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Organic Farming Projects at Dalit Women Power

UN Report on Organic farming in India states benefits of organic farming (January 2005)

Virtually all women who are members of DWP are farmers. Most of them work as agricultural labourers and own only very small amounts of lands on which they cultivate their own vegetables. A couple of years ago, DWP started teaching composting and organic farming techniques. The goal is to increase yields and improve soil fertility, while decreasing dependence on artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Many of the soils are very depleted. Erosion is a serious problem.

Most members of DWP work as farm labourers. Here they are harvesting rice. For their work they do often not get money but get part of the harvest.

Why Organic Farming?
India is faced with a rapidly growing population and a limited amount of land. Already, most of its cultivatable land is used for agriculture and many of its forests have disappeared. To get the most out of their often poor soils, farmers typically use as much artificial fertilizer and pesticide as they can afford, and without any protective gear.
The Green Revolution that started in the 1960s introduced high-input farming all over India. In many regions the "Green Revolution" initially increased yields - but at a high cost! In the long run it has caused erosion, severe water pollution, and ground water depletion.

Dalit farmers are often so poor that they cannot afford expensive fertilizers and pesticides. Since the green revolution, they have also lost much of their knowledge about natural, organic farming. One farmer was very surprised when she learned that the ladybugs on his aphid-infested mustard plant are good, that they eat the aphids. She said he had always killed them, thinking they were eating the plants. Such lack of knowledge leads to very poor yields. If a poor farmer has many children (the average in the area is about five kids per family), this means she will not be able to feed them properly. Consequently, many of the children suffer from malnutrition. Sustainable, organic farming is ideal for these poor areas: it is environmentally sound, requires very little money, and is labour intensive. Done right, organic agriculture can bring high yields and provide the people and their children with healthy, nutritious food. Most importantly, organic farming improves soil fertility, whereas high-input agriculture over time almost always depletes soil micro-nutrients and leads to salinisation.

Enid is teaching women double digging and composting, integral components of biointensive farming.

Biointensive Farming at DWP
DWP's organic farming project was started a few of years ago. An Indian organic farming expert spent several weeks in Bodh Gaya to teach the women organic farming composting methods. After his visit, we realized that we needed to find a method that was particularly suited for the women of DWP.

In December 2003, Enid Kollmuss from Switzerland visited Sr. Mary in Bodh Gaya and taught bio-intensive farming methods to the women there. In March 2004, Enid and her daughter Anja have completed an intense weekend studying bio-intensive farming methods in Northern California.

In the summer 2005, Anja returned to Bodh Gaya. Together with 16 women and Sister Mary, she traveled to a small NGO in West Bengal (SEVA) for a 5-day long organic farming training.

Left: Classroom traing on organic farming and natural pesticides.
Right: Field visit to an organic rice fields at SEVA

Sister Mary writes:

The training program at SEVA Calcutta at the end of August 2005 – has had a very beneficial impact in the villages. The women who participated were very enthusiastic about implementing what they had learnt and sharing their knowledge with the others.

One serious problem that all face is the absence of rain this year in the monsoon season. This has had an adverse effect on the cultivation of rice, vegetables and fruit – and also on the production of fodder for the livestock.

Left: Discussion about organic farming at SEVA
Right: Pigs are a major nuissance because they roam freely, they destroy crops.
This man is watching the corn fields and protects them from the pigs.

During September and October 2005 at 10 nodal villages we have had “cluster level” one–day training programs for our women’s groups. Around 80-100 women participated in each of these nodal training programs.

This year the main topis was organic farming, smokeless chulas, and a pressure cooker. The methodology was as follows :

* The staff went as a team equipped with charts, designs of the smokeless chulas, and a pressure cooker.
* The other women who came along with us to Calcutta and who live in far off villages – also acted as “resource persons”.
* There were lively sessions and interaction and a lot of interest and questions about the preparation of compost, pesticides and the use of the smokeless chulas, and a pressure cooker.

On the practical level –

* Compost mounds have been put and organic farming has been done in the small plots of most of the women who went to Calcutta. Other women too have got into the movement and there is quite a demand.

The women learn how to build a compost. At SEVA (West Bengal) the climate is tropical and the lush. One of the problems in Bihar is that it is so dry. Most of the original forest has been cut down. The women have very little to compost. Everything is used: cow dung and dry leaves as fuel for cooking, straw and left over vegetables are fed to the animals. This is one of the reasons why we have started a smokeless chulas, and a pressure cooker program.

To protect young fruit trees from roaming life stock, they are fenced in with bricks and with straw.

Left: Uma with her compost pit
Right: Shanti with her vegetable garden.

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