Farmers In Karnataka Turn To Desi Cows!

The rearing of native cattle by farmers in rural Karnataka has created a new and welcome rural-urban link, and is benefiting the farmers economically as well as bringing health benefits to their urban customers!

Bengaluru-based Team Desi Milk (TDM) was launched in 2012, with the aim of contributing to such overall development. It has been promoting native cattle among farmers and sale of desi (indigenous) milk to urban consumers, in a rural-urban cooperative movement.

Re-integrating agriculture and animal husbandry

TDM, a wing of Seva Trust, is an evolving model of sustainable urban participation in rural economy. Their focus is on promoting organic farming practices, by essentially re-integrating animal husbandry and cultivation methods.

Till recently, TDM collected the milk from farmers, boiled and without further processing sold it in the nearby city of Bengaluru. Presently Dabbaguli Basaweshwaraswamy Farmer Producer Company Ltd distributes the milk.

With National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) providing working capital, the farmers became shareholders of the producer company by paying Rs 1,000 each.

The benefits of native breeds and A2 milk

Milk from the native breed (Bos indicus) is of A2 variety, with the best Beta Casein protein. It contains 22 soluble minerals; A1 milk from the introduced breeds (Bos taurus) has just six known minerals.

A2 milk is non-allergic while A1 milk causes allergies and intolerance in many children. A1 milk disintegrates in three hours, while A2 milk stays good for seven hours. A2 milk need not be skimmed, as the fat is digestible, while A1 milk needs to be.

While these are some of the direct health benefits of desi cows’ milk, there are other benefits in rearing them. Native cows are healthier, need less attention, are more disease resistant and are bred naturally. Hybrids are bred through artificial insemination, injected with medicines and hormones and are not suited to the local climatic conditions, requiring a lot of maintenance.

The economics of using native cattle

The farmers admit that the yield from native cows is less than that of hybrids. But the cost of maintenance is much less. They are free-range cattle and hence the cost that the farmers spend on fodder and feed is less. Desi cows feed on simple local fodder, while the others need special formulations.

Native cows yield consistently good milk, for more number of years. The dung and urine of native cows are more suitable as manure for organic farming, as they contain more beneficial microorganisms and earthworms thrive on them. Thus the farmers save on buying pesticides and manure.

“I don’t spend much on their maintenance, fodder, and also on fertilizer for my farms,” says Shivaraju. “My family of five leads a comfortable life and I am able to educate my children well.”

Girish of Kadushivanahalli rears five cows and a bull, while pursuing his college education. “Many farmers use my bull as a stud and I earn a surplus of Rs 10,000 from the bull,” says Girish.

Farmers earn more for the A2 milk from native cows, as TDM pays them Rs 45 per liter. Government dairies pay Rs 24 per liter. Farmer Shivaraju said that he could buy many household items, after he started selling A2 milk.

“With the income from the three Hallikar cows, I could buy two more cows,” says Baby of Kadushivanahalli. “The financial status of our family has certainly improved.”

Divya Muniraj of Bandedoddi rears three Hallikar cows. The surplus net income of Rs 12,000 / month helps her maintain her mainstay of sericulture plantation and educate her three daughters in good mainstream schools.

The milk is retailed at Rs 80 per liter. According to Siddaraju of TDM, consumers do not mind paying double the usual retail price, because of the health benefits. “I buy A2 milk as it helps keep the native breed alive and the cows are not factory farmed,” says Lorraine Sequeira. “Ethically reared native cows give healthy milk.”

The farmers’ families also consume A2 milk and reap the health benefits. “The number of children falling ill due to allergy and stomach ailments has come down after they started drinking the native cows’ milk,” says Siddaraju.


This feature is based on an article written for by Sudha Narasimhachar,  a journalist based in Bangalore. To read the entire feature, click here.

The views expressed here are the author’s own. Photos are by the author.

Using Ducks As Pest Control – No Ducking This!

Women farmers in Dinajpur are reviving traditional organic farming and using backyard concoctions to tackle farm pests. They are also using innovative methods such as integrating duck rearing with rice cultivation…

At the crack of dawn, Lipi Basak and her sisters Smriti and Mamti are already out of their home, with a group of quacking ducks ahead of them. It is raining. The road is muddy with small puddles. But this does not deter the feisty young women from reaching their ultimate destination — paddy fields about a kilometre away from their home.

