In Madhya Pradesh, a unique experiment with organic farming is mainstreaming persons with disabilities.
A thatched cattle shed marks Omchand Mahatule’s farm which lies on the approach road to Nayagaon village in Betul district of Madhya Pradesh. The 50-year-old comes running from the well clutching lemon grass from which he makes a splendid black tea. Starting off with invectives for his neighbours, the athletic farmer gives a lowdown on the recent tragedies. “Yesterday, somebody stole the bottle gourd which was almost 4 feet long. It would have grown further if the greedy people had not taken it off,” he informs shouting more insults towards neighbours. This was the recent incident of theft.
Mahatule feels it’s his success which is making others jealous. He is famous for reaping a rich harvest of vegetables which grow to great proportions and sell fast at nearby markets. Mahatule has been pursuing organic farming for last two years. “The shift has not only helped increase moisture content in the soil thus requiring less water but also reduced input cost by Rs 35,000,” he claims.
From soyabean, groundnut to pulses and all sorts of vegetables, Mahatule’s field brims with diversity. But all this would not have been possible without his son Rajesh’s commitment to the cause. Though he has no sensation in his body from waist down, the 20 something boy pedals down to the fields on a wheelchair every day to monitor the work. With a master’s degree in sciences, he has a keen eye for nature’s work, preparation of manure and scheduled tending of various crops. “Many people feel a disabled person can’t contribute to farming but there are many ways in which Rajesh has helped the farm income grow,” informs his father.
Every week, Rajesh goes to the local market selling vegetables on his wheelchair. “Our vegetables look and taste better than other sellers and I am the first one to exhaust my entire stock. It’s only after taking to organic that we have been able to cultivate enough vegetables to sell in the markets,” he informs.
The young man has also trained around 17 farmers of his village on preparation of manure, weeding and other natural ways of crop tending. In a way, organic farming has offered Rajesh an outlet to not only be a leader but also a catalyst for improved lives of others.
People with disabilities are often seen as unproductive beings requiring assistance. This perception is starker in rural India where lack of varied work options, good public infrastructure, and assistive devices leave little scope for those with disabilities to realise their potentials.
In such a set up an initiative to propagate an all-inclusive organic farming model is bound to attract disbelief. But Naman Seva Samiti, a non-profit working with disabled persons in the Betul district, is trying to establish a new belief system.
Seeds of mainstreaming
Mahadev Charokar (39) is vision impaired but has got amazing hearing, olfactory and tactical senses. He can differentiate between various denominations of currency notes, can walk up to his farms 1.5 km away, and even lead a bullock-driven plough on fields.
When Naman Seva Samiti decided to introduce organic farming in Betul, he emerged as one of the most dedicated foot soldiers. In his village, Jwara, around 27 farmers have turned to organic thanks to Charokar’s efforts. He not only makes his own organic manure, but also trains other farmers on biodynamic compost making and natural seed treatment.