Friday, 4 April 2014

Introduction to Biodynamics for the Home Gardener

Workshop on April 12, 2014
 
Biodynamic agriculture is an advanced state of organic farming. In addition to replacing poisonous fertilizers and pesticides with composts and natural pest repellents, biodynamic farming uses lunar rhythms. All farm operations use a set of nine special preparations in homeopathic doses to nourish the soil and crops. In other words, it mimics the forest's natural ecosystem. Farmers can produce a superior quality of food in their farm or garden by utilizing the locally available natural resources.

This an introductory lecture for a series of hands on workshops. This lecture in not required to take the hands on course but it is strongly recommended. Participants will receive a free 2014 Farming Lunar Calendar.


Venue:
 Sustainable Living Department,
Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa
 
If you are interested
Register HERE
 



Sunday, 26 January 2014

Economic Prosperity and Nutritional Security in the North Eastern Hill Regions

Communities in the rural hill regions face a series of challenges in food and nutritional security. The geographical terrain and vagaries of weather coupled with inaccessibility are some of the major problems faced by the farmers. The modern high synthetic agro-input based farming systems are not the solutions for these fragile ecosystems. Farmers need to be empowered with low-cost sustainable solutions .They should be least dependant on external inputs. This should not make them vulnerable to produce more food or sacrifice their crops to possible pest attack. Farming communities need to be trained in a wide variety of technologies available to address these issues by utilizing the natural resources.

Farmers are the true scientists of agriculture who know  a lot about the crops, biodiversity and ecosystems.  Their traditional knowledge needs to be understood through the lens of science and appropriate technologies need to be developed. Innumerable success stories are published from different parts of the world; some are available on the web.


To address the issues of North Eastern Hill Regions The Arunachal University of Studies, Namsai, Arunachal Pradesh, India  is organizing an International Seminar on "Economic Prosperity & Nutritional Security in Northeastern Hill regions through Horticulture" with special reference to Arunachal Pradesh on February 3-4, 2014.


Sunday, 29 September 2013

Women and Small Farms in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2021 and the farmers are marching forward adopting eco-friendly approaches. Interestingly women farmers are taking a lead. View a news clipping on Aljazeera on the initiatives of small farmers going green in Costa Rica. 


Courtesy: Al Jazeera

I had an opportunity to train the farmers and farmer groups in Costa Rica in green technologies for sustainable farming. Amongst the farmers, Ms. Maria Luisa is a 'women hero' leading the small farmers movement in Costa Rica. An innovative climate smart women farmer from Costa  Rica is  extremely passionate on what she does. She also trains fellow farmers in low-cost organic agriculture technologies. These activities are promoted by Fundecooperacion, Asociacion Coordinadora lndigena y Campesina de Agroforesteria Comunitaria Centroamericana (ACICAFOC) and the National Institute for Innovation and Transfer of Agricultural Technology (INTA), Ministry of Agriculture, Costa Rica. 
  

Ms. Maria Luisa
Women play a very important role in farming contributing nearly 50% of the work force. Unfortunately the women farmers are not even recognised as farmers and face widespread restrictions to the access of resources, decision making and land rights. The first Prime Minister of India, Pandit  Jawaharlal Nehru said  To awaken the people, it is the women who must be awakened. Once she is on the move, the family moves, the village moves, the nation moves” 

Empowering women is very crucial  for alleviating poverty and rural development. After the Millennium development Goals (MDG) come to an end, the post 2015 sustainable development agenda should focus on  gender equity and equality in agriculture. Maria Luisa's case is a beginning  and also an example for other women,  organisations and nations to emulate.
  

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Climate Smart Family Farm

 Family farms are small farms or homesteads wherein all the farming activities are undertaken by the family members. The size of these farms can vary from a fraction of a hectare upto 2 hectares. Some of the international development organizations define family farms, whose size is less than 2 hectares.  Globally there are about 500 million small farms and more than 85% of them are in Asian region. The major Asian countries with large number of small farms are China (193 million), India (93 million) and Bangladesh (17 million).  In addition to food security, these small farms play a very important role in ecosystem management, biodiversity conservation, climate change, youth development, gender inclusion, empowerment of the poor and urban migration. Looking into the importance of the small farms in rural development and poverty alleviation, the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2014 to be the 'International Year for Family Farming'.
Family Farm in Bhutan

The common notion is that the large industrial farms as the major source of food for the growing population which is not fully true. In many developing countries small farms contribute significantly to the food security. In India alone more than 80% of the farms are less than 2 hectares and contribute to more than 50% to farm output. Studies across the globe have shown an inverse relationship between farm size and productivity. Smaller the size of the farm more attention is given to cultural practices, selection of seeds or planting materials and crop care.  In addition the family members contribute their own labour and produce on-farm inputs which keeps them employed throughout the year. Interestingly the general trend in these family farms is the diversity of crops that are being cultivated. 

