First about the fantastic organic lunch, sitting under amla trees in the zero-budget farm of Shri Rajendra Singh Baghel in Sonkatch, next to a highway. The Yatris were touched by the ambience, the warmth, the fantastic food (the kadhi was so good that we started downing several katoris each) – we felt that the Yatra’s message is finally complete – living close to Nature and eating non-toxic food.
The day began with a visit to two farms of Mr Baghel. In one farm, he is growing oranges along with drumstick and we found that the 3-year old plants were already loaded with fruits. In the second farm in Choubara Jagir village was a living example of how on-farm diversity can be planned and maintained. The papaya plantation had maize as trap crop, pigeonpea lines in between rows of papaya plants for nitrogen fixing, seethaphal which is supposed to yield 2.5-kg-each fruits, drum stick for soil fertility and so on. The entire field had mulching done to keep the ground covered and to have the micro-climate conducive for beneficial micro-organisms and other living organisms in the soil. The Yatris came alive, looking at how water conservation has happened through farm ponds and percolation tanks. A check dam with trees around gave us a perfect backdrop for a small break and a group photo.
The Yatris acquainted themselves with all the details about the farm design, the cultivation practices and the techniques adopted by Mr Baghel. Many felt that it would help if there was a small hindi publication on the experiences of Mr Baghel in his zero-budget farming. The farmers in the bus got into fine details with Mr Baghel and the interest in the subject was tangible.
Mr Baghel (4-time MLA in the past) shared that he had undertaken two 42-day padayatras in his constituency to cover 800 kms to promote ecological farming amongst farmers.
We then returned to Sonkatch and had a public meeting with the farmers in the market yard for an hour and a half. The hustle and bustle of the Mandi was high where soybean marketing was happening. More than 300 farmers gathered for this meeting, with at least a hundred of them having to stand around the ones who were seated and it was resonating with slogans pretty soon. We had scores of farmers repeating the slogans easily since the messages reverberated with their own sentiments. When the Charter of Demands of the Yatra was read out, there was a loud endorsement from all farmers present. When the story of the disaster unfolding in Punjab was shared, there was much surprise since people have only heard positive things narrated about Punjab’s agriculture and do not realize that the impacts of intensive agriculture are showing up in many ways in the heart of the green revolution in India.
People signed on the petitions and returned them carefully. What was striking was the fact that not a single woman, apart from the women yatris, was present in the mandi! This says something about the status of women farmers in this country.
Oh, one other thing – Mr Baghel’s sons, educated well, are both into farming. Isn’t it ironic that even as many people are coming back to farming and finding it profitable by taking up ecological farming, lakhs of others are leaving the one profession that they are good at and have always lived with?