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I have learned a lot about agriculture since I have been here. I can
tell you how much a tractor costs per hour to plough your field, or
how many rounds of weeding is necessary for 5 bighas of land, or how
much your 50 kg of soyabean will be worth in the market. I have
learned more than I ever thought to know about growing soyabean and
maize in rural India and then some.
My project for the summer at Samaj Pragati Sahayog consists of
creating a cost evaluation of the various farming practices in the
surrounding villages to determine which is most profitable and cost
effective for the farmers. Since 2008, SPS has promoted an
intermediary form of organic farming which aims at reducing the use of
chemical pesticides and promoting organic pesticides and fertilizers.
The program, No Pesticide Management, is in line with a larger
movement all throughout India to promote and revert back to organic
farming, which disappeared largely due to the Green Revolution. NPM is
not organic farming, but by introducing a gradual decrease in the
amount of chemicals used on the land, it allows the land to adapt to
the change in inputs without experiencing a dramatic drop in yield
that often occurs from going fully organic in one sudden effort. Aside
from the environmental attributes, NPM farming allows farmers to be
independent from the local moneylenders, who are responsible for
perpetuating the cycle of debt that most farmers in this area find
themselves in. Organic pesticides can be made from the seeds of neem
trees and organic fertilizers consist of composted agricultural
residues and animal dung – all of which can be found cost-free in
their fields. (If you are at all interested, you can google Green
Revolution and learn all about the environmental and socio-economic
impacts of organic versus Green Revolution-type farming.)
Through a number of SPS initiatives, NPM farmers can get the
appropriate funds and knowledge to build organic structures and teach
them how to grow their crops organically. Theoretically, farmers save
precious time and money, as well as improved soil quality, by
practicing NPM. However, the organization is simply too busy with
their initiatives across several locations to be researching and
reporting on their programs. That is where I come in. I will be
interviewing fifty farmers, asking quantitative and qualitative
questions, to analyze whether NPM farming is in actuality a cost
minimizing initiative. I have interviewed nearly all 50 farmers so
far, traveling to more than five different villages and visiting the
homes of the farmers. As everything else here in India, it has been
quite the experience. I travel by motorcycle to the different
villages, either on roads shared with buffalos, goats, and busses that
come frighteningly close to me, or dirt paths that have become
increasingly treacherous with the monsoons arriving. At each hut we
visit, I receive a warm “Namaste, didi”, and always a hot cup of chai.
(For the other interns, black chai and lemon chai are really good
alternatives). Since the monsoons have just begun, all of the farmers
in the surrounding villages have been busy in their fields. Sometimes
we even go to the their field and interview them there, a testament to
how kind the people are here, taking an hour out of their busy days to
sit with me. But there is also tension lingering during this time of
year, as all of the farmers are at the mercy of the monsoons, which
have thus far come too late and too heavy this season.
I have interviewed 45 people so far (I can’t believe it!) and I am
starting to feel sad that my opportunity to meet and converse with
these wonderful individuals is coming to an end. Just yesterday, one
of the women I interviewed asked if I wanted to try mucca roti (corn
roti), and since we never have them at the center, I accepted the
offer. Little did I know, she and her daughters then made Jyotsna and
I a full lunch! I hadn’t realized that it wasn’t already prepared so I
felt a little uncomfortable, but they insisted it was fine and we ate
delicious (and very spicy) corn roti and daal. Even today, a group of
three women I interviewed were fascinated about how I got to India, to
their small village in Madhya Pradesh. They were shocked when I told
them it was nighttime where my family lives, which then turned into a
small lesson on the solar system – how the earth revolves around the
sun and that it’s a different time of day on different parts of the
earth. It’s experiences like these that I hope to bring home with me,
the ones that represent the unique and amazing moments I share with
the people here.

Natalie

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About Natalie Volpe

Class of 2013, majored in Environmental Management and Sustainability, minored in International Development. Intern at Samaj Pragati Sahayog in Summer 2012. Philadelphia native, currently living and working in SF in cleantech. Always missing Aparna, Professor Kapur, my SPS buddy Becky, and Neemkheda.