A VISIT TO DHANCHABARI

IMG_8270

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.

IMG_8272

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.

IMG_8205

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.

IMG_8227

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.

IMG_8232

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.

IMG_8195

“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

Advertisement

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.