The mountainous community has been at the receiving end of numerous hardships and health issues. Underweight and malnourished children, anaemic girls and increasing immunity deficiency amongst women are just a few problems amidst the mountain of critical health problems that affect the members of mountainous communities. With an increasing reliance on the consumer market and the produce that is obtained through extensive inorganic farming, these problems have worsened even more. Noodles, Maggie, and other fast foods that have gained huge popularity through the medium of Television ads has gravely affected the already depleting diet diversity and nutritional intake of children. As green vegetables, fruits and other traditional cuisines have started to disappear from the diet of both the young and adults, mountain communities are faced with the dual challenge of a fading culture and an unhealthy society.
It was in light of these pressing issues that I set about working in hopes of improving the nutritional status of my own children, family including that of my village community of Kujoli Village in Hawalbagh Block of Uttarakhand. Farming has been a challenge in the mountainous regions, something that has been further aggravated by the changing climatic conditions, animal menace, and scattered land holdings. Thus, sustainability solely through farming has proved a challenge especially for small scale farmers. I was able to understand these complexities through my participation in the NMA II program with the help of Lok Chetna Manch and the different capacity building trainings and community meetings that they organised. Maintaining a stable income without practising an agriculture that was diverse and organic had increasingly become difficult which was being reflected in the poor nutritional status of not only my family but also in the community. With regards to this I signed up to undertake building of a backyard kitchen garden as a micro intervention in hopes of reducing my reliance on market produce and work towards being self-reliant. By having a backyard kitchen garden, I could ensure the quality of the seed, the crop and also use organic ways of farming all adding up to a quality produce.
(Leela Rana in her Backyard Kitchen Garden)
With the help of line department, I was able to obtain fences for my backyard at a minimal cost which ensured that no wild animal could enter the field and destroy the crops that I planted. Having obtained the knowledge of integrated farming and the numerous benefits that it has, I also started poultry and dairy farming activities. This allowed me to have a robust form of agriculture which ensured diet diversity and an increased nutritional status for my family. Adding different forms of farming activities to my agriculture ensured that I could sustain the family and its nutritional requirements without depending on the market produce whose quality was uncertain and was also at a significant distance from the village. In addition to this the kitchen garden along with my poultry and diary slowly began yielding produce in surplus which I could then sell within the village thus adding another source of income apart from what I could obtain from selling produce of the field.
(Leela Rana with her cows)
The success of my venture encouraged my fellow women as well to incorporate at least some of the farming practises that I practised in their lives as well. Poultry, Dairy and organic farming along with backyard kitchen gardens began being practised within the community with the members beginning to understand the value of integrated and organic farming. Speaking with the women of my village I began explaining them the importance of diet diversity and the need of cultivating traditional crops and grains such as black soy bean, horse gram, barley, amaranth, barnyard millet, finger millet etc. Coarse grains and traditional cuisines of the mountainous regions are extremely rich in nutrients when compared to more popular crops such as wheat and paddy. In addition to this they are also less susceptible to climatic fluctuations and unpredictable rainfall. This helps the farmers of the mountainous regions specifically as they are extremely vulnerable to rainfall patterns which often become a deciding factor in the final produce. Growing traditional crops and coarse grains is also culturally significant for the mountainous communities as they help preserve the fading culture and identity which connects the communities to their ancestors and roots. Such discussions with the community members during meeting and capacity building trainings organised by Lok Chetna Manch encouraged the women of my village to come together and form a SHG through which the women formed a community run dairy headed by me. Every morning women from the village come to the collection centre at my home and submit the milk from their home after keeping enough of it for themselves and their families. The amount of milk submitted by each person is recorded and sold to Anchal Dairy. Towards the end of the month Anchal Dairy adds money for the milk in the account of the SHG which we then divide amongst each other. This way the entire community has added an additional source of income for itself along with boosting its nutritional status and ensuring that women and kids consume it in healthy amounts.
Amidst the uncertainties of farm produce in the mountainous regions and the depleting nutritional status and diet diversity, practising a sustainable organic agriculture that ensures self-sufficiency amongst the members of the farming community has greatly helped the members of my village. By having such a robust system, we have been able to enhance our nutritional status, especially that of our children and women who are worst affected due to the poor diet diversity and nutrition deficient produce of the market. Capacity building trainings organised under the NMA II program have further helped us in adding various sources of income though integrated farming practises, a result of which has been a better more healthy community in the Kujoli Village.