Once there, the ducks, altogether eighteen of them, merrily glide onto the paddy ponds flapping their wings, wading past the tender saplings that are about 1.5 feet-2 feet tall.

“They have been brought here with a purpose,” said Lipi, a home maker turned neo-farmer from Keotal village in Uttar Dinajpur district of West Bengal.

“The ducks eat up the harmful pests and weeds from our fields, their droppings make the soil fertile. This saves us from using chemical fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides and their escalating costs,” she informed.

Smriti and Mamti however caution that the ducks should not be released until at least 20- 25 days after transplanting the paddy; otherwise they may end up feeding on or damaging their young rice seedlings. The roots of the saplings prior to their release, need to be developed and firmly entrenched to the soil, they said.

For the Basak sisters in their twenties, work has however not been easy. They belong to a large joint family of farmers and for them to break traditional shackles and step out of their home three years ago was challenging. “We were mocked at by our fellow villagers and family members who thought we have gone mad,” they recalled.

Such comments were not made simply because they are women and agriculture is still predominantly a male domain in India, but primarily because they chose not to follow the beaten track of high yield chemical intensive cultivation. The sisters decided to take up organic farming integrated with native, climate friendly practices.

Organic conviction

The transition went through various trials and errors for these upcoming women farmers. During the first year, their output was not satisfactory either, which made their family members further critical on the future of their organic farming.

“However, we held on to our convictions. Within our limited resources and capacity, we succeeded in raising about 35-40 quintals of organically grown paddy in 5 bighas of land during the last season,” they stated. (One quintal is 100 kg and bigha is a traditional unit for land measurement in India, which is equivalent to 0.66 hectares). This was further diversified with cultivation of seasonal vegetables and other crops.

Similar success stories of change are being scripted by at least 75 women in Keotal and its neighbouring villages of Dohole, Abhinagar, Uttar Palaibari and Balaoul under Itahar block of Uttar Dinajpur district in the state. They have named their group as Narishakti Jaibochasi Mahila Dal (NJMD), which means woman power through organic farming.

This feature is based on the article by Moushumi Basu, published in Read the entire feature here

Moushumi Basu is a Kolkata-based journalist. The views expressed in this feature are her own.

This report, produced with support from the Earth Journalism Network, was first published in Mongabay India.

Youths Replant Trees – Enrich Sacred Grove!

It is four in the evening. It has been raining relentlessly and everything around is drenched. The black tar road is washed clean as it marks a serpentine route through the lush green surroundings. The fog adds a layer of mystery to the environment that is slowly getting darker.

This is a village perched atop 2,400 feet in the Sahyadri Mountains, the local name for one of the UNESCO decorated biodiversity hotspot Western Ghats. This is mid-July, which along with August receives the high rainfall. And it is indeed a high rainfall quantum — mean annual rainfall of 4,500 mm, ranging between 3,000 mm to 6,000 mm depending upon the altitude — that nourishes the rich biodiversity of the region.

A bunch of youths are on a mission in the pouring rains. Four of them have found a tree uprooted after a wall fell due to excessive rain over the past two days. One of them get a tempo van and the others lift the heavy, more than six feet long trunk of Nana tree (Lagerstroemia Microcarpa, a flowering tree endemic to India, native to Western Ghats). Villagers have already taken away branches and leaves.

The small truck reaches the perimeter of a sacred grove, devraai in Marathi. Named after the local deity Ambeshwar (its temple is in the center of the sacred grove), this Ambeshwar Devraai is a wonderful patch of thick forest bang in the middle of a sloping mountain plateau. Surrounded by farmland, the grove stands out with its wide variety of evergreen trees, shrubs, climbers, creepers and a diverse collection of moss and lichen.

Replanting effort

Battling rain, the youth bring the tree to a designated spot where one of their colleagues has already dug a pit. As others struggle to hold the trunk straight into the pit, one of them deepens the pit further and other chops off some of the extra protruding roots. Finally, the wet trunk snugly fits into the pit and is covered with damp earth.