Every region has its own requirement for specific crops depending on the food choices, culture and heritage. For instance, cherry tomatoes are preferred over the hybrid tomatoes which are generally found in the markets. Likewise many lesser known vegetables are cultivated in these gardens. Moreover a majority of the crops are grown using open pollinated seeds or heirloom seeds which have an inherent diverse gene pool than the modern hybrids. The heirloom or native seeds are more resilient to the vagaries of weather vulnerabilities and are resistant to the pests, diseases, drought and water logging stresses. In other words these local seeds or vegetables assure them of food and nutritional security. Even now these farmers continue the tradition of seed sharing which is a scientific way of seed conservation and utilization of biodiversity.

Amongst the family farms most of them are of the size of a tennis court approximately 1/10th of an acre which is about 400 square metres. The question is; can a family comprising of 4 members meet their food requirements in such a small piece of land? If the land is optimally designed utilizing the available natural resources, it can produce enough food to meet the requirements of a family. There is a need to rethink on what to grow, how to grow using the concepts of deep sustainability. We hear about sustainability so often in its shallow understanding, which to a large extent emphasises on doing ‘things right’ so that our actions do not dwindle the opportunities for the future generations. They are more addressed towards solving pollution problems, mining of natural resources, recycling, reuse and other approaches to address the symptoms of the problem. We need to move further in doing ‘right things’ which has deeper sustainability connotation.

Small kitchen gardens or homesteads can be transformed into a food producing landscapes if we consider 3 important parameters; weather patterns or climatic conditions of the region, choice of right crops and farm design. Mono-cropping or cultivating of one crop would nullify the concept of family gardens. A good mix of diversity apt for the regional agro-climatic conditions would do the trick.  Our global food system unfortunately focuses on grains, few tubers, oilseeds and beans. About 15 crops meet more than 75% of the calorie requirement of the world population. However, in nature there are 7000 plants which are edible and can be used as food. Most of these plants do not require intensive care for its production.  Let’s now see how to make a small farm sustainable and productive.

Perennial crops:
Tamarillo Plant
Perennial crops are very important for small farms. These are the plants which survive for atleast one to three years or more which are grown for their edible parts like; leaves, stem, flowers, fruits, and roots. Planting these perennials would reduce lot of farming work like ploughing the land which requires manual labour or machines which does add on to the cost of production. Also there is no need to sow seeds every season, planting has to be done once while the crop needs to be tended with regular manuring and irrigation. It would also reduce the cost and time on managing weeds as there would be less weed growth.
Tamarillo fruits

In addition to reduce the drudgery and cost of production these perennial crops help to reduce the carbon emissions by building up the soil organic carbon. The deep root systems help to recharge the ground water. Some of the  perennial vegetables that can be cultivated are Tree tomato or tamarillos (Solanum betaceum), tree brinjal, Drumstick (Moringa oleifera) Curry leaf,( Murraya koenigii ), Indian Perrenial Cucumber or Miniature Cucumber or Ivy Gourd or Scarlet Gourd (Coccinia grandis, Coccinia indica), Jack fruit (Artocarpus heterophylla).

Colocasia tubers
Choice of Crops with high yielding potential:
Colocasia plants
It’s important to choose crops which can yield more from a minimal area. There are many crops which has an innate potential to produce more food that fits into the family farms or homesteads. Wise choice should be of those crops that require minimal care and maintenance. 

Cassava or Tapioca
Some of such crops are Colocasia (Colocasia esculenta) wherein the leaves and the tubers are used as food. In one hectare of land Colocasia produces 15 to 30 tons of tubers which can be  stored for a couple of months.  

Cassava or Tapioca (Manihot esculenta)is another crop which yields about 20-40 tons per hectare. Each Cassava plant in 8-9 months yields 8-12 kilograms with minimal care. Cuttings are used for planting. The nutrient rich cassava leaves can be used a a good animal fodder. Care should be taken that the leaves should be wilted in sun before feeding to animals to lower the potential cyanide toxicity and also to reduce the free tanin levels.

