I farm like what my grandmother did 50 years ago. Not too far back in time, really, but light years away from the soil-and-soul destroying methods of contemporary chemical-industrial agriculture that has led to the rapid destruction of India’s millennia-old indigenous farming traditions. We apply the North Indian peasants’ 2000 year-old artisanal methods along with knowledge gained from science and the use of appropriate technology to develop healthy soil, produce healthy food, build healthy animals and human beings, while being ever mindful of the environment we inhabit.
Here is our story till today: Five Years of Natural Systems Farming at Aman Bagh: 2012-2017. And here is a presentation on our natural farming practices in the spirit of sharing for organic farmers, aspiring farmers and mindful consumers: A presentation on Practices of Natural Systems Farming at Aman Bagh, 2017.
Aman Bagh tries to reclaim a time when land, work and life were not monetised, and were an integrated foundation of a way of living. Rural India 50 years back was a far cry from the global, market-driven economy of today – it was subsistence living for the small self-farming peasant family, and almost totally exchange based within the village and a few miles around – the peasant grew food, and in exchange the weaver, carpenter, trader, barber provided their services. This was also a time when cattle dung was the only manure and there were no chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides; when pests were controlled by bio-diversity of crops, by crop rotation and multi-cropping; when desi methods were used to control those pests that did end up destroying crops; when intercropping and keeping land fallow for intermittent periods kept the soil fertility high. This was when cattle were fed wholesome farm produce, and their dung was the most powerful source of manuring the soil to keep it rich, healthy and teeming with hundreds of billions of microorganisms in species and quantity.
Rural relationships were close-knit and inter-dependent; and the settled-agricultural village was a self-sufficient socio-economic unit where man, animal lived in a fine balance with nature. The ‘market’ was not the defining paradigm it has become today, and subsistence was the rule with all its attendant benefits which a few of us realise only now. Simultaneously, village life was unequal, feudal, caste-ridden, and communal. India’s rural social structure demanded a revolution, none of which has come about till today. Nonetheless, village India has too-easily given up the rhythms of our well-established natural farming traditions, and has not mindfully developed new ones in harmony with nature to take their place. Our civilisation is paying a terrible ecological price, and so are we.
Aman Bagh does away with hand wringing and attempts to find a balance in relationships between man, woman, animals and the ecology that are neither discriminatory nor dominating. Our common humanity binds us to nature and to each other through a new understanding of our mutual inter-dependence. While we re-learn and build on our traditional peasant farming practices, we have eliminated barriers of caste and community. We practice the artisanal methods our ancestors did, and our peasants are willing to unlearn what they now know to be harmful and destructive.
“Artificial Manures lead inevitably to artificial nutrition, artificial food, artificial animals, and finally to artificial men and women”
An Agricultural Testament, Albert Howard (1873-1947).
Howard is considered to be founder of the organic farming movement in the West, that ironically is coming back to India (the original home of abundant natural agriculture for thousands of years) in our times. He was in India from 1905 to 1931, was President of the Indian Science Congress in 1926, and always readily admitted he learnt more than he taught the Indian peasant. His many books are truly worth reading, and will engender in the reader a deep respect for the Indian peasant, and in the extraordinary capability of individual Englishmen – though they clearly laboured for the benefit of British colonialism.
Aman Bagh is a little less than 1 hectare – about 2.5 acres – (80% of India’s peasant tilled farms are smaller than 5 acres), on soil that has been pesticide and chemical fertiliser free for ever. The location – in a valley surrounded by the low hills of the Aravali range 14 kilometres from Gurgaon – is especially bountiful each year from the onset of monsoon in July till the start of summer in April. The ancient Mangar Bani, a rare 200 hectare forest of indigenous Dhau trees, is 10 minutes away; as are the Dhauj rocks. Our land is undulating and is on multiple levels, ideal for ploughing by our two bullocks.
Our one room home and kitchen, the adjoining cow shed, the bonga hay shed and the staff room for the farm hands are architecturally completely local, and as ecologically friendly as current local construction capability and materials allow. When you visit in mid-summer, you will be struck by the 10 degree difference of temperature between the outdoors and our rooms, protected by a thick mud-and-earthern-pot roof.
“I decided that I could not do better than watch the operations of these peasants, and acquire their traditional knowledge as rapidly as possible. For the time being, therefore, I regarded them as my professors of agriculture. ”
We rear desi Hariana cows who lead a peaceful life under the deep shade of trees and are fed on farm produce; the ghee we produce is extracted by hand from wholesome dahi set in baked mud utensils. Our grains, lentils, oils and vegetables are grown from desi, open-pollinated seeds and are free of chemical pesticide and fertiliser. Our bio-pesticides (which we increasingly rarely use as our natural predator-pest balance doesn’t need us to) are based on garlic, ginger, chilies, neem oil and cow urine; our bio-fertiliser (Amrit) is rich with micro-organisms created from fermenting cow dung, urine, and lentils; and our gobar gas plant provides a steady source of organic manure and methane gas for all our cooking. Our free ranging desi hens – Punjab Brown – add to the ecology and ambience; and are often chased silly by our desi dog टाईगर.
We have planted a rich biodiversity of fruit, flowering and shade trees; not all local to the Aravali ranges, as some of the flowering and shade trees have adapted to Delhi and its environs over the past century while fruit like Guava and Citrus are a more recent commercial import that do well in our sandy soil and extremes of hot, wet and cold. Of our fruit trees, some are citrus (नींम्बू, चकोतरा, किन्नू); Guava (अमरूद); Mango, Shahtoot, Anjeer, Jamun, शरीफा, कटहल, बेल, बेर, केला, पपीता । In addition to fruit, we have hundreds of trees of Shisham, Kikar, Neem, Jamun, Papri, Semal, Khatta, Bargad, Goolar, Sagwan & Dhau and more, all local to our ecology – that grow in groves; along the farm periphery; as well as randomly on the farmland; dry, sandy soil varieties like ronjh, jhinjheri, kareel, barna, bistendu, kankera, kadam, pilu and urban flowering varieties like kachnar, amaltash, gulmohar, jacaranda, alistonia, casuarina, maulseri.
Aman Bagh is not averse to technology where it serves the ecology, for example, we have a network of drip & sprinkler irrigation. There is no convenience in hard labor, though there is much good health, and at Aman Bagh labor wins.
The uncounted of species of insects, butterflies, worms, bees, birds and other animals have multiplied manifold since we commenced farming in 2012; drawn by the food and shelter they find in abundance. The sense of peace of Aman Bagh is accentuated by the continuous chirping of birds, the occasional call of the peacocks and the crowing of the rooster, by the mooing of the cows and their bells as they slowly chew the cud, and all the other warm sounds of a village home at work and in repose. Or then the occasional rumbling of the tractor or motor vehicle on the adjoining village road, reminding us it is indeed today.
Here is a perspective on Aman Bagh, in someone else’s words – http://www.isayorganic.com/blog/aman-bagh/