“India does tend to be the last refuge of defeated systems of knowledge and lost causes. It has remained, by default, a cultural gene bank of the world. It is not so because it has a surfeit of defiant individuals ideologically committed to alternative visions, but because many of the little cultures of India, caught in a time warp, have somehow survived and, though under severe stress, represent and leave out fragments of alternative visions of a good society unwittingly and unselfconsciously. “Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy. OUP, 1983.
We farm in the lap of Prakriti, of Nature. We are one with thousands of trees, bushes, grasses, birds and animals as well as the unseen world of billions of bacteria, fungus and viruses. No insect is a pest, no plant is a weed, no tree is unwanted. Farming harmoniously in nature enables us the freedom to connect to the vast world within us, with all of natures other creations, and with the Brahmmand. Our farming flows us into a union with nature, deepening the bond each day, month and year. We learn from others, though there is no greater Guru than doing, every mistake we make gradually brings us closer to what nature intended.
The expansion of our awareness of Prakriti has depended on the intensity of our practice, combined with the knowledge gathered and processed by the intellect. The human intellect, however, is wholly inadequate to comprehend the the unknown dimensions of nature, the sublime order in the chaos. If we remain engrossed only in organic farming techniques, we will miss a very personal union with Prakriti.
Our farming is undertaken for the joy it brings. Our cultivation is for home and for the peasants who work here. We are blessed that there is no pressure to undertake commerce, so we hold on to the north Indian peasant’s traditional view of farming while absorbing new ways of looking, thinking and doing. Our Prakritik gaze enables us apply methods to develop healthy soil, produce healthy food, healthy animals and humans.
Aman Bagh reclaims a time when land was not monetised, and the village was the foundation of a more natural way of living. We learn from the rural India of 1947, a far cry from the productivity-obsessed economy of 2022. It was subsistence living for the self-cultivating peasant family, exchange-based within the village community and for miles around. The peasant grew food in exchange of which the village weaver, carpenter, potter, blacksmith, trader, barber and priest provided their services. There were few machines that replaced manual labor, and almost no chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides. Hard labor was a way of life, as were extended period of rest, and the night was pitch dark. Pests were controlled by a growing a bio-diversity of crops, by crop rotation and multi-cropping. Nature kept insects harmful to cultivated crops in balance, and Desi methods were used to control those insects that did end up harming crops. The peasant shared a part of his produce with other living beings. Intercropping and keeping land fallow for intermittent periods retained soil fertility. Cattle were fed wholesome farm produce, their dung was a source of manuring the soil to keep it rich 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 and animal lived in a balance with nature. Modernity and the market was not the all-encompassing paradigm it is today, (though the village haat was) and subsistence was the rule with the attendant benefits of economic ‘backwardness’. Today, ‘progress’ that leads to ‘development’ brings its own problems.
Without doubt, Indian village life is unequal, feudal, caste-ridden, sexist and communal – all these aspects demand change at the individual and societal levels. However unequal, though, and howsoever fragmented by modernity, village India remains an organic community. To the issues of human inequality and the pressures of Indian elite-led modernity copied from the West, we have added the annihilation of nature.
Not all was well before modernity arrived in India in the 19th Century as Indians had been engaged in a slow destruction of Prakriti for millennia. The wet, tropical forests that are said to have covered parts of the Ganga-Jamuna Doab 2000 years ago have long disappeared; as have the later dry, deciduous forests of Sal and Dhak in which the Mughals hunted wild pigs, bears, buffaloes, tigers, lions and elephants during the 16-17th Centuries. Our growing population cleared forests for agriculture, grazing, construction of homes and firewood. Forest-less living and tree-less agriculture became an accepted norm under the relentless pressure of population. Now, in our industrialised GDP-led economic blindness, we bring to bear on this tree-less horizon the unbearable pressure of machines of the most sophisticated kinds to cut, dig and move what is above and below the earth. Of course, we also poison the soil and the food we grow with chemicals of the most unbelievable variety.
The monetisation of living by a powerful alliance of the modern nation state and corporations creates the mirage of a consumer paradise that beckons all of us. Village India is giving up the rhythm of well-established natural farming traditions and has not developed new ones to harmonise with nature. Urban India provides no alternative. A civilisation that famously embraced life in the forests is paying a terrible ecological price, the Aranya of Indic myth holds no attraction for the modern Indian despite the lip service to religion.
