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When all trees have been cut down, when all animals have been hunted, when all waters are polluted, when all air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money. - Cree Prophecy

Monday, August 27, 2012

Lakshmi Lokur- shaking the mane In the den!



The first rains had just arrived! All of Belgaum and its outskirts was rejoicing. As one crosses the town Bailhongal to reach village Belawadi to meet Lakshmi Lokur, its all beautiful  green along the road sides and as far as one could see it was Oxen ploughing..yes almost all the way one could see only 2 tractors! That itself was a rare sight- an indicator of how great my day or the meeting was going to be!
It can only be imagined, not put in words..the series of ploughing with ox all over and as a result sort of dark lines across red expanse and peppered with green all around..it was magical, all the way.
And we miss the village.as I stop by to enquire about the village and Lakshmi, the person doesn’t know and then suddenly jumps and asks if it is the lady organic farmer with lots of buffaloes! Bingo..
So, u-turn and go..

There as you enter the farm the diversity strikes. Yes, there is a stylish pick up van and near by buffaloes. There are so many weeds as much as variety of plants and trees. This 22 acre land that Lakshmi operates out of has almost everything and all in full bloom inspite of the 1st rains having arrived only the previous day.

A decade back she was in Mumbai, in bag manufacturing business. But her fathers health and her thirst brought her back to her village and she doesn’t regret that move a bit. Infact she relishes it.  It was not usual for women to take to agriculture nor was it supported by family and friends. But she had a great friend and guide in her father who allowed her to try in 1 acre first. And that stands at 22 acres today! She did a short term course in the KLE college in Belgaum and there she was more in the nursery and the farm than in the classroom. Thus picking up all important ingredients of farming and ready and raring to experiment.

She didn’t think of any other practice other than sustainable agri from day 1. After all she wasn’t ‘educated’ or ‘management student’..so she didn’t see this as agribusiness but saw it as agri-culture. But her acumen brought both ecology and economy – sustainably!
So she started with raising buffalo, selling milk, making vermin compost and selling and then expanded her farming activity. Each of these self taught. There is something about her where one can trust her instincts to be right and am sure that is what helped her march ahead with all confidence and success. So everything was tried- mixed cropping, inter, trap crops like castor and then graduated to making these castor double up as trellises for creepers, even sugarcane is grown with various vegetables as intercrop..so many innovative and imaginative ideas..all executed with elan and success. Her jeevamrutha, EM, trichoderma all goes thru thr drip irrigation.
Lots of planning also goes…her vegetables, their cycles and what will be in the neighbouring plot- all are casually planned and executed. Tubers are planted along with mediums like onion, garlic and then greens interspersed..so there is harvest every other day and then when the onions & garlic is harvested the space is maximized for the tubers which are maturing then.
There are pits that run parallel to the fence and on one side of it are long term trees like lemon, teak etc and this side vines and climbers. The roots of the tress go deeper and so don’t affect these crops..her varieties include a black green gram to cow pea to channa to wheat to a full range of vegetables apart form a host of tress and ofcourse the welcome weeds allover!

One realizes she is a born leader. As she walks along with us showing the field, she would throw orders all round, suggest what to harvest for that day's sales and to some one else how to pack and when and where to deliver…to another what to cook for lunch..and all along she will also casually deweed or harvest and collect and put them all in to a temporary pouch that she managed to form stylishly with a cloth around her waist. After all she was in bag business.

Now to the most important part- her market! So what do you do for a market: ask any farmer, forget an organic one, and all you get is cribs and long winded story about how they are short changed (most of it ofcourse is true)..but from lakshmi one gets a smile..
'Come with me now..'
'Lets go..'
Where? ‘to my market’

So this multitasker takes us for a sumptuous local food and meanwhile instructs people what and how to pack and excuses herself and comes back ready in few minutes- to drive her pick up van to the market!
She drives to Dharwad, belgaum and sells her produce at earmarked locations each day of the week. Some of her produce is also sent to Bangalore and Mangalore organic outlets.

Today it was to be Dharwad. This cute little town known for its agri university- lots of us are anemic to such univs and campus bcos they are the breeding grounds for the industrial agriculture. Reductionist principles and mono cropping in thoughts,practice and agriculture.
So what will she do there?
She walks in to the Department of Agriculture first: and people- yes staff of the DOA come and line up under that tree and pick the greens, dal, jaggery and what not? The profile of the customers is very interesting. Her pricing is standard for a season and really low that  one gets to see employees of the lower cadre too coming and buying happily! Each one calculates themselves and gives her the money. One says that she didn’t pay for some stuff bought last week and pays up. Then suddenly I hear a small commotion and 2 of them arguing (or so I thought) with Lakshmi..and so I go there with my antenna up..and they are from the adjacent building and they are fighting that she shud come over there too and sell her organic stuff..they have taken permission and she shud turn up there ‘first’..howzzat?
Then she will go to the radio station and then the university- yes, agri university. Where many of us go to fight their wrong policies, sell out to MNCs, antifarmer practices..but This great lady goes there to the den – to shake the mane & beard in a different style! She sells them all poison free food! gives lectures about organic food and health! What better way to combat them?

Way to go lakshmi Lokur! You are different! And great..

For photos:see here

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