Association for Indian’s Development

Kolkata Chapter

AID Kolkata is a volunteers’ movement, aspiring to bring in change that is sustainable and inclusive and in the process learn humility and respect for nature. With focus on grassroots communities, we work towards sustainable, non-discriminatory and inclusive lives for all of us,   inspiring in each other trust, confidence and support for one another,  While we, along with our partners,  do engage in work programmes and activities, we endeavour to go beyond just activities inasmuch that we strive to string together the collective conscience and thought processes of those that we work with and strengthen the inherent links that connect one conscious being to all others.

A story of change

It was 2 years ago that we visited Madanpur, a remote village in Murshidabad district of W Bengal with our partner SKMUK. People in Madanpur were drinking groundwater heavily contaminated with Arsenic for the last 25 years. Govt, NGOs, researchers came, studied, lectured and left while the people of Madanpur continued to suffer with a problem that challenged their very existence. The slow poison of Arsenic continued taking its toll of life, health and happiness. We understood that the problem could easily overwhelm us, but we had to do something…however humble.

We visited again the following year. This time we were confronted by an angry crowd, much like the previous time and the times that would follow. They objected to us entering the village if we were there to take pictures, feather our own nests and leave…and we gently convinced them to give us a chance.

SKMUK is very deeply connected to a very large number of extremely marginalized women in a few blocks of Murshidabad district. They had already identified Hasiba – a young soft spoken mother of two as potential mobilizer. We pooled some money from our pockets to support her honorarium for a few months. She would organize the women in groups of ten or twelve and we would collectively try to work with the groups rather than the whole village all at the same time.

What were we to do? As apparent to us the problem was much more social than technical. While removing Arsenic is a complex technical problem, many models have been developed but most of them are socially unviable either because of high cost of maintenance, or because of designs that haven’t taken into account local conditions or something that changes the taste of the water significantly. And so we decided to keep our efforts humble – (1) the easiest and the cheapest way to co-precipitate Arsenic is to treat it with alum overnight. Although it does not reduce the content drastically, it is better than drinking with the full contamination and above all it is doable. (2) Arsenic slowly breaks down the immune system – what if we encouraged the families to grow organic kitchen gardens systematically and improve nutrition, especially for the children. And encourage them to increase protein intake by eating eggs. (3) The govt had laid a pipeline half a kilometer away from the village. What if the villagers organized themselves and put pressure on the govt? And we could facilitate?

As days went by, Hasiba brought together the women in groups and talked to them about using alum (and the optimum weight so that it doesn’t spoil the taste). Slowly the practice caught on and people started growing nutrition gardens in whatever areas they found around their homes.

The people marched to the office of the District Magistrate and the Block Development Officer demanding that they send clean water to Madanpur. It has been too much for too long! Enough is enough! We want our children to live! A year later people in Madanpur were lining up around the 3 time-taps – taps which release water during certain times of the day. These are the best sights and sounds in Madanpur besides the smiles of the people – a clear stream of water descending into the waiting pots.

Today almost every house in Madanpur is growing an organic kitchen garden…some have completely stopped buying from the market. Not only do the women grow the vegetables for their families but also share it with others. There are many families in the village where the husband had died of poisoning and the woman struggles by her herself to raise the children. There is unbound cooperation here – perhaps the people here have learnt that to be the best tool of ward off adversity.

Supply water has finally reached at Madanpur

Supply water has finally reached the severely arsenic affected Madanpur village in Bhagabangola block of Murshidabad, West Bengal. Samaj Kalyan O Mahila Unnayan Kendra( SKMUK), one of AID’s grassroots partners from the Jiagunj (Bhagobangola block) has been trying to assist them in advocating for their right to safe water. The deputations, meetings and dialogues have finally helped achieve the long standing demand and need for safe drinking water in Madanpur. The supply water lines have reached the village. While the supply is yet to become regular and dependable, women of Madanpur share the initial experience. Now that the water issue seems to be on the way to being addressed, nutrition is the other big issue that needs to be tackled in Madanpur and its surrounding locality. Take a look

