks and the cows, I have been mixing it with tomatoes, green vegetables, finger millet and barnyard millet. The older cow provides me with about 6 litres of milk each day, a surplus of which I sell to the neighbouring families. While the chicks and the other cow is still young; by the time the Kharif period ends, I would be able to get enough eggs and milk from them to enhance the nutritional status of my family and that of the community.
(Cows in Mr. Bhandari’s cowshed) (Chicks eating feed made by Mr. Bhandari)
Most of the farmland in mountain regions is scattered as such it becomes extremely difficult to keep a watch on the land and ward off wild, stray animals who are a chief cause of crop failure. To prevent this from happening on my kitchen garden and other scattered farm lands, I arranged for fences through government schemes like Ajeevika (ILSP) and adopted other traditional practices that helped me ward off animals from the farmland. By using cow urine and fermenting it for a span of 3-6 months I successfully warded off wild animals like monkey. To keep wild boars at bay I scattered some human hair around the boundary of the farmland thus preventing damage to the crops.
Unlike the common intensive income generating farming that focuses majorly on monoculture, I adopted for a farming practise that promoted agro-biodiversity through multi-cropping. In accordance to my efforts with regards to organic sustainable farming I arranged for vermicomposting, poly house, rain water harvesting tank and two power trailers (with the help of my SHG) from the Horticulture Department. Upon viewing my success many of my neighbouring farmers who previously practiced agriculture that was unsustainable and synthetic began transitioning to organic and sustainable form of agriculture. As farming is a community activity, many of my fellow farmers were able to make use of my rain water harvesting tank to make up for the water scarcity in the region.
(Rain water harvesting tank built with the help of Horticulture Department)
In hopes of improving the nutritional value of my produce and make it stand out further in the market I arranged seeds of radish, garlic and lady finger from Sikkim, and red & green chilli from the state of West Bengal. These plants stand higher in the table of nutritional index from the ones that are locally available thus helping improve the nutritional status of the entire community.
(Mr. Bhandari harvesting Sikkim seed radish)
In order to successfully tackle the water shortage in our region, I contacted Lok Chetna Manch which under the NMA II program provided me with capacity building training to better understand the issue of water management. Upon being trained, I along with my SHG are making attempts to obtain a solar water pump which would help us irrigate our farmlands using the water from the river runs at some distance from the village. However, this attempt has not come to fruition as of yet. In order to work around this, we contacted our local ex-MLA to get a pipeline laid down from the stream close to our village up to our farms. Currently the work is under progress.
Organic farming, multi-cropping and animal husbandry have greatly promoted agro-biodiversity in the agriculture that I have practised and the diet that my family intakes as well. It has hugely enhanced the nutritional status of my family and provided me with a sustainable, eco-friendly form of agriculture. The success of my endeavours has also influenced other fellow farmers to shift towards organic farming, adopt traditional & sustainable ways agriculture and also discuss all agricultural practices with each other. These issues include procurement of seeds, sharing techniques of preparing organic compost, providing knowledge of what crops varieties to grow in that particular season of farming and strategies of marketing the farm produce.
The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the various livelihood opportunities all over the world. While modern avenues of career opportunities are shrinking and a process of reverse migration towards mountainous regions is underway, Mr. Jaman Singh stands out as a model of utmost inspiration. Mr. Singh who hails from Karchooli village in the Tarikhet block, Uttarakhand is someone who has for long understood the importance of nutritional based organic farming and livelihood generation through diversified agricultural activities. He used previously had a private job returned to his ancestral land in the mountains some 25 years ago to begin a career as a farmer invested in organic farming and other farming related activities like animal husbandry.
Mr. Jaman Singh weeding his capsicum field
Where sustenance in farming has been made synonymous to monoculture, Mr. Singh challenged this notion through a practise of farming that focused on agro-biodiversity. In spite of the challenging conditions presented by mountainous regions, Mr. Singh accumulated resources not only for the production of grains but also for fruits and animal husbandry. This way he was able to reduce his dependency on vegetables, fruits and other edible products from the market quite significantly. In a time when most of the large-scale agricultural production is done on soil that is fertilised by artificial fertilisers and sprayed with toxic pesticides, Mr. Singh through his organic farming is an example of a welcome, sustainable change in agricultural practices.
Mrs. Jaman Singh carrying fodder for the cattle
At present Mr. Singh has been able to obtain around 20 litres of milk from his two Sahiwal cows along with close to 12 eggs from his hens each day. This way he has been able to significantly improve the nutritional status of his family and neighbouring farmers along with adding an additional source of income generation to his list as well.
