Living Ecology Internship Spring 2017
This year’s Living Ecology and Aranya Agricultural Alternatives Internship worked in a village called Bidakanne, which is 3 km away from the Aranya farm. It is a village that Aranya did a lot of work with 30 years ago, when most of it was landless, poor, and many of the people were working for large landowners. At that time, the villagers were earning 3 rupees per day for doing wage labor on these farms. Padma and Narsanna organized and worked with the villagers by creating women’s groups for education and empowerment to improve their lives. They helped them access land from the government, and encouraged them to grow their traditional food crops with inter-cropping patterns that supported soil health.
Now, after many years with the influence of commercial chemical agriculture, and greater access to loans for drilled bore wells and electrical pumps, the face of agriculture in Bidakkane has changed. Irrigated commercial cash crops such as sugar cane, ginger, potato,and maize have become the predominant crops.
Small farmers who are food self sufficient in traditional crops, and depend on rain as the sole irrigation, are diminishing rapidly.
Traditional farming practices support soil health. Adopting the current green revolution practices creates poor soil that seems to “need” chemicals to grow abundant crops. Tractors are commonly used now, compacting the soil, which increases the amount of water needed for crops. Practices which reduce the organic matter content of the soil, and it’s nutritional health, are now common place. Examples are: burning of crop residues and weeds as well as less bullocks being used for plowing, which reduces cow dung for fertilization.
As a result, in the last 10 years farmers who used to use open wells of 10 meter depths, now need to use bore wells of 250 ft depths because of the inreased water usage.
During the social and environmental study part of the program, our interns walked through the village talking with the people and building relationships. With our gathered information, together, our team figured out what the issues were
First, how there is a lack of access to land for middle aged families. This forces the men of the village who have young children to work in factories far away, leaving families without fathers, except for monthly visits.
Next, is how current propaganda convinces people into taking out large loans, in order to farm commercially grown cash crops using toxic chemicals, in hopes of earning income. As different problems arose, they realized they have not received the necessary education to properly assess the economics of traditional rainfed farming vs. cash cropping. With this, Aranya decided it was time to continue the work in Bidakkane.
At the end of our time there we had a village meeting and the previous head of the village told us how meaningful it is to their people, that we really wanted to understand and bring help to their situation.
Climate change really is affecting our planet, with periods of intermittent droughts or excessive rainfall. In Hyderabad, bore wells have gone from a 300 ft depth to a 2000 ft in 10 years.
Permaculture has many solutions for the issues of our times by encouraging and supporting rainwater harvesting, the planting of perennial trees to increase soil health, and maintaining traditional food crops for family farms. This has been the focus of the internship’s efforts. Interns learn the process of permaculture consultancy and design. They learn through actually doing, the best way according to the permaculture teachers, Raya Cole and Narsanna Koppula. Each intern works individually with a farmer under the mentorship of the program’s teachers.
Written by: Raya Cole