Pintoo, an inspiring farmer

46789_10151395843964383_847585757_nPintoo is an inspiring farmer from Sunderbans who has trained about 1000 farmers in techniques of sustainable organic agriculture. Anandabazar Patrika (a Bangla daily newspaper) wrote about Pintoo’s role in spreading sustainable agriculture in the area. AID has been working with farmers in the Sunderbans after Cyclone Aila salinated the land in May 2009 and Pintoo has been one of the main coordinators and trainers in Mathurapur II block for the sustainable agriculture initiative.
July 20th Anandabazar Patrika: click here
Pintoo Dreams of Turning the Entire Block to Organic Farming
Pintoo Purkait from Kasharipara of Paschim Jatar island is 34 years old and has finished class X. The farmers in the area know him as the organic teacher. According to the government agriculture department, he trained close to 1000 farmers to take up organic agriculture. Pintoo has also encouraged and supported landless families to grow vegetables around their homes in jute bags and wicker baskets. Pintoo works in the Kankandighi and Nagendrapur Gram Panchayats where 1700 hectares land is cultivated organically out of a total of 5300 hectares – almost 1/3rd. This ratio is much higher compared to other Panchayats. This area has bypassed others in growing rice, vegetables, pulses and fruits sustainably.
Pintoo is a self motivated farmer. This year the block agriculture department awarded him Krishi-Ratna for being an exceptional farmer. Of the Rs 10,000, he has spent a significant proportion in buying books about agriculture and he intends to spend the rest towards his work on sustainable agriculture.
Sunil Maiti from Mondolpara,Mrityunjay from Girpara utilize most of their land to do organic farming. According to them – sustainable farming is giving them more producing more at lower costs hence greater profits. More farmers are being drawn to it. After Cyclone Aila in 2009, water from the sea salinated the land. Pintoo started working with Mukti, a local NGO, to rehabilitate the land using organic inputs.
The agriculture department concedes that the work being done by Pintoo should have been done by the Krishi Proyukti Sahayak (KPS). But there are very few KPS. The agriculture director of Mathurapur-II block, Malay Roy says, “There should be 27 KPS in this block, but actually there are just 3. Hence we have to rely on people like Pintoo.” He claims that of 19,000 hectare land in the block organic farming is done on 3800 hectare. Five years ago, it was 750 hectares.
Pintoo says that,” In 2009 the agricultural department had trained few farmers. Most of the farmers did not pay much attention to the training but I would discuss these issues every week with the farmers in our local club. I earned their trust by showing them the results on my field.” Now Pintoo has the responsibility of holding monthly training and going to the farmers on a daily basis to resolve problems. He explains to the farmers how chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not only harmful to the land, crop, water and human health.
Organic fertilizers and pesticides are not easily available on the market. Pintoo trains farmers to make the bio-inputs at home using the locally available resources. This lowers the input costs. costs. Pintoo grows rice, vegetables, fruits, pulses, oil seeds, fish, and does poultry farming throughout the year. His wife Shakuntala also joined the group 5 years ago and sells the produce. The couple dreams of their area being chemical free one  day.

Sunderban Visit 23rd-24th January 2014

Sustainable circle “Sushthayee Chawkro” at Sunderbans

In the crisp winter afternoon, emotions surged as people of K-plot watched the street play “Prokriti Maa” (enacted by BTS employees), which delved into the realities and crises of the modern day farmer’s life.

Soon after, about 30-35 farmers gathered at the Nazrul club for a one-on-one session with our expert Tapas Mandal from DRCSC. These sessions are being held as a part of a new initiative by AID named “Sushthayee Chawkro” or the sustainable cycle.  The uniqueness of this interaction was that the participants had paid a nominal amount of Rs.20 to attend it. The idea behind is to create an ownership for the sustainable agricultural program amongst the farmers. This initiative will also help in formation of support groups of farmers who can help out their fellow farmers with their experience and Knowledge about organic farming.

Shibu, our field coordinator, had collected the queries from the farmers which were as follows:

1) How to deal with pest and diseases by organic means?

2) How to prepare the soil before the cropping season?

3) Ways and means to curtail diseases and pests in chilli, brinjal, mustard and betel leaves.

Tapasda patiently answered all the questions and suggested measures to tackle the problems. One of the farmers had brought a diseased chilli plant which had curled leaves. Tapas da diagnosed it to be caused by mites and suggested the following solution for mite infections in chillies as well as betel leaves.

