City-based couple transforming remote Manipur village
City-based couple David Gandhi (56) and Usha Gandhi (56), residents of Lulla Nagar left their comfortable city life in 2016 to transform a remote village called ‘Aben’ in Manipur.
Pune: City-based couple David Gandhi (56) and Usha Gandhi (56), residents of Lulla Nagar left their comfortable city life in 2016 to transform a remote village called ‘Aben’ in Manipur. This husband-wife team is currently residing in that remote village and educating the farmers about sustainable farming to improve the yield of their farms. They are also training the teachers and students of the primary school based in that village.
David Gandhi, alumni from College of Agriculture, Pune is an agricultural scientist with a career of 30 years was earlier working with NGOs for agriculture, environment and water management. He said, “I visited Aben for the first time in April 2016 for a project and realised this village is barely touched by modern technology and performs shifting cultivation (jhum cultivation) which is labour intensive, time consuming and not environment friendly.”
In jhum cultivation, farmers clear a part of jungle (mainly bamboo) and burn the vegetation. This is an unsustainable form of agriculture practice as it results in increased air pollution and soil erosion.
Gandhi added, “It is a remote place so no NGO would be willing to support me. Thus I decided to work as a volunteer without salary and find a localised solution for the farmers. It was October 2016 when my wife and I shifted to this village. We live there for four to five months. Then we come to Pune and stay for a month.”
He added, “It was 2017 when I educated the farmers about Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) method that requires less labour, offers food security and is also environment-friendly. Under SALT, hedgerows of legumes, which are nitrogen-fixing plants, are grown along the contour-line. This improves the soil fertility. SALT also involves rearing livestock like goats, which are fed the leguminous fodder plants grown on the farm. This is an additional source of income and the dung can be converted into compost and applied to the soil to maintain the fertility.”
He said he had to convince local farmers to implement this technique and conducted a demonstration for other farmers. He said, “At present 70 out of 75 farmers are practising this form of farming. Farmers from surrounding villages are showing interest in SALT.”
‘Çondition of the school was shocking’
Usha Gandhi, educationist, was shocked by the condition of the primary school in Aben. She said, “Coming from Pune, which has an amazing educational system, it was shocking to see the shabby condition. There is one primary school, and the teachers are not trained properly. There are youths from the villages working as substitute teachers.”
“I started training these substitute teachers so they can impart proper teaching to the students. I decided to develop a syllabus for kindergarten students as they had no proper syllabus. Zeme is the language spoken in this area and that is why a lot of kids continued talking in this language and are unable to cope with English. Many mothers are coming forward to learn English so they can converse with their kids in English,” she added.
“The locals were cooperative and supported us whole-heartedly. Our family and friends have been kind enough to help with small donations of cash, books and stationery for the kids,” she said.