One of the significant problems faced by remote villages of the mountainous regions is their increased distance to a readily functional health care center. Added to this the reduction in balanced diets with more fast foods dominating the everyday cuisines especially amongst children nutrition has become a key concern in these areas. As such to build the immunity of the people of these regions in order to fight ward off illnesses and other health related issues, it is vital to enhance their nutritional status.
Malyal Gaon in Dwarahat Block of Uttarakhand is one such remote mountainous village. Being at a significant distance from the main city itself, health care facilities in the village are a bare minimum. This poses a huge concern for the community as in an event of chronic illness; the distance to be travelled in order to reach a hospital is quite large. It was this concern that motivated me to practice an agriculture that would promote balanced nutritional diet within my community in turn ensuring a high nutritional status for my fellow villagers and enriching their immunity.
Farming, however, especially in the mountainous regions has always been a challenging task. Its complexity is further amplified by the scattered land holdings that most of the farmers possess. As such the farmer is faced with difficulties of losing efficiency in managing each patch of land that he/she possesses. To add to their woes the menace of wild and stray animals that leads to significant amount of crop damage thus reducing the overall produce and the nutritional status taking a hit as a consequence inspired me to invest myself in the nutritional upliftment of the community. It was keeping all this in mind that I undertook a capacity building training with Lok Chetna Manch under the NMA II program.
The training helped me to understand how closely animal menace is tied to the nutrition of the community and the different ways in which I could tackle this problem. I learned about the various government schemes that made it affordable and easy to procure fences for the fields so that they could be protected from animals such as wild boars and deer that ruin the crops. I was also able to use the internet to look for traditional homemade ways to keep the wild animals at bay, such as spreading human hair around the border of the field, or using fermented cow urine to keep monkeys away.
However, just taking precautionary measures can take you only this far. In order to successfully mitigate the nutritional deficit present in the diet of the community I had to work towards changing their food consumption practices. In the capacity building training, I was introduced to the concept of a balanced nutritional diet which not only incorporates different vegetables and pulses but also has eggs, meat and fruits in it. In order to help the community transition from its nutritionally deficient diet I worked on practising an agriculture that was diverse in its approach. In order to reach this goal, I invested myself in animal husbandry by doing poultry farming, fish farming and rearing a cow along with a buffalo.
With the support of Lok Chetna Manch under the NMA II program I was able to obtain 100 chicks to improve the community’s protein intake. While most of the chicks are still young, around 10-12 of them have started laying eggs that I both sell within the village and use for our daily consumption. As the community began to understand the value that poultry possesses many of my fellow villagers approached me and I was able to sell them a few of the chicks so that they could start their own backyard poultry farm and consume eggs and meat. This enabled me to generate some income by the sale of chicks and the eggs and also made the community integrate animal husbandry along with agriculture.
Backyard Poultry Farm
The cow and buffalo that I have, have helped in fulfilling the milk requirement of my family along with that of my neighbours whom I sell the remainder of it. It has worked in enriching the calcium intake of the children and the females in the community that are worst affected with nutritional deficiency which often leads to weakness amongst women and stunting in children. In an attempt to capitalize as much as I can even on the waste from my cow and buffalo, I have installed a Bio-Gas plant that uses the vapours upon the decomposition of the dung to fuel the stoves on which my family cooks food. This way my reliance on ordinary LPG cylinders has greatly reduced and I only need to buy one every 3 months or so. The dung that is once decomposed, I use it to fertilize my fields and nursery.
Bio Gas Plant
The growing level of health issues amongst the village community in the mountainous regions is another consequence of the nutritionally deficient diet that is prevalent in the community. In order to work on this, I sought for a grant from the fishery department to construct a fish tank which I fortunately received. As fishes are a wonderful source of nutrition being rich in vitamins and minerals along with having low-fat high-quality protein, the construction of the fish tank served as an important step in improving the nutritional status of the community. By informing my fellow villagers about the huge nutritional value that fishes possess and the benefits of a nutritional rich diet, the demand around fish meat greatly increased. This way, apart from the community benefiting from the rich meat, I was able to add an additional source of income for myself. The line department was extremely supportive and helped with the delivery and procurement of the fish roe in spite of the poor road connectivity to the village.
Fish pond Ajola grass for fishes in the pond
The fish tank harbours close to 16000 fish roe at present. This is apart from the already mature fishes of three different varieties including Rohu. A special type of fish grass is fed to the fishes grow healthy for consumption and also produce quality waste which I later use to fertilize my field where I grow spices such as Black cardamom, ginger, turmeric etc. In addition to this I have also put together a nursery in an attempt to improve the biodiversity of my region. A successful collaboration with JICA has enabled me to obtain walnut tress of which at least 4 have come of age to bear fruit while another 40 are ready to be planted. To boost the variety of trees within the nursery that would ultimately help improve the biodiversity of the region I also have saplings of Oak, Utees, Retha, Cedar, Bedu, and Harar in the nursery. All this exists along with saplings of Mango, Almond, Guava, Plum, Malta, Peach, Apricot and Jackfruit that make the nursery a space of educational value as well as a source of income due to the demand that organizations like Grassroots have for them.
