Sense of the soil

Vimlendu in his farm

Environmentalist Vimlendu Jha has established a farm near Alwar and encourages urban people to come and work here

The prolonged lockdown and the collapse of normal social life for months together during the pandemic gave some people a lot of time to reflect upon existentialist issues. One of India’s leading environmentalists Vimlendu Jha contemplated on how to incorporate ecologically sustainable practices in day-to-day living. 

This is a pet theme for Jha, who has been practising and advocating eco-friendly habits for the last 20 years by living in a zero-waste home. He employed this lean phase to establish he rented two acres of Satyajyoti farm developed and owned by Jyoti Saikiathe Farm in Alwar district, a couple of hours drive from Delhi. He cultivates using novel farming techniques, grows vegetables, also has an apiary, makes compost by employing various techniques, and has a self-sustaining and ecologically friendly prototype—which has lessons for all the stakeholders.

He talks with much flourish about ‘multi-layer farming’ one of the many practices he follows here. In a plot of land five or more different vegetables are simultaneously cultivated at different levels of the soil—deep, middle, top, topmost layers of soil depending on their root zone. He gives the example of how turmeric and potato grow in deep soil, brinjal on topsoil, creepers of pumpkin on the topmost soil, and papaya alongside on tall slender trees. It’s like a bouquet of greens.

The farm serves a larger purpose and isn’t merely a venue for agriculture. The idea is to invite people, particularly children, from all walks of life who reside in urban settings, who are fairly oblivious about how food is grown and the lives of farmers and help them experience farming first-hand. His motto is “education, experience and action.”

Indeed, it’s a wholesome experience for those who visit his farm, camp there in tents, participate, contribute and learn, even go for long walks in nature. Bird- watching is an added attraction, or simply put in the words of Vimlendu, “Experience nature to the fullest.” He’s glad to inform, “We harvested about 25 litres of honey last month—all sold out.”

He founded Swechha, one of India’s most influential sustainable development organisations. In the last two decades, he’s worked with top agencies of the world like the Civicus World Assembly, the British Council, IVLP (State Department of the USA), UNV, UNDP, UNEP, World Wide Fund for Nature, Japan Bank for International Cooperation, GIZ-Germany, to mention a few. His achievements received acclaimed—he was dubbed as one of the top 25 youths of the world by the International Youth Foundation through the international publication Our Time is Now.

Vimlendu is a change agent paving the way for an ecologically sustainable practices in day to day life

One gets the feeling that it’s just a beginning as he remains an ardent change agent who’s blessed with indefatigable energy to implement novel ideas, and the ability to network with the environment and youth organisations across the country, understanding the issues facing young people and ecology.

Though he doesn’t want to link the present initiative with farmers’ protests, he is of the view that farming in India is “unsustainable—bad for our natural resources.” He doesn’t hold farmers responsible for it but feels that they are the “most disenfranchised community of our country, highly underpaid, most of them landless, (despite being the) most hardworking.” And they follow “unsustainable” practices like the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers as a matter of “survival, and not (out) of luxury.”  He emphasises that farmer distress is not post-2014 but has been a historical fact.

This farm is an endeavour to show that economically viable and ecologically sustainable agriculture is not an aberration but a solution. He’s frustrated that farmers’ issues and the process of food production are so alien to most urban dwellers, particularly in the metropolises. He points out that many school-going children, though the feast on potato chips, don’t know that it grows underground. All they know is that “Chips are manufactured in factories,” says Vimlendu with obvious disgust.  

“Do we understand what it takes to grow food?” he asks a fundamental question. “There’s an all-pervasive ignorance when it comes to issues of ecology, the economics of food, marketing of food products. People don’t understand cultivating fields is not merely a vocation for farmers, it’s a way of life imbued in cultural traditions.”

So when people visit his farm, work there, understand the processes, and the life of people who cultivate, there’s a big takeaway. “When they return to their usual life, perhaps they will understand the environment better, sow plants, practice recycling, so and forth,” says Vimlendu. It’s a great learning curve for them and a training ground for creating an environmentally sensitive citizenry. 

He often shares his experience of farm living on social networking sites and encourages people to sample it. “Winter nights at our farm stay are just gorgeous, and best if your friends come visiting to spend a night over at the tents. The amla trees all around, bliss!” 

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