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.
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 VillageSquare.in. Read the entire feature here
Moushumi Basu is a Kolkata-based journalist. The views expressed in this feature are her own.