Charulata Biswal, a marginal paddy farmer of Lodhani village in Dhenkanal district of Odisha, uses an interesting solution to save her aromatic rice from pests and maggots. The village experiences humid climate and untimely rain throughout the year often leading to pest attacks. However, in place of expensive pesticides, Charulata uses puffed rice to keep pests away. As insects and pests feast on puffed rice because of its soft texture, she places two kg of it on the top of a bagful of harvested aromatic rice and seals it. Months later when she opens the bag, her aromatic rice is intact as pests have feasted on the puffed rice. The technique is a hit with other farmers in the area.
Biswal, 70, is a student of Pathe Pathshala—The Peoples’ University on Move, a unique ‘moving institution’ that is bringing about a change in the lives of farmers through such inexpensive innovations. Brainchild of an Odia veterinary doctor, Balaram Sahu, the institution has been training small farmers to adopt natural resources for sustainable livestock farming, fishery and crop husbandry, and that too, free of cost.
The 58-year-old, who believes that in a sector like agriculture, small innovations have big impact, started the initiative on November 17, 2008 with a motive to take knowledge to farmers at the grassroots in their local parlance and at a time convenient to them. Now, a decade later, he has a dedicated group of farmers, both men and women, in every district of the state who attend his classes. He conducts five to 10 classes a month across the state.
The journey started when during his course work, he began interacting with farmers. “I observed that the main hurdle was lack of knowledge and skills in crop husbandry, livestock disease healing and control. Farmers and livestock keepers, who are called to cities to be trained in sustainable farming, are reluctant participants because they have to lose their wages during the period of training; women farmers have to leave their children behind. Belonging to the farming community, I thought to reach out to them through moving classes and this is why Pathe Pathshala was initiated,” says Sahu, who received the National Award for Pathe Pathshala from the Department of Science and Technology in 2011.
These days, he is educating women in tribal areas about low input-based skills in herbal healing of cattle, goats, sheep and poultry. These skills are sustainable, climate-resilient, low-cost and easy to practice. “The lessons are imparted in storytelling and poetry format which attracts rural people,” he says. This month, his class was held at Thakurmunda village in Mayurbhanj district where he taught tribal women on ways to prepare nutritious cattle fodder from leftover food items.
His solutions are simple. “Small farmers can’t afford expensive plant growth formulations, so I teach them about preparing their own pesticides and fodder from materials that are available in their surroundings. For example, plants such as brinjal and lady’s finger grow well if diluted curd water is sprayed on them once a week. Similarly, sometimes plants such as beans, and peas do not bear flowers and fruits even though they seem healthy. If sprayed with ajwain (carom seeds) water once a week, their fruit-bearing capacity increases. There are many inexpensive solutions that can be used for fishery and livestock,” he says. Sahu has been promoting the use of ‘Panchakavya’ (a solution of cow dung, cow urine, cow milk, cow curd, cow ghee and water) for cultivation among farmers.
He faced many hurdles initially, starting from getting people at one place and at one time. But when the idea was spread through the word of mouth, people accepted the concept, and it became a hit soon.
Being a science writer, he publishes a weekly Odia magazine, Ama Akhapakha, which provides information on innovations in farming and livestock keeping. “People in margins are not marginal minds. To harvest their potential, knowledge must reach them. Each individual from the Pathe Pathshala can be a change maker,” he says.