White Chayote
Green Chayote
Another interesting creeper which yields more is Chouchou or Chayote (Sechium edule) which yields atleast 100 fruits in a single vine. Each fruit weight 300 to 500 grams. In Bhutan and Nepal Chayote is known as 'Iskhus' There are many such high yielding potential crops apt for a particular agro-climatic region which needs to be identified and planted in homesteads.



Sustainable Farming:
Sustainable farming practices are vital to the success of family farms. Whatever biodegradable wastes that are available in the farm can be transformed into manure. The weeds and crop residues of the farm can be easily composted by using earthworms or by aerobic methods. The resulting product, compost can be used for providing crop nutrition to plants which inturn builds soil fertility. Moreover the problem of waste management can be addressed at home itself.  I would keep the surroundings green and clean.

Seed sharing event in Costa Rica
Farmers can produce their own seeds by continuing the ancient wisdom of seed sharing with the fellow farmers which would maintain the seed vigour and avoid inbreeding depression.  With simple training programs, farmers can be trained in seed production of heirloom or open pollinated varieties so that there is no mixing of unique characteristics of a particular plant due to cross pollination. Moreover the heirloom seeds are resilient to the climate change and biotic stress.

Similarly pest management measures can be designed based on the species that are available in the locality. Most of the weeds which have a strong odour can be used as bio-pesticides. Some of the herbs like mint, rosemary, thyme can also be fermented and used as sprays to repel insects and manage plant diseases.
Bhutanese women farmer selling local veggies
Family farming is very important in the present scenario wherein the arable land is dwindling and there is a global rush for land by private organizations and governments. The development of industries and housing are encroaching the fertile farming fields and displacing the farming communities. Agriculture is a sector which not only provides employment to more than 70% of the world’s population but also provides many environmental services for the very sustenance of human population. Studies reveal by 2050 about two third of the world’s population will be staying in cities. How to accomplish the food requirement of the burgeoning population? Who would provide employment to the exodus of rural populace to the cities? Many such macro-economic and geo-political questions need to be answered in the years to come. Family farms can be a solution for these global problems.









Friday, 21 June 2013

Online Course on Organic Gardening

There are very few courses available online which can teach you simple, low-cost approaches for an organic garden or farm.  Every farm or a garden is ‘an organism’ by itself. Organic Agriculture can be sustainable only if all the inputs required for cultivation of crops and livestock are produced in the farm.  Every garden or farm is blessed with almost all the resources required for crop and animal production. There is a need to understand the local ecology and expand the human ingenuity to identify the natural resources and use them effectively.

Entire globe is waging a war on weeds. What are weeds? Are they unwanted plants or plants without any worth as we generally understand? NO. If we can understand weeds they are wonderful plants full of potentials and offer many possibilities to address the present problems in gardening or farming. I wish to redefine weeds as the ‘plants whose uses are not known yet to the human beings’. There is no plant in this existence which is useless. The moment we understand the use of weeds, these plants start disappearing from our gardens.


It would be worth an exercise to rethink on sustainability and transform your garden or farm into an ecological landscape where the role of every entity is understood and used for food production. All the requirements for farming like; seeds, manures, plant growth promoters and natural pesticides can be prepared on-farm utilizing the local resources.

Do you want to know?
  1. How to produce organic seeds in your own garden or farm?
  2. How to treat seeds with wood ash, milk?
  3. Use of local earthworms in composting?
  4. Simple method of composting which does not require turning?
  5. Use of locally available plants for managing pests and diseases?
  6. Protect your trees from rabbits and deer?
  7. Homa or Agnihotra  in farming?
  8. Use of Lunar calendar (Jyotish) in farming?


You don’t need to have any prior qualification for registration. The only requirement for this course is ‘YOUR PASSION’.




Friday, 19 April 2013

Food Choice and Climate Change

Climate Change is a hot topic in every scientific forum wherein terminologies like adaptation, mitigation have become buzzwords of late. Not much discussion happens on food choices in most of the climate change seminars and workshops. It is very important to know that food choice also contribute to climate change. Every individual has a freedom to choose food, however if we do not make conscious choice we will be doubling the trouble.  One of the biggest advantages of the present information technology era, is the availability of enormous information on a click of a mouse. Prior to choosing any food one needs to ask how, where and when that food was produced. In this blog let me focus on meat produced from industrial animal farms and its impact on climate change.

