Biodiversity and Sustainable Agriculture (Course Convenor)
Dr. Tarak Kate has an Msc and Phd in Botany, and for the last 22 years has specialised in appropriate technology, organic recycling, sustainable agriculture, renewable enrgy, and waste utilization. His main work is helping small farmers in India with holdings of less than two acres to maximize returns from their land. Central to his program is an emphasis on a bio-diversification, geared to the needs of local farmers, that comprises sericulture, pisciculture, animal rearing, poultry farming, crop cultivation, land banking and watershed management on land previously cultivated only for staple and cash crops. This package ensures diversified agricultural output throughout the year, a steady supply of crops for personal and market consumption, and gainful employment of members of farmers’ families on their land. Regular rotation of crops and the placement of animal wastes on lands replenishes soil nutrients.
Dr. Kate established his organization, Dharamitra, in 1991 with his wife Chitra. Today, it is a team of eight people, six of whom are scientists. Each scientist/activist has evolved a bio-mass program and works with villages to plan the spread of the project. Tarak launched his work in a semi-tribal village in the district of Wardha. Tarak is working in conjunction with the Association of Sarva Seva Farms (ASSEFA), an organization operative in 120 villages in two districts—Wardha and Yaovatmal. He is using the infrastructure of this organization to set up Farmers’ Study Groups in each village. The Farmers Study Group is the intellectual wing of the Gram Sabha, or the traditional village council of all the residents of the village. Every Farmers’ Study Group with a membership strength of 20 to 45 farmers is an interactive forum of farmers. Discussions and debates are initiated by the facilitators of Dharamitra to create awareness among them of sustainable non-chemical agriculture and to equip them with the skills to create customized ways of leveraging bio-mass. Use of bio-dynamic kitchens, horticulture and sericulture plots, mulberry plantations, training programs for tribal honey-hunters and experiments in rearing cattle to supplement the bio-resources of villages has gained momentum. One villager is making health soap from cow dung and another has discovered a new way of producing phenyle, a disinfectant. Farmers’ Study Groups have also visited eco-farms set up by other organizations and innovative farmers. Similarly farmers’ workshops are organized by Dharamitra to facilitate exchange of information and experience in bio-diverse farming.
An indicator of the impact of Tarak’s program is that 50 percent of farmers in the participating villages have reduced the use of fertilizers by half and 450 acres of degraded land have been treated by more than 150 farms after training in soil conservation and watershed management. Tarak has also set up a model experimental farm on 2.25 acres to give marginal farmers a blueprint of land management so they can draw their subsistence needs from their own holding. The experimental farm produces almost everything needed by a family of five and yields as many as six varieties of food grains and various kinds of fruits and vegetables. Tarak has also planted approximately 1,000 teak samplings. The farm’s boundaries are fenced with trees that yield fuelwood. A variety of grass and weeds provide fodder for his cows. He also has plots for mushroom cultivation and sericulture. A small fish pond and a poultry farm complete the model farm. The yield of wheat from Tarak’s farm, over a period of one year, has more than doubled. The model has encouraged villagers and built confidence in his organization and its rationale. Tarak plans to work extensively in all the villages of the Vidharba region in Maharashtra. Simultaneously, he is organizing camps, training programs and slide shows for groups that will help carry his model beyond this region. He has identified organizations with similar programs, such as watershed management or bio-gas development initiative, to involve them in the spread and implementation of his concept. Tarak also plans to set up a documentation training center, the Technology Resource Centre in Watershed Management and Alternative Agriculture. It will train grassroots development agencies working in the Vidhraba region in sustainable agricultural technologies.