CHS’ co-founder, Winin Pereira, would have been deeply interested in this account by Devinder Sharma, written after accepting an invitation to addressing thousands of tribal people at Banswara in southern Rajasthan in a Tribal Conclave:
This tribal region was earlier called “Bhooki”, a clearcut reflection of the extent of hunger that prevailed. I am told Acharya Vinoba Bhave had travelled through the region, and was instrumental in getting land transferred into the hands of quite a significant proportion the landless tribals.
I could see the transformation that has come about several decades later when I decided to visit some tribal families in Anandpuri block of Banswara district in southern Rajasthan. Along with the neighbouring districts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, Banswara is part of a predominant tribal triangle in central India.
I wanted to meet small and marginal farmers of the region. My first visit was to meet Shankar, 55, in village Bodiya Talau, some 58 kms from Banswara. He owns 2.15 acres of land, has three cows, 2 bulls and 1 goat. All animals are the desi breed. The cows hardly give 500 grams of milk per day. When asked why is he keeping them, his reply was that the cows are not kept for milk but for manure. He cultivates maize, tur, paddy, tomato, wheat, chilli, turmeric and remarked:
“I grow everything at home, except for salt and sugar.”
He was satisfied with what he was doing after having transformed his almost barren land into a green patch. Has planted a number of trees, including cashew. Shankar is certainly more enterprising than his fellow tribals. I then met Chetan Pargi, aged 35, from Ummed Pura village. He is into rope weaving besides doing farming in 4 bigha land.
He said he was able to make a decent living, and his land provided enough for his family throughout the year. I didn’t believe him looking at his frail health.
But he insisted that his land gave him enough. But is that enough, enough? That’s the question. But their undying spirit of hospitality is what amazes me. At a time when the people in cities have turned selfish and are not willing to offer even a cup of tea to visitors, Chetan Pargi, despite his visible level of subsistence, wanted me to have food with him. When I politely declined, he said: “bare Saheb log kahan hamare jaise logo ke haath ka khana khate hain’ (Why would the sahebs like to eat with us). I had to tell him that as per the schedule, I was already eating with another farmer in the next village.
Meeting Mani Lal in the same village confirmed how severely undernourished these tribals are. Reverting to farming, I was impressed the way he was trying to get into composting, amrit pani and understood why he wanted to keep chemical pesticides away.
“Sir, yeh to jehar hai (Sir, this is simply a poison) he told me.
What comes as a shock is to know how some of them are being deprived of their ration quota just because they have not completed constructing toilets in their houses.
Among various things that I learnt from them, I found Mani Lal’s wife Babli Bai’s effort to preserve the seeds of cucumber and lemon by gluing them on the Sagwan leaves and hanging the dry leaves to be an interesting way to keep seeds.
There were several other traditional ways that farmers were adopting which I found it worth documenting, and learning from.
All this became possible when I accepted the invitation to addressing thousands of Tribals at Banswara in southern Rajasthan in a Janjati Krishi Swaraj Sammelan (Tribal Conclave). As I said earlier, these tribals came from the tribal belt in the triangle of a region formed between Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Organised by the Banswara-based NGO, Vaagdhara, I must acknowledge that it was an amazing experience to speak before such a large audience of tribals, something close to 7,000 and 8,000. They came dressed in all colours, and in all their glory.
In my talk I urged them not to let go of their farming techniques and practices. They alone hold the future as far saving sustainable farming practices are concerned.
The farming practices they preserve hold the key to save the world from climate change. I sought their cooperation in protecting their agriculture from getting polluted and environmentally devastated. Three things they must do:
- Stop using chemical pesticides.
- Phase out the application of chemical fertilisers.
- Conserve and protect desi cattle breeds/seeds.
They took a pledge to follow the directions.
It will certainly be a grave tragedy if the Government tries to introduce modern farming techniques in these villages, and thereby destroy the synergy that tribal agriculture preserves.
Linking nature, environment and religion, the tribals have preserved what is truly a sustainable farming system for centuries.
It is high time, a separate plan is prepared for the tribal regions, wherein the effort should be to not only conserve but also improve upon their traditional practices, ensuring that tribals are paid a premium for monumental role they have played in preserving and conserving the natural resources.
This is a small price the society needs to incur for what could be the saviour of the mankind’s future. With global warming already pushing the world to a tripping point, these tribal regions may turn out to be society’s last refuge. Like the Doomsday vault in the Arctic, where the effort is to preserve crop seeds for posterity, this is a Living Vault that mankind needs to protect for its own future. #
Posted by Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality