Kumbharwadi, a remote, drought- prone village lying in the rain shadow region of Maharashtra, has been in despair with erratic rains, excessive runoff and soil erosion. A rocky soil bed and a depleting ecosystem has made Kumbharwadi unfit for agriculture. Farmers have shifted to shepherding and many more migrated as farm laborers to greener pastures.
But those who chose to stay put, understood the urgency for a complete overhaul of the existing agricultural patterns for survival. They approached, WOTR- an NGO that provides water shed management to villages across India, from then began a journey of enlightenment. The villagers took training to understand how to harness available resources, enhance agricultural output and better their livelihood.
Bhagwat Mallari Garge is the new Jal Sevak of Kumbharwadi. His primary responsibility is to check the Rain Gauge System, record and inform villagers on water levels in wells.A Water Committee has also been instituted to chalk out the water budget of the village. He says, “We keep a record of all the wells in the village and record the water level every 15 days. By this, we get to know what the status of water is and around that we build the water budget.” The water budget helps villagers know the level of water present and will grow crops accordingly. “There is an understanding that during summers, when water levels are low, no villager will grow plants that require a lot of water like tomato and onions. This way, not only us, but the future generations will benefit,” he added.
The SMS alert system provides information on various agricultural aspects. Started by WOTR in collaboration with the Pune Water Board, members of the Shetkari Mandal (farmer’s organization) can get information oncropping patterns, seed improvement, fertilizer use and trending rates at the nearest mandi. Damodar Jarag, a farmer was quick to take out his mobile phone to demonstrate, he says that this facility allows him to make “wise decisions on farming.”
Garge speaks of how the media has been instrumental in helping agriculture. “‘Amchi Mati, Amchi Mansa’– an agriculture welfare related program on Doordarshan and the weather reports after the evening news gives us a lot of information on cropping and matching rain patterns to crop cultivation. Earlier we were skeptical of these things, we wondered what difference this could make to our agriculture, but now that we have understood, we judiciously follow and implement the advice”
Today, the image of men and women bent over pulling out plants after harvest has been replaced by a rotor blade machine that chops remnants of the crops after harvest and mixes them with the soil. Farming equipment has metamorphosed from buffaloes tugging at a plough to a tractor that does the work in half the time.
“Now we can use the leisure time to supplement our income. The dairy cooperative that was started two years back is bringing us good money. This has changed our lifestyles, our eating habits and breathed new life into us,” says Jarag
The vermicompost bed, kept prominently next to the village water tank seems indicative of the holistic development that the village is witnessing.
“Soil fertility depletion was affecting our agriculture Fertilizers were very expensive and often ineffective, so we shifted to organic farming. This has reduced the menace of pests on crops, “says Damodar Jarag. He explains how they soak leaves from plants like neem and garlic for 21 days, extract the water and use it as a pesticide. “It is a good alternative to the harmful chemicals that we used before.”
Vittal Kale, an 80-year-old farmer who has witnessed changing trends speaks of his experience.“ In the early times, we used organic methods for farming, the yield used to be excellent, after fertilizers came, people used all kinds of medicines to treat the crops, this only resulted in reducing the quality, going back to old methods of organic farming is a positive move.
From famine and drought to green fields a plenty, Kumbharwadi today is a picture of hope and prosperity. The pathos of the Indian agriculture system is witnessing a sea of positive change. A village that stands on such solid ground exemplifies the benefits of inclusive growth.