Even when drenched themselves, the youth, with a look of satisfaction at a job done well, pat the tree trunk and one of them, their leader Pramod Mali, says with a chuckle: “Please, do live.”

For almost five years now, this has become a weekly routine of sorts for the young men. On the lookout for any uprooted trees due to heavy rains in the mountains and on the highway, they quickly bring it to the sacred grove to transplant it. Mali and nine other youths from the village have formed a Vanrakshak Social Force that have been carrying out this transplantation exercise and other conservation work for the sacred grove and the surrounding forests.

“We have transplanted about 350 such trees in last five-six years. The nearest we brought was from about 1 km and the farthest is from the radius of 6 km. We brought one from almost 18 km away last year. The survival rate of these trees is 80%,” says Mali, as he and others proudly show other trees that they had replanted in the sacred grove in earlier years.

On the southern side of the sacred grove is a huge arch painted with the name of the deity. A bright shiny board besides it details the importance of the place with pictures of almost all elements of the biodiversity found there. As the group enters enter the brown stony upward path shining after cleansed fresh with water and dotted with greens here and there, it indeed feels as if they were are entering a cloudy abode of the deity.

Functional parts

The youth have divided the devraai in four parts. Three are already named and functional. Punarjanm Mohim (Transplantation Mission) is where they bring uprooted trees and replant them. Mangal Van is where people plant trees on the day when their near and dear ones get married. They inform the newly married couple about it and urge them to plant trees too. Fulora Van is where people plant native trees on their birthdays or that of near and dear ones. The fourth is a proposed Smruti Van, a place where people can plant trees in remembrance of their family members or friends.

“We get these plants from a nursery. And we have been getting good response to this. At times, even some visitors have evinced interest in this,” says Avinash Ghadge, 31.

The team has already started documentation of the rich biodiversity of the sacred grove. There are 86 trees, nine climbers, and 27 shrubs, apart from scores of herbs, algae, fungus and creepers. There are 18 species of birds and 23 species butterflies, not to mention the large number of insects and reptiles.

This area has mixed semi evergreen and moist mixed deciduous forests as part of the Western Ghats. The Working Plan for the Forests of Kolhapur Forest Division says that the sacred grove is spread over 4.25 Ha. The neighbouring reserved forest is 318.16 Ha.

This feature is taken from an article published in, by Nivedita Khandekar. Read the entire feature here.  Photos by the author.

Nivedita Khandekar is a Delhi-based journalist. Views are personal.

Quietly Blazing Trails – The Women Rice Bankers Of Muzaffarpur!

Sumitra Devi and Manju Devi are women farmers with a difference. They are raising rice nurseries that are part of paddy sapling bank, locally known as Dhan Bichra Bank. It is an innovative initiative by women farmers that has become a source of their livelihood and brought a change in their lives.

Sumitra and Manju were ordinary housewives till three years ago. They used to work in the fields occasionally without any recognition, but now are running and managing the paddy sapling bank. They are selling rice saplings from their nurseries to small and marginal farmers and earning a decent livelihood.

They are not alone. There are hundreds of such women farmers who are engaged in raising paddy nurseries and selling saplings in dozen of villages in Muzaffarpur district. These women use system of root intensification, popularly known as the SRI method, a scientific technique to cultivate paddy saplings on time, to sell for transplantation that helps farmers, who get readymade paddy saplings without any risk.

In a different light

Such an initiative by women farmers shows Muzaffarpur in a different light in an inspiring tale of empowerment and a complete counterpoint to the downtrodden status of homeless women in different parts of the country.

The SRI method of rice cultivation has been successfully practiced by thousands of farmers to boost yields. “In the first year, I earned Rs 2,900 in 2015 by selling saplings to farmers after we started paddy sapling bank,” Sumitra, a resident of Harpur panchayat under Bandara administrative block, said. “It motivated other women, who joined me and started raising paddy nurseries in their small patches of land. Now, there are hundreds of women associated with paddy sapling bank in Muzaffarpur.”

She was the first woman in her village to stand on her feet and is known as a model woman farmer who is leading a group that manages the paddy sapling bank. Sumitra said her success as woman farmer encouraged and inspired other women in the village to start paddy nurseries of different sizes as per availability of land. “Paddy sapling bank was started by me in 2015. Initially, a handful of women joined me, but now their number increased in view of the benefits.”

