Sukhjeet Kaur, Rori Kapura Village, Faridkot

Sukhjeet Kaur had been growing vegetables for many years but using chemical inputs. After coming into contact with KVM activists, she switched to organic vegetable production. Her main motivation for switching to organic practices was a concern for the health of her two sons. She says, when I heard about the adverse impacts of chemicals, I was worried and did not want them to eat poisoned food anymore. She has been growing vegetables organically now for about two years. She says, “Yields have actually increased and the pest attacks have reduced as well. We grow only for household consumption, but sometimes when there is surplus, I sell them as well or give them to relatives. I am able to earn 50-100Rs a week. I also sometimes give the surplus vegetables to the worker who comes to gather cow dung in my house. After I had an operation, I was unable to do it myself.

When she came to this village about 35 years ago, most people were growing cotton. But within the last 15 years, many farmers have shifted to paddy because it is more profitable even though it requires more water. There were also frequent pest attacks on hybrid cotton varieties. The amount of pesticides used on the cotton crop was excessive. It is much lesser with rice. But like many other women, she reiterates that women had a special relationship with cotton. She says, “in my childhood years, when indigenous cotton was cultivated, women would weave cloth on the spinning wheel, and then would weave bedspreads. There were extremely complicated weaves and designs that were made with the hand loom machines. Women were also connected to the work on the fields. They collected cattle dung, to make dried dung cakes for the chulha but also for organic manure. They carried tea and food to the fields for the men. They would churn the milk collected from the cattle at home to make butter, ghee and buttermilk. No one does all of this work anymore. It is true that women’s workload has reduced in some ways, but when we lived in large joint households, our workload was shared and there was more joy in doing it. Now in nuclear households, it is not even possible for the only woman to leave the house and visit relatives or go and sit at the neighbour’s house to chat for a bit. I leave the house only when it is absolutely necessary, because there is no one to look after it in my absence.

In her garden there are as many as thirteen varieties of vegetables including pumpkins, guar beans, okra, and bitter gourd. She does most of the work herself. Her husband helps out with the weeding, because she is unable to bend for long periods of time. But she takes care of watering the plants and harvesting the vegetables. It takes her about an hour and a half every day to manage the garden. She says, “the vegetables cook faster, they are bigger and they taste much better”. Her experience has also influenced her neighbour, who is an anganwadi worker and started growing vegetables. However, while most of her relatives though are happy to take the home grown vegetables that she cultivates, they never think about growing them because it is hard work.

Sukhjeet Kaur has adopted most of the practices that were explained to her by the KVM activists. Once in a while though she also enjoys experimenting on her own. For instance she recently boiled neem leaves with chili and sprayed it when she spotted insects on her plants. She makes and stores seeds for almost all of her vegetables by coating them with ash to keep them dry. Sometimes gets new varieties from the market. She has also been having conversations with her husband about using organic methods on their five acre farm, but they have not done it yet. She says, “when the pests attack, our immediate response is to use chemical sprays because we have been doing it for decades. My husband still thinks that if everyone else is using pesticides, there must be a reason for it. But if he sees another farmer cultivating organically and without incurring any losses, then he might consider transforming our farm. We have always used chemicals in minimally on our farm though. My husband uses only two sprays with rice, and one bag of urea per acre. Our yield is as much as others, and many times better than others. We do weeding manually on our farm. Farmers use urea/DAP despite being aware of their adverse impact on health, because our generation saw our elders doing it and do not know how to farm any other way. This will change gradually. The future is uncertain. Both my sons do not want to farm. Everyone wants to improve their status and do better than their parents. We also do not have enough land for both ours sons to be able to generate sustainable livelihoods.”