500 gm-neem leaves, 250 gm- neem tree bark, 10 gm copper sulphate, 5 gm borax to be boiled together in a mud pot (metallic containers are strictly prohibited). Strain the liquid and raise volume up to 20 litres with water. Spraying the solution will effectively curtail mite infestation in betel leaves and vegetables. A note of caution- copper sulphate naturally occurs as Chalcanthite (a pentahydrate mineral) is permitted to be used in very limited amounts in integrated pest management. However, its indiscriminate use as a weedicide or to control slugs is not encouraged as high concentrations can be toxic for human and animals.

Another very effective solution to kill pests can be prepared from tobacco leaves. 50 gm of tobacco leaves were cut into small pieces and suspended in 2 litres water overnight. After boiling for about 30 min liquid was strained and leaves were discarded. 20 gm of soap (detergents and shampoos are a strict no-no) was dissolved in the tobacco extract and volume to of the solution was made up to 8 litres with water.

Two spoon full crushed garlic dipped in about 10 ml kerosene, can be kept overnight in an air tight bottle. The extract was strained (can be preserved for about a year) and dissolved in 1 litre soap water. This solution works very well for pest treatment in mustard crops. Crushed green chillies can also be added to the above solution.

Tapasda also accounted the benefits of using cow urine. He said that ten fold diluted cow urine is very effective to control fungal diseases in plants.

Tricoderma viride can also be effectively used as a biocontrol agent especially in fungal diseases.  It is a common soil fungus found in rhizosphere of the plant roots. It shows vigorous growth which competes out other disease causing fungi. Tricoderma is very effective in tobacco, potato, cauliflower etc. but not for onions, where it causes a disease. It promotes growth and induces some resistance in plants which helps them fight diseases.

Viral diseases of plants are most difficult to control. Our experts suggested that the infected plants should be removed to stop the spread of disease. 50 gm tulsi (ocimum) leaves boiled in a litre of milk, extracted and volume made up to 10 litres with water, when sprayed on infected plants help control viral diseases to a certain extent. The solution is to be sprayed 2-3 times at a gap of 15 minutes in the evening. Mixed cropping is an effective way to stop spread of diseases. Microbial infestations are very specific and usually a single microbe will almost never attack more than one species of plant. The fallow season is also helpful in elimination of diseases to an extent.

The participant farmers expressed their happiness and satisfaction about the new initiative and wanted another such session in April.

Next day, Bishaka and Polydi (field coordinators, SAP) requested us to visit the fruit orchard of Buddishwar Koyal. Buddishwarda had planted Indian Berry plants (narkeli kool) which he had procured from Mr. Humayun Kabir on an exposure visit to his farm. We were very happy to oblige. As we entered the orchard, we saw that the plant had taken their full height and were laden with fruits. Buddishwarda revealed that he had grown five plants organically, and those plants yielded higher quantity and better quality fruits. He also got a better price for the organic fruit (see the video interview of Buddishwar Koyal). Prithviraj was ecstatic when he tasted fruits from the organic and inorganically grown plants one after the other. He confirmed that the organically grown berries tasted much better than those grown with chemical inputs. Buddishwarda showed us a bottle of ‘Effective microorganisms’ that he had used for his organic venture.

Soon after we headed to Nogenabad for our next meeting with the farmers of that that area. The questions put forth by farmers were very similar to the ones in the previous meeting.  Their main concern was the brinjal plant which was very much prone to pest attack. Tapasda explained in detail about the hormone trap and how it could be very beneficial in controlling pests. Pintu was very keen to understand the scientific processes that occur on application of organic inputs and the scientific explanation of their effect on plant growth. He also expressed the need of setting up of a microbiological lab where some bacterial and fungal cultures can be maintained. He also expressed the need of setting up of a microbiological lab where some bacterial and fungal cultures can be maintained.

The idea of Susthayee Chawkro seems to have gone down well with the farmers and they are looking forward to more such sessions in the future.

A VISIT TO DHANCHABARI

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Joytsna Maity, a farmer practicing SRI

“I have a share on this land. Tell me which portion is mine. I will do SRI farming on it” says Joytsna Maity to her husband with a glaring eye! So far she tried her best to persuade her husband to go for SRI (System of Rice Intensification) method of farming i.e. the single seedling transplantation at a time at 10 inches regular intervals which claims to have more yield as compare to the traditional practice. Her husband refused all her plea! Finally she challenged her husband and practiced SRI on her portion of the land and got better yield than her husband. Joytsna Maity is a resource farmer of DSNSS at Dhanchabari village in the Chandipur block of Purba Medinipur, WB. It’s on the way of Howrah to Digha highway.