Oak, Utees, Retha saplings in the Nursery Walnut tree in fruition
In order to boost the medicinal knowledge and in turn the immunity of the community I am also growing aloe vera that can be used to extract it juice and chamomile for tea which serve the purpose improving the immunity of a community that is especially vulnerable due to the lack of medical facilities. The problems compound as connectivity in the village is still pretty bad both in terms of internet and transport. This often leads to a lack of knowledge around government schemes and policies that might benefit the farming community. As the farming community finds itself struggling with the bureaucracy, swinging between one department to another looking for schemes that might help them with farming a lot of them lose hope and give up on farming altogether. Perhaps, finding ways to ease the access of information and connectivity would really benefit the farmers of mountainous regions like that of my village.
In the meantime working on agriculture in order to sustain oneself and have a decent livelihood becomes a prime concern for those who live in these mountainous regions. Having adopted animal husbandry along with organic farming practices that utilise traditional methods, seeds and techniques I find myself fortunate to be able to address these concerns that affect me deeply.
Indian Gooseberry, Turmeric & Mangoes are ready to market
Fishes in fish pond
Compiled, Translated and Edited by Sheyas Joshi
Seed banks have for generations been a crucial resource for storage and conservation of germplasm. Our ancestors from the beginning of agriculture and domesticity ensured that they always stored some seeds with them. The reasons behind these were not only social or spiritual but also scientific. Seeds are the primary resource that enable any form of plant growth within the soil, and a lack of them or an unavailability would result in no plant or crop growth. Such an understanding might have been the reason why the first thing to be protected during ancient battles amongst different tribes were seeds. In the present scenario the utility of a seed bank becomes more visible during times of acute crop failure which has become very prominent due to erratic rainfall, unprecedented droughts which are all a result of climate change.
More and more farmers both small- and large-scale ones can be seen suffering from issues pertaining to a change in weather patterns which have adversely affected their crop production by altering previously known crop cycles. Farming communities around the country have been struggling to sustain themselves which is reflected by the increasing migration of people from rural areas like that of Uttarakhand and in the rising number of suicides committed by farmers. In such trying times, when crops resilient to changing weather patterns appear as a boon, a place for storing and protecting their seeds becomes extremely important. What seed banks offer then is exactly that place where such resilient seeds can be stored for future to obtain more crops that would have similar resilient characteristics use as well as to create a buffer in case of an emergency when something like a crop failure happens.
Storing seeds using traditional farming practices
Mountainous regions especially within the state of Uttarakhand are marked by water scarcity with regards to the irrigational need of crops. Coupled with the changing climate that has harshly affected both the rainfall pattern and the amount of rain, seeds that can survive even under stressed rainfall spells are exactly what farmers hope for. As such whenever there is any batch of crops that the farmers come across which survived the brunt of low and erratic rainfall the protection and conservation of its gene pool becomes of utmost importance. A seed bank again comes in handy as it provides the right storage environment and a place where such resilient seeds can be kept to be kept in a dormant state, planted in the next sowing season or distributed within the community in hopes of helping fellow farmers.
Seed distribution to fellow farmers
As a common practice, crop plantation and cultivation involves sowing of seed and harvesting of crops to then again obtain seeds. However, after a due course of time, seeds either lose their fertility or acquire some form of mutation that makes them susceptible to one or the other form of disease. Another more important issue that becomes prominent once seeds from the same parent plants have been used over and over again is that the nutritional value that it holds falls down exponentially.
In such a case planting seeds that have been derived from the same parents over and over again increases the probability of crop failure. As such seed banks ensure that all seeds do not belong to the same parent plant or are a few generations old. Just like a bank that stores money, there are different clients who have varying amounts of money stored in the same bank. In a similar way by the help of Lok Chetna Manch, I- Bhupendra Joshi of Galli Village (Uttarakhand) developed a community seed bank that allows storage for different types of seeds thus promoting agro-biodiversity.The seeds are obtained from different parent plants and contributed by various members within the farming community. To further increase their viability, I ensured that a mixed procurement of the seeds was conducted not only from the mountain regions of Kumaon and Garhwal, but also from terai regions and some parts of Nepal.
The seed bank presently has 30 varieties of paddy, 3 varieties of finger millets (such as golmandwa, nangchunimandwa, jhumkiyagarhwaimandwa), 3 varieties of wheat, 2 varieties of amaranth (kala chua and safedchua), 2 varieties of lentil, 2 varieties of horse gram, of foxtail millet and of barnyard millet. The seed bank also houses black soya bean, buckwheat, mustard, maize, rice bean, kidney bean (rajma), sesame, bottle gourd, pumpkin, cucumber, beans, cowpea, pea, black gram, barley.
Different varieties of seeds in the seed bank
Apart from these the bank also stores drought resistant crop varieties like moth beans, dudh-dhan(a type of paddy) and seeds of endangered plant species like that of perilla, flax (linseed), daulatkhani gehu (a variety of wheat).
Board of the Seed Bank
The seed bank has been a great help to the farming communities of neighbouring 12 Gram Panchayats of Dwarahat and Hawalbagh Development Blocks during the COVID-19 pandemic. As most of the country is still under the phase of unlocking and seed demand is high, the seed bank made it possible for the farmers to procure and continue farming much readily and easily. However, the seed bank is an endeavour which is community based and not individually owned. Its success depends on the community investing some amount of their healthy seeds back to the bank so that the process remains in continuation which can be seen through the increasing number of seeds within the bank. In the end, I would like to extend my thanks to Lok Chetna Manch and NMA II program that made the community seed bank a reality.
Compiled, Translated and Edited by Shreyas Joshi