in the desert: The Arabian Sea (top) provides
the illusion of a satiated earth but in reality
the salinity renders even the ground water harmful
to many plants (right).
Posted 5/12/2003: Just a few villages from
Nu Tech Farm, in the same desert region of Kutch, lives a
lively offbeat old farmer and herbalist known locally as “Doctor
Haria.” Though he never went through medical school,
Mulchand Haria was born the son of a physician and was the
first in the region to make the switch to organic farming.
He has since become a local guru of regenerative agriculture
and is the owner of “Kutch Sanjivani (Life-Saving) Farm.”
Haria knew from the beginning that he wanted to remain on
the 4-acre family farm outside of the village of Bidida, rather
than pursue a medical career as did his two brothers and,
later, his son, all now living in Ohio. “I had a chance
to go to America and make a lot of money but money isn’t
necessary,” he said. “My main motive is to produce
my own food. I wouldn’t get anywhere in the U.S. I wouldn’t
be eating organic food. Health is money and here there is
||"I had a chance to go to America
and make a lot of money but money isn’t necessary.
My main motive is to produce my own food. I wouldn’t
get anywhere in the U.S. I wouldn’t be eating organic
food. Health is money and here there is health."
Living in the house where he was born, Haria bought 50 more
acres and began managing 150 acres that were purchased by
his brothers. By raising crops such as sapota, chikoo, millet,
carrots, tamarind, lemon trees, neem and mangos, as well as
keeping three cows, Haria figures he meets 80 percent of his
family’s needs from the land he farms, as well as earning
money from whatever surplus he has.
For years Haria bought into western agricultural enticements
and increased his production by using chemical fertilizers.
After a while, however, he began experiencing the same problems
as Shah and many other farmers in the region – the fertilizers
he was using fed only the plant and left his soil hard, dry,
and eroded. “If you use chemicals after five years the
soil is damaged,” he said.
Besides depleted soil, Haria was concerned with the disappearance
of water in the region.
Reformation of a water bandit
Because fertilizers and high yielding varieties of seeds
need more water to be effective, their introduction with the
green revolution of the 1960’s led to a dramatic increase
in irrigation in India, and especially in the desert environment
of Kutch. A 1996 survey conducted in 100 villages showed that
64% of Kutch irrigation wells and 45% percent of drinking
wells had gone dry. This caused new, deeper wells to be dug
– in 1960 there were 18,000 wells in the region by 1993
their number had increased to 32,000.
of change: Haria looks out at rows of mango
trees. In 1992, he gave his farm a make-over, planting
crops suited to the climate. Mangos, cashews, closely
related crops, like the heat and need little water.
Additionally, due to the proximity of the ocean, the salinity
content of deeper water is high and unsuitable for many plants.
Haria realized he was contributing to the problem by his use
of irrigation and didn’t feel good about it. “I
don’t want to be a bandit stealing water,” he
Looking for alternatives, Haria attended a seminar on organic
farming in 1992 and was attracted to the holistic healing
approach. “We weren’t earning any money from chemical
farming,” he said. “What they said made sense.”
Haria soon abandoned modern chemical farming, drastically
reduced his use of irrigation, and began experimenting with
Early on he realized the importance of growing crops suitable
to the environment. “The first thing is you must plant
crops that require less water,” he said. “The
coconut requires water so we don’t plant it here.”
He began planting acres of Mango trees, which need water for
only the fist 2-3 years and has recently been experimenting
with cashews, which also can grow with little water.
In addition to combating water loss Haria needed to repair
his depleted soil. He concentrated on feeding the bacteria,
which aerate the earth and decompose organic matter. He supplied
his crops with compost, striving to maintain at least two-percent
carbon in his soil. “If you keep two percent carbon,
you need only half the irrigation,” he said. The carbon
feeds bacteria, which make soil porous, thus preventing leeching
and enabling nitrogen from the air to enter plant roots.
Focusing directly on the soil helped repair the earth but
to maintain premium health required a full overhaul to his
former methods. Haria covered weeds instead of pulling them
to conserve biomass and water. He planted trees on the west
side of his crops to provide shade and create a cooler microclimate.
