A warm ‘namaste’ from a woman scientist from India. I am Dr. Seema B. Sharma, 38 years young!!
With a Masters and Doctorate in Environmental Science and also the qualifying degree (UGC-NET) for a noble profession of a lecturership in any of the esteemed colleges of the country, I could have had a well settled job in my hands. But there was this urge that drove me to make the fields my page and shovel my pen!
So what is the challenge?
The journey began from the semi-arid zone of western India, Kachchh, which is the second largest district of Asia. Tectonically it is a very active zone and bestowed with enormous geological wealth. The zone is characterised by a history of devastating earthquakes, harsh climatic conditions and erratic rainfall pattern.
Injudicious and indiscriminate use of chemicals in agriculture has already shown its ugly face not only here in this unique ecological terrain of western India, but also in other parts of the country and other developing countries as well , where feeding the growing population with limited resources at discretion is the greatest challenge.
Where do we stand today?
As far as the Indian scenario is concerned, the so called ‘Green revolution’ of the mid-sixties era bought a boom in agri-production with the use of hybrid seed varieties, chemical based fertilisers and pesticides. But what it also bought in its wake over the passing decades was the degraded land quality and deterioration in quality of the produce.
The recent episodes of farmer’s suicide in various parts of my country and chemical infested food are a testimony of the fact that this is not what we wanted or want for our future generations to come.
What is my little contribution?
We as global citizens have fortunately inherited enormous ‘Traditional Ecological Knowledge’ (TEK), the indigenous knowledge that was built over centuries, passed on subtly from generation to generation and that was built on the principles of utmost care of our ‘Mother Nature’.
‘The Vedic Krishi System’ or the natural farming systems of ancient India needs a special mention here. In this system the soil ecosystems were managed in such a way that we gave back what we received from it.
So the journey started from here…
Keeping all these pros and cons in mind, this study began about six years back. With kind financial assistance from Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, under the Women Scientist Scheme (WOS-A), I was granted a fellowship that enabled me to kick-start my project from the grassroots level.
The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University kindly hosted my project. Additional lab facilities were set up from the funds from DST, where I could carry out my research.
Been there, done that
For three phases of a crop cycle spread across six cropping seasons we compared the two farming systems (one purely chemical based and the other TEK based) for the physical, chemical and microbiological components of the soil for four intensive years. The number of farms of the two types was chosen as such to be statistically significant for scientific presentation of the results.
For TEK based systems, natural concoctions like ‘Jivamrit’, seed treatments ‘Bijamrit’ were applied. Along with this, various traditional techniques were adopted that were locally feasible. Potent microbes were isolated, tested and deposited in repositories. Major and minor nutrients were evaluated in soil samples that were drawn using standard protocols.
To conceptualise this study, which is very close to my heart, I have divided it into four phases with three key points for each phase: goals to be covered, finance required and stipulated time.
Phase 1: The scientific aspect
Mass multiplication techniques and consortia formulations of compatible microorganisms/ bioformulations will be examined. The microbial cultures from the bio-formulations that have already shown promising results in-vivo and in–vitro will be applied for the lab to land transfer protocol.
The cultures are already deposited in national repositories with respective accession numbers. An amount of US $1700 will be allocated for this important aspect of the project and initially this will take two and half months, but once the technology hits the floor it will be done at the site itself, saving time and cost.
Phase 2: The social Aspect
Identification of the target farmers for technology transfer through various tools such as focus group discussions (FGD’s) and Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) will be performed. This phase will happen concurrently with the lab work and will cover the major timeline of the project. USD $2000 would be needed for this.
Phase 3: Combining the scientific and social aspects
Assessment, refinement and demonstration of technology/products through participatory approach and practical trainings and demonstrations of the practises adopted in TEK based systems will be performed. Model farms developed at the field agency using this indigenous traditional wisdom and PGPR intervention from laboratories could highlight the beneficial aspects and train/motivate the farming community towards a sustainable agri-ecosystem.
Once the farmers have hands-on training and are ready with their first yield, a second phase on similar lines would be initiated that needs an amount of USD $1300.
Phase 4: final evaluation and assessment.
This state-of-the-art technology needs to be rendered useful to the ultimate beneficiaries, i.e. the farming community from start-up to the final production level. The yield analysis and soil quality testing would be the tangible benefits observed and the smiles on the faces of the farmers an intangible yet important milestone.
Training modules and orientation programmes would go a long way in imparting knowledge to the present generation but also create a knowledge base for future generations as well. With hands on training at every little step and access to facilitators at their discretion, the confidence of these farmers would be boosted.
A local technology already known and used in one context can be transferred for use in another in where it was previously unknown. What is now known to the world is that this area is known for its export of organically grown ‘Kesar Keri’ (local mango delicacy), and also dates, to various countries including Europe.
These achievements are all thanks to the progressive farming communities that are taking up more and more innovative yet sustainable indigenous strategies. Our project would be a drop in the ocean and serve the cause in moving from a Green Revolution to an ‘Evergreen Revolution’.
Blogpost and picture submitted by Seema Sharma (India) – seemabhargavsharma[at]gmail.com
The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.
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