As we took one last glance at the Dharamitra Experimental Farm, we could see that the staff were sad to see us go. But looking back on our two-week stay, we realised that through the experiences we had shared with them, our hearts were truly changed forever.
On the 28th of August 2016, twelve eager explorers arrived in Wardha – a small, rural town in the middle of India which Mahatma Gandhi called home for more than 20 years. The house where he lived lies virtually untouched and preserved. Our group was invited to Gandhi’s Ashram, considered a place for knowledge and wisdom, to join the community in the daily prayer and meditation at the same place Ghandi used to meditate and pray. Little did we know that the wisdom of Gandhi would follow us throughout the whole journey.
We were accommodated in the new and fantastic dormitory building at Dharamitra Experimental Farm which our host and co-organizer, Dr.Tarak Kate, was proud to inaugurate by accommodating our multinational group. This incredible group consisted of Rosie (Australia), Ammanuel, Habtamu and Girma (Ethiopia), Amy, Jess, Nohlanhla, Makhegu, Murray, Sam and Louise (South Africa), Phil (Zimbabwe) and Shima (Brazil). Our first challenge upon diving into Indian culture was learning how to eat using only our right hands. But this challenge was quickly overcome as our taste buds were assaulted by the amazing flavours that make up Indian cuisine; tantalising flavours that constantly had us looking forward to the next meal.
During our two week stay we visited different small organic farmers from indigenous seed collectors to milk cooperatives and even the local representative of the ‘Green Revolution’. Organic farming can be quite challenging and requires a lot of hard work and dedication but the rewards are immense, which was evident from the small organic farmers that we visited who were very proud of their achievements. Challenging the international market of GMO seeds, chemical pesticides and fertilizers is no easy feat and through our exploration we sought to find out just how they manage to do it.
The farmers not only provide organic food and cash crops like cotton and soya beans, but simultaneously offer something even more valuable – ecosystem services. The trees on their farms provided shelter for birds and in return the birds would eat ‘pests’ that attack the crops. The shade of the trees would provide a micro-climate that would allow us to sit on the floor and escape the heat of the sun. And the black soil, an ecosystem of its own, was a clear indication of how rich in organic matter the land was.
One of the highlights of the trip had to be learning more about the Khadi production process. Khadi is a type of fabric produced with cotton that is hand harvested, hand spun, hand woven, hand painted and finally transformed into beautiful garments like saris, shirts and pants. But Khadi is not only fabric; Khadi represents a revolution that has been pivotal to the independence of India. During India’s colonization by Britain, cotton would be shipped to England and returned as clothes that were too expensive for the people of India. Gandhi started a campaign for Indian people to stop buying clothes made in England and as an example burnt all his imported clothes preferring to wear only those made of Khadi. The success of this campaign created a major crisis for the British clothing industry. And just as our journey began with Gandhi, his influence was woven throughout our entire stay. His presence was still felt in Wardha, a place where the simple rural can still be found amidst a globalized world.
And although we left India a few days ago, one thing is for sure. Our experiences in India will never leave us.