Mr. Jaman Singh with his hens
Mr. Jaman Singh rearing his cows
While this seems like a perfectly happy story, Mr. Singh has had to face his fair share of struggles. One of the major problems that farmers in mountainous regions face is that of water and Mr. Singh was no exception to this struggle. However, where many would give up and return to the very private jobs they left before coming back and take up farming, Mr. Singh faced his hurdles head on. To meet his irrigational requirements, he built tanks by digging holes in the ground and covered them using plastic sheets. The result of this was that at present he is successfully growing vegetables like potatoes, radishes, capsicums, brinjals, tomatoes, bitter gourds, bottle gourds, ridge gourds, pumpkins, peas, beans, gaderi, garlics, onions, cauliflower all using organic cow dung manure. Since Mr. Singh from the very start focused on farming that promoted agro-biodiversity, he has been able to utilise his farm land of area less than an acre quite efficiently. Moreover, as all the crops and vegetables that he grows have different sowing and cultivation periods, the farm land is never bereft of crops growing in it, in turn providing a constant source of income. Since crops grown using organic manure is far richer in nutritional value than the ones grown using synthetic and artificial fertilisers, Mr. Singh has ensured that his family reaps benefit of the farm produce, which is reflected in the nutritional rich diet that they now follow.
Mr. Jaman Singh collecting Bottle Gourd
Through years of experience in farming he has begun storing and preparing seeds which he then sells in the market for additional income. Mr. Singh understands the value of sticking to the roots, which reflects both in his farming and his initial decision to return to his ancestral land and become a farmer. However, there is another facet that reflects the importance that Mr. Jaman Singh gives to roots and tradition of the hills. Apart from commonly produced crops, Mr. Singh has ensured cultivation of traditional nutrition-based grains such as gahat, bhatt, urad etc. Mr. Singh’s success and dedication towards the cultivation of traditional mountainous crops has encouraged other neighbouring farmers to adopt similar practises and engage in multi cropping nutrition based organic farming. Watching Mr. Singh grow almost all kinds of Rabi and Kharif crops, which chiefly include finger millet, Jhungra, Barley, Ramdana in his scattered land holdings of less than an acre in size has become a source of inspiration for other farmers around him to understand the benefits of agro-biodiversity and the numerous benefits it includes especially in making the farmers self-reliant and their agriculture both income generating and sustainable.
- Compiled and Edited by Shreyas Joshi
The topic of feminine hygiene, within that menstrual hygiene in particular has for long been seen as a taboo in India. The issue is so severe that approximately 60% of women in the country are annually diagnosed with vaginal and urinary tract diseases and infections all due to poor menstrual hygiene. Myths about menstruation that have been passed down through generations have ingrained themselves so deeply within the psyche of both men and women that breaking the bubble of these myths has been a challenging task. This difficulty quadruples when someone has to break the misbelief around feminine hygiene in rural mountainous regions. However, Ms. Deepa a RSP from Digoti Village in Dwarahat Block, Uttarakhand with the aid of her friend Ms. Anjali took upon themselves the responsibility of breaking the misconceptions around menstruation and feminine hygiene.
Though conversations around this issue are important as taboos around menstruation have greatly crippled women due to chronic reproductive infections; their initial attempts at getting the women from their village to talk about it wasn’t met with huge success. Where the subject of menstruation is seen as something very personal even in urban spaces getting women to speak about it in a small rural setting like that of Digoti was going to be really hard. But this is where the resilience of Ms. Deepa and her friend Ms. Anjali shine through the clouds of difficulties.
After an untiring effort of about 4 months during which Deepa and Anjali kept pursuing and persuading the girls and women of their village, the women from their village finally began taking interest in what they were trying to say. Slowly but steadily the number of women willing to listen to Deepa and Anjali grew. It was then when Deepa thought that now there were a healthy number of women who were willing to be a part of their drive on feminine hygiene and health that they organised a meeting at a local primary school.
Meeting being held at Primary School, Digoti
The meeting was a place of discussion where Deepa explained the girls and women of her village about the unsurmountable importance of feminine hygiene and how it corelates with health. During their conversations with the women they spoke of how approximately 82% of women in India are still unaware of sanitary napkins or what are they used for? Deepa and Anjali explained the consequences that women often have to face due to their negligence towards menstrual and genital hygiene and circulated leaflets which explained the same through pictures. They spoke of how ignoring the cleanliness of their genital regions along with using pieces of cloth instead of proper sanitary pads might lead to various bacterial and fungal infections in the urinary tract that could turn into something much larger and more serious, possibly even fatal.
The discussion however was not limited to just this. Deepa emphasized on the need of menstrual and genital hygiene pointing to the fact that the health and nutrition of women and girls in mountainous regions is pretty bad. As a consequence, they are more prone to diseases especially UTIs. She explained the importance of a healthy and nutrition rich diet which could be easily prepared at home through a combination of traditional grains and vegetables. Advising the women of her village to ensure a healthy diet along with taking care of their genital and menstrual hygiene Deepa and Anjali managed to change the outlook of their fellow village women.
Deepa addressing the participants on the issue of Menstrual Hygiene
During the discussion session Ms. Kiran a fellow female from Digoti spoke about the difficulties that women faced in terms of obtaining sanitary pads. As the village is at a significant distance from the market, timely availability of sanitary pads to women has always been a challenge. Ms. Kiran also spoke of the heavy costs that sanitary pads have which often become a barrier for a lot of women to avoid purchasing them in turn affecting their menstrual and genital hygiene.
