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Tribal farming is cash-free, sustainable

A field in Dharaav village

Bharat Dogra & Baba Mayaram, Bhopal 

In Dharaav village in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh (MP), tribal farmers practise a system of mixed cultivation that they call utera. Several cereals, millets and legumes are grown together in June. Ganpat, a 60-year-old farmer, says that they don’t need to spend any money at all to practise utera farming.

These farmers save seeds from the previous year’s crops. Farm animals fertilise the fields with manure while crop residues completely free of chemical poisons, provide nutritious food for bullocks, cows and other farm animals. Mixed farming of grains and legumes ensures that soil fertility is maintained. If one crop fails due to some reason, other crops enable farmers to survive despite some loss.

Yet the predominant attitude of agriculture officials towards tribal communities is to try to convince them to give up their ‘backward’ agricultural practices  and adopt more ‘modern’ and ‘high productivity’ ones. Often, no attempt is made to try to understand the traditional agricultural systems and practices of tribal communities. It is taken for granted that tribal agriculture is backward and needs to be replaced by readymade ‘modern’ solutions available with officials.

This is not the reality. What we see in tribal villages is an agriculture system in harmony with nature and the nutritional needs of the people. Tribal agriculture is a risk-minimising system which can provide at least some food even in adverse weather conditions. The relevance of this eco-friendly, zero-fossil fuel farming system has increased further in times of climate change and erratic weather.

In Dindori district of MP, Baiga tribals practise benvar agriculture. Gothiya, a farmer of Kandabani village, explains that during early summer small bushes, branches and fallen leaves are set on fire. Mixed seeds are scattered into this thin layer of ash. After about three ...

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