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AID Kolkata volunteers with DSNSS & DRCSC

 We, AID Kolkata volunteers Souvik, Deepanwita and Partha along with the DRCSC staff- Soma and Koushik, visited there on 4th of April, 2015 with the objective to understand how small techniques of Sustainable Agriculture are being adopted and practiced by the smallholder and sharecroppers. We feel extremely honoured to see their courage of conviction, to meet farmers like Joytsna Maity. We came back with many such experiences.

Landless farmers, smallholder those who do not have acres of land, are being mobilised and motivated through the SHGs run by DSNSS. DSNSS is basically a small micro finance institution but they are involved in several other social activities apart from “savings & loans”! One of such activity is to motivate women farmers to develop a homestead “Nutrition Garden” on a small patch of land which otherwise remains unutilised through the year.

Let’s see, How do they do it ?

The farmers those who have no land at all apart from the house they are living, are simply growing seasonal vegetables on sacks, containers and other unused material available.

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Preparing Vermin Compost

Every SGH member in the village we met, had a medium size earthen container, placed under a thatch and covered with moist jute bags. Green leaves, straw, kitchen refuse all are being decomposed there to produce vermin – compost. Hundreds of living worm can be noticed in the pit. There is no requirement for any external inputs of fertilizers. The home-made vermin-compost is enough to feed their vegetable garden. Those who have a bigger patch of land they also have more pit to feed.

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They are commercially growing okra

Almost all the farmers are saving seeds individually and they also have a community based “Seed Bank” at the DSNSS centre from which they can borrow vegetable seeds in a condition that, they will return it in the next season with 5 grams extra.

Women are preparing some bio-pest repellent by using Neem, Karanja and other leaves that have a pungent smell and taste to shoo away the harmful pest. Besides, they are using Amrit pani, cow urine and water in 1:6 ratio as pest repellent and fungicide.

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Portable vegetable nursery

Vegetables are grown on circular pattern bed, raise bed with compost for better utilization of water and available space. Legume, leafy vegetables, tuber crops, vegetables, herbs are there in all the nutrition gardens. Some gardeners grow fodder, betel leaf also. Most of their produce is for household consumptions but there are few farmers who sells okra and betel leaf in the market.

Rearing of small birds like chicks and ducklings, its vaccination, its feeding and all are being regularly practiced by the gardeners as an allied activity of agriculture.

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“Nutrition Garden” unused and discarded containers, sacks are being used to grow seasonal veggies.

Farmers those who have the farm land, don’t grows paddy only! They always harvest an intermediate pulses or other legume. It not only gives them an extra yield but also helps to maintain the nitrogen flow in the soil.

Women have learnt to prepare their own vegetable nursery at home. Saplings of Papaya, green chilli, eggplant and other seasonal crops are grown on the portable baskets and containers. “It is very easy to look after this nursery, to take care of it” says a member of Matangani Mohila dal.

Few women of this SHG have installed Smokeless oven in their kitchen. This fuel-efficient oven relies on a simple technology which allows less oxygen into the oven to make it more fuel-efficient and there is a smokestack attached to the oven.  Now, they need not to inhale the smoke and gather more fuel wood for Monsoon!

04/04/2015

How do you think people whose homes are under flood waters for an average of 3 months in an year live?

AID Volunteers write after a visit to Giridharipur, a village on Nirmal Chawr, an embankment on the Ganga-Padma.

There are several low lyinNirmalcharg islands in Bhagawangola-II block which are submerged under water every year for four months during monsoons. There are five villages with total population of approx. 12,000. We visit one such village of Giridharipur. The island was part of main land but got separated as a result of river activities.

What has the government done for them? Mostly organizing elections. There are about 7000 voters on the island and the elections are held efficiently. The government effectively sets up 3 polling booths but is completely ignorant of their presence at other times. Uzufa Bewa, a resident of the char, said that she had been assigned 6 days of work under MNREGA and even for those days she hasn’t yet been paid. She has to walk every day to the closest mainland, Benipur, for her daily requirements. There are no male members of the family as most of them work as migratory laborers in the cities. Another woman said that there were many poor who were without BPL cards. The workers of SKMUK conveyed that on raising this issue with an earlier BDO (Block Development Officer) he directly confirmed that he does not bother to think about the people on the island and it’s better that the NGO also stops thinking about them. The people of this island are thus marginalized in all senses. They lie on the margins of this nation and also in the view of the state.

