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Monday, Jun 03, 2002

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Deccan village cradles agri revolution

C.J. Punnathara

DDS has demonstrated on a day-to-day basis that high-technology capital-intensive farming is unnecessary and inappropriate for hundred of millions of the poorest people.

KOCHI, June 2

A SMALL village in the arid wastes of the Deccan plateau may hold the key to the future of global agricultural practices, according to Greenpeace, the green movement.

It has said that Ms Lakshmi, a Dalit woman of Humnapur village in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh set out on her modest front porch "a cornucopia that might hold nothing less than a key to the future of farming, if it is to be just and sustainable''.

A recent report said that when a team from Greenpeace visited her tiny village nestling in the Deccan plateau, "she brought out from simple woven baskets and clay pots more than 80 varieties of seeds, a part of the richest and most diverse agricultural heritage of the world.''

None other than Dr M.S. Swaminathan, a pioneer in hybrid rice research and one of the founders of Green Revolution in the country, will soon be beating a path to her door.

"When he drops by, Prof Swaminathan will see that this `community gene bank' is part of a larger picture,'' the report said.

At first sight there could be few less promising locations for cradling a sustainable agricultural revolution.

These arid villages located on the Deccan plateau are in the region where Andhra Pradesh borders Karnataka and Maharashtra. Rainfall is sparse and often uncertain.

The soil is poor - often only a few centimetres of dust and pulverised laterite rock which in the dry season gives the land a rusty red colour.

Similar dryland terrain covers some two-thirds of the country.

So, the success story of Ms Lakshmi and her villagers holds lessons for vast areas of the country, as well as many other parts of the world, the Greenpeace report said.

It all began with a voluntary organisation for women called Deccan Development Society (DDS), which is turning ecologically smart, people-centred agriculture into a living reality. DDS has around 70 sanghams, each having around 60 families.

One of the greatest contributions of this society has been its demonstration on a day-to-day basis that high-technology capital-intensive farming is unnecessary and inappropriate for hundred of millions of the poorest people, the report pointed out.

Along with the community gene banks, which they stock and control, the women of the sangham have developed their own food security systems, with grain stores in each village that they manage themselves.

To support their efforts, a local farm science centre brings together and organises traditional knowledge and helps develop fertilisers and pesticides from sources such as the neem tree.

``The fact that Dalit women, who are poor and illiterate and marginalised, can manage such a project is the strongest political statement of the decade,'' says Mr P.V. Satheesh, Director of DDS.

DDS has also built a green school where practical income generating skills are taught.

Also, the women are trained in radio and video production so that they can tell their stories to the wider world. Some of these new video makers are travelling to Peru to share their ecological farming practices and to learn from others.

The Deccan is a harsh and unforgiving land. But with care, it can be made to bloom.

Thirty years ago, more than 70 different crop varieties were cultivated here. Mangoes from the region were so prized half a century ago that the Nizam of Hyderabad sent armed guards to protect the caravans of bullock carts bringing mangoes to his palace.

"The advent of hi-tech agriculture put an end to all these practices and the Dalit labourers saw the land being killed in front of their very eyes while they continued to remain poor," the report said.

Starting with meagre monthly savings of Rs 5 from some individual members, DDS started adopting and encouraging environment-friendly practices in the barren and desolate land.

Marginal lands which could barely yield more than 40-50 kg per acre were brought back into cultivation.

Now the lands yield 200-300 kg of sorghum, 50 kg of pigeon pea, 50 kg of assorted pulses and an assortment of fibre crops and enough fodder for two heads of cattle per acre.

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