February 22, 2020
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Return To The Good Earth

An ex-cop now polices a new terrain—big money that does violence to the age-old soil

Return To The Good Earth
Vikram Bokey loathes undue interventions. After 20 chaste years as a police officer, political meddling prompted his resignation as Deputy Commissioner of Police in 2000. His current battle is against a vicious circle of an inorganic kind, though—to wit, chemicals and fertilisers. Bokey now talks to farmers and persuades them to return to natural farming, shunning chemical quickfixes that destroy the earth.

Widening the ambit of his interests after leaving the service, he stumbled upon the modern debates in agriculture and quickly saw through hyped theories linking chemical additives with heftier profits. He realised his mission was to redeem peasants lured into debt traps by expensive fertilisers/pesticides. "Thousands of farmers caught in debt traps commit suicide," he rues. "This has fuelled unhealthy migration towards cities." The Vikram Bokey Foundation (VBF) was born of his affiliation with like-minded agriculturists and social scientists. The cop-turned-activist has now roped in other farmer groups and NGOs under an apex body—the Maharashtra Organic Farming Federation (MOFF).

According to him, the big-money thrust on chemical farming, hybrid seeds and monoculture has precipitated toxic build-ups in the soil and endangered indigenous plant species. Bokey insists fertilisers and pesticides decimate soil microbes, with disastrous consequences. "The produce may initially multiply, but subsequently suffers. We advocate mixed crop patterns," he adds.

The VBF has adopted Maval taluka near Pune and is endeavouring to bring 25,000 organic farmers and one lakh hectares of organic activity within its fold in the next two years. Bokey has already reached out to farmers in 6,000 key villages, entertained nearly 50,000 enquiries, firmed up 2,800 registrations and networked with 35 NGOs. A witness to the administration's limitations, he believes a private-public partnership is indispensable.

Besides favouring agrarian traditions and soil and water conservation, organic farming engenders self-sufficiency in the farming community and spares expenses by 50-70 per cent, says Bokey. "While a sugarcane farmer, for instance, has to spend over Rs 15,000 per acre, we have managed to obtain better produce for Rs 2,000 by allowing nature to work."

Bokey cites simple yet effective pesticide alternatives like a fermented mix of cow dung, cow urine, and black jaggery or that of cow urine, water and buttermilk. He says the farmer must capitalise on the fact that India has 16 per cent of cow and 57 per cent of the buffalo population in the world. "Nature thrives on the live-and-let-live principle. For every disease-ridden crop, there're birds and insects that maintain the ecological balance."

Despite a 5,000-year history, organic farming as a new cult hasn't been a runaway success in India, which ironically is also the cradle of modern scientific studies in agriculture. According to statistics compiled by NGOs, India has only 1,426 certified organic farms. The cost of registering and prohibitive documentation procedures add to the problem. "All farmers are researchers in their own right," states Bokey. "We help them with know-how, documentation and plan to market their produce in India and overseas."

MOFF is also essaying a pressure group to galvanise the government into promoting organic farming. On the anvil are training facilities at all district headquarters in Maharashtra. Soon, three to four model farms from each of the state's 355 talukas would be showcased with farmers themselves spreading the message of sustainable, eco-friendly agriculture that boosts economic development.

Bokey can be reached at: 9, Sunrise, 1st Floor, Near Chatushringi Temple, Senapati Bapat Road, Pune - 411016 Tel: (020) 25659090
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