In Conversation with Stanzin Dolkar, Farmer, Takmachik village

By Stanzin Dasal & Rigzin Wangmo LEH, May 02, 2018
The idea of an organic farming method in the Takmachik village was first conceived in the year 2010 and was practically implemented in 2011.

With an initiative of Ladakh Environment and Health Organisation (LEHO) and LAHDC, Takmachik village was adopted as ‘Eco green village’ on March 17, 2015, and was certified under Participatory Guarantee System, India an Organic Guarantee Programme on June 26, 2017. Thus the farmers along with organic farming method also promote tourism in the village. Producing tastier and healthier food items, the farmers along with generating a good level of income is also setting up an example for many.

In fact, it is one of the visions of Hill Council, Leh to go for 100 percent organic farming and towards a sustainable development in the near future.  But the implementation also seems difficult with the changing lifestyle and use of chemicals fertilizers to increase the production. 

Amidst all these changes, a ray of hope is shown by the people of Takmachik village.   
Let’s read more about the organic farming method from Stanzin Dolkar, a farmer from Takmachik village. Working in the field after her class 12th was bit challenging and hard for her initially but it’s been more than 20 years since she started working in the fields and today she is proud of herself and happily shares the experiences and scope in the agriculture sector.

Q. Brief us about the agriculture then and now. What are the new ways and methods introduced in the field to harvest and cultivate the best quality crops? 

Agriculture sector of Ladakh has changed a lot. The traditional farming method is getting replaced with the modern technologies. The old method of ploughing the field by animals is replaced by sophisticated machinery, the nutrient requirements of plants are fulfilled by fertilizers instead of natural manures.Earlier, farmers used to cultivate limited crops such as wheat, barley and local vegetables.  

The modern method of farming has reduced the workload and time. In early days people used to work together on fields and help each other but these days such practices are very rare. Young people are migrating in urban areas in search of job and education. Thus, the agriculture practice is carried out by the aged people in rural areas.

The younger generations these days have the least idea about agriculture and hardly take interest in it.  They rarely know the names of the tools used in the agriculture which is not good. Parents should encourage their children and involve them in agriculture practice along with academics. The knowledge of agriculture imparted will never be wasted.

I am grown up in a farmer’s family and during my young days, I have seen people using fertilizers in their fields. People were not aware of the negative impacts and with time people started neglecting its impact by seeing the increasing quantity, size and colour of the fruits and vegetables.

Gradually, people started understanding the ill effects of the chemicals and fertilizers on health. And with the help and initiative of Ladakh Environment and Health Organisation (LEHO) people of Takmachik understood the importance of organic farming method and adopted for a sustainable and better future.
To harvest and cultivate the best quality crops adopting organic farming method is the most important and need of the hour.
Q. Tell us about Eco-Model village Takmachik. How and when it was adopted?

The launch of Eco-Model village Takmachik is an initiative of Ladakh Environment and Health Organisation (LEHO), LAHDC and villagers and was inaugurated and blessed by His Holiness Chetsang Rinpoche on March 17, 2015. The aim is to promote organic cultivation and leading towards sustainable development. The concept of Agriculture and tourism was closely knit to create income generation opportunities among the villagers.

With the help of LEHO, we first started the organic farming in the year 2011 and the certificate of local group registration under Participatory Guarantee System-India, an organic guarantee program was received on June 26, 2017.

The reason being Takmachik was adopted is because the village is not depended or linked with any other village for irrigation. Since it is near the source of water and there is no possibility of contaminated water and the size of the village was easily manageable. 
The initiative of the concerned department and the willingness of the villagers all together contributed in making the organic farming successful. 

Q. What are the positive and negative changes seen after adopting organic farming method?

The initial years after adopting organic farming method made the farmers of Takmachik disappointed. When we cultivated our annual production, the size and quantity of crops and vegetables made us rethink and we literally commented saying, “What made us adopt this.” For a year or two the farmers bear heavy losses and every time there were discussions among us whether to go for it or give up.  But gradually with time, the soil started becoming loose and fertile thus, coming back to the old forms and the production started getting better. Prior to the organic farming method, there was a utilization of chemicals and fertilizers which made the soil hard. 

