Venkat had the opportunity to visit Kalpavruksha more than a decade ago and had told me a lot about the place. Right from that time, I had wanted to visit the place too.
On Friday, Vinny was keen to take a break from her hectic schedule and go somewhere for a day. That’s when the three of us – Venkat, Vinny and I – set off to Umbergaon. We left at around 3.45 pm on Jan 15, 2016 to reach Umbergaon Club Resort at 7.30 pm after stopping midway for a cup of tea and hot bhajjias.
We checked into a room and had dinner at Madhubani Restaurant. The food was yummy and I was glad to see that they served only vegetarian fare.
In the morning, we had breakfast and checked out to go visit Kalpavruksha, the nature farm set over 15 acres by Mr. Bhaskar Savé, who’s known as the “Gandhi of Natural Farming”. The farm was about 20 minutes away from the resort. Their visiting hours are from 9 am to 12 noon and later from 2 pm to 5 pm.
|Baby coconut palms ready to be transplanted at a new home|
We got there at 10.30 am. Parking the car at the place allotted for visitors, we were immediately welcomed by Bhaskar Savé’s son, Mr. Naresh Savé. That’s when we got to know that Bhaskar Savé had passed away in October, 2015. Naresh Savé gave us an introduction about natural farming and let his son Abhijay take over from there.
While you will find all you need to know from the website link I have provided below, I would like to share some of my learning here.
|That's a teeny weeny cauliflower sprouting on a plant at Savé's home garden|
Farming is based on the following 5 important things:
This is entirely done by earthworms. Incredible though it may seem, if we recall our lessons in school, we just might remember studying that “earthworms are the farmer’s friend”. But with the advent of technology and chemical farming, this idea has taken a backseat. A single earthworm goes deep into the earth and comes out to breathe about 20 times in a span of 24 hours. Imagine the stretch of land a big batch of earthworms can till in one day. Their excreta turn the soil rich. No expense on ploughs, bullocks, tractors or manpower.
Chemical fertiliser is a huge cost and the soil “dies” over the years. What Bhaskar Savé found after 3-4 years of chemical farming after it was newly introduced many decades ago was that he was spending more and more on chemical fertilisers to ensure he got the same yield every year. This way, his profits had dropped down by 90% in barely five years. That’s when he cordoned off a section of his own farm to get back to nature farming. Comparing the results over 4-5 years, he concluded that in natural farming, the expense was barely 10% of what chemical farming needs.
They also use everything that falls off a plant/tree as manure. These are gathered together and stored near the trenches. They don’t burn the dried up leaves and fallen twigs. Abhijay Savé told us that burning this dry stuff harms the soil. When stored next to the trenches, these decay over a period of time – no one’s in a rush here – and become mulch to provide extra richness to the soil. The cost: zilch.
|Bananas thriving on a plantain tree|
Bhaskar Savé also concluded from his experience that a natural farm needs about 20% of the water that a regular farmer uses. On Kalpavruksha, they have shallow trenches dug around every batch of 20-30 trees. Pipes run around these and these are watered once in every fifteen days. Yes, I was “jawdrop” surprised when I heard that. What they say is that plants require moisture more than steeped water as the fibrous roots also need an equal amount of air. Excess water will block the air and harm the plants/trees instead of helping them.
They have planted colourful crotons at the borders. These begin to wilt first when the level of water goes down in the soil; helping the farmer decide if he needs to water the area a few days earlier.
We generally look on weeds as harmful. They take away the nutrients meant for the main plants. But at this nature farm, they understand that weeds are part of nature. God has put them there for a purpose. It is the leaves that need sunshine for photosynthesis. Weeds are there to create shade for exposed roots and for speeding up decay of mulch to further enrich soil. The African Congo forest immediately came to my mind when I heard this. Plants and creepers flourish all the more in this area where sunlight doesn’t touch the ground in many places. Makes sense nah?
|Another section of their fields|
5. Keeping pests at bay
We all know that pesticides, while killing pests, also harm the plants – leaves, vegetables and fruits that we eat. Even if we wash them thoroughly, a part of these pesticides finds its way into our bodies creating harmful diseases.
At Kalpavruksha, they don’t use pesticides of any kind. There are pests that are vegetarian (10%) and those that are non-vegetarian (90%). The vegetarian pests have a short lifespan while they breed voraciously, as they are the food of the non-vegetarian pests. The ecosystem takes care of itself and the Savé family lets them be. This way, the harvested fruits are the healthiest in the market. Squirrels, mice, snakes and crows – and probably many more – live in harmony here on this farm. The farmers are clear that there’s enough for all of them before the products are harvested.
The lesson can’t be simpler. But are we ready to learn it?
I had some questions:
1. Why are there so many farmer suicides if natural farming is possible? Natural farming cuts down costs drastically while the yield increases tremendously. The profit margin goes up by 80-90% as compared to chemical farming. WHY?
Abhijay Savé: Natural farming takes 4-5 years to show results. Once a farmer crosses that, he can see terrific results. But farmers who come here to learn natural farming try it for a year or two. When pressure comes from their family members and neighbours, they lose confidence and go back to chemical farming. Very few are ready to give it the time it requires.
My perspective: I felt truly sorry hearing this. Farming is supposedly the profession for the most patient of people. You really need a lot of patience to sow a seed and wait for it to grow into a tree. But obviously farmers don’t have the wherewithal to wait for things to turn around. If they are dependent on the crops to feed their families, then they are in for a tough time. Is there a way for them to get out of this vicious cycle? Is CSR the answer? I hope the right people are listening.
2. Who benefits from the courses you conduct at the farm then?
Abhijay Savé: People from the corporate world who have made the money and are keen to invest in a farm, respond well to the courses. They are ready to follow the method as they are not dependent on the income from their farms.
My perspective: Hey people! Why don’t you help out the existing farmers? Wouldn’t it make good sense if you work along with your neighbouring farms when you apply the rules of nature farming to your new farms?
3. What kind of education you underwent before you got into farming? What’s your typical day like?
Abhijay Savé: I haven’t gone to any college to learn farming. I finished my graduation in Mumbai before settling back at the farm to follow the natural way of farming that we have been following since Grandpa’s days. (Commendable, I must say)
I start my day at 7-7.30 am and take care of the few cows that we have here. At around 8.30 am, two labourers we have hired on a regular basis, arrive at the farm. We go around the farm section by section everyday to take care of the regular activities. We break at noon to continue again from 2-5 pm. Harvesting the fruits – predominantly chikoo, coconuts, bananas and mangoes – form the main work. We gather the dry leaves and twigs and store them near the trenches.
Then there are the students who come here to learn about natural farming. My father, uncle or I help with the lectures. And one of us shows visitors around the farm.
My perspective: I must say that it’s a chilled out existence. They work regularly, earn well, have all their needs, comforts and luxuries provided for, are their own bosses, live amidst nature at its healthiest and in a gorgeous 5-bedroom two-storey home.
What a life!
Father of Nature Farming is a Japanese called Masanobu Fukuoka
To know more about Kalpavruksha, Bhaskar Savé farm
NOTE: I lost a lot of pictures while transferring them to my PC; missing the ones of chikoo & coconut trees.
|Umbergaon Club & Resort (where we stayed)|
For bookings: http://www.umbergaonclub.com
|A section of the garden at the resort|
|One of the three restaurants|