- Edited, Translated and Compiled by Shreyas Joshi
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
The growth and health of women and children in the mountainous regions such as the villages in the hills of Uttarakhand has been in a steady state of decline. Anemia amongst women and stunting in children has become a common sight in mountainous regions as nutrition has taken a hard hit. This has chiefly been a result of the nutrition deficient diet that has overwhelmed the traditional cuisines that were known for their rich iron, protein and other mineral and vitamin content. With a steep decline in the cultivation and general awareness regarding coarse grains mountainous regions are faced with the dual threat of losing their cultural heritage and a rich source of nutrition.
A lot of the young generation that lives or has lived in the mountainous regions is either unaware of recipes of locally farmed coarse grains or has willingly moved away from it due to the misconceived image that has been painted around them. With the passage of time dishes made using pulses like bhatt, gahat and grains like millets have gotten associated with the idea of shame and embarrassment. A belief that those who consume these belong to the underprivileged and lower class of the society has been established both around the people who consume them and the grains themselves. Such a misconception has ultimately led to a lot of people abandoning the local produce of mountainous regions and the cuisines made using them for more popular and publicised cereals and pulses. The issue of social embarrassment gets further magnified when families that would occasionally consume cuisines made of bhatt, lingura (fiddlehead fern), nettle leaf, barnyard millet or other coarse grains would not even think once about serving such cuisines when guests visit them.
Traditionally made indigenous Red Rice
It was the understanding of these issues when I trained with Lok Chetna Manch under the NMA II program that I felt the need to emphasize upon the importance of our traditional, cultural and nutritionally rich coarse grains. During the course of my capacity building training I was also made aware about the numerous medicinal values (immunity enhancers) that these grains and local fruits such as Hisalu (Golden Raspberry), Bedu & Timil (varieties of Indian Fig), wild strawberries and Kafal possess.
Chapati made from Horse Gram
Due to various reasons that made sustainability on farming alone extremely difficult, people gradually began doing away with farming in mountainous regions all together. Added to this, the increasing gap between mountainous people and their culture has further caused a lot of coarse grains to reach the verge of disappearance both from memories and from fields. Furthermore, cuisines made out of such grains do not look as appealing as the white basmati rice or the chapatis made out of wheat which has led to a lot of the young generation to not try or even accept them. This fact has been further capitalised by the junk food market and the way these food items have been publicised. The young generation is greatly of the belief that consuming junk food associates them to a certain class that they aspire for or look up to. But what they are unaware in their consumption of all this “junk” food is numerous health issues that spring up due to an excessive and regular consumption of such food items.
In an effort to counteract this I planned to creatively implement my learning from the training at Lok Chetna Manch to organise a Traditional Food Making Competition in my village (Digoti) along with my friend Deepa. It was aimed to bring back traditional cuisines in the plates and minds of the people, especially the children and the young generation. The food was asked to be made in such a way that there were numerous different dishes made out of a single variety of coarse grain. My intention behind doing this was to make people realise that cooking coarse traditional grains was not as much of an effort as it has been made to believe. But the most important thing that happened through the traditional food making competition was that the community could come together and share their experiences, their knowledge and thoughts about why the mountainous farming community has slowly ventured away from the traditional and locally available grains and fruits.
Various Traditional Cuisines prepared for the competition by the villagers
It was in this coming together of the community that I along with my friend Deepa could talk to them about the common issues that they brought up. The people sat with us to discuss problems related to animal menace, the lack of awareness about the nutritional and health benefits of local and traditional coarse grains of mountainous regions amongst others. It was during this food making competition that I was able to explain to the farming community about the immensely valuable characteristics that grains like bhatt, gahat, millets amongst others have. Coase grains are also more adaptable and resilient to climatic fluctuations. With the changing rainfall patterns, growing water scarcity and unprecedented draughts, traditional food grains are one of the best options for farmers in the mountainous regions.
An elder woman from the village judging the traditional dishes that were prepared
Deepa and I also emphasised on how gradually due to the growing animal menace and the prominence of wheat and paddy in the market, the community has greatly reduced growing locally available traditional grains. This has doubly affected the community as the new generation is completely unaware of these grains and their innumerable benefits and since the grains are hardly planted, they have also been unable to taste the delicious traditional cuisines of the region. It has led to a community forgetting their cultural heritage that now exists only with the older generation. This was another important reason for conducting the competition as I thought of it as in innovative way to bring back recipes that were on the verge of being lost.
A community discussion being held after the completion of the competition
The success of the traditional food making competition greatly inspired children and the younger generation. As a consequence of this a group of young women went around the village each week to talk to elder women and learn traditional recipes from them. In addition to this as and when someone in the village prepares a traditional dish such as bhatt ki churkani, gahat ke dupke, bhang, dadim and/or alsi ki chatni, they make sure that they share it with their neighbours. In this way the young group of girls have started making an attempt to innovate these recipes and make them more diversified. Their efforts have helped in reviving various traditional recipes and in gradually developing a taste for them amongst young people.
