Sunday, April 3, 2016

Permaculture/sustainable/organic demo site Maharashtra

Recently I was contacted by someone who is interested in creating a 5 acre demo site for his village.

It's about 7 plots, that he would like to convert to include the following:
Food forest, kitchen garden and sustainable/organic demo plots of the kinds of crops other farmers in his village grow.

Arriving at the land, which is about a 3-4 hour drive depending on road conditions, one can immediately notice the dry state the soil and land is in.

They haven't had a decent monsoon season in over 2 years.

However, the land itself is beautiful with distant hills surrounding the area.

It's the midst of summer here in Maharashtra so the heat of course was obvious and was needed in large amounts.

I was shown an example kitchen garden which had some castor plants, and few other herbs, but overall the quality and vitality of the plants were less, this ultimately seemed to be an issue of water availability.

All farmers in this village use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, although a few farmers are progressive in the sense of trying new techniques on their crops to see if the use of the chemicals could possibly be mitigated.

One farmer we visited, used a netting over his crops to help keep the insects out. He saved a significant amount of money in the process of using this net. However, he will need to remove the net in order to allow for the pollination of the crops. And at this time he mentioned he may also need to use a little bit of pesticides.

In my mind water retention is the main priority, followed by improving the soil quality.

They mentioned that there is a free soil testing service provided by the government, called KVK. According to their website they test, pH, electric conductivity, organic carbon, available nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, exchangeable sodium, calcium and magnesium.

This would of course be a good place to start for many of these farmers who have never taken a soil test. As manure and urea is often a main source of fertilizer, tests are needed to ensure that the balance of nutrients are in order.

Unfortunately in this region, farmers have been taken advantage of in the past in terms of products. They mentioned a story that someone had spent 80,000 rupees for someone to manage their fields organically for 1 year. And the result was that the produce did not fair well.

Anyone should be very skeptical of those who say you can become organic in 1 year, especially after years of chemical use on soils. Generally it may take about 3 years to switch to organic practices while maintaining productivity, and another 3 years of being organic in order to be called organic. In total it's more of a 6 year process. Sure anyone can go organic overnight, but that doesn't mean that it will be financially viable for the farmer. It could take him another 3 years of organic in order for that crop to show any positive change, and for someone who lives off of the income from a farm, it's not a solution in becoming organic.

They spoke about the increasing problem of pest resistance, and mentioned a few of the issues that they had seen such as downy mildew, mealybug (often attracted to plants with an over application of fertilizer and overwatered), karpa and blight (can be mitigated with plant rotations, avoid watering from above, and water early in the day).

On our way back to Pune we spotted this guy::