The superintendent of police in Theni has at last been appointed and we can now get the foreigner registration done. We went on line and after filling out the application 3 separate times because the computer lost it the first 2 times and paying someone to help us get the passport copies into the program because the computer would not let us do it, we will go to Theniand hopefully get the paperwork done which allows us to start the NGO process. I asked Joshua what is going on with the computer programming. Supposedly Indians are the best in the world at it and what I am seeing is lousy. Joshua says all the good IT people work for private companies not for the government.
The 75 year old village head that had committed 6 acres to our program decided after talking with his family that he did not want to participate in our program. Most of the farmers believe what their chemical advisers tell them that they must monocropping. The chemical fertilizers that they pay serious money for will be used by the interplants that we put in. It is just in the last 50 years that monocropping has been used here, but none of these people remember how the interplants actually nurture the main plants. Fortunately I am finding documentation on the internet of this. We will now have sessions with our farmers with this material to show them how the main crop profits actually increase with interplants and they also get the profits from the interplants. I am learning to dot my i’s and cross my t’s.
I remember when I was a chiropractor working with people with end stage cancer. I asked people not to tell their families what they were doing for at least 3 weeks. Within 3 weeks they would notice a significant improvement and at that point they could share with their families. Even then there families had all kinds of reasons that it was not working, but at least at that point, the patients had something to go on so they could tell their families that they would choose to continue.
In India the families are even more intertwined. In this case as he is aged, his sons who are also farmers did not want his land encumbered by a 5 year lease. The idea that we might actually make them more money was not of interest to them compared to the security of doing what they know how to do. This is so from the way that I think, I had trouble preparing for it, but I got the message. When I asked one of the sons what he would do if he could no longer get water to farm, he said he would sell the land. I started thinking that I was dealing with the richer element of the farmers and I needed to go to the poor farmers who yes could sell their land, but then what would they do.
We have a new program inspired by the Navdanya (Vandanna Shiva) model. We are advising the farmer of what to plant and how to do it organically. The farmer pays for everything himself. We come in once a week to help in an advistory capacity. We are also offering to pay for the seeds up front and then take them out of the sales of the food. This way they will be healthy, open pollinated seeds which have a chance organically. We will also pay slightly more for the crop as it is organic and take on the marketing of the organic food. There are some local markets for organic food and this will also give Joshua a way to make money, by running an organic food distribution program. His family is also needs him to make money. As they start to earn more money, they will spread the program to their neighbors and we hope that once there is a 20 acre area involved even if there are some spaces we will be able to get grants to do the earth works for what is called here water conservation.
We had a good rain night before last. Maybe several inches, I hope it is enough to save all the rice where the irrigation water was turned off because of dam problems up in Kerala. There would be a better chance of the rice being saved if it was open pollinated rice most of which is more resistant to drought. It was the first real rain here since January and felt glorious.
We found out more about the Indian governments tree planting initiative. The government is supplying only 3 trees, sapoda (sapodilla), Indian gooseberry and mango. The amount they pay for the manure and labor for planting the trees is about ½ of the cost of doing this. The farmers tell me that where farmers have taken advantage of the offer and planted the trees, they have died within 6 months. They believe that because of graft and corruption in the Indian government, only defective trees are given to the farmers. From what I am learning about these farmers, they have a lot of what in the U.S. would be called superstitions and this may or may not be true. They may not have watered the plants and that is why they died. The literature tells me (and I have seen from experience) that drought resistant trees need to be watered for at least the first 2 years. I would of course have to look at the trees, etc. to decide for myself but no one can even remember who these farmers are whose trees died. They are adamant about not taking the government’s offer. We will be starting a nursery where we grow the trees which make sense to plant for these dry land (or they call them here rain fed) practices. I might try to get the government to at least pay them the ½ that they pay to plant our trees, but I have no patience for long talks with government officials. I am making connections here though and maybe some group who works with the government will take this on.
I found this morning a great article about many drought resistant fruit and nut trees that are underutilized here in India. The article was written just for the people I am working with, the low income farmers who do not have water. I am excited to find other folks working in this area. Also I learned when I was at Navdanya that they are launching a program to plant trees as part of their food sovereignty program, everyone needs to have some orchard. They are only recommending 15% of the land, but that is a start. I am forwarding them this great article. You can see the article at
I heard about the California farmer’s crisis, taking out orchards in their prime because of no water and am hoping some permaculture person takes on the central valley with restorative agroforestry. Maybe the rubber is finally meeting the road in the U.S. I also heard that San Francisco and probably the central valley just got 8 inches of rain, climate change anyone. I also heard that there is a move on from the central valley farmers to sell and move up to the Willamette Valley. There is no new land to move to here in India so maybe the changes will be made here.