Significantly large area under agriculture is for food production which also includes animal husbandry. The industrialised animal production for meat and diary is one of the major contributors to Green House Gases (GHG) leading to climate change. Meat Industry is responsible for about 18 % of GHG emission which is about 4% more than the vehicular pollution. It is unfortunate that with the increasing income levels for a large population the meat consumption is also taking an upward trend. The average meat consumption globally is about 115 grams per day which translates into 42 kilograms per annum. 

Meat production when seen in totality amidst severe cruelty to animals create a series of environmental problems which magnifies the effect of climate change. Lets examine how choosing meat in your diet will contribute to climate change.


Forests to Deserts
To meet the increasing demand for meat, more and more land is required for raising pastures and also to grow livestock feed like soybeans and corn. Consequently forests are cleared to create additional land to meet the feed needs of the livestock industry. It is a leading driver of deforestation and a significant contributor to global warming emissions. Studies reveal that nearly 60% of the agricultural land around the world is used in the production of beef, which provides less than 2% of the world's consumed calories. Shockingly, about 70-80% of the agricultural land is used by the meat industry for feeding the animals which is about 30% of the global land mass. Instead of feeding the animals, had the same land been used for food production, about one billion poor can be prevented from hunger and malnutrition.

The clearing of forests or deforestation for cultivation of feed/ fodder to animals creates many problems that are interconnected. The first impact of deforestation is the loss of top soil by rain which otherwise would have been retained in the forests. Top soil is very important as it is a rich source of nutrients for the biodiversity to flourish. Without topsoil the micro-flora and micro-fauna perish which restricts the ground water from recharge. Also rainfall which happens due to the natural humidity of the forests stop and over a period of time the land becomes arid and dry transforming into a desert. The impact doesn’t stop there. The dust storms frequently occur in these arid deserts because soils are not bound with organic matter or humus which becomes amenable for dispersion during strong winds. Such storms move quite far off distances and create respiratory problems in other countries and also severely affect the coastal ecosystem. At present about 41% of the world’s land area is arid and dry which has a direct impact on about 2 billion people living in and around such arid regions.

Animal Wastes and Pollution
One should visit an industrial animal farm to understand the ground realities. Thousands of animals are stacked together in one unit which are cramped with minimal space for their natural movement. Treatment of these animals and their slaughter is a painful situation to watch. At times I wonder why humanity has lost compassion for these creatures.

In the industrial animal farms wherein thousands of animals are reared, the generation of enormous quantities of animal wastes is a major concern. It’s a challenging task to manage the burgeoning wastes which otherwise results in environmental pollution contributing to climate change. On an average, a high milk yielding cow like, Holstein Friesen generates 40-50 kilograms of manure every day which translates to about 15 -18 tons per annum. One can imagine the quantity of wastes that thousands of such animals produce. Most of times these animal wastes are diluted with water and stored in lagoons or allowed to flow into the drainage or water bodies resulting in the pollution of  both surface and ground water.

Human Diseases
There is enough research available on the direct effect of meat consumption and vulnerability to diseases like, heart diseases, colon cancer, diabetes, obesity, avian flu, blue tongue disease, Listeriosis and bacterial disease caused by E. Coli, Salmonella, Camphylobacter etc.  The recent incidence of bird flu strain H7N9 is a matter of concern which can transmit the diseases to humans. New strains of the viruses pose a great challenge to public health. This can be an indication to opt for healthier and safer vegetarian diets.


Cause for Hunger
Research studies reveal that green house gas emissions (GHG) from beef ranges from 16-30 kg CO2-eq/kg compared to 0.8 kg CO2-eq/kg for wheat.   It would be startling  to know that  in terms of GHC emissions  one kilogram of beef consumption corroborates to about  150-160 kilometres of automobile usage. Meat based diets is one of the causes for hunger as large amount of food is diverted to animal feed.  In a piece of land which is used to produce one kilogram of meat about 200 kilograms of tomatoes or 160 kilograms of potatoes could be harvested in the same time span. It requires about 5 to 15 kilograms of feed in the form of soybeans, corn etc to produce one kilogram of meat. Moreover this artificial extension of the food chain and converting the grain to meat results in huge loss of nutrients; 90% protein, 99% carbohydrates, 100% fibre and others.


Vegetable Cultivation
Vegetables and vegetarian diets are more climate efficient to produce protein than the meat based diets. The vegetarian food helps to reduce obesity, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, heart diseases to a large extent in addition to conserving water, land and natural resources which otherwise is used for industrial animal production.

