By Pannaga Prasad:
It is April in Shiggaon, an agricultural taluk in Dharwad district in North Karnataka. The region has suffered drought for two consecutive years and the soil is dry and baking brown. A friend and I from the Deshpande Foundation in Hubballi, are on our way to see the mango wadi (meaning orchard in Gujarati) cultivated in a few hundred acres there. Both of us are first-time field visitors, but not ignorant of farming practices in India.
The ‘Wadi’ promotes farm production on non-irrigated wastelands, in combination with natural resource management. This integrated system is being widely implemented by BAIF, India’s oldest and most successful rural development NGO. The wadi plot is an agri-horti-forestry arrangement of beneficial plant species and solves many problems in a few thoughtful ways.
Every wadi is fenced by acacia trees, a hardy forest species which requires watering only for the first couple of years. They act as natural windbreakers, prevent soil erosion, and grow up to 40-50 feet in about 10 years, providing valuable timber.
Alphonso mango trees, just about six feet tall, are neatly planted in rows across the field. We spotted many large green mangoes weighing down on the small branches. They require tender and loving care for the first three years and are quite independent afterwards, needing only mulching, and pruning of the branches below three feet, to stave off pest attacks. After each row, trenches are dug and the excavated soil is used to create a bund, thereby retaining both top soil and water in the farm, preventing surface run-off. The main crops like maize and millets are grown between the mango and legumes are grown on the bunds, providing fodder for cattle.
The farmer, Irfan is proud of his farm’s produce today. Before implementing the wadi method, his returns from the farm were negligible, about Rs. 10,000 a year. Now, he has 160 mango trees on his four-acre plot. With the sustained prodding, education and implementation assistance by the Shiggaon BAIF team, he earned Rs. 40,000 in its third year of planting, Rs. 60,000 in the fourth year and this year, the total sales are expected to reach Rs. one lakh. During the last two years when the rains failed, mango was his saviour crop.
Irfan confesses that his greatest achievement is that he has regained his love for farming, a joy he had lost many years ago, resorting to doing odd jobs in Goa, the favourite destination of low-income farmers from North Karnataka. Now, he hardly spends a day off the farm even in the scorching heat, carefully nurturing every single plant to fruition. The team in turn thanks the Deshpande Foundation for funding their ‘Samruddhi’ program which, true to its name, is converting dry wasteland into profitable ventures. The wadi system presents ripe opportunities for the majority of Indian farmers with rain-fed, small-holding farms.
We leave the farm, appreciating the perfect symbiosis of the cultivation and conservation methods. We also reaffirm our belief in the ‘teach him how to fish’ way, especially because he is willing to pay to learn. That the concept of grant-making is taking root in India and producing fruits, is also a point to take home.
Here is a tale of a happy farmer.