Assam farmer Samir Bordoloi

Ask a teenager what they want to become when they grow up, and you will hear a range of answers, from mainstream options like doctors, engineers and pilots to off-beat options like marine biologists, archaeologists or something whacky like a stuntman.

But what are the chances they will say ‘farmer’? Slim to none. 

It is nothing less than a travesty that the modern generation (and the previous generation too, to be fair) have never looked at agriculture as a viable and/or secure option. This is even more disheartening for Northeast India, which is a biodiversity zone and home to about several tribal communities, and where agriculture forms an inseparable part of our lives. 

Despite owning and having access to land, many from the Northeast prefer to work in underpaid, overworked jobs which never allow you to escape poverty, instead of working in agriculture. But how did we arrive at this point? Why is farming no longer considered a reliable source of livelihood by the youth? Why are we more alienated from our land than ever, even as we become used to the impact of climate change? 

Farmers like Samir Bordoloi are working day and night to address these concerns, and ‘Green commando’ is one such initiative. 

Pictures of fit, gun-toting, serious-looking men flash in our heads when we hear the word ‘commando’. But Bordoloi’s commandos are nothing like that. Think more on the lines of giggling, curious teenagers with a never-ending appetite to learn more about where their foods come from. 

Bordoloi, like many people, realised the intensity at which the cultural food wisdom is vanishing and the pace at which food insecurity is increasing due to unsustainable farming. “I started the concept of green commando to attract the young people towards this noble cause of growing their food. It’s about the traditional food wisdom, how we conserve it, we consume it and commercialise it for agrarian sustainability,” Bordoloi told EastMojo.

He further added how our traditional food wisdom had changed with the introduction of exotic food crops and despite having a large variety of traditional foods, we are inclined towards foreign foods. “Today we are dependent on the whole value chain of the corporations, from seeds to the feeds and somehow our independence is curtailed from growing our food from our seeds using our strength. But rather than depending on the corporations if we sow a traditional food item, we can grow it, consume it and also commercialise it. With commercialisation, the product will even get a good market identity,” he added. 

Food connects us with our roots. The Joha rice of Assam, the Red rice of Nagaland or the Black rice of Manipur reflect one’s tradition. “If we crack the grain of a local seed it can tell us the story of our existence. But today the ‘local seed’ has been changed into ‘hybrid seed’ which is creating a threat to the traditional food wisdom. The food industry is one of the largest industries, and this industry is penetrating the farming community and making the farmer dependent on them by changing the entire seed so that they can have control over the entire food chain,” Bordoloi adds. 

To sensitise people regarding these things, Samir Bordoloi needed a group of like-minded people whom he can train so that they can adapt to their community. Thus the green commandos were born. They are the preachers as well as the bridge which connects the farmers with the consumers to establish a good market relation. 

Bordoloi started Green Commando’s formal training in 2017 in Sonapur and now there are 456 green commandos. The food forest of Sonapur is their camp which is also the home to many wild animals, ranging from wild boars, leopards and elephants. “When I first started the food forest at Sonapur, I didn’t want to clear up the forest so what I did was plant vegetables without clearing the forest. There were no animals then. At first, I planted taro and turmeric, and I noticed wild boars came to the forest, followed by leopards. After that, when I planted the banana and elephant apple trees, the wild elephants came which were chased away by the villagers. So the animals, as well as the humans, eat from there,” Bordoloi said, giving an overview of the food forest. 

The coexistence and the correlation that he witnessed there and the compassion that existed between him, the animals and the whole biosphere gave birth to “compassionate farming”. The forest gave him the power of independence. “For farming, I don’t have to take a bank loan and become a debt farmer; rather, I can be an independent farmer with the forest. So that is what my compassionate farming is where I know that the birds are also my farmers where they eat my fruits, they can’t digest the seeds and litter them and the plants grow,” he explained. 

“The aim through green commandos is to create a green tribe of people through the action of commandos who believe in the principle of local food, local people and local economy who conserve, consume and commercialise the local food wisdom so that we get independent farmers and to protect the farming profession,” he added. 

It is heartening to see that Bordoloi’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. He received the Pragati Puraskarin 2016 from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the All India Agricultural Students Association. He also received the award for the Best Agripreneur of the Country by the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare in 2017. In 2018, he was awarded the Krishak Ratna Award by the Assam Agricultural University. He has also received the Innovative Farmer Award of the country in 2019 from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, IARI.

But the best award among all is the growing crop of young enthusiasts he has created, who are likely to pay much more attention to growing, conserving, and promoting our indigenous food products. 

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