Food choice plays a very important factor in contributing to climate change. In the present fast developing world it would be difficult to avoid many comforts of the modern days which do contribute to GHG. However, we can take small steps one at a time and begin from food. Why not reduce consuming meat and gradually stop opting for climate inefficient foods.  Why should we make our stomachs a graveyard for the animals? An ancient Vedic proverb in India says; 
                                                “As the food so the mind
                                                As the mind so the thoughts
                                                As the thoughts so the actions”

All our actions are the resultant of the food that we consume. The more violently the food is produced and consumed violent thoughts and actions will only prevail. Entire humanity is suffering from hatred, anger, deceit, stress and a series of emotional disorders.  Right type of food can be a solution.  Meat based diets are the most efficient ways to waste food.

You and I can contribute positively to address climate change by making conscious food choices.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Roof Top Gardens for Climate Smart Cities


Last week I had an opportunity to participate and present a paper at the Regional Workshop on, ‘Strengthening Urban and Periurban Agriculture (UPA) towards Resilient Food Systems in Asia’ in Bangkok, Thailand. This workshop was jointly organized by FAO Regional Office for Asia and Pacific and PN Agricultural Science Foundation, Bangalore. Ten countries in the region participated in the workshop sharing their experiences and approach towards UPA.

Urbanization is happening at a much faster rate than expected and is of a great concern world over. The global population reached the seven billion mark in 2011. After the six billion mark it just took 12 years to reach seven billion. The shortest time ever to add one extra billion signals a major shift in both the pace and scale of global demographics. During early 1800 about three per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. However, in 2011 there were 480 cities with populations exceeding one million as compared to just 80 in 1950. More than three billion people currently reside in urban areas and this figure is expected to rise to five billion by 2050. Global population growth is overwhelmingly concentrated in marginal urban and surrounding periphery of cities, especially in slums. This geographical shift has tremendous implications for the current and future dynamics of human development.

With more than half the world’s population now living in urban areas, there is a growing interest in urbanization processes and the role of cities in sustainable development. The current trends of urbanization are reflections of the transformations that are being seen in the national economies where farming community are moving away from agriculture to industry and service sectors.

It is expected that by 2020 the developing countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America will be home to some 75% of all urban dwellers which would comprise of 85% of the poor in Latin America, and about 40-45% of the poor in Africa and Asia will be concentrated in towns and cities. Most cities in developing countries have great difficulties to cope with the urban population expansion which is often accompanied by poverty, food insecurity, malnutrition and unemployment. Such rapid urbanization and the harsh reality of urban poverty require sound strategies to ensure adequate food supply and distribution systems to address escalating levels of urban food insecurity and food safety. Urban and Periurban agriculture (UPA) provides a complementary strategy to reduce urban poverty, food insecurity and enhance urban environmental management if it is planned and designed appropriately.

Urban and Periurban agriculture (UPA)
Urban and Periurban agriculture is much more than growing crops and raising animals within and around cities complementing rural agricultural systems in the production and supply of local food. In addition to food production, UPA provides a series of environmental services like clean air, carbon sequestration, reduction of green house gases, enhances biodiversity and many more. Also UPA supports related economic activities such as the production and delivery of inputs, processing and marketing of products and serves as an important ecological activity for income generation to supplement the revenues of urban and periurban families and therefore constitutes an integral component of urban socio‐economic paradigm. One of the approaches for UPA is utilization of the roof top space for gardening. Some studies estimate the roof tops comprise of about 30 – 40% % of the urban area which remains unutilized to a large extent. Roof tops provide a great scope in cultivating crops whereby the domestic biodegradable wastes and water can be recycled. The wastes can be transformed into resources (i.e compost) which can not only capture carbon but also provide manure for the plants to keep the city green and clean.

