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"The results (of chemical-free farming) take two or three years and often patience. I'm just trying to teach what I've seen work since I was a kid. Many people this far into the hills couldn't afford pesticides in the past so they learned how to enrich the soil and prevent diseases by mixing crops." Chico Maldonado.
Sher Muhammad was the elder of the village and a renowned rice grower. He transplanted the best quality of rice, the Sugdasi and a local variety, the Kangni; and harvested a crop that yielded more than it is doing today with all the water, chemical fertilizer and the insecticide. He was a real progressive farmer of his times. He was my grandfather. Every time he went to the fields, I had his finger in my hand. He did the teaching but though I did learn but (sic) never practiced.
This was in 1939, when the green revolution in agriculture was still not in sight. The high yielding varieties of IRRI-6 rice and Mexican wheat were not even in the minds of scientists. The chemistry of chemical fertilizers was not yet formulated. The Rice Canal, one of right bank canals of the famous Sukkur Barrage was recently commissioned (1932). We had lands that were earlier irrigated by inundation canal, the Gharwah on the bank of which was the river port of Larkana and famous market the Giles Bazaar. (Giles was Collector of Larkana under the British rule). Larkana at that time was Eden of Sindh or City of Garden. We had also a share in this environment; we had gardens of mangoes in our village, a few miles north of Larkana.
During inundation seasons, we had some patches of rice in salt affected areas, since there was enough water for leaching down the same. However in winters, there was no canal water and we drew water from the wells by means of Persian wheels and irrigated winter crops like wheat, vegetables, etc. There was a piezometer pipe just outside the village. I remember once our teacher took us on a tour of village surroundings. He showed us the pipe and told us that it was for measuring the depth (water table) of water. Someone brought a rope, a small stone was tied to it and lowered. We found that the water was at a depth of 32 feet. We found the same depth in open well which was out of use since 1932.
The Sukkur Barrage brought blessings - more water, cooperative society and new technology of the time. The water was in abundance and more area was brought under rice. Additional water beyond the actual water requirement of rice (maturity 120 days) was allowed and called Pancho water - to meet the leaching requirements. This continues to be supplied till to-day. The mango can't withstand excess water in its roots. Thus one by one the mango trees died. The last a decade ago.
My grandfather was also the Chairman and Secretary of the society. Somebody would come from the Department of Cooperatives and give Rs. 10 or so as loan to the members. At the time of recovery, the official would ask my grandfather to pay on behalf of the defaulter and recover from him when he was able to pay. This my grandfather promptly did. Many years after when I became Director (Banking Operations), Federal Bank for Cooperatives, I found this tradition still in vogue though in a different form.
The cooperatives provided technical assistance as well. The rammer used a chisel plough to till his lands. With more water available and the soils getting harder, the chisel plough tore the soil and formed big lumps of soil which had to be broken by crushing. The cooperatives gave us a new agricultural engineering technology that consisted by some Egyptian ploughs, a Jenkins clod crusher and a wooden roller. Jenkins was an agricultural mechanical engineer at Agricultural Research Institute, Mirpur Khas, later the workshop was shifted to Hyderabad, Sindh.
This was a sight for good kids, me included to follow the plough and see inverting the soil. The Jenkin's clod crusher was a very good ride because it had a wide platform for the driver to steer the bullocks. It was highly jolting though. My memories were refreshed when in Texas, some where on a ranch, we had a hay ride, through the dust and no wind.
The environmental change, if it ever comes through a slow evolution, maintains a balance in nature. But who waits for it. The good earth opens up its treasures, but all its resource wealth could be exploited without giving it time to replenish and leave nothing for the posterity. This is what should not happen. There are ways to do it and there are examples to follow.
My Grandfather would not give me classroom lessons. I now realize he was passing on his knowledge and training me to be a good farmer which I was not destined to be. He would collect the best stock for seed. He would do the selection a mechanical separator can't do. This has to be done in the field. There is time when the grain is ripe but not over ripe. We know that the unripe grain does not make good seed, because it has less germination vigour; likewise the over ripe seed has lost its vigour. The seed has prime importance in agriculture. No amount of fertilizers can help grow a healthy plant out of weak seed.
The fertilizer though is a must to supplement nutrient deficiencies in the soil. Our scientists have done a good job to classify soils and recommended the doses and types of fertilizers. The chemical fertilizers however react with other elements and produce new ions. This process changes the chemistry of the soil and ultimately refuses to respond favourably to any amount of chemical fertilizer. The soil becomes calcareous and contains fixed salts which are no so easy to remove, except by nature through heat, light and weather change.
The best solution my grand father found was through fixation of nitrogen by following rice with leguminous crops like gram and farm yard manure which he could obtain by settling sheep herders on the fallow land. There was an abundance of acacias on the farm boundaries. These with their pods would be fed to the lot. The leaves would add humus to the soil and improve its texture. The tree branches would be used as fire wood and the pruned trees would grow with increased vigour in the next spring.
The yield of Sugdasi was more than 40 maunds per acre. The straw was bonus and season long enough to provide green fodder to milch animals for 120 days. Now the tractor has replaced bullocks, the milch animals are no more, the fertilizer is washed away in the drain with Pancho water and the pesticides have killed the benign insects. The biological control of insects in no more in view. The trees have been cut or reduced in number to have bigger fields and thus less firewood in energy scarce area. Now even cow dung cake is not available to keep the stove burning.
The lesson: Let us not decry old methods and antagonize the nature.
The pinch of over exploitation of natural resources is already being felt. Though it is five years past Rio Conference, no tangible reconciliation with nature appears to be in view. If the earth has to survive, it will have to be dealt with at its own terms. The nature would guide us as well as warn us. As for agriculture, I wish my grandfather was with me again. His memories would be fresh only if we follow his methods for organic farming.
Copyright © 1997 A.M.H. Kango. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
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