River Ganga (river Padma in Bangladesh) swells during monsoon as it drains the rain water from whole of north India. Every year during monsoon as the river level rises, the islands are submerged under 6-10 feet of water for 4 months starting from August to November. This is an annual phenomenon and is not related to excessive rains in that area. The people are extremely reluctant to leave their houses even during floods. Initially they climb on roof of their houses, people and animals together and when that water level rises even further they shift to the embankment on the mainland. There is no government help and the only help they get is some relief supplies distributed by SKMUK.

There are no schools on the island. Even SKMUK does not run any pre-school since the islands are inhabitable for only 8 months of a year and it is difficult to have regular staff for that. Children who attend schools in the mainland are forced to stay home for 4 months. Mothers tie their toddlers to poles to prevent them from getting washed away during floods.

The people are extremely poor and there are very few opportunities. Moreover their meagre wealth is completely wiped out every year due to floods. Many have migrated to the mainland or to the cities in search of livelihood. Those who cling to the island are mostly into farming of jute and lentils. Although the land is fertile, the short window of 8 months does not allow them to cultivate any other crop. Also they are unable to harvest the jute crop if the flooding happens earlier than normal.

Every year during floods there are deaths due to various diseases and snake bite. SKMUK is fighting to overcome government apathy to help these island people without any success. There was an embankment when the islands were part of main land but those are destroyed long back and there has been to efforts to rebuild them.

We discussed the problem with local people and staff of SKMUK. Some of the long term solutions we discussed are given below.

(i) Embankments – Construct embankments on the island to resist flooding. This is the best solution. AID can take up the issue with government departments.
(ii) Raised houses – Construct raised platform for each house on which the people take shelter during flooding. From the discussions we found that people are extremely reluctant to leave their houses during flooding and cling to it even knowing that it is extremely risky. Some feasibility study was made some years back for this option and it was found to be very costly.
(iii) Flood center – Construct flood center where all people and domestic animals can move during the floods. A land was identified for this purpose but later it was found that there are multiple owners of this land and project was put on hold. SKMUK is trying to find if state owned land (Khas jomi) is available nearby for construction of flood center but till now results are negative.

For options (ii) and (iii) we also need to check the feasibility of constructing permanent structures on the islands considering soil strength etc.

The local people prayed to us to do something for them as they stare at another flooding in two months’ time.

AID Kolkata volunteers report about severe Arsenic problems in Madanpur village, Murshidabad, West Bengal

The gloom set in both the weather and our minds as we interacted with the people from the small village of Madanpur. Most of them had hyperkeratosis, corns and warts, large boils and tumors in skin – all symptoms of arsenicosis. The ground water of that area has very high levels of arsenic for the past 25 yrs. So far there has been no major help from the government in either making available other source of drinking water or helping out the effected people with medical facilities.

Obviously, there is a deep feeling of anger and resentment amongst the people. Some governmental/ non- governmental teams do visit occasionally but none have done anything to give the people some respite from the problem. One such team had sealed the hand pump and asked them to use the water of river Padma instead for their daily chores. However, the river bank is three kilometers away from the village and people really find it difficult to get their drinking water supplies from such a large distance. For the past eight years the underground water samples of the area has not been tested.They have continued using the contaminated ground water as a result of which some people have succumbed to cancer. We also met a few people who were suffering from cancer. They have to travel all the way to Kolkata (Institute of Tropical Medicine) for medical checkup. That too they cannot afford a follow-up visit.

Another major reason of arsenic toxicity is the rampant use of pesticide. Most of the people we met were farmers with very small land holdings. The local people made a desperate appeal……”Amader jonno kicchu korun” (please do something for us). We left Madanpur with a heavy- heart filled with despair and sadness.

Possible areas of intervention:

  1. To find out if any water purification system can filter out the arsenic at least to a certain extent or to look for ways and means to make an alternate arrangement for drinking water for the local people.
  2. To arrange medical camps at regular intervals.
  3. To take up this issue with local authorities and advocate for their right to clean drinking water and health care.
  4. To discourage the use of pesticides by the local farmers and promote organic farming.