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Organic village

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From what I have heard, Karnataka is the only state in India with a policy on organic farming. It was started in 2005 with an idea of converting 1000 hectares of land in each district to organic farming. In 2007 this was extended to 1000 districts in each tehsil over a three year period. The govt. provides full financial assisstance o an NGO engaged in the field of organic farming to motivate and train farmers from one gram sabha to convert their fields to organic techniques. While covering the full cost of some initial investments like the tanks used for vermi composting, partial assistance is provided for supplies such as earthworms for the vermicompost pits, neem cakes, etc. The NGO is paid about the amount needed to cover expenses of a full time field worker and a coordinator. Labour and other costs are borne by the farmer. A certain amount is also set aside to cover certification.

I visited the organic village work under taken by Sahaja Samrudha in Huliyur village in the Biligiri Ranganabetta Hills of Kollegal district. The soil conservation work by another NGO MyRADA during the last decade can be seen in the many bunds and check dams across the countryside. Chandrashekhar, the full time field worker is working with about 40 to 50 farmers. I visited just before the rains, and hence sowing, began. Alongwith compost and vermiculture manure, they were ready with a variety of different seeds primarily of traditional varities. Many families also had a few heads of cattle and had taken to cultivating Azola, a fern that serves as a high protein food supplement.

I tagged along with Krishna Prasad, the Sahaja Samrudha coordinator visiting the village to discuss the plans for the near future including the upcoming start of the growing season. Most of the land was non irrigated and receive a reasonable amount of precipitation through the season. The soil and the climate were best suited for growing traditional millets like raagi, saame, navane, etc. A few varities of dry land paddy were also being planned to be grown.

Karnataka initiating measures at the policy level to move towards organic farming is a laudable first step. But being the first of its kind the organic village policy has a few desirables. While the policy takes a fairly detailed look at the on-field needs of organic farming, it does not address the market needs of the organic produce. Even though this is mentioned to be a contribution from the primary NGO to the project, it does not allocate the necessary funds. Secondly, providing funds for expanding the program to neighbouring farmers after the first year would help accelerate the spread of organic farming. While a three year program helps introduce the concepts and techniques of organic farming, there is a strong need to make consultations with experts available to farmers on an ongoing basis for a much longer duration. This would allow the farmers to wean themselves off the decades of farming according to ‘extension’ programs and gain confidence to grow and sell their organic produce on their own.

Written by Dwiji

Thursday, July 17th, 2008 at 14:09

Saving the Hallikar

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The Hallikar is a cattle line found in southern Karnataka and north western Tamil Nadu. These are hardy cows that have been used to plough fields, draw carts and water, extract oil, thrash and grind grains, etc. Hallikar were apparently used extensively by Tipu Sultan’s army to cart his artillery across from one battle to another. There are also stories of how the light from the torches tied to their horns and the dust raised by their hooves decieved the British Army of Tipu’s force distributions in the battle field.

These cattle are typically taken to graze in the forest and usually this means a five or more kilometer walk in each direction. Fed on the wild grass and pretty much no fodder, their milk is said to have special medicinal qualities.

A Hallikar among some 20 cattle heads that a Lambani family reared near Odeyarapalya

A Hallikar among some 20 cattle heads that a Lambani family reared near Odeyarapalya

Sahaja Samrudha is starting an endeavor to conserve the hallikar line by working with the communities engaged in cattle rearing. During my visit to Odeyarpalya and neighbouring villages on July 8th and 9th, Krishna Prasad from Sahaja Samrudha discussed some of the challenges in achieving this objective – low milk yield, the competing interest of forest conservation by reducing grazing, the need to define a niche market, and the sheer distance to major markets (4 hours to Mysore or Dharmapuri, 6 hours to Salem or Bangalore).

Before going to the region I had heard and read that families from the Bedara Kampaliga caste consider it their duty to take care of cattle and thereby have herds of more than 30 heads. During the visit I was surprised to find that pretty much every other family had more than 30 heads in their herds! Sahaja intends to work with these families and find ways to encourage protecting the genetic purity of the Hallikar. The challenges are daunting but Sahaja has a lot of experience in facing up to such situations in bringing organic agriculture in southern Karnataka to the state it is in today.</p

Written by Dwiji

Saturday, July 12th, 2008 at 13:55

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