Palghar (Maharashtra): From travelling to Vasai which is 50 kms away to work as a farm labourer to owning a farm that earns him a livelihood and also feeds his family of 12, it has been a remarkable six-year journey for Pandu Kashinath Gagnde. And the magic mantra is organic farming, says the 42-year-old tribal from Vikramgad taluka’s Kondgaon village.
Thanks to the combined efforts of the Dr M L Dhawale Memorial Trust and the ISKCON temple that buys their produce, Pandu and 54 other farmers in the area have transformed their lives and their family members.
As a part of the organic farming project in Vikramgad, Pandu has also acquired the skill of making Jeevamrut, a soil enhancer prepared by mixing cow dung, cow urine and ingredients like jiggery, and seeds for the next season. With him in the group, there are 55 are farmers from villages like Karsud and Ghaneghar who have learnt organic farming to improve their income levels. In addition to this, they have also learnt how to eliminate pesticides and fertilisers used in conventional farming that cause numerous health hazards.
According to Jayendra Sutar, who monitors the initiative on behalf of the Dhawale Trust, the cycle for vegetables is maintained with 10 varieties of vegetables. These are sent to the ISCKON temple, about 50-60 km away, which has signed a contract with the group. This gives Pandu and his comrades an assured market as well as assured price.
Vishnu Vikram Bhoye, 41, from Karsud village in Vikramgad taluka, for instance, said that in addition to paddy, he cultivates various vegetables, including local varieties of karli, shirali and dangri.
It’s a win-win situation, he told DNA. Organic vegetables do not just fetch a better price, but also cost less to grow since he saves on the expenditure for fertilizers and chemicals. “Besides, we are not exposed to any health hazards.”
Emphasising on the importance of having a contract with ISKCON to sell vegetables, Laxman Dadu Mahale, another farmer, said they earlier had to travel to the weekly market. Now, thanks to the annual contract, ISKCON vehicles come to three collection points. The vegetable is weighed and two receipts are made – one for the farmer and the other for the temple trust. The temple deposits money in the account of the farmers’ group and the group secretary or president who operates the account individually pays each farmer.
According to Ujjwala Pendse of the Dhawale Trust, work on organic farming started 10 years ago but the vegetable project took off five years ago. “Credit, market linkage, technical know-how and monitoring is important for success of organic farming,” she said, adding that traditionally tribal farmers grew paddy during the kharif season but could not cultivate anything during rabi because of water scarcity.
The trust, she disclosed, provides for interest-free loan of Rs 10,000 to farmers to enable them to grow vegetables through the year. This task gets additional help from organisations like the US-based Progress for People in India and HDFC bank through its corporate social responsibility (CSR) plan.
Pendse informed that there are three regular trainers and the trust also invited outside experts and sent farmers for training programmes and conferences.
Venkat Iyer, a trainer, gives the credit of the organic revolution to the farmers. The farmers have transformed their lives themselves, the trust only showed them the way to achieve it, he said.
Initially, there were only 25-30 farmers who were part of the project. This increased to 55 when another group of farmers joined. And now, said Ujjwala Pendse of the Dhawale Trust, a third group is ready to join, taking the number of farmers to 75. The trust works in nine villages of Vikramgad Taluka and conducts regular awareness meetings, training programmes and focuses on success instead of just increasing the number of farmers.
The villages are almost 180 km from Mumbai and ISKCON temple which is almost 50-60 km away has signed a contract to take away all the vegetables grown by tribal farmers from three pick-up points. Money is deposited in bank account and the farmers receive money from the group leaders who operate the bank account.
Soil quality improves with organic farming since no pesticides or chemical fertilisers are used.
Farmers are taught to prepare their own Jeevamrut
Farmers are maintaining their own seed bank.
In addition to traditional paddy, farmers are earning more