Bhaskar Save – The Legend!

September 5, 2010

– Ananthoo

He is 89 and still active. One of the oldest (organic) farmers in India, most revered and a fountainhead of knowledge. He has been practising organic farming since 1956. He is a must see for any one taking to farming and his farm kalpavruksha should be visited- likened to pilgrimage.
Another person influenced by Gandhiji! This list of people across many fields influenced by Gandhiji amazes me.

Saveji was an exemplary chemical farmer in the early 1950s. When there were not many who took to chemical farming in those days, his farm was a ‘sample farm’ the fertilizer industry would bring people to. He was a ‘progressive farmer then:-0 but the point is he was always outstanding.
Suddenly he happened to read some points of Gandhiji and the turn around (as well as reasoning) happened. From then till date kalpavruksha is an amazing natural farm. From water conservation to mulching to using weeds to the unique way of using crotons to identify the water needs of plants around to intelligent pest management thru mixed cropping – it’s a delight. A farm even the great Fukuoka said was better than his own, when he visited Kalpavruksha!


Saveji has numerous suggestions to make from his vast experience. He backs them all with heavy interesting statistics that one cant ignore what he says. One can fill this whole space with so much of info.
So here I go, only with some of the fabulous quotes of his.

  • Gandhijis 4 diktats about non violence, no right to kill other creatures, respect to mother earth, adopting traditional practices was the reason for his turn around.
  • prakruti hi parameshwar
prakruthi parameswar

prakruthi parameswar

  • When there is lack of knowledge, ignorance masquerades as ‘science’
  • Weeding, Chemicals, cultivation expenses like tractor, etc and pesticides constitute 20% of the expenses each.
  • Trees/plants do not take anything from the soil unlike the general wisdom. He went on to prove this by taking a pot with 9 kg of soil and grew water melon. This grew and gave 2 fruits – 3 & 5 kg (8 kg totally). Then he took the full plant and weighed it, which was 600gms. The soil after drying weighed 9 kg again!
  • Evaporation of water is like distillation and it leaves behind concentrated salt on the soil which was the main factor for loss of soil fertility.
  • During and just after the Ist world war, British (and the farming community) didn’t bother about agriculture and so there was a sudden dip in production. This gave way to Chemical fever.
  • Fruits and seeds comprise only 10-15% the rest is all designed to be given back to mother earth!
  • vikas nahi vinash! (It aint development but destruction! While talking on the supposed development)
  • if farmer becomes bikari the nation wud become bikari to
  • we have no right to tamper with nature, it will take care of itself well if we don’t mess
  • Sarvodaya Vs Sarvanash
  • With all this abundant use of pesticide have the pests vanished? Why isn’t any one asking?!
  • Soil took lakhs of years to form and how can we have short term plans for it?
  • Except humans all live their life, don’t disturb nor affect themselves or other creatures. and they don’t trade either.
  • Earth worm is a great being, that works 24X 7.  In a day it comes up to the surface 10-12 times to get oxygen and to excrete.While it eats on the soil and all wastes that we put, it nourishes the soil so well. There can be up to 4 lakhs earthworm per acre. Each time it comes out it digs 2 holes (tilling any body?) so 2 holes x 10 times x 4 lakhs!! 72 crores holes in a crop cycle on average per acre.
  • Earthworms during their action do not disturb any of the fibrous roots but tilling would.
  • BTW compost is NOT food for forest. Its food for the micro organisms of the soil.
  • Trees need moisture not water! More water actually arrests aeration. Just like us, the roots also need to breathe and so excess water is unproductive. Prolonged flooding lets the roots to rot and it takes so much time to recoup even after the water drains or dries. Rice being the only exception.
  • The water used to irrigate one acre of chemically grown sugarcane can provide the needs of atleast 25 acres of jowar, bajra or maize. Add to this the consumption at the sugar factories. 1 kg of refined sugar would need 3 tons of water. With this water 250 kg of millets can be grown.
  • bcos of dams, theertha kshetras became Naraga kshetras.
  • 40% of microbes and earthworms die in the 1st year of chemical farming. Due to this inadvertent introduction of organic (dead) matter on to the soil, the yield increases, in the 1st year. 3rd to 4th year on it reduces. So the introduction of ‘fiddled ‘ seeds, more chemicals, more water, more of everything and so more debts too!
  • Of all the creatures 99% are non-vegetarians and the rest 1% is vegetarian. To avoid this 1% we spray so much of harmful chemicals where as the 99% would have had enough predators to finish them off naturally. Instead we killed these helpful non-veg insects and so the vegetarians are freaking out on our crops.
  • Chikkoo (sapota) lives for 3000-4000 years! One such 4000 year old tree planted by the portugese is seen at silvassa!
  • A very insightful, practical and amazing plan to reap the best out of mixed cropping by him is to mix the alpa jeevi (short duration crops, 2-6 months), Madhyama jeevi (medium duration, 2-12 years) and deerga jeevi (long term, 50-1000years) in such a way that the long term are on the outer periphery and as u go inside towards the centre u have the madhya and alpa jeevis.

