Bhaskar Save's farm was the best in the world
Bharat Mansata, Kolkata
Bhaskar Save was the acclaimed ‘Gandhi of Natural Farming’, who inspired and mentored three generations of organic farmers. Masanobu Fukuoka, the legendary Japanese natural farmer, visited his farm in 1997 and described it as “the best in the world, even better than my own farm!”
When he passed away at the age of 93 on 24 October, he left behind a 14-acre orchard farm, Kalpavruksha. It is located on the Coastal Highway near Dehri village, district Valsad, in coastal Gujarat. The nearest railway station is Umergam on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route.
Kalpavruksha is a food-forest natural farm. It has trees, crops, weeds and rich soil, and is a net supplier of water, energy and fertility to the local ecosystem rather than a net consumer. It is an outstanding example of natural farming.
Over the years, Kalpavruksha has become a sacred university for many, as every Saturday (Visitors’ Day) brings numerous people. They include farmers from all over India, agricultural scientists, students, senior government officials, city folk, and occasional travellers from distant lands, who have read or heard of Save’s work.
If you asked this farmer where he learnt his method of natural farming, he would say humbly: “My university is my farm.”
About 10 acres of the farm are under a mixed natural orchard of mainly coconut and chikoo (sapota) with fewer numbers of other species. About two acres are under seasonal field crops cultivated organically in traditional rotation. Another two acres are a nursery for raising coconut saplings that are in great demand. The farm yield is superior to any farm using chemicals, while costs are minimal and external inputs almost zero.
COOPERATION IS ALL
About 20 steps inside the gate of Save’s farm is a sign that says: ‘Cooperation is the fundamental Law of Nature’ — a simple and concise introduction to the philosophy and practice of natural farming. Farther inside the farm are numerous signs that attract attention with brief, thought-provoking sutras or aphorisms. These pithy sayings contain all the distilled wisdom on nature, farming, health, culture and spirituality that Save gathered over the years.
Save followed four principles of natural farming.
“The first is that all living creatures have an equal right to live. So farming must be non-violent,” he would say. “The second is that everything in nature is useful and serves a purpose in the web of life. The third is that farming is a dharma, a sacred path of serving nature and fellow creatures. It must not degenerate into a money-oriented business. Fourth is the principle of perennial fertility regeneration. We humans have a right to only the fruits and seeds of the crops we grow. The balance, the biomass, the crop residue must go back to the soil.”
Kalpavruksha’s high yield out-performs any modern farm using chemicals. The number of coconuts per tree is perhaps the highest in the country. A few of the palms yield over 400 coconuts each year, while the average is closer to 350. The crop of chikoo, planted nearly 50 years ago, provides about 300 kg of delicious fruit per tree each year.
Also growing in the orchard are numerous trees of bananas, papayas and areca nuts, and a few of dates, drumsticks, mangoes, jackfruit, toddy palms, custard apples, jambul, guavas, pomegranates, limes, mahua, tamarind and neem apart from bamboo and shrubs like kadipatta (curry leaves) and tulsi, and vines like pepper, betel leaf and passion fruit.
Nawabi Kolam, a tall, delicious and high-yielding native variety of rice, several kinds of pulses, winter wheat and some vegetables and tubers too are grown in seasonal rotation on about two acres. These provided enough for this self-sustained farmer’s immediate family and occasional guests. Most years, there was some surplus rice, which was gifted to relatives or friends, who appreciated its superior flavour and quality.
Rarely can one spot even a small patch of bare soil exposed to the direct impact of the sun, wind or rain. The deeply shaded areas under the chikoo trees have a spongy carpet of leaf litter covering the soil, while various weeds spring up wherever some sunlight penetrates.
The thick ground cover is an excellent moderator of the soil’s micro-climate, which is of utmost importance in agriculture. “On a hot summer day, the shade from the plants or the mulch (leaf litter) keeps the surface of the soil cool and slightly damp. During cold winter nights, the ground cover is like a blanket, conserving the warmth gained during the day. Humidity too is higher under the canopy of dense vegetation, and evaporation is greatly reduced. Consequently, irrigation needs are very low. The many little insect friends and micro-organisms of the soil thrive under these conditions,” he would explain.
This ingenious farmer relied on earthworms, weeds and mulching for regenerating soil and keeping it rich with nutrients. He was a great friend of the insect world.
Save used to say: “A farmer who aids the natural regeneration of earthworms and soil-dwelling organisms on his farm is firmly back on the road to prosperity.”
EASE OF WORK
“When a tree sapling planted by a farmer is still young and tender, it needs some attention. But as it matures, it can look after itself, and then it looks after the farmer,” the gentle Save used to explain.
The physical work on a natural farm is much less than on a modern farm. But regular, mindful attention is a must. In the case of trees, this is especially important in the first few years. Gradually, as the trees grow up, the work of the farmer is reduced — until, ultimately, nothing needs to be done except harvesting. In the case of coconuts, Save had even dispensed with harvesting. He would wait for the coconuts to ripen and fall on their own, and then collect them.
For growing field crops like rice, wheat, pulses, vegetables and so on, some seasonal attention, year after year, is unavoidable. This is why Save would call his kind of farming, ‘do-nothing natural farming’. Even with field crops, farmers were advised to do very little. Leave it to the superior wisdom of nature, was the advice of India’s most eminent farmer.
Since 2014, a residential Natural Farming Learning Centre has been offering six-day introductory courses in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and English at Save’s farm.
Adapted from The Vision of Natural Farming by Bharat Mansata,
Earthcare Books. Website: www.earthcarebooks.com
To join Bhaskar Save’s natural farming learning course, log on to: www.bhaskarsavenftc.in