I have not described living in an Indian village (of 30,000 people). The houses are about 2 feet from each other. Land is very expensive. Each house has its own bore well. The houses are built for air circulation and consequently when there is noise next door I hear it. Fortunately I live on a small street but still lots of horn honking. The dogs are the worst for me with their constant barking. Hearing the chickens and the birds is glorious. Also fortunately I have a ceiling fan and the noise from the fan keeps the other noises to a dull roar except during the 1-2 hour power outages each day.
3 ladies and their children came to visit several nights ago. They live in the houses directly across from me. They invited me to dinner. It was 8 at night and I had already eaten. I am looking forward to connecting with them. Yesterday when I was down on the big street ¼ mile away buying fresh pressed juice a man was helping me translate. He said he was my neighbor. The children are all curious and want to practice their English. Unfortunately their English seems to end with what is your name. Joshua tells me that some subjects are taught in English, but it is all written. So the children and everyone else do not feel comfortable speaking English, although they understand some English. As they say though the Indian’s speak better English than I do (meaning that they apply their rhythms to English and it sounds very different so the noises I make do not sound like English, not to mention that British English is easier for them). One thing I really miss is parks. There is a catholic church about ½ mile away, which has a little landscaping and some open space and I like to go there to get away from it all, but the caretakers have the job of keeping the space empty. They try to be tolerant – I am a foreigner after all, and I am breaking the rules (who me?)
With a lot of help from my Indian family, I got a battery for my lap top. The old one had died. Jones and Grace went to Chanai (the biggest city in Tamil Nadu 8 hours away) for a wedding last weekend. They went on the bus. Joshua called his cousin in Chanai and his cousin found me a battery as well as a video camera which also takes still shots. So you will soon be seeing pictures. This morning when the electricity went out I got to read my article on under planted trees as well as write this. What a joy not to be controlled by the electricity. It was fun to be flexible, go up on my roof and look at the mountains and take walks, even clean house, but it is always good to have some control of when I want to do things.
The organic shop found some treats for me, peanut brittle bars and donuts made from chick pea flour. They are also supplying us with lots of organic vegetables and grains. I finally have a way to cook, a 1 burner electric job. Almost no one here uses ovens. I will make a solar oven one of these days. Grace and Jones brought back some treats made from deep frying chick pea flour and raisins. I will make some of these. There is no flour sold here. Joshua tells me that there is a local mill where flour can be ground, so it is a matter of getting a 50 kg order together. And after my trip to TheniI will have 5 or 6 things to be ground. There is also a web site where organic treats can be bought and shipped to me, as well as another web site for English books so I am finding ways to do what works for me.
My fixation with organic here is partly that all the banned chemicals in the U.S. are sold in India, so chemically treated items are even more toxic here than in the U.S. Of course since it is wall to wall farming here and anything organic is next to something chemical, it is not exactly perfect. Some of the old farms have hedgerows which help and we are recommending to our farmers to establish hedgerows. If you are buying products from India that say they are organic, the chances are not good that they are. The certification process is very long and drawn out and bribery based on political pull is rampant. Joshua tells me that the politicians can even kill people without punishment. Often corporations will have a small 1 acre plot that is organic and then ship items from their other thousand acres which are chemically treated. The great news is that Vandanna Shiva’s organization has pretty much stopped GMO’s being used in food here in India. Cotton is another matter.
Ananthi (Josh’s wife) is from a family where the women make nutritious drinks from combining various healthy foods. I am encouraging her as a money making venture to mass produce some of these and sell them on the organic circuit that Joshua is developing. I have offered up my kitchen for the process. Though my flat is small it has a big kitchen even with a pantry, I expect necessary in a country where almost everyone cooks for themselves.
Another fun story for you. I mentioned previously all the organic materials that are on the roadsides here and how it is beneath the dignity of Indians to pick up stuff from the road side. I told him how permaculturists picked things out of the garbage can in the U.S. He found this very hard to reconcile with his ideas of the high living Americans. He did not think it would be happening any time soon. It turns out that as we passed some of the organic piles I mentioned to Joshua this is what I am talking about and it has been here for 2 months. He said oh those, I was talking about something else, ah the old miscommunication. Anyway I have found that when the banana trees have finished their life cycle (one banana crop) these are removed and taken away somewhere. It is okay for the Indian dignity to make arrangements to pick up this voluminous banana trash and bring it to the farm. So for the time being I will be happy with this. A friend suggested that as time goes on they understand the value of the organic matter they may be willing to pick it up from the road. I think it more likely that the local government will pick it up to use for their fertilizer program. Meanwhile the roads are filled with organic trash. Though the cast system here is supposedly abolished, some things are very strong. People think that there is something wrong with me that I do not have a cleaning person. We all have things in our subconscious that do not work for us. I was speaking with a friend about how the space boundaries here are very narrow, people get way to close to me when they talk and especially when they drive. Of course I have my limitations that I do not even see.