Something important: When he shifted from chemical to organic way back in 1956, he had 50% yield only but expenses was a meager 10% of the prev year’s. In 5th year he had achieved 100% and from then it only increased.
His recipe for a sujalam suphalam India is to throw 3 things away; namely Agri university, Agri ministry and cricket.

Savejis open letter to M.S.Swaminathan, the great architect of “green revolution” is very popular and is floating around all over the internet.
For the 1st letter to MSSwaminathan, see here:
Ofcourse he got a typical bureaucratic, diplomatic (read silly) reply from MSS!
For the 3rd letter see here:

Note: I do have lotsa photos including the great Fukuoka’s pictorial comments in his visitor’s book. But it can only happen later when I reach home.

Note2: for a cute write up and some photos on the same, check out here. Its with Sriram and Karpagam that i visited this farm and Ahmedabad.

(reproduced with permission from

reStore Hosts Organic Breakfast at International Healers Meet-Nov 2009

November 13, 2009

Date:                     November 13, 2009
Venue:                  Adyar Poonga, Santhome High Road, Chennai
reStore Members:  Ananthoo, Kavitha Lakshman, Heenu Nanwani, Anand Narayanan
Report by Anand Narayanan

An unusual event
On Friday, the 13th of November, 2009, a three-member team of reStore volunteers led by the redoubtable Ananthoo hosted an all-organic breakfast at the premises of the Adyar Poonga on Santhome High Road for a forty-strong international delegation of traditional healers from Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and other countries, including some from various parts of India.

How restoring the ecosystem and organic health foods can go together!
The initial impetus for this undertaking was provided by Ananthoo himself, who is acquainted with Joss Brooks who heads the Adyar Poonga project, a commendable Government-backed effort to restore the delicate wetland ecosystem that used to thrive in that region but had degenerated over the past few decades into a garbage dump and a setting for various societal vices. Mr. Brooks was open to Ananthoo’s suggestion of an all-organic breakfast for the event–which would help spread the word on the organic concept in general and reStore in particular–with the possibility of further engagements to coincide with the Poonga’s future initiatives.

Providentially, about the same time as this breakfast plan was taking shape, Ananthoo got wind of a full-fledged mechanised kitchen facility,  The Central Kitchen under YRG care, in Injambakkam that provides various catering services. Ananthoo was able to negotiate the services of the kitchen (run by a Mr. Ganesh) for a couple of days for preparing the Adyar Poonga breakfast as a trial run keeping in mind possible future collaborations.

Tasty menu plan using reStore’s specialty millets alone! 
Following this, a team of three reStore volunteers–Heenu, Kavitha and Anand–was assembled and tasked with a brief to collect recipes, help with procuring raw materials, and provide logistical and at-the-venue support. An ice-breaker meeting was held at Heenu’s house on Monday where the broad essentials were cranked out, helped along by innumerable cups of rice bran tea, crunchy pumpkin seeds and some exquisite dark cake–a shout out goes to Heenu’s hospitality!

