26 April 2006 Sanjeev Ranganathan
Siddamma was at the resource center today. A couple of volunteers from Belgium were also there. They will be here for 4 months and work on organic farming.
In the discussion at AID-Austin, a few questions had come up regarding the resource center and the call was primarily focused to understand the answers to these questions.
Q: It is not entirely clear how the community is to get involved with the resource center. The land and the resources are that of Bharathi Trust. This seems to be only an experimentation ground for the community. What is the incentive for a farmer to use it and to sustain the activity?
A: First, as has been pointed out there is limited land in the resource center. The center by itself cannot act as a source of food security for all the neighboring villages. What can be worked on is a change in attitude and practices of the farmers/people.
The experiments on farming are going to be conducted by trained people involved with the resource center fulltime. These are the fulltime staff of the resource center. It would have been nice if, as you mention people come forward on their own and experiment on the land, but this is not expected, at least not initially. In the first few years we expect to train the fulltime staff at the resource center to do the work and the farmers only to act as observers of what is being done at the center. Those who become very interested can also volunteer if they like. We also get additional volunteers at the center every once in a while who can come and train the staff on campus as well.
As observers if they are interested in a particular crop/activity we can slowly work with them to train them. If the farmers are convinced that they want to try out something, the full-time trained staff will help him/her do it on their own land. We will also work with the agricultural department to get any subsidies, etc from the government. Additionally, if it is a marginal farmer who does not even have access to domestic animals and has no access to cow dung, etc required for preparing medicine for the land we could even help them in this on case-by-case basis.
We are now getting ready to announce the center and also get the full-time staff at the center in May. The crop of the land owner has also been cut and the entire land is now available to us. We will experiment for one year and see how the farmers will react. If they are interested we will work in a small area in their own land.
Q: How about farmers working on the resource center? The farmer will have to do additional work (in addition to their own field). If the farmer grows something who will that belong to - the farmer or the resource center? Who decides how much area a farmer gets to experiment on?
A: We are open to the community coming forward and experimenting on the land, just as we are open for them to visit us anytime. However, as I mentioned this is not expected immediately.
If they are involved completely in the production they are certainly going to let the farmers take the yield as would be fair.
We do not plan to allocate any area for an individual farmer. It will only be given collectively. Like let 5 people who are selected by the community be involved with a crop. They can all share the benefits.
Q: Can you comment more on the resources - like water/electricity/inputs (seeds/manure/etc). Will the farmers have the capital to put this by themselves / or if they are provided by the center, how is that financed?
A: We are going to provide these at the resource center. Electricity is free from the government, you need only pay taxes for cultivation land once a year. Water is not lacking in this area. We are already working on keeping the water table as it is with water harvesting. I have mentioned to you the areas we are working on in our previous conversations.
Eventually, of course we would like that the produce itself be used to sustain the center, presently we need to put in the investment. We need to experiment with different natural seeds, they will again not be a huge investment over time since they can be reused year to year.
Manure will be provided by the resource center, as this is not available in the market.
Q: Where did the seeds for the present crops come from?
A: Farmers who live around the resource center provided some seeds. We purchased the rest.
Q: Since the center has been working for a few months what has the usage been and who will get the benefit from the current produce?
A: We were thinking of a bank account specifically for the center, when the center is in a stage of being a complete production center and can sustain itself. Presently, we have had no net income from the production. Irrespective, we would like to track what we needed to put in and what we got out so farmers who choose to change are aware that initially it is going to take time for the land to recover.
Till now, we have managed ourselves, we have put in personal funds for the investment 40-50,000 to improve the land and get seeds. Once the land is treated we will not need so much investment.
Seeds we will require for the first time, after this we will work on this. We are going to collect from local people, communities we are in touch with and from auroville for natural seeds. We have also contacted the local dept of agriculture who also have some non-genetic seed banks.
One of the reasons to do the survey is to collect the information from the community to find local seeds, which will work best.
Q: What is the role of Nammalwar with the individual farmers?
A: He is primarily a resource to train the full-time people at the resource center. As he will only monitor the progress and not be involved with everyday activities, I am not sure it will sync up with working with the farmers directly.