Madhupur, in the Baksa district of Assam on the foothills of the Bhutanese Himalayas, is a village of contrast. While bamboo and evergreen forest dot the landscape leading to the village, much of the rain-fed farms remain barren except for monsoons. Multiple streams of water flow through the nearby mountains yet there is an extreme dearth of drinking water in the village. The name of the village translates to “land of honey” but then again, the buzzing of bees has long been silenced.
And interestingly, as the rest of the “mainstream” agriculture world struggles to find sustainable methods of farming, an Adivasi woman is leading an organic revolution in India’s last village. Gulabi Tete, a member of the SHG supported by SeSTA in the village says, “Five years back, we struggled to produce enough rice to meet our year-long requirement. We have small landholdings and therefore, agriculture-based livelihoods were increasingly becoming unviable.”
As Gulabi and other members of the SHGs were skilled in the nuances of organic agriculture, a gradual transformation has begun to take place in the entire area.
Gulabi says, “In my entire life, I have blindly followed others, particularly men, whether in agriculture or work as laborers. When I learned about organic practices using System of Root Intensification (SRI) methods, I began to try them out on my own farm. The results were astounding. I got seven quintals per acre which is double our normal productivity.”
Gulabi started making her own manure in the form of vermicomposting and jeevamrit and bio-pesticides like neemastra and agniastra. As she gained expertise, other women in the village reached out to her.
“I began to train other Adivasi women on these new methods. To my surprise, women and men from even other communities in the village came forward and sought support to adopt different organic practices. I have gained immense confidence as I teach others. Imagine an illiterate woman like me teaching village elders about better agriculture methods.”
And in mere two seasons, the entire village of Madhupur shifted to organic agriculture. Switching to organic agriculture has also enabled them to better take care of their livestock, which is an integral part of the sustainable agriculture domain. As word spread intrigued women farmers from other villages would interact with Gulabi at common marketplaces or visit her farm. She has also helped access of quality organic inputs for other farmers by selling packaged vermicomposting at reasonable rates.
Facilitated by SeSTA, Gulabi began capacitating women in other villages on sustainable agriculture practices. Gulabi’s most fascinating encounter was training women from the Nepali-speaking community in an adjacent village. “As a child, I used to work as a day labourer in Nepali households along with my parents. In one event, I trained Nepali women on organic practices. I felt so empowered. Today many of them are my friends.” Organic practices in these remote parts have enabled women farmers to not just learn new skills but have enabled them to play a key part in the input and production cycle. The SHG in Madhupur is now involved in making organic pesticides that serve farmers in several villages. “In the past, we were dependent on unknown chemicals for our crops. Today we produce manure and bio-pesticides for the entire area.”
She exclaims, ”Switching to scientific organic practices is the only way we can bring self-sustenance as well as save our soil from harsh chemicals. This is the most important resource that we have. Moreover, it is not just about our soil but organic is about protecting our forests and producing healthy food for our children.”
Gulabi today is a certified organic farmer. The paddy she grows is procured by the agriculture department as a part of a buy-back scheme. Even the teachers of nearby schools come to her to buy vermicompost. The increased income from agriculture and the sale of organic input products has enabled Gulabi to start a tea stall. The tea stall is also a magnet for community members to discuss organic farming!
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She says with a tinge of pride, “I am an illiterate woman, but now my daughters study in an English medium school. I want to give them the same opportunities to learn as I have got in the last three years.”
She adds, “Organic agriculture has enabled our voices to be heard. In the future, we want to set up a Producer Group that will support women across Baksa to access quality inputs.”
These Adivasi women buzz in self-assurance as triggers of this organic revolution. The buzzing of bees has largely vanished in the region due to deforestation, hive destruction and indiscriminate use of pesticides. But these heralds of change have taken the first step to bring bees back to the land of honey by setting up several hives. As Gulabi and her group march forward, Madhupur will perhaps live up to its name.
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