Jason’s Global Organic Odyssey: Living and learning one farm at a time

Beyond the Green Revolution to Regeneration
Mulchand Haria may not have followed the family into traditional medicine, but his gentle touch and chemical-free remedies have nursed a parched, depleted earth back to full health and earned him the title "Doctor" among his fellow farmers in western India.

By Jason Witmer

Farm at a Glance:
Kutch Sanjivani (Life-Saving) Farm

Location: The Kutch district on India's western coast just outside the village of Bidida.

Farm Type: Organic

Size: 204 acres

What is grown: Sapota, chikoo, millet, carrots, tamarind, lemon trees, neem and mangos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternative fuel source:
This clock and calculator are run on organic cow urine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editor's Note:
Jason Witmer left the U.S., January 8, 2003, on a six-month-long odyssey, visiting farms across Asia and Europe.

See how the adventure began:

Jason's Organic Odyssey:
AN INTRODUCTION
: Ohio traveler debuts “global grassroots” network of farmer-correspondents

BEGINNINGS::From pitching in on his Grandpa’s farm to an organic sojourn across two continents

EASTERN THAILAND: Meet Jon Jandai -- farmer, builder and man of leisure

LAOS: A chemical past convinced this farmer to prove organic is the future

THAILAND: Thailand's Buddhist "Asok" movement builds organic farms, sustainable communities

INDIA: Indian farmer creates an organic oasis in a harsh land

 

 

Mirage 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 health.”

"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.

Trees 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 said.

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 new methods.

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.”

"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 profit."
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.”

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.

Doctor’s orders

Biology lesson : Haria shows Derek his living soil. Years of work have returned nutrients and micro-organisms to the depleated earth.
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.”

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 cattle.

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 months.

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.