Baparao, A Farmer Who Is Working On ‘One Village One seed’ To Help Farmers Grow Crops Without Chemicals

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Farmers in Athota village in Andhra Pradesh, were growing paddy, a staple diet in the coastal belt of Andhra Pradesh. They were stuck in a cycle of having to buy more urea and fertilizers along with insecticides each year while facing uncertainties in production and returns along with other problems thus making agriculture an unviable option with each passing crop season.  They also felt dejected as they could see growing health problems people are facing but saw no options for themselves. They then came to know about a young village resident with the name Baparao who was trying to grow paddy without chemicals of any kind. To their surprise, this youngster was going back to traditional methods but he was able to enrich the soil, grow nutritious paddy while achieving the same productivity as earlier. 

Slowly the farmers in the village are moving towards traditional method of growing paddy and are now actively helping him make the seed bank. Looking at the transformation in Athota village farmers across the state are coming to Athota to learn from their knowledge and farmers in nearby villages and mandals have already started implementing these farming practices. 

One of the farmers who is growing native paddy in Athota.

Who is Baparao?

Baparao Athota is a youngster from Athota village, Andhra Pradesh. He was a regular youngster like any other, who  grew up to take up graphic designing and was earning a handsome salary while pursuing his career and dreams in Hyderabad. What makes him special is the quest for a simple life. He doesn’t crave anything more than health  and clean air for his family to breathe. His needs are basic and he leads a very simple life with his family.

The return to village

Though he came from a farming background, Baparao moved to Hyderabad to study and subsequently started working as a graphic designer. While he loved the creative challenges his job posed to, who found himself missing  clean air, water and greenery of his village. After his marriage he and his wife both felt similar want for fresh food and environment. While he was going through this tussle in his mind, he got the news that they were expecting a child. This gave Baparao the impetus to go back to his roots and to start farming again.

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The impetus

The news of a baby on the way accelerated Baparao’s return to his roots as this news brought back memories of his aunt’s ill health. His aunt was diagnosed with cancer when he was a kid and subsequently passed away. While, he was affected by it it took him a while to draw the connection, understand and believe that the food we consume today is the reason for a lot of diseases. His move to the city, understanding of the way city dwellers procure food for themselves from markets and the supply chain process made him believe that growing one’s own food is the only way to ensure healthy food for the family. 

Bapparao
Baparao

He felt a greater responsibility towards his wife and the baby’s health. He felt he would not be able to provide healthy, nutritious and chemical free food to his family members. He decided that the only way to health was to grow indigenous food by himself.He went back to his village Atotha after giving up his flourishing career and started by cultivating their farm land for growing food for their own use.

Problems

In the first year, he faced a lot of problems. No one in his family or even the village had the knowledge or even knew how to do farming without chemicals anymore. Even the graduates of agriculture Bsc that he reached out to had no sufficient knowledge of farming without chemical fertilizers or insecticides. He met many like minded farmers and researched on his own and was successfully able to cultivate paddy and other food crops on his farm land. While on his quest, he realised that one reason that farmers needed to use a lot of urea, fertilizers, insecticides and chemical nutrients is because they were growing non native crops. Upon further research, he realised that traditional Indian agricultural practices involved saving the best seeds for next crop seasons. 

Findings:

As he researched and started growing native varieties he realised there is actually no need for that many insecticides as the crop is suited to grow in its natural habitat. Unnecessary pests are not there and soil returns to it’s healthy and nutritious self with time. He also discovered that earth worms, a farmer’s best friends come back. Earthworms not only helped him make his crops grow better but also helped the water table. In the first year of shifting to organic farming he saw a yield of only half his usual produce. Next year his yield was 80% of his previous yield. In the third year he reached his usual produce and in the fourth year he is all set to cross the yield he got through use of fertilizers and insecticides. 

Importance of Seeds:

Thus, he believes that seeds are extremely important and are sources of  high protein, starch and oil reserves that help in the early stages of growth and development in a plant. These reserves are what make many cereals and legumes major food sources for a large proportion of the world’s inhabitants. The health and quality of seeds determines the quality not just the crop but also health for a large population. 

Thus, began the quest for finding indigenous cereal varieties particularly the paddy varieties. He has been meeting a lot of farmers in his village and across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to find indigenous crop varieties and their indigenous native seeds. By doing this, he aims to make a seed bank which farmers can access when in need and can give their indigenous seeds to. 

His dream is to be able to discover sub species of indigenous varieties for every village or mandal. He calls it “One village one seed”. 

The journey to discovering indigenous seeds and varieties  has not been easy however in the process Baparao has inspired many farmers who are willing to living heavily urea,chemical and fertilizer dependant farming and move to organic farming with indigenous varieties like he has. He has become a beacon to many farmers and Agriculture Bsc students who come to him from across the twin telugu speaking states to gain from his knowledge and wisdom.

Baparao has also been spreading information about various rice varieties to various sections of people and telling them the importance of eating as per their body constitution as prescribed in Ayurveda. He largely believes that if people eat fresh food which is locally produced they would be very healthy. He also advises people to look at eating traditional Indian food such as millets etc., provided it suites their constitution and is something their ancestors ate traditionally. Additionally, he has been spending a lot of time highlighting various varieties of rice and its benefits. He says “ Health is wealth and food is the only true medicine”

Farmers like Baparao is the reason why we city dwellers are able to get quality food. People like him make us remember that there is no one kinder than a farmer for he undergoes do much toil and stress with very little returns to give us the basic need of our life i.e., good food. By undertaking this work he is not only giving quality food but he is also preserving the biodiversity of our country and making a great contribution to our country’s health as well as environment. We wish Baparao all the best in all his endeavours. 

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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