Roof top garden in Bangkok
Laksi District Office
Mr. Narong Jungchamfa, Director of Laksi District Office
During the workshop we had an opportunity to visit Laksi district which is about one hour drive from Bangkok to view the roof top garden project of the district administration. It was a beautiful model for the city dwellers to emulate. The technology used is very simple and appropriate to the city context.  On the top of the seventh floor of the Laksi district office complex the open area of about 4,000 square metres was used for developing roof top garden. The initial investment to establish this garden was a mere 1000 Bhat (about 35 USD) says the Director of the Laksi District Office Mr. Narong Jungchamfa who takes special interest and pride in promoting the roof-top garden project. Under his leadership this project has won many accolades from various international and national organizations. About 100 different species of vegetables are cultivated in the open space which otherwise was not utilized.
Rooftop Garden


Ms. Mam (left) with Ms. Wilailak sharing her experiences
The most interesting aspect was that the wastes were used as resources for the preparations of a variety of formulations adopting organic farming practices. Shrimp wastes, soya meal, vinegar, yeast, coir pith and many other available materials are fermented and used for making growth promoters and bio-pesticides. The garden is maintained by Ms. Mam from the Laksi district office who shares her experience with exuberance and enthusiasm with the visitors. All the garden operations from sowing the seeds in the nursery, transplanting, nurturing the plants, plant protection to marketing are being handled by Ms. Mam. She cultivates a variety of leafy vegetables and fruits on the roof top.


Rooftop garden
Every house generates lot of biodegradable wastes which to a large extent are disposed off adding to the existing garbage problem. If every household attempts to utilize the biodegradable wastes alone, the problem of waste management can be solved to a large extent. Roof tops may not be accessible for every city dweller; instead large pots can be utilized for cultivating vegetables on the balcony. Wherever rooftops are available don’t let the open space go waste use them for growing plants which in a modest way can contribute towards reducing the impacts of climate change. 

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Vermitechnology and Climate Adaptation


Wish you all a very Happy New Year

Wastes of biodegradable nature are of major concern both in the villages and cities.  Enormous quantities of biodegradable wastes are being produced from farms, gardens, houses, apartments, markets and offices. Majority of the wastes are disposed off in the landfills while some end up in the open space or rivers and water bodies contributing to pollution. In the villages most of the farmers burn the wastes as it is easier to manage contributing to global warming and climate change.

Wastes if not managed scientifically pose a sequel of problems related to their management and associated health and environmental hazards. Bio-degeadable wastes comprise of vegetable and fruit peels, garden clippings, and kitchen garden wastes etc which are degradable.

Wastes, though considered waste are not mere waste. They are the misplaced resources which can be efficiently utilized with simple technologies. The waste management technology should not just aim at turning the waste benign, rather focus in bringing those resources back into place. In other words, the useless wastes should be transformed into a value-added product that can initiate income-generating enterprise. The approach should be “Turning filth to Wealth”.

Different methods are adopted to mitigate the biodegradable wastes generated. Composting is one of the techniques, which is widely followed. The composts that are produced by inappropriate methods reveal their adverse features during storage, marketing and use. The associated problems include foul odours, fire, environmental pollution, nuisance, insect infestation and bursting of compost bags. Phytotoxicity of such composts is also a serious problem, which impairs crop growth and yield when used in agriculture. In addition, there are problems of the compounds like amines, sulphamines, mercaptans, skatoles etc. To solve the gamut of problems related to the conventional composting methods,  vermitechnology  is one of the alternatives.

Vermitechnology
Vermitechnology is the method of converting wastes into compost by use of earthworms. Good quality compost is produced in a short period depending upon on the number of earthworms. In other words about 4-5 kg of wastes can be composted by 1000 worms (approximately 1 kg) in a day. The commonly used earthworms like Eudrillus sp. Perionyx sp., Eisenia sp. or any locally available surface feeding (epigeic) earthworms can be collected from the nearby soil and then used in Vermitechnology. A simple and efficient method of Vermitechnology “Pusa Vermitech” was developed during my Masters degree program at Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Pusa, New Delhi in 1996 which is low-cost and is ideal for the farmers. Now this method is widely adopted in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Italy and Costa Rica.


Vermitechnology can be undertaken in a tank or on the soil surface. The tank can be constructed with bricks or stones depending on the availability of materials. The height of the tank should be 0.75 metres, width 1 metre and length can be 3 - 4 metres or even more. The base of the tank should have a slight slope directing towards two drainage holes.


Method:
The methodology is simple and  can be carried out by adopting the following steps;
1. Basal Sand Layer
The first layer (5-10 cm) at the base is of sand as it helps in the drainage of excess water and also prevents the movement of worms into deeper layers of soil or out of the tank.

2. Dung Layer
On the top of the sand, a layer of one month old dung is laid. This layer is approximately 3-5 cm. thick.

3. Waste Layer
On the top of this dung layer all the biodegradable wastes are put and the tank is filled up to the brim (65 cm) with the waste.

