Sustainable Agriculture

“Since 75 percent of the Indian population derives its livelihood from agriculture, and every fourth farmer in the world is an Indian, the impact of globalization on Indian agriculture is of global significance” [Vandana Shiva – Stolen Harvest]

 

Agriculture in 87% of hill Uttarakhand is rainfed. It is distinguished by its organic cultivation methods and marked by exceptionally rich biodiversity. For instance, baranaja is a mixed farming system whereby a community of crops are planted together on the same terraced fields in the kharif or monsoon season. 

Important and hard tasks like weeding, hoeing and harvesting are still undertaken together by working on each other's fields in turn, as is the sowing of paddy. Agriculture here is completely powered by cattle. The most critical component of organic manures is cowdung. Along with this symbiotic link with agriculture, cow and buffalo milk and milk products are critical to food and nutritional security and livelihood risk reduction.

Forests provide critical livelihood needs like fodder for cattle, resulting in cowdung for manures, leaf mulches for crops, quality fuel woods, wild foods, natural fibres, medicines for humans and cattle, wood for housing, furniture and implements and, more importantly, a congenial micro-climate for several special hill crops.


The application of the dominant industrial development paradigm to these Himalayan regions through Government policies, especially in sectors of energy, mining, agriculture, road building etc. are a big challenge. The effects on communities, livelihoods and environment, local and all the way downstream is neglected, underplayed and ignored. The result has been intensive farming and grazing techniques followed by the abandonment of land and a widespread migration from the hills.

 

The main question we ask ourselves is: should the farmers be taught their own past traditions after they migrate to the city and forced back to the villages or should they be guided towards a new philosophy combining the new and the old in a sustainable fashion?

 

The Kyarki area has recently been connected by road to the nearby Rishikesh, a tourist hub often referred to as the “World Yoga Capital”. Tourists have just started to commute to this scenic location, and the local tribes are quickly being disconnected from their traditions and roles within their ecosystem. When we initially conducted our chia experiment, we thought it was unethical to bring in new crops and farming strategies. However, when the farmers positively reacted to the explanation of our goals, we realised that our duty should not be that of imposing our ethical belief, but instead to support and protect the villagers while finding solutions to their social crisis. These solutions also include increased profits and marketing support, technology transfer to reduce the burden of physical work usually performed by women, sound research experiments that are scientifically proven and guarantee effective results, and increased economic freedom of the villagers by tapping into the superfood market potential.

 

 

Neer Village PPU

We seek to establish a Primary Processing Unit (PPU) in Neer Village which can be utilised both for cash crops and traditional crops by the locals. The PPU will guarantee increased quality of produce and decreased physical burden for the farmers.

 

Technology transfer

We will conduct training sessions for the local farmer to learn how to utilise new basic farming tools (power-tiller, jab drill planter, etc.).

 

Irrigation

We are working to increase the water availability for irrigation in the area. This can be obtained through a common application of farmers via governmental funding schemes, and through sustainable forestry and agricultural practices. 

 

Seed bank and vermicompost

We want to ensure farmers' rights by developing a seed bank of adapted crops that the farmers can freely access thus avoiding their purchase of hybrid seeds in the city. Additionally, we want to train the farmers on the use of organic compost as a natural fertiliser whenever cowdung is not sufficient.

 

Cash crops

Our goal is to explore possible combinations of cash crops and traditional crops that do not mine the local biodiversity. By guiding the farmers in developing their agricultural strategies, we will ensure that their products target current and real demands. 

 

Innovative crops

We seek to introduce three new crops in the Neer area to aid in the process of increasing farmers' profits. Careful impact assessment will be conducted to gauge the ecological consequences of our strategies prior to up-scaling production in the area. Our three innovative crops are separately described below. 

 

Chia (Salvia hispanica)

Chia is an annual plant that is grown commercially for its seeds rich in omega-3 fatty acids, soluble fiber and antioxidants. It originates from Central America, where it was already grown by the ancient Aztec. Chia farming is currently increasing opportunities for farmers in Mysuru, where the Raitha Mithra Farmer Producer Company has been assuring a buy-back agreement of chia seeds of 22,500 Rs per quintal, by far more profitable than ragi and other traditional crops. This is the first crop we have successfully grown in 2017. Although yields were not optimal, ours has been the first chia experiment in the Himalayas on a piece of barren land as reported on the local Rishikesh newspaper. 

 

Industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.)

Following the successful examples of many other countries, Uttarakhand is the first State in India to officially legalise the cultivation of industrial hemp. With China as the first producer and exporter worldwide (mainly in the textile and animal feed industries), over 40 countries have reverted back the legal status of this highly versatile crop and built up successful examples of hemp value chains to substitute for unhealthy and unsustainable products. However, these plans have not been carried out to date in Uttarakhand because of the close association hemp has to its psychoactive cousin marijuana. Both industrial hemp and marijuana belong to the Cannabis family. However, the former has been naturally selected for generations to obtain stable varieties that maintain their characteristics useful for the many industrial applications, but do not contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – i.e. the psychoactive component. Thus, there would be no risk of encouraging drug abuse by cultivating industrial hemp. 

It is a shame that the opportunity to exploit this sustainable zero-waste “billion dollar crop” has still remained untapped, hence our choice to promote it.

 

Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa)

Quinoa is an herbaceous grain plant that is very versatile as a food item and rich in protein. Its nutritional content is similar to rice, it is gluten-free as well, but it sells at a much higher price on the Rishikesh and international market than common rice. It is generally used in salads, even though other uses are being explored, e.g. protein supplement powder. It belongs to the Amaranth family, a crop that is widely grown in the hills of Uttarakhand, indicating that it can be adapted to the area but requires specific biodiversity impact assessment. A few informal trials of quinoa farming have already begun around Rishikesh, indicating an interest of the local farmers. However, none of the groups growing quinoa is interested in scientifically assessing its impact.