Manju, a resident of Chak Ibrahim village under Saraiya administrative block, said they opted to raise paddy nursery as it helped them in paddy cultivation. “By doing this, we have made our new identity and are also making some money,” she said.

Unlike Manju, Rekha Devi of Amaitha village and Meneka Devi of Biseshar Patti village in Sarayia block have been raising paddy nurseries for selling only. “This time I have raised a paddy nursery in 4 katha of land and sold saplings of nearly 3 katha,” says Manju. Similarly, Meneka, who raised a nursery in 3 katha of land, sold saplings of over 2 katha. “I will earn more than expected because demand of paddy saplings for transplantation is high,” she said.

Improved status

These women farmers’ exposure to outside of the four walls of their homes has improved their status at the community level. They have increased self-confidence by being recognized as a contributing farmer. “At last, our contribution to agriculture is accepted and recognized, thanks to paddy sapling nurseries,” Rekha said.

According to the women, with the successful paddy sapling bank, they have also started raising vegetables nurseries, which are also in high demand. Traditionally, raising paddy nurseries have been viewed as a male-dominated sector in agriculture. But women farmers have changed it in Muzaffarpur.

Raising a paddy nursery during monsoon is common in rural areas prior to the start of much awaited Kharif season. But this year, farmers have been facing a difficult task in view of poor rainfall. Some of them are using diesel pumps, others electric bore wells and there are farmers working hard by irrigating their nurseries manually with help of hand pumps or wells.

Chunnu Kumar, a skill extension worker of Jeevika in Saraiya block, said more than 800 women farmers in different groups are associated with the paddy sapling bank. “In our block, these women farmers are doing well by preparing paddy seedlings and selling to co-villagers,” he said.

This features is taken from an article written by Mohd Imran Khan, and published in To read the entire feature, click here. Photos by the author.

Mohd Imran Khan is a Patna-based journalist. The views expressed in this feature are his own. 

Disappearing Foods – Can We Save Them Or….?

“Innumerable varieties of native fruits and leafy vegetables found in different parts of India are becoming rare on dinner tables. We should make efforts to revive them for a more varied and nutritious food basket.”

While visiting Kamrup district in Assam where the Centre for Microfinance and Livelihoods was implementing a project to enhance tribal livelihoods, Sanjiv Phansalkar saw a a number of yellow-red fruits lying on the ground, in the backyard of a Rabha tribal family.

In the yard, I suddenly saw a number of yellow-red fruits lying on the ground. When I enquired, they brought a raw, green fruit. It was very tasty, with a mild sweet and sour taste. I had never seen it before. Locally called kordir, I was told that this fruit is formally known as star fruit.

On enquiring, he was further told that the fruit called Kamranga in Kolkata (or starfruit) was greatly prized across the east and commanded handsome prices. However, sadly, there it was rotting in a backyard in Kamrup.

On asking why it isn’t sold he got the typical answer one hears in Assam and North East — the fruit had a short shelf life and transport was so difficult that traders thought it could not be profitably sold and so there was no market for it.

It is these seasonal and local delicacies that Sanjiv laments the loss of, all across the country. From roselle (ambadi, gongura) to lingad (fiddlehead ferns) to kachnar (Bahunia), these once regularly eaten, extremely valued delicacies are becoming unknown.

Says he, “I remembered my colleague piloting a small project a few years earlier for giving saplings of bahunia plant (also called kachnar) to tribal families in Central India. It seems that this plant grows as a large trees and the tree gets new leaves in summer. Young leaves make an excellent vegetable and one day I suddenly saw the bahunia leaves (known also as kachnar) in the local market in Gumla town in Jharkhand.”

I remembered my colleague piloting a small project a few years earlier for giving saplings of bahunia plant (also called kachnar) to tribal families in Central India. It seems that this plant grows as a large trees and the tree gets new leaves in summer. Young leaves make an excellent vegetable and one day I suddenly saw the bahunia leaves (known also as kachnar) in the local market in Gumla town in Jharkhand.