4. Soil Layer
The wastes are covered with a thin layer (1-2 cm) of soil.

5. Dung Layer
Above the soil layer mature dung is uniformly spread (3-5cm) which forms the top layer in the tank.
In other words, the wastes are sandwiched by two layers of mature dung. The contents are moistened with water (40-50% moisture level) for 7 days to pre-decompose the contents. After pre-decomposition, worms are introduced (1000 worms which would be approximately 1 kg for 100-150 kg of wastes) and watered regularly to maintain 30-40 % moisture level for better activity of worms.

Watering is done in such a way the contents in the tank are not too soggy or too moist as it results in anaerobiosis of earthworms causing mortality. The tank is covered by a gunny sack in summer months to avoid evaporation of moisture. In places where the predators like rats, lizards, pigs are a major problem; the tanks can be covered with wire mesh to prevent them feeding on the earth worms.

Collection of Vermicompost
Vermicompost appears on the top of the tank in the form of pellets. When this layer of vermicompost becomes a few centimetres thick watering should be avoided for 3-4 days. The reduced moisture at the top layer will force the worms to move down towards the lower layers. The compost formed is heaped in the corners of the tank by gently scrapping with a shovel or a wooden raft and left for a day or two. By this method of collection of wastes the young worms and the adult worms are not damaged while handling. In this manner the compost can be collected every 7-10 days till 80% of the material is collected i.e 10-15 cm layer is left at the base. The tank/heap should be refilled with pre-decomposed wastes.

Pre-decomposition of wastes
Before filling the fresh wastes  into the tank it has to be pre-decomposed to avoid the heat that is generated during the decomposition process which otherwise can kill the earthworms. Also pre-decomposition helps to turn the wastes bit softer facilitating the earthworms to feed upon. Pre-decompostion is done as mentioned below;

1.      Spread a thin layer (10 cm) wastes and sprinkle cow dung and moisten it.
2.      Likewise make layers of waste and cow dung up to 0.5 metres height.
3.      Moisten the heap regularly with water for 10 days.
4.      During the process high temperature develops and cools down in a week.
5.      Check the temperature of the heap by inserting a stick.
6.      If the stick heats up, leave the decomposing material for 3-4 days more and when the temperature is normal then only it should be used.

Refilling the Tank or Heap
Such pre-decomposed material is put on the heap or tank up to 75% of its height. The standard procedure of Vermitechnology as mentioned above is continued i.e over the pre-decomposed waste, thin layer soil is spread and above it dung is spread. The worms come on the top and start feeding on the waste.  

Precautions
1. Check the temperature of heap /tank by introducing a stick. If the stick heats up worms should not be introduced nor refilled. Nowadays temperature measuring probes are also
2. The tank /heap should be moistened with water regularly.
3. Appropriate shade should be provided at the site where Vermitechnology is undertaken.
4. Wherever the predators like rats, lizards, pigs etc., are found, wire mesh should be put on the top of the tank.

It is very important that the method adopted  should be scientific degrades the waste faster, the end product i.e. compost should fit into the basic criteria (i.e. quality parameters) of marketing of manure. The compost  should not have any bad odour which will not be acceptable by the users. To be the choice of consumers, the final product should be friable and uniform with positive visual characteristics and attractive packaging. Mere degradation is not composting, rather composting is a scientific way of desired degradation.

There is a tremendous scope for the production of quality manure by vermitechnology. The growing awareness about organic farming, home and kitchen gardens  world over is an added advantage and a positive step in launching a quality product at this juncture. This will not only manage the wastes but also would generate income



Saturday, 27 October 2012

"Mindful Marketing" : An Inclusive Approach for Small Holder Farmers


Recently I had an opportunity to visit Mysore in India. Mysore is the second largest city of Karnataka State and is about 120 kilometers from Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India. It is well known for its palaces, the famous ‘Dasara’ festival , silk sarees and unique style of painting. Not to forget the sweet delicacy ‘Mysore pak’.

Every year I conduct an advanced course on organic/biodynamic agriculture at BASIL Academy, Mysore (www.basilacademy.in) for the organizations and people who are already pursuing organic farming. The aim is to go beyond the traditional inputs like composts and bio-pesticides to more potent preparations and innovative approaches which can enhance the quality and quantity of the produce. I enjoy sharing the technical knowledge and practices  to falsifies the general perception on organic agriculture as low yielding farming system.