Small bushy legumes were intercropped between the mango trees
and cashews to fix nitrogen levels, add biomass and help keep
the soil temperature down. Space between his mangos was let
to lie fallow for most of the year, planting vegetables between
them when the rains came.
A doctor is born
After several years, Haria’s farm began coming to life
again and he became convinced that regenerative agriculture
was vital to farming in the region. “The problem of
soil erosion is gone,” he said. “We don’t
lose topsoil that would run into the sea. The water drains
from their farms to my farms now.”
The holistic approach worked with pests as well. “The
plants can repel pests if they are strong,” he said. “If
the body is strong there won’t be disease. Plants are
indicators – if something is wrong with my plant there’s
something wrong with my soil.”
||"Everyone says without chemicals
you produce less but it’s not true. Every year production
goes up and input costs go down, so there’s a big
Once again, Haria was making a living off of his land. His
mangos, which had become his main crop, produced 25 kg after
five years and after several more years with no irrigation
or fertilizer, 500-600 kg. And he found that when he fed his
cows organic fodder there was a greater percentage of fat
in his milk, for which to make butter. “Everyone says
without chemicals you produce less but it’s not true,”
he said. “Every year production goes up and input costs
go down, so there’s a big profit.”
Additionally, the curtailment of chemicals has led to one
of Haria’s most important herbal remedies – distilled
organic cow urine. Haria learned this secret from his father,
who used mostly herbal remedies at a time when there were
no chemicals. Organic cow urine is now being used in the local
hospital and has been effective treating many ailments, including
acne and tuberculosis. Haria is currently trying it on a patient
with throat cancer and hopes it will be effective with AIDS
treatments. He collects three to four liters every morning
with a bucket and can sell it for 100 rupees ($2) a liter.
After getting encouraging results on his own farm, Haria began
spending much of his time talking with other farmers in the
region, educating them about the benefits of regenerative agriculture.
Haria has helped many to make the switch, including his friend
Vijay Shah. “Vijay learned from me,” he said with
a grin. “He was my first client.”
lesson : Haria shows Derek his living soil.
Years of work have returned nutrients and micro-organisms
to the depleated earth.
Haria estimates that there are now 50 – 60 Kutch farmers
who have stopped using chemicals but that they still constitute
less than one percent of irrigated farms in the region. “We
are trying to convince farmers of this area but it is hard,”
he said. “They are starting to learn because they are
losing money from chemical farming – they have hard
soil. Now they are understanding that this is the real farming.
That is not real farming.”
Haria has also begun voluntarily managing 300 organic acres
for the local NGO, “Bhagwan Mahavir Cattle Help Center.”
Kutch is the only region in India where cattle actually outnumber
people and here, as with the rest of the country, the cow
is revered as a goddess and must be treated well. This organization
harbors sick cattle and other livestock for farmers for up
to two years, nursing them back to health, and then giving
them back to the farmer at a low price. Haria manages the
cattle ranch and has introduced methods such as pruning desert
plants to grow horizontally, so as to provide shade for the
Like Haria, this NGO touts the healing properties of organic
cow urine and sells it in a small store. In front there is
a urine-filled bucket from which zinc and copper wires leading
to a working calculator and a steadily ticking clock. When
pressed for an explanation the employees exclaimed, “The
cow is the daughter of the sun! The horns work as antennae!”
All you have to do, they said, is change the urine every four
With his propensity for healing, regenerative agriculture
seems to have been predestined for Haria and organic methods
have given new life to him and his farm. “Now I am happy
with this farming,” he said. “Production is good,
quality is good, and there is less input. My health is good
and my family’s health is good.”
Haria firmly believes that organic methods are crucial to
farming in Kutch, India, and around the globe. “All
the farmers are migrating from one place to another,”
he said. “I am not migrating. You spend one rupee and
earn 100. And others benefit as well. Ecologically, economically,
and health-wise, organic farming can save the whole world.
Organic farming is the way. I know it is the only way.”
Serving as a sort of alternative agricultural physician,
Haria continues to farm his land with a smile, and to revitalize
the region with natural, holistic methods of farming.
Coming next: Jason and Derek are reporting
from Nepal and several other countries in the region in a
kaleidoscope presentation of their last weeks in Asia.