After some deliberation, this fully organic menu was finalised:
Herbal tea (starter)
Varagu (kodo millet) Idli + chilly powder
Thinai (foxtail millet) Pongal
Sambar with reStore’s sambar powder and assorted vegetables
Coconut chutney
A dessert made with reStore’s specialty multi-mix kanji powder and powdered jaggery
Diced pineapple and hill plaintains

The general idea was to eliminate rice completely and shift the focus to millets, an indigenous family of grains which have been all but forgotten following the onslaught of rice. Millets are hardier and intrinsically more pest-resistant than rice and require far less water for cultivation. They are also packed with more nutrition and mineral density than rice, and contain about a third of the glycaemic load. In addition, millet seeds in their husk can be safely stored for about a decade without spoiling.

Trial Run with just 2 days to go
Once the menu was decided, the team swung into action, with Ananthoo coordinating the procurement and delivery of various raw materials, ably assisted by Kavitha and Heenu who were continually providing invaluable inputs on various aspects such as the presentation and serving of the meal, among others.

Following an introductory Tuesday meeting between the kitchen facility staff and the reStore team (the actual event was on Friday), it was decided that a trial run would be conducted on Wednesday to ensure that everything would go smoothly come the day of the event. Accordingly, all the required items for the trial were provided to the kitchen on Tuesday.

Wednesday–sampling day–arrived, and the four of us showed up in good time for our duties. The meal went off very well, with several of the participants commending the choice and taste of dishes. After some final fine-tuning instructions, we resolved that we had a firm handle on things, and decided to take the following day off.

Come Thursday, the Poonga authorities suddenly conveyed to Ananthoo that the number of participants expected was going to be nearly double that of the original number! Taking this sudden development in his stride, Ananthoo deftly managed with some eleventh-hour fancy footwork and quick coordination with the kitchen staff.

The all millet-breakfast proves a great success!
On the day of the event, barring a few early mishaps such as spilled sambar and an almost-hijacked dessert container, the reStore team presented a meal to remember for the delegates.

Kavitha and Heenu were the hero(in)es of the day, working indefatigably under pressure in order to keep the food supply flowing smoothly. An unexpected source of help presented itself in the form of Nicole, a visiting American who gamely jumped into the fray and helped with dicing the pineapple and with serving dishes to the delegates in company with her colleagues Nandhini and Shiva from the kitchen–many thanks to them for their assistance.

Several informational flyers were handed out to the participants with the reStore crest prominently visible. Quite a few of the local participants, notably the popular Unani practitioners Dr. Khalifatullah and his son Dr. Ameen, expressed great interest in visiting the reStore premises and exploring future possibilities with the organic millets concept.

Ananthoo, never one to let an opportunity slip by, took the floor and spoke about the concept behind the meal, though his oration had to be cut short as the delegates, overwhelmed by the delicious fragrances wafting from the waiting dishes, began to swarm around the serving tables halfway through the speech! At the conclusion of the meal, Mr. Brooks thanked the participants, whose reactions to the spread were uniformly favourable, thus capping our success.

Finally, after the last of the delegates had departed, the reStore team and the staff from the kitchen facility sat down to our own breakfast, heaving a sigh of relief at having managed to pull off the show despite all the tight constraints. A little cleaning-up followed, after which we parted with our mutual congratulations ringing in our ears.

Dosa Camp at Vishranti

December 8, 2008

On 8 Dec 2008, we kept a long-pending promise to the paatis at Vishranti. We organized a ‘dosa camp’ with all the reStorers pitching in to make dosas—batch after batch—an amazing total number  of about 800 dosas in the space of 2 to 3 hrs! Without the able help and competence of their chef, this would have been an impossible task. The reStorers had great fun, learnt a few tricks and the paatis enjoyed an evening of dosa, chutney and sambar for their evening meal which was their very favourite! See pictures below.

Bangalore Organic Retailers Meet on 24 Sept 2008

September 24, 2008

A Report by Meera Rammohan

Venue: United Theological College, B’lore between 10.30 am and 4.30 pm
Organizers: Sahaja Samruddha:N.R.Shetty, Krishna Prasad, Seema, Satish and a few others

Participants: A total of about 25 different groups or individuals; these included a few farmer groups, but mainly consisted of retail outlets from various parts of Karnataka plus reStore was the only group from outside the state. reStore members who  attended: Meera and Manasi
group at blore meet

Aim of the meet: To bring together the various retailers of organic products across Karnataka especially with an aim to get an introduction to each other and gain some perspective about their methods of working; also to discuss problems faced by the groups, try and address these and evolve solutions through exchanging ideas and sharing each other’s experiences. To form a collective or a federation which would function as a producer company that would provide various services to retailers and form a network of retailers.