Still several years earlier, roaming in tribal farms in the then Bharuch district in Gujarat, I had seen and enquired about bright red leaves of a shrub growing on its own in the cotton or tuwar plots of farmers. Upon enquiry, it turned out to be ambadi (or roselle) and it occurred to me how my mother used to make and we all relished a preparation of ambadi mixed with chickpea dough and garnished with garlic, to be eaten with jowar bhakri.

If a city dweller, Anglophone person like me can cite five examples of such trees and plants, which had great uses and applications once but have dropped out of attention, clearly there are many more. When one searches information on them, one sees that many of them, for example bahunia, has high nutrient content or have strong medicinal value. And yet they are going out of usage.”

“Why are they vanishing from our lives, our tables and our food basket? Can they not be revived and brought to their pristine positions? I can only speculate about why such plants and their uses are falling into obscurity.”

About the Author

Sanjiv Phansalkar is associated closely with Transform Rural India Foundation. He was earlier a faculty member at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA). Phansalkar is a fellow of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad. The views expressed are his own. 

Photo by Chris Schärer

This feature is based upon an article written by Sanjiv Phansalkar for the magazine You can read the original feature here.

5 Reasons Why You Should Ditch Refined Oils. Now!

An oil that has been refined mostly uses processes and chemicals that are harmful to us. In short, it is supposed to mean to ‘purify’. But the meaning of purify has acquired many new definitions in the context of oils. It may mean the oil has been neutralised, deodorised and bleached. These would require that the oil be treated with acid, purified with an alkali, or bleached. All of which require chemicals. In fact, to extract every last drop, organic solvents such as Hexane are used. Hexane is a by-product of the petroleum industry and is carcinogenic. Yet it is used in the refining of edible oils and traces of this poison are left in the oil.

There are many different kinds of commercially refined vegetable-based oils, including canola or rapeseed oil, rice bran oil, soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil and safflower oil. The generic cooking term “vegetable oil” refers to a blend of a variety of oils often based on corn, soybean or sunflower oils.

Why you should dump refined oils from your kitchen. Now!

  1. Low quality oil seeds: Refined oil mills are not particularly bothered about the oil seeds they buy. The oil seeds could be old and even rancid, as they are processed to remove all natural taste and flavour. Further, many of the oil seeds are likely to be GMO seeds such as corn and soya. And rice bran is not even an oil seed but a left-over from rice de-husking!
  2. Heating: Refined oils are heated and reheated in the extraction process, losing most of its valuable nutrients. Often these high temperatures result in the oils oxidising and going rancid even before you buy them! Oxidation also creates free radicals that can damage the cells of our bodies so it is best to avoid them.
  3. Use of Poisonous solvents: Did you know that refined oils are treated with an organic solvent such as Hexane to remove every last drop of oil. Hexane, by the way, is a poisonous by-product of petroleum refining.
  4. Bleaching: The major purpose of bleaching is the removal of off-coloured materials in the oil. The heated oil is treated with various bleaching agents such as Fuller’s earth, activated carbon, or activated clays. Many impurities, including chlorophyll and carotenoid pigments, are absorbed by this process and removed by filtration. Bleaching promotes oxidation since these natural antioxidants and nutrients are removed along with the impurities.
  5. Deodorisation: This is the final step in the refining of vegetable oils. Pressurised steam at extremely high temps (500 degrees or more) is used to remove volatile compounds that would contribute to odours and tastes in the final product. Still want to eat refined oils?

So what’s the alternative?

Choose cold-pressed, virgin, unrefined oils. The best oils for Indian cooking are Sesame oil, Groundnut oil, Mustard oil and Coconut oil. These are the oils that we have been eating and cooking with for generations. They contain monounsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants such as polyphenols and the right balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. They have the high smoking points that Indian cooking oils need and their aromas and flavours complement the ingredients and spices we use. Boutique brands that promise authentic cold-pressed, virgin, unrefined and artisanal oils that are chemical-free, and preferably use glass bottles to package in, are your best bet.

Bhoomi Ka is a platform that helps small farmers grow sustainably farmed oil seeds (among other crops) that are chemical-free and grown via sustainably integrated farming systems (SIFS). Many of the brands associated with Bhoomi Ka may be the right ones in your search for naturally healthy and nutrient dense produce and products.

Bon Appetit!

This article has been created on the basis of facts sourced from various sources on the Internet, including:

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