Kiran raising the issues of affordability and accessibility of sanitary pads
Deepa and Anjali understood the gravity of these concerns and had already begun negotiations with different agencies through the help of Lok Chetna Manch. Two agencies, that is, Akshita Smith Foundation and Community Health Centre, Ranikhet were identified for arranging the supply of eco-friendly and affordable sanitary pads for their requirements. In order to keep a steady demand and supply the two young women asked the participants in the meeting to decide a centralised storage and distribution centre within the village along with seeking contributions for procuring the sanitary pads from both Akshita Smith Foundation and the Community Health Centre.
After a successful collective decision-making process and the assigning of roles for procuring and distribution of sanitary pads, the meeting was adjourned for the day. The participants met a week later where Deepa and Anjali along with the selected distributors distributed the first batch of a month’s supply of sanitary pads. This has now become a continuous cycle within the village and has been running smoothly. The females in the village have realised the effectiveness of the system and are now pooling money each month to procure the sanitary pads, in turn making it more reliable and sustainable.
Deepa distributing sanitary pads procured from Akshita Smith Foundation
This way the two women were able to generate awareness regarding the issue of menstruation and genital hygiene. But more than that they were able to help build a working, self-sustaining and centralised distribution and storage system for providing women of their village with sanitary pads. Deepa and Anjali have thus worked to transform a deeply personal issue like that of feminine hygiene to a community one.
- Compiled and Edited by Shreyas Joshi
Erratic rainfall, scattered holding, low production of pulses and financial constraints have emerged as key factors because of which certain villages of certain mountainous regions have suffered in incorporating protein rich food in their diet. With an increase in awareness about the importance of nutrition, backyard poultry farming, once practised by people of a specific caste, has increasingly gained popularity across the community.
Hema Devi and Janki Devi, two RSPs trained under the NMA II programme from Dadgaliya village have ensured that they not only work for their families but also inspire other community members to adopt practices to improve their nutritional status as well.
Meeting the nutritional requirements only by growing grains in the scattered land holdings that Hema and Janki Devi had, was a difficult task for them. However, under the NMA II programme they took up poultry farming as a means to compensate and work to enrich their daily diet. By rearingaround50 chicks, both Hema Devi and Janki Devi worked towards including eggs in their diet in turn improving their nutritional status as well as that of their families. This endeavour of the two RSPs helped to exhibit the benefits of backyard poultry farming in maintaining nutrition rich diet.
The two RSPs also showed how practising it has not only benefitted them in terms of raising their nutritional status but also aided in generating additional income. They raised their chicks using already available farm produce like that of millet, jhungra, wheat and green leafy vegetables. Within a couple of months both Hema Devi and Janki Devi were able to get enough eggs for themselves from the birds to meet their household nutritional requirements. As the quantity of eggs grew to a surplus, the two ladies began selling the eggs within their village and also in the market at the rate of 10 rupees per egg. Slowly in a bid to promote more villagers to practice poultry farming the two of them even sold a few of their chicks to others within the village. At a time when income generation was an all-time low around the country, Hema Devi and Janki Devi ensured they got a steady additional income through poultry farming.
Janki Devi collecting freshly laid eggs by her hens
Their efforts and results became the news around the village that led the other 60 families that lived in Dadgaliya to adopt poultry farming along with agricultural activities. Each family bought for themselves an average of 6 chicks to boost their nutrition and create an additional source of income. Upon realising the success of their endeavour, the two RSPs along with the field coordinators of Lok Chetna Manch proposed a training program for the villagers to improve their poultry farming practices.
Young girl holding her recently procured chick
Consultation with the experts in the field of poultry by the RSPs and the field coordinators of Lok Chetna Manch are also being done. Calcium rich feed is essential in the shell formation of the egg. Therefore feed rich in calcium is also being arranged to overcome this probable issue.
Hema Devi holding freshly laid eggs
The villagers have also built different kinds of structures to provide shelter to their birds in their own innovative ways. By using close-knit wires or broad knit wires for those who have 10 or more chicks and small homemade boxes for those who have fewer than 4, the villagers have tried to address the problem of shelter for the birds. However, housing the birds still remains a challenge for those who aim to expand their poultry farming. In hopes of addressing these issues field coordinators, RSPs with the support of local government departments like the Animal Husbandry and Rural Development are looking into other government schemes that could provide assistance in building shelters for the birds.
A homemade coop for the birds by a community member
The farming community of Dadgaliya village in this way have accomplished in finding a new, more sustainable way of improving their nutritional status, which has also become a boon for their finances. By adopting poultry farming along with their traditional farming practices the villagers are on the path of generating additional revenue close to that of 14,500 rupees per family annually.
Scattered landholding which had for long been an issue of great discomfort amongst the villagers in terms of obtaining enough produce for their own sustenance, nourishment and generating income has now been compensated by the adoption of poultry farming. This practice will also support in the immunity enrichment of the villagers to fight the corona pandemic. Through the tireless efforts of Hema Devi and Janki Devi with regards to generating awareness about poultry farming and its numerous nutritional benefits the farming community of Dadgaliya village is in the roads to prosperity.
- Compiled and Edited by Shreyas Joshi