Living Ecology’s team chooses to work primarily with widowed farmers in Thatiguda village.
In India, widows are one of the most marginalized groups of people – the poorest with least support. Jakob, from Denmark, chose to work with Sumbai, the widow with the most difficult situation in the village. She is the head of her household, with only her small 11 year old son and elderly aunt. Her land is one of the furthest from the village, with marginal rocky soil, increasing her hardship.
The land is in a beautiful location next to the river, at the edge of the forest. She has four acres on which she has been cultivating a little over an acre of BT cotton with the help of an uncle. The cotton plot is located on the west and the rest of the land is uncultivated except for a plot that is located along a seasonal stream that they attempt to use for irrigating vegetables.
She has very little time to do agriculture as daily life includes a lot of manual labor, fetching water and firewood, cooking over open flame, washing clothes etc. This is how her situation changed.
The Permaculture Project on Sumbai’s Farm
Sumbai decided to dedicate about a half an acre of her land to do permaculture. The plot is located in the northeastern corner of her land. It is rocky and has a considerable slope going all across the plot from west to southeast.
The first priority was to install the rainwater harvesting earthworks. Three contour trenches were dug with ten meters in between each trench. These trenches catch all the rain water falling on the plot, sinking it into the soil to feed the fruit trees. The contour trenches will stop the soil erosion occurring, which is severe since the plot is a recent deforested area.
Because the land is so rocky and not suitable for yearly plowing we decided to focus on planting perennials, especially trees. Annual legumes such as sorghum, lab-lab and pigeon pea will be used as nitrogen fixers and to provide food outcomes in the short term until the plot has matured and trees and bigger plants take over the space and give yields.
We mulched the berms of the contour trenches with leaves from the nearby forest. Underneath the mulch we put some wood ash that is rich in potassium, together with some good humus full of microbial life from the forest. We did this to enrich the soil and to jumpstart the micro-life on the berms while we waited for the rainy season to plant.
We placed small sticks crosswise over the mulch to protect it from being blown away by the wind. When we returned in the rainy season, we learned that our idea did not work as well as hoped, but nonetheless had created a micro-life habitat that supported an outgrowth of mushrooms in this dryland area.
We decided to dig a well on the land. Although the plot is not so far from the river, Sumbai is a single women without sufficient help, and every year in this area the drylands experience drought. It was unrealistic to believe that she could carry the water from the river needed to maintain the fruit trees during the first vulnerable years.
This would also give her the ability to grow some vegetables, which require watering. Sumbai’s face shows signs of malnutrition and vegetables will be important for her family’s nutrition. Approximately $100 USD (6000 rupees) provides a well for a farm in this area and gives the community a greater opportunity to sustain.
Dowsing Used to Find the Best Location for the Well
The villagers showed us the method they use with two coconuts:
- One coconut is positioned on the ground on a plate and the other is held in a hand.
- The person holding the coconut walks around the other coconut and if the coconut starts to make movements in the hand or “stands up” it suggests that water is there.
Narsanna Koppula, director of Aranya, showed the interns how to dowse using a motorcycle wheel spoke:
- You hold the spoke, which is bent into an L shape, loosely in your hand.
- The spoke will rotate in your hand.
- Whichever way it points, you walk, following its direction.
- At some point, the spoke will keep turning in a circle, and this shows you where under the ground, water is closest to the surface.
We hired some men to hand dig the well, in the area located by the dowsing. It only took them three days to dig a two meter diameter well that is four meter deep in the hot blazing sun of April.
We decided not to use cement rings to support the inside of the well, as was done at Girajibai’s well. We had a few reasons for this decision.
- The soil in this area is very hard and seemed unlikely to collapse.
- Also if in a dry season it is needed to deepen or enlarge the well, cement rings make this very difficult.
- Cement rings are also a bit of an expense.
These Are the Hardships Experienced
When we came back in the rainy season we saw that the men had not surrounded the outside of the rim of the well with rocks as instructed. While we were away there had been some collapse at the top due to it being located near the seasonal stream.
Another thing we could have done to prevent this was dig out the top two thirds the well a meter wider. There was some looser dirt before the harder subsoil. But, a little bit of digging was an easy remedy to this situation.
Due to a personal situation, Jakob was unable to return for the planting period of the internship. Aranya employees facilitated the implementation of the tree planting and fencing with the financial support of Jakob. The fruit trees have been reported to have a 90% success rate. And that difficult looking plot has an entirely different feel and outcome than it did previously.
I look forward to adding the ”after” photos of this project.