Durdih village, Lakhisarai district, Bihar
An Agroforestry practitioner since 2018
As a lawyer I understand contracts, agreements, policies and laws. And these are all made to be broken. So when I moved to my village after years of law training, I decided to leave all my training and etiquette. Instead, I imbibed human connections and chose the village. Today, what I practice and experiment at the farm are all taught by people.
Back when I was in college in Dharwad Hubli, I used to visit my friends’ place during short vacations. This way I got to visit farms across south India and it is from these experiences that I learnt agro-forestry.
Even though I didn’t go back to my village after 8th std, I always remembered how happy the village life was. So when I came back after more than 15 years, I was disheartened seeing tension and dissatisfaction in a village which once was thriving with joy and contentment. I learnt about the increasing migration and how youths don’t want to be in the villages anymore. So through the agroforestry model of farming I took up the task of demonstrating to the people here of the abundance present in our village.
One fine day, at around 3:00am, I joined a group of old men talking about various stories for hours. From these old men I learnt how in the olden days before the green revolution, people here did not grow rice at all. Instead they grew bajra, ragi, rahad, pigeon pea etc, none of which are now grown here and I don’t think the younger generations know all these things.
Similarly I travelled across Bihar to learn the different crops grown and practices traditionally followed. It is from these people that I learnt about the region specific companion plant;, what could be grown with what and what could be mixed with what. When I face challenges on the farm I often reach out to the local people for insight. Like they even taught me alternatives to the various bio inputs like alternatives to neem or cow based inputs.
In 2018, I began experimenting at my 1.5 acres farm and often invited local youths, women and villagers to join in. I took an integrated approach at farming, I grow a mixture of both crops that were grown traditionally and the modern crops including paddy and timber trees. Slowly I began connecting with the farmers in the village and took up small portions of their farm to experiment. Last year I even built water pockets that act as sponges of water as a measure to conserve water. Farmers were skeptical of me doing this and laughed at me but when they saw that I am dependent less on the water canals and that my plants are thriving especially during the drought season; they now ask me to teach them the same process.
From the last 2 years I provide fellowship programmes to women and youths of the villagers on agroforestry. We have had around 40 fellows until now and they have all begun to initiate the processes in their respective lands as well. In the future I am hoping to work more closely with the children and youth of the villages in and around my area. Because I believe passing on the wisdom to the next generation is critical.
Most of our produce is consumed within the village and we rarely have to go to the market to sell. Villagers are all ready to purchase the produce even if they have to pay a premium amount.
Over time we have taken over small pockets of land as demonstration plots totaling to around 5 to 7 acres of agroforestry land. Each of these plots have more than 30 species of crops including non food crops. A major challenge we face is the absence of a system supporting agroforestry. For traditional crops like rice the whole system from seeds to fertilisers to processing are available but such a system is missing for agroforestry. Many times I have to get seeds from far off locations so it gets difficult.
At my farms, I don’t have any livestock but because of my relationship with the villagers, I get to collect livestock manure of buffaloes, pigs, chicken etc from them. Farming and village life have taught me that relationships are everything and without building them nothing happens. Our dream is to present our village Durdih as an agroforestry model.
First published by National Coalition for Natural Farming in their newsletter under the tile Champion Farmer Kumar Neeraj Dreams of a Village of Abundance through Agroforestry on 18 Aug. 2021, as part of their series CELEBRATING OUR CHAMPION FARMERS