In the beginning, after adopting the organic farming method there was a huge loss which was for a short time. But talking about the long term it has lots of positive impacts.  Because of the organic farming method, we are producing healthy and nutritious food and the income of the farmers have increased. The cultivated food items of Takmachik are valued more and there is a greater scope in the global market. Now, farmers have started exploring more crops, fruits and vegetables, land became more fertile and the produces are tastier and healthier.

People are more interested in the method after seeing the positive changes and today we are setting an example to other parts of the region. 

Q. Today Takmachik village is a living an example of organic farming for many. How is it ensured to make it successful?

The organic quality assurance is controlled locally based on the personal integrity and peer pressure. The whole village is divided into four Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) group which comprises of 18-20 members and above it comes the Organic Marketing Group with 4 to 5 members selected from the PGS group.  

The PGS group or the local group of farmers ensures check and balance that no one uses chemicals or fertilizers in fields.  The group visits each other fields and ensures the product fully organic. Whereas, the organic marketing group is responsible for the quality check, packaging, collection and distribution of the product and to distribute the income to the farmers.

If anyone found violating the rules and regulation a fine will be charged.
Q. What are the fruits, vegetables and cash crop cultivated and where it is distributed?
Takmachik has a very fertile soil which proves boon to the farmer because whatever is sown is easily grown. We have two cultivating seasons annually. The first crop season starts in mid of March and second in the month of June –July.

Earlier, the variety of productivity was very limited but today, we cultivate wheat, peas, barley and buckwheat in crops and along with locally grown vegetables like turnip, radish, and cabbage seasonal vegetables like brinjal, capsicum and tomatoes are easily grown. In fruits varieties of apricot and apples, plum, cherries, walnut and watermelon are grown.  Watermelon of Takmachik became famous in Ladakh because of it sugar sweet watery taste and size. 

Apricot is exported outside as per their demand whereas the rest are sold locally. 
Q. Tell us about the market scope and facilities available. How much income is earned by selling organic products?

After organic farming adoption in the village, the market scope have increased. The scope and potential of buckwheat along with different other crops and vegetables made people cultivate and earn income from it. Most of the customers from different areas and foreigners visit the village and buy the products directly from us.

To make sure the quality of the products, proper packaging is done also the apricots are dried hygienically under the drier provided by the LEHO to protect the fruit from rain and dust thus maintaining the quality and taste.

The income of the farmers has increased more than double after selling the organic products. Also, the cultivation of watermelon proved very profitable. We have grown the fruit on 2 kanals of land and earned around 70 to 80 thousand. Also, an apricot which was earlier sold at ₹ 200 per kg is now getting a rate of around ₹500. An annual income of the farmer increased from ₹ 1 Lakh to 3 Lakh nearly. 

Q. How do you manage the disease, pests, and other problems? What pest control methods do you use on your farm?

In the organic farming method, proper management, use of good water, proper sanitation and manure is very important to manage the disease, pests, and other problems.  To control pest in the vegetables we spray garlic water, a mixture of kerosene and water on onions etc.  Neem oil is used to control the insects on orchards. 

Q. Tell us about your experience to Sweden tour on organic farming method.

In the year 2013, with the help and initiative of Ladakh Environment and Health Organisation (LEHO) a farmer exposure tour for organic farming to Sweden was arranged for 21 days. Three of us went and explored. It was a very good exposure where we learned the importance and value of organic farming.

There were many things to learn from them about various techniques and method.

Q. The practice of animal rearing is hardly adopted nowadays by the people because of which there is a lack of farmyard manure availability. Do you think it hampers the focus on 100% organic farming?  

The change in lifestyle along with time is indeed posing a threat to the sustainability because people are choosing a modern lifestyle over traditional. Organic farming is more of a traditional way of farming but yes the availability of natural manure is very important. Earlier, farmers were self-sufficient with the farmyard manures because they used to rear animals along with farming activities but, nowadays the migration to urban areas for education, job and other things made people to give up the old practices.  Also, the traditional local toilet is replaced by the flush system one. 

Yes, lack of natural manures will definitely impede going organic but it’s people understanding and willingness to promote and practice organic farming. There are different ways and methods to compost manure. Organic farming is very much possible to practice by all if people are made aware of its importance and value. 

