Nagpur Man quits his job to revive the land of ancestors and now saves 2 Cr liters of water per 12 months
IWhen Anirudh Chaoji (54) returned to his ancestral farm in Nagpur’s Manglis Village for the first time in 2016, he was shocked by the deteriorating condition. He saw 6 acres of degrading forest and barren land on the remaining four. There wasn’t a single blade of grass or ground in sight. The carbon and nitrogen needed to grow food were gone.
To restore the glory of his former homeland, Anirudh has lived on the farm on the edge of the Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary, which is part of a corridor with the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, for five years. Over the years he has watched his hard work and dedicated efforts come to fruition in the form of abundant biodiversity.
With lush trees and high harvests, water reservoirs, sensible fences that do not threaten animals, farming systems and many such measures, Anirudh has not only restored his farm but also set an example for other farmers in the area who have faced both animal conflict as well as decline soil fertility.
However, Anirudh, who previously worked as an ecologist at the Tadoba Tiger Reserve, did not have sufficient farming experience and the process proved extremely difficult and frustrating at many crossings, resulting in huge expenses and crop losses. So what inspired him to leave his own business, Pugmarks, an ecotourism travel company, at the age of 49 to turn to farming on a barren land?
“It was Pravin Pardeshi, then chief secretary for forests, who gave me the opportunity a few years ago to join the forestry department of Tadoba as an ecologist. The department needed someone to protect the forest by mobilizing the villagers to coexist with nature while protecting wildlife. Since I was preaching about the environment, I thought it would be ideal to practice it too, ”says Anirudh Better India.
How crop rotation made the land rich in nutrients
When Anirudh first set out to rejuvenate his dying farmland, he divided the four acres of barren land into sections to grow trees and plants and build water reservoirs. After working as an ecologist at the Tadoba Tiger Reserve, he changed his blueprint to include the wildlife.
It was a simple survey that helped Anirudh understand the farming patterns of Mangli villagers who practice a single harvest cycle. Cotton was and is a dominant crop in the region given its high market value. However, cotton also extracts a large amount of nitrogen and nutrients from the soil without giving anything in return. This reduces the soil fertility and thus the yield. In order to maintain adequate levels of production, farmers resort to harmful pesticides, which further damage the soil and soil.
Seeing this vicious cycle, Anirudh tried to introduce the crop rotation system on his farm, where he would grow several crops, including cash crops. That way the country benefited and he could still earn a decent salary. However, this solution was much more difficult to implement. Its crops were damaged in the first few cycles. Strict adherence to organic farming practices also had an impact as neighboring farms used pesticides, which led to moth migration on Anirudh’s farm.
Anirudh says: “Sometimes the land was too wet or too dry. Three plants – corn, urad and wheat – did not germinate. While the turmeric plantation was working, it was labor intensive so I didn’t get a lot of sales from it. I lost almost 120 bamboo trees. Woodland is very rocky. It takes real effort to understand how nature works. But once you do it, it will provide you in abundance. “
To solve these problems, Anirudh focused on making the land rich in carbon through rotavator, a gardening tool. “It is mainly used for digging and aerating the soil. I used it to cut plants and bury them in the ground to give back carbon. I also added Jeevamruth. My sister is a horticultural expert and she walked me through the process, ”he says.
After the soil became healthy again, Anirudh carried out a crop rotation. He planted cotton and then soybeans, a nitrogen-fixing crop that was not fed by animals. He followed with matki (another type of bean), rice and turmeric in a rotation process.
In outlying areas he planted a so-called “sacrificial harvest” in farm language. These are cheaper versions of the system in the main area. He added inexpensive cottonseed. The idea, he says, was to keep pest infestation on the verge while allowing the animals to feed on the leaves.
In addition to the crops, Anirudh planted fruit trees such as mahua, chironji, Indian gooseberry, oranges and mangoes. The highlight of its agriculture, however, is the return of the native chinnor rice. Several farmers had stopped growing rice to make way for cash crops. But given its agriculture, some in the region are following suit.
Over the years the farm’s yield has increased significantly. The original purpose was to become self-sufficient, but now Anirudh can sell its products in the market. In dealing with sellers and middlemen, Anirudh experienced firsthand unfair trading practices that further motivated him to form an informal community organization of farmers.
“Anirudh holds weekly meetings with farmers to discuss the latest technology, growing crops effectively, marketing tips that can be reasonably priced, and so on. Several farmers, including myself, have benefited from his expertise. In my next harvest cycle, I will reduce cotton production by 50% and replace it with the Chinnor rice variety, ”Yuvraj, the village sarpanch, told The Better India.
Anirudh also credits his practice of rainwater protection for the high yield. He has built several reservoirs, ponds and boreholes, through which a total of two crore liters of water can be saved every year. In addition, the collected water has also charged the water table.
Coexistence with animals
Wildlife such as tigers, chital, sambar, neelgai, langur, wild boar, civet and big cats are commonly spotted through the forest area between Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary and Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. However, the path to one of the sanctuaries includes numerous farms.
Hence, the human-animal conflict is a common sight in Mangli. Farmers often take measures like electric fencing, poison bait and toxic chemicals to save their crops and kill the animals in the process.
Anirudh was aware of this relevant problem and made arrangements to coexist with animals in various ways. He created saucer-shaped water holes to guide the animals on a certain path. Along the way, he built solar fences that make noises to keep animals off. Likewise, part of the farm is selectively enclosed by a chain link fence so as not to completely block the movement of the animals and to allow them access to the water body.
“While it’s too early to see if animal deaths have declined, this is at least a good start. This is their habitat and we have to respect it. I understand a farmer’s dilemma, but when we make small efforts, such as For example, changing harvest patterns or putting up fences that only make noise can go a long way, ”says Anirudh.
Edited by Divya Sethu