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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.
After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.
Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
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Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.
Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.
“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.
Direct Monetary and Material Transfer
Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.
Information till 10th April 2020:
Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
Reached 17,700 families
Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.
In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.
This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.