Practices for environmental stewardship
By Yeshica Weerasekera, Thousand Currents’ former Director of Program Partnerships
In this last post about our partner visits following the Agroecology Learning Exchange in Rajasthan, we share how a farmer’s local self-help group (SHG) has changed the dynamics of self-esteem and power, and provided the impetus to transform local conditions.
We caught up with our third farmer friend, Uday Lal, in the Gangeshwar area, and learned that the unity of Uday Lal’s SHG has greatly boosted members’ confidence over the years. Whereas in the past they felt downtrodden due to discrimination as tribal people, changes in their awareness and stronger self-esteem means they can now present ideas in front of the Panchayat (local governing body), promote a farmers club, build a school, put their case before district officials, and lately, demand government-constructed roads. They were proud to report that a local woman named Purkhi Bai is a ward counselor in the Panchayat, has spoken in front of large meetings, and has worked to help access electricity and a water pump. We were informed that their current agenda is to make a proposal for a road, as the rains make their dirt roads impassable. And now, it is heartening to know that the group wants to create its own Panchayat, since the neighboring area has held all the power for a long time.
Sahyog Sansthan, an IDEX* partner, is promoting a myriad of practices for environmental stewardship that is in harmony with sustainable farming here. In addition to training and experimenting in sustainable agriculture, water harvesting structures such as loose stone check dams and well renovations have helped increase the natural levels of rainwater harvested by local SHGs.
Now, with stable water access for farming, they were quick to point out that 100% of available but limited arable land is under cultivation due to water harvesting and recycling measures. All the farmers here carry out natural composting using farmyard manure. Members noted that as one example, their guar (cluster beans) crop is increasing every year with only half the irrigation needed before. Cultivating guar, we learn, is an excellent choice as it is good for nitrate fixation and regenerates the soil, all while earning money through marketing the excess produce. Even more impressive for us is that with a 50% increase in organic crop production has come increased biodiversity through some remarkable eco-friendly techniques that are healthy for farmers and also the land.
Yeshica Weerasekera visited India in April 2013 to help organize an agroecology learning exchange as part of a global initiative to strengthen sustainable agricultural practices and also visit IDEX partners in Rajasthan.
*Thousand Currents changed its name from IDEX in 2016