During the advanced course I could interact with three participants Mr. Hari, Mr. Giri and Mr. Murthy who were fully devoted to organic agriculture and wanted to do things differently in this sector. They were part of an organization ‘Nesara’ (meaning rising sun) which markets organic produce in Mysore. Infact, Nesara is a platform that links the small  organic farmers in an around Mysore to market their produce. Their concept of marketing is akin to ‘Mindful Marketing’.

Mindful Marketing

Mindfulness is an important concept which is core to the Buddhist philosophy. It’s a process of increasing awareness of oneself and the surroundings to induce the divine qualities of a human being. How can mindfulness be linked to marketing? We all know that marketing is all about making long lasting and positive connection with ones client or customer. On the other hand ‘Mindful marketing’ is a conscious effort to market a produce whereby the seller does not squeeze the producer on price of the commodity rather understands the difficulties involved in the production process and acts accordingly with compassion and cooperation. In other words the producer (here farmer) decides on the price of the commodity which is intended for sale unlike the market fixing the price of commodities. It is a unique concept which may not fit into the corporate agribusiness but is apt for the small holder farmers who faces lot of difficulties for market access.

Nesara- The Organic Outlet

Nesara’ adopts a similar strategy akin to ‘Mindful Marketing’. The first step Nesara undertakes is to create awareness amongst the small farmers around Mysore region who are interested to cultivate crops adopting organic agricultural practices. The interested farmers become members of Nesara with a nominal membership fees and use the outlet of Nesara for marketing their produce. The most important aspect is that the farmers fix the price for their produce depending on the cost of production plus a margin for a particular commodity. Nesara then markets the farmer’s products in their outlets. Another interesting factor is that, this marketing strategy is not driven by market forces rather farmers are free to produce in accordance to their choice, while the consumers had to plan their consumption accordingly. This is an excellent example for ‘food sovereignty’ wherein, farmers choose to produce the crops which is quite contradictory to the market driven production process.  

Nesara Sales Outlet

It was during 1996-97, a group of people comprising Mr. Chandrashekar, Mr. Ravi Kumar  initiated a movement on safe food and organic agriculture in Mysore. Initially it started with marketing the farm produce of Mr. Chandrashekar and few active participating farmers during weekly meetings and awareness campaigns. Due to the demand for vegetables and other farm products which are not commonly seen in the market like the native or neglected vegetables, fruits and millets, it was felt that marketing of these products should be carried out on a large scale by involving more number of small farmers. At the same time the growing demand for organic and local produce transformed Nesara into an organization to link the farmers and consumers. A gradual transition happened from a weekly activity of interaction and farm produce sales to a fully fledged outlet marketing products that are produced and processed by farmers. People from Mysore city throng the organic shop to stock their vegetables, fruits, spices and other products.
Minor Millets
Organic Vegetables











Membership & Organic Quality Assurance

Any farmer who wishes to utilise the Nesara platform has to become a member by paying one-time fees of Rupees 1000 (approximately USD 20). The perquisite is that the member farmer should be committed to cultivate crops by adopting organic agriculture practices. The farmers are inspected by the core members of Nesara by visiting the farmer’s field without any additional costs. This is to assure the consumers of the organic status of the produce i.e devoid of any agro-chemical residues. Since there are no certification costs and also middle-men involved in the supply chain the cost of organic produce is almost the same as the market price.

Diversity of products

Home Made Snacks

Oflate Nesara markets more than 400 products which includes fresh fruits, vegetables, oils, raw farm produce and value added products like medicinal formulations, handmade soaps, pickles etc.

Mr. Giri with  a variety of Health products
Future Plans
Plans are underway to introduce ‘food baskets’ which will be directly delivered to the door steps for interested consumers. This would help many consumers who are willing to go for healthy and organic food but may find it difficult to visit the outlet.  Shortly consumers would be able to place orders over phone, including dairy products, vegetables, fruits and the grocery which will be delivered at a reasonable cost.  

Mr. Hari, Mr. Giri and Mr. Murthy - The Team
Nesara had a rough ride initially; most of the problems faced during the early stages were more related to organizational restructuring and governance.  “It is the enthusiasm of the consumers which has kept us motivating and pushing to expand our activities and also to conduct several food exhibitions” says Mr. Giri, Secretary of Nesara. 

Let’s wish Nesara to grow leaps and bounds and help the small farmers through market access while providing safe food to the consumers of Mysore. At the same time Nesara like organizations that adopt ‘mindful marketing’ strategies need to mushroom in the developing world where majority of the farming community are small holder farmers.