Me awarding the winner of the Traditional Food Making Competition with a Prize
The overwhelming response from the community and the fact that a lot of young people wanted to talk more to me and the older people regarding these food grains further strengthened my resolve. It was heart warming and inspirational to hear the stories that elders of the village shared about their time farming and eating food made of traditional grains and fruits. The success of this endeavour boosted my confidence further to work on enriching the nutrition of the children of the community as the lack of it has been a major cause of concern and health problems such as stunting and anemia. To work on this, I have begun insisting the addition of healthy and nutrition rich diet to the mid-day-meal plan of students studying in primary schools and Anganbaris in Digoti and a few surrounding villages. While the effort is ongoing, I hope that its success will not only help the children to boost their nutritional status, but will also help them acquire a taste for our traditional cuisines and appreciate them.
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
During F2F, several issues were emerged out during the discussions. The issue of waste was the highlight for all the community since the agriculture communities were facing a lot of challenges due to the lack of awareness on the ill effects of plastic waste. The proper disposal was the major concern for every community since they were already experiencing the plastic disposal in the water system and in agriculture land. Practicing organic farming was not enough unless the waste issues are also addressed in the community.
As a Micro Intervention Rohit Rai from Suban Dhura hamlet of Mineral Springs conducted the waste management awareness programme to the community and with the support of Naturland Fair premium installed the waste bin around the village for the proper disposal of waste. The premium comes from the proceeds of the sale of tea of the Mineral Spring collective.
- Reported by Sailesh, Prerna, Darjeeling
An hour journey from Darjeeling via Lebong through a bumpy hilly road, you reach to Mineral spring Tea garden... well not a tea garden in that sense. Till 1952 it was operating a tea garden, and because of fights between trade unions, management and the owner - it fell apart and could not continue. It was completely shutdown in 1960. The land was mortgaged to Indian bank, and they wanted to sell the land. However, during the land settlement period - Government managed to get hold of the land and distributed among the dwellers of 12 hamlets of Mineral Spring Tea garden area. Well, that's not the story here. The story begins after this.
Around 500 tea labourers, who now have some land, continued keeping tree plants 50, 100, 200, 800 in their land along with some other plants, crops, orange, pigs, cows, vegetable … all mixed up. They use to sell individually in Darjeeling, which is far far, if you walk up! They eventually formed a Samity - a cooperative, with support of few extremely local enthusiast, and started operation like collecting of tea leaves from different household and develop MIS systems of data keeping, pricing, paying back to the producer and selling to a Tea company. There are 344 active tea growers now - who only sell green leaves (I have tasted tea made from their own consumption in a desi way … it is really awesome - REAL DARJEELING TEA). They have their own internal control system for organic certification. A business completely run by the community - and they are happy with keeping it that low. So they do not care about regulations, red tapes and red eyes … or eyes of any colour, for that matter.
Local RSP institution, Prerna is actively involved with this group and trained up 27 of them as RSP and they have started developing their own small projects like setting up plant nurseries, waste management etc. Will gradually publish the stories there.
This is the story of a garden-farm on an unlikely land. Kiran and her family took the initiative to turn their piece of land on a hill-side into a beautiful garden. This garden grows on soil which is quite rocky and required tremendous amounts of effort, energy and investments into tilling this land. However, Kiran and her family in less than a year managed to create a garden so beautiful that they have become a role-model in a certain sense to other farmers in the region. Their garden produces vegetables, fruits, walnuts, grains as well as flowers. It shows that nothing is impossible for one who is willing to take the extra mile. The troubles generally faced by farmers in the region are uncertain climate, infertile soil, inadequate water and largely animal menace (these include monkeys, wild boars and stray cattle) which seem to ruin everything that grows. Kiran and her family take equitable responsibility of their garden. They have built a relationship with their land and take care of it like they would a family member. The family has also begun to earn an income by selling surplus produce. This story has become an inspiration for all the RSPs who visited this garden. It truly has motivated many to follow her example of will and perseverance. It has also taught many that land requires love in order for it to flourish. Entering Kiran's garden is almost like entering a wonderland. It indeed is a goal which needs to be achieved for a sustainable future.
This garden-farm is located in Dugoda, Almora District, Uttarakhand, India. The farm has no irrigation facility. Thus, the family carries water in buckets on their shoulders or their head, bringing them daily from down the hill. Kiran's family includes herself, her husband, child, in-laws and her dogs. The selected RSPs of the NMA programme visited the garden-farm as part of their Capacity Development Programme facilitated by Lok Chetna Manch, Ranikhet on the 26th of July, 2019. This was to encourage kitchen garden-farming for domestic purposes in order to increase nutrition levels within the region.