Isn’t it time we did something about ourselves? About our consciousness to Prakriti?
“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
Aman Bagh does away with hand wringing and seeks a balance in relationships between humans and nature that are neither discriminatory nor dominating. Our common Prakriti binds us to each other through a new understanding of our inter-dependence. While we re-learn and build on our traditional peasant farming practices, we also transcend barriers of caste, religion and gender. We drop what we know to be harmful and destructive to relationships in the natural world, including with humans.
Aman Bagh is a little less than 1 hectare – about 2.7 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, the 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 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 local in design and manufactured by local artisans, as ecologically friendly as contemporary construction materials allow. When you visit in mid-summer, you will be struck by the 8 degree difference of temperature between the outdoors and our rooms protected by a roof of stone, mud and baked terracotta pots.
“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.”
An Agricultural Testament, Albert Howard (1873-1947)
Howard lived in India from 1905 to 1931 and is considered to be founder of the organic farming movement in the West.
We have 2 desi Hariana cows leading a peaceful life under the shade of desi trees, fed on farm produce; ghee is extracted by hand from dahi set in baked terracotta utensils. Our land is ploughed by two beautiful, healthy bullocks born on our land. Our grains, lentils, oils and vegetables are grown from desi, open-pollinated seeds and are free of pesticides and fertiliser. We rarely use bio-pesticides (based on garlic, ginger, chilies, neem oil and cow urine) as our land’s natural predator-pest balance doesn’t need us to – in any case, we are not obsessed with productivity. Our bio-fertiliser is rich with micro-organisms created from fermenting cow dung, urine, jaggery and lentils. The floating drum gobar (dung) methane gas plant provides a steady source of manure slurry and methane gas for cooking.
We have planted a rich biodiversity of fruit, flowering and shade trees, as well as local bushes, shrubs and grasses. One quarter of an acre is a Bani – a forest, inspired by Japanese natural farming sage Fukuoka. None of our fruit trees are local to the Aravali, and we continue to experiment joyfully. Some trees grow in groves; some along the farm periphery; and others randomly (though carefully thought out) on the crop land.
Amrood, Kinnow and Nimbu are imports that do well in our sandy soil and alternating weather extremes of hot, wet and cold. Some of our other fruit trees are Suhajan, Chakotra, Narangi, Aam, Shahtoot, Anjeer, Anaar, Jamun, Shareefa, Kathal, Bel, Ber, Kela, Papita, Aadu, Nashpati, Loquat, Imli, Amla. In addition to fruit, we have hundreds of trees of Shisham, Babool, Neem, Bakain, Jamun, Papri, Semal, Mahua, Khatta, Peepal, Bargad, Goolar, Sagwan, Dhak, Dhau, Kosum, and many more, all local to our ecology. Then there are the dry, sandy soil friendly varieties like ronjh, jhinjheri, kareel, barna, bistendu, kankera, kadam, pilu and a sprinkling of flowering varieties kachnar, amaltash, gulmohar and jacaranda. Finally, the local bushes of kala vasa, vajradanti (desi vasa), adusa (piya vasa), and ashwagandha (akhsand) and grasses like sesbania and vetiver (khus).
We have a network of drip & sprinkler irrigation to serve our sandy soil and semi-arid environment, haven’t figured out a way to farm without exploiting underground water aquifers. We do plant only local varieties of all crops that grow in the infrequent rains, with far fewer irrigation cycles than the high-yielding green revolution hybrids demand. Hybrid seeds are not allowed entry. The farm runs on a solar system, and there are no air conditioners.
There is exertion in manual labor, but there is also much good health. I’ve been educated by my own peasant ancestry – millennia-old Jat self-cultivating peasantry – that there is little in life without the sweat of one’s brow – in the field, or on the desk.
The uncounted species of insects, butterflies, worms, bees, birds and other animals have multiplied manifold since we commenced farming and building the soil here in 2012. They have been drawn by the food and shelter they find in abundance. The welcoming peace is accentuated by the chirping of innumerable birds at dusk, the occasional call of the peacocks, the rooster, the the sounds of the bells as cows chew the cud. The welcoming sounds of a peaceful village home at work and in repose.
Here is our story till today: Five Years of Natural Systems Farming at Aman Bagh: 2012-2017. 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.
Here is a perspective on Aman Bagh, in someone else’s words – http://www.isayorganic.com/blog/aman-bagh/