Q. How the farmers of Takmachik fulfilled the manure requirement?

The need of the manure for the farming is fulfilled by the farmyard and local toilet manure of every household and also gets it from Changthang region.  Today because of the effort of LEHO, every house does compost method which is also very beneficial. 

Q. What are the various challenges and obstacle faced by the farmers of the region?

The declining trend of agriculture practice is becoming a major challenge. Today, farming is not carried out by generation to generation like in past years. Families are becoming nuclear from joint, migration of young people from rural areas in search of job and education leaving behind the old people in villages and changing lifestyle is causing a decline in the agriculture practice. 

There is a need for market scope and facilities to sell the products in order to generate income. More scope and opportunities need to be explored to create interest among the young generation to engage in it. 

Q. Urban migration and shifting from the land-based economy are becoming a major reason for the decline in agriculture practice. How can we revive and sustain the agriculture practices for sustainable development? 

Agriculture system needs to become more productive and must be pursued from a holistic and integrated perspective. There is a need to make the younger generation aware of dependence, importance and scope in agriculture so that the interest can be gained.  The traditional farming knowledge needs to be imparted along with the modern scientific technologies with proper demonstration and training among the farmers to increase the productivity and explore more varieties of crops and vegetables to grow. 

More production with increased technology will make us self-sustainable and it is very important to understand by all that we cannot just sit and rely on food items distributed under Public Distribution system. It is always better to be self-sustainable.
Together, we must mobilize scientific, technological and social movements to address these challenges together.

Q. Tell us about the advantages and disadvantages of climate change in the agriculture sector in Ladakh?

The farmers of Ladakh are mostly dependent on glacier water and snow for irrigating the fields and because of the rise in temperature, streams are dried up in some areas and at some places, the sudden change in the supply of water is causing damages to the crops. Untimely snowfall is causing water scarcity. The warm temperature is also causing more risk of plant diseases, weeds and pest, thus, damaging the orchards and crops. 

But along with the negative impact, there is a positive side also. Ladakh being a cold region, limited varieties of crops are grown. But it seems that with the increase in temperature today more varieties of crops and vegetables are cultivated and also tend to grow faster. Today seasonal vegetables and fruits like, capsicum, brinjal, watermelon, plum are easily grown.

But in the long run, climate change needs to be addressed on time because it could adversely affect agriculture with the increasing risk of water scarcity for irrigation.

Q. How important is it to engage young educated youths in agriculture sector?

Agriculture is the biggest sector but somehow it is not valued. The young educated youths do not find this sector cool and attractive enough. It is wrongly taken as a big no for the educated youth.  Taking my life as an example, I studied till class 12th and for me, initially leaving my studies for farming was an embarrassing and unhappy moment.  

But if we look deeply and think I feel if an educated youth engages in the agriculture sector, one can contribute and change massively. 

An educated youth can access new forms of agriculture-based enterprise, they can bring innovation in the farming method, new technologies thus increasing income. They can think and explore marketing opportunities, identifying the potentials and career options in farming. 

Takmachik is adopted as an Eco Model village and because of which the tourist influx is increasing every year.  I being educated a little find it easy to communicate with the foreign guest visiting the village. If one is educated, more are the accessibility and it becomes very easy to understand and convey the ideas and feelings.

Q. How can we develop the agriculture sector?

Agriculture sector can be developed if people are willing to work and promote it genuinely. There is a need for more innovation and creativity to bring positive changes by conducting awareness campaign, exposure tours and farmers training. Market scope and opportunities are very important to encourage the farming activities and also to generate income.

The knowledge of farming method its importance and value need to be imparted to the young children to make them attached to their roots along with the modern lifestyle. 

Message to the reader 

Agriculture is a very important sector passed on by our ancestors for survival in this difficult terrain, but with the growing urbanization, change in lifestyle, facilities and schemes it is declining. Working in the field is simply not cool for the educated youths, but there is a need to understand and explore. There is an ample of opportunities and potential in agriculture to generate income and create a job opportunity.
Moreover, if we are focusing on sustainable development than going ORGANIC is a must.