Thursday, July 23, 2009

Back to the Kheti

Editor's Note: The theme song for this post is N2Deep's classic Back to the Hotel. Except that you have to substitute the word 'hotel' for 'kheti'. Like, "Back to the Khe-ti daa naa naa naa naaaaaaaaa". Listen to the song so it plays in your head as you read. Thank you for your attention on this matter.

This post is long past due, but two weekends ago while in Delhi I did my first farm visit since being back in India. That's right... I was "Back to the Khe-ti daa naa naa naa naaaaaaaaa"!!!!!!!!!!!!

The farm is run by an NGO called Farmers First Foundation. I came to know about it through one of the directors Amandeep Gill, a wonderful guy who was a visiting scholar at Stanford last year, but originally works in the GOI's Ministry of External Affairs in nuclear proliferation issues. The farm is a collaboration of a lot of heavyweight organizations connected to the government. My impression was that it brought together some of the best agricultural minds the GOI has to offer. The result was an impressive 4 acres south of Delhi with every sustainable agriculture toy you could imagine. I'm going to give the grand tour through pictures mostly.

Partial panorama of the 4 acres:

A structure for collecting and storing cow waste (urine and manure) for eventual application on the field.

The Indore method of composting. Straight out of Sir Albert Howard's playbook:

Vermicompost... this was phenomenal:

Fodder is being grown right now to feed the cows, along with nitrogen-fixers. Veggies will be going down sometime later.

Chickens! Used for manure (very high nitrogen concentration in chicken manure). Once they build up the flock, it will be viable to sell the eggs also (roughly 1 egg/chicken/day). Check out the black beauties on the second pic.

Bee-keeping. This is expensive to start up, but highly lucrative (honey production) and ecologically beneficial (pollination) once the trees get established.

Silage container. Used for feed in the cold months. Fits about an acre's worth of fodder when compressed. It becomes soggy.

A (fully gifted) tractor. The implements were borrowed by neighboring farmers. I told Amandeep that the value of the tractor will be appropriately amplified once those farmers use the tractor for their own farms.

Amandeep showed me the cows last, which he said he saved for the end because they are the "heart of the farm". Well said. Any ecologically balanced farm must have both plants and animals. Cows are the bedrock. They provide nourishment to the soil, the plants, and humans.

These are some studly Haryani buffaloes:

Indigenous breeds (forgot to note the exact name... anyone know?). Amandeep's daughter instructed, "To pet the cow, you must show it only love, not fear":

The little ones:

Interesting story about the cattle feed shown below. They supplement the fodder from the farm with grain they get from Delhi retailer outlets. Those outlets often poke open bags to give samples, and grain spills on their floors. Amandeep buys up the grain they sweep up from the ground for the cattle feed. Nice. Later I heard from Pareshbhai that in Gujarat that is done as well, except people eat the swept up grain.

All-in-all this was a very impressive farm. The way it was organized and laid out, but also the spirit of sustainability behind it. I had two main criticisms. The first one was, how does this farm serve small farmers? One dimension is the accessibility. Traveling to model farms like this isn't easy for farmers... who would come there to learn? The second dimension is the farm system itself. As I mentioned this farm has all the best practices and facilities. All of the toys (compost facilities, storage, animal quarters, etc.) were designed by experts in their respective fields, and probably at considerable expense. The farm is basically like a showroom of the heights that can be reached in sustainable agriculture, all here in one location. But what can a small farmer take from this? Are there cost-effective implementations of the facilities shown? If not, then the farm is educational but not implementable. It would be nice if it were both.

The second criticism I had of the farm was about the perimeter stone wall that surrounds it. I mean, a wall?!?!! It felt so out of place given the spirit of what was within it. No organic farm should ever be walled in. This farm is a treasure that is for all to behold. As my dad would say, 'Born Free'!

Daa naa naa naa naaaaaaaaaaaaaa

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