‘Madagascar’ method retains the ‘organic’ prove Bilaspur farmers

April 20th, 2011 - 3:05 pm ICT by ANI  

By Baba Mayaram Hoshangabad, Apr 20 (ANI): The movie ‘Peepli Live’ exposed the underbelly of the television media and indeed the entire social political spectrum that feeds it while at the same time, watches it. It also drove home a very important message to all those who remain still disconnected with the woes of a sector, which still provides livelihood to a majority of our people. The rising cost of agriculture inputs, declining productivity lack of basic infrastructure, of core facilities like irrigation, are all impediments in the sector. It is something India can ill-afford, particularly at this point, when the challenge to provide food security to the millions who still remain out of the security net has taken centre-stage. The Central Government is in the process of hammering through the framework of a Food Bill to be then presented in the Parliament. No matter what shape the Bill takes, the source of the entire chain still remains the cultivation of foodgrains. What matters is the yield of the crop and that is dependent in turn on a variety of inputs, techniques and farming practices. Yet it is true that many traditional farmers are abandoning farming, migrating to towns and cities, unable to make that dexterous mix of the economical and effective farming practices for a good yield. Of course the next step is crucial for the farmer, the remunerative prices at the market place.For, no matter what the platitudes about India still living in her villages, if a farmer cannot make enough from his land to sustain his family, he is likely to quit. These are the disturbing figures that Peepli Live brought to our screens and our homes. Some 8 million farmers have quit agriculture between 1991 and 2001 (Census 2001)Perhaps all is not lost and this is the time to be creative. This is just what a group of ‘Farmers’ Collective’ has been doing in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh. Beginning in 2004, the initiative has caught the imagination of farmers in more than 50 villages spread over Kota and Lormi blocks. It promotes a unique practice, which would not only bring down the money-guzzling inputs into farming but also yield a good crop.Going by the rather exotic name ‘Madagascar’ which conjures up images of the island nation in the Africa it is based on some very simple and sound principles of working the soil and a deft combination of standard inputs like water, organic manure, and labour. So how is this different from any form of agriculture? The Madagascar way makes do with minimal use of water for cultivation and at the same time boosts the yield of paddy! Small wonder then, farmers across the region, from Mangalpur,Barar. Phulwari Para, Charpara and Manpur are adopting it. By the year 2009, 53 farmers in 5 collectives had already successful experimented with Madagascar. Institutions are also extending themselves to promote this unique and effective practice. The premises of the Health Centre (Swasthya Sahyog) in Ganiyari, is actually growing paddy using this technique in their very compound which is a large area. What is amazing is that despite the poor soil quality, as compared to the more fertile types found near riverbeds, the yield has been encouraging. The yields have been way above the yields of traditional farming.A truly worthwhile proposition for farmers seeking to better their prospects. Pradan, an NGO, which works on livelihood issues amongst the rural poor, is involved in the promoting this unique practice. Saroj a functionary says that the response has been stupendous. Around 3900 farmers have adopted this technique and the yields are over 50 quintals per hectare. In an agricultural scenario, which has remained bleak, marred by distress and suicides of farmers, this may be a small dot of hope. Pradhan has promoted this practice in areas of Madhya Pradesh, including Dindori, Mandla, Balaghat, Kesla(Hoshangabad). Of course each region would have its own peculiarities of soil type, rainfall and the technique needs to lend itself to a variety of conditions. So how exactly does this work? The Madagascar technique uses a curious hand-held device called ‘Beeder’ for tilling the soil work, which facilitates the conversion of plants and roots in the soil into a type of manure for the crop. The tossing and turning of the soil helps earthworms to work their way to the deeper levels, thus opening up air channels for the roots, allowing the roots to breathe. The smaller roots, twigs and leaves are worked up into a ‘pre-mix’ of the compost. The crop is tilled with the ‘beeder’ after a gap of 10 days. It also turns the age-old concept of paddy farming on its head. Conventional wisdom says that paddy crop requires enormous quantities of water. The stereotypical picture of women bent over paddy crop in ankle deep water captures this scenario. The Madagascar technique does not need this. On the contrary, it sees standing water as an impediment for the crop, preventing the soil from drawing in the air, stifling the roots. Not just that. This type of inundation makes the roots rot faster. Infact the field is dug into fine trenches, which allow the water to pass through, not to stand. The Madagascar view is diametrically opposite all that has been handed down as traditional practice of paddy cultivation! This is the essence of organic farming. Unlike common perceptions especially in the urban elite circles, organic farming is not some ‘exotic’ type of agriculture. Indeed it uses the ‘live’ content of the soil, the richness of the biodiversity to turn into compost for nourishing the soil. Jacob Nathaniel, an agricultural activist who has led local initiatives to enhance cultivation is brimming with confidence and joy at the success of this seemingly innocuous technique, which originated far away in Africa, which have found an echo in villages half-way across the world! At a time when chemical fertilizers and resource-guzzling inputs into agriculture, this makes enormous sense, and this echo, this response is being felt in many countries. In India too, several states have quietly adopted it. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tripura, Kerala, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal among them. Still other states including Gujarat, M.P, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand are gradually waking up to its immense potential to give agriculture a much-needed fillip in way that makes nature an ally. In Chhattisgarh, this has come together in a small way in Bilaspur. It could herald a much-needed change in farmers’ fortunes in this tribal state. (ANI)

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