Some of the groups who participated:
Sahaja Samruddha, Jaivik Krishik Scty; Nesara Organic Service Orgn; Dharwad Organic Growers’ Assn; Rice Producers of Hasan Jille; Aramba Kushi Belaga?; Vasundara Samsthe?; Era Naturals; Aparna and Vidya of Adi Naturals JP Nagar, B’lore; Govind,Simply Organics, B’lore; Mallikarjuna of Jeeva Sudhe from Shimoga; Farmer Ravindra from Mysore; Sahaja Foods; A.R. Nilkant Murthy of Odekar Farm, Nandihalli; S.Kumaraswamy of AIkea; Mr.Ramprakash, retired Forest Officer (interested in replicating an effort like reStore in his area);Dinesh of Timbaktu Collective who is planning to start his own marketing company for organic products; AID India represented by Vatsala, Vidya, and Anuradha.

Short presentations by groups
After some preliminary introductions by Krishna Prasad and Shetty about the purpose of the meeting, Shetty asked each group to talk about their marketing or retail efforts, how long they had been doing what they were doing, a quick idea as to the kind of products they were selling and how successful they felt they had been at achieving their objectives.
Shetty himself and Krishna Prasad had spoken mostly in Kannada, but I was able to follow the gist of what they said with a little help from Vatsala sitting next to me who was there as a representative of AID India. They had a total of three members present from this funding agency; in fact some of the projects undertaken by SS were already being funded by AID.
Once about a half of these short presentations were over, it came to our turn. Mr.Shetty introduced us specially as being the only representatives from Tamil Nadu—he spoke about how we were ‘different’ and how he felt we had already done pretty well by establishing two separate bazaars plus a shop and that too in the short span of time we had been around. He felt that our concept of involving the consumer in the marketing process by means of volunteering, and participation constituted a special way of marketing—since he himself believed that the organic market could be called an ‘alternative market’, this effort was very important. He thought it was the first time that this kind of initiative had been undertaken in India and remarked that it seemed to be similar to some such methods found in the USA.

Presentations by city groups in Bangalorepackaging at blore
Some of the city groups had done some interesting ground work; for instance Adi Naturals, run by Aparna and Vidya was started three years ago and these two women had no experience regarding organic products nor any marketing experience—they just began with some guidance and help from Shetty and now they have a reasonable business going–although they faced many hitches when they started off. Govind of Simply Organics runs a ‘mini-supermarket’ as he calls it from his home single-handedly–he had enough space to even expand and now is planning to also start selling vegetables. Many  of the rural outlets seemed to be small ones that concentrated on just a few products; in some cases they consisted of  producer-cum-retailer outlets such as the Hassan Rice Growers represented by Appaji. This was a group of farmers who grew a large variety of traditional rices and Appaji later showed me a sample of some of their brown and white varieties. One of the famous varieties was Rajamudi.  Dinesh of Timbaktu Collective talked about his group’s efforts with promoting organic farming in Andhra and especially their work with reintroducing millets as a regular crop in the area and as part of the diet.

Our presentation
For our presentation, I spoke about our motivations, our group members, the way we evolved the Bazaar model, our attempts at involving community, and of our recent shop outlet. I also spoke of how we wished to work and support organizations such as Vishranti, Vidya Sagar etc., and also of our principles of keeping sustainability and eco-friendly packaging for instance as important to us as selling our products. All the groups had brought their products such as rices, dals etc., in various plastic packaging; ours stood out as being the only ones in paper—so I spoke a little about how we had experimented with packaging till we had reached the present model. I also mentioned our on-going learning as regards pricing, quality control, storage, predictability of supply etc., as some of the issues we were facing—and how we did not have all the answers at all but had a long way to go.

Post-lunch session—general concerns
After lunch Krishna Prasad started an exercise of noting down the general areas of concern as regards marketing of organic products being faced by each of the groups. Most groups had a commonality of problems or issues as highlighted by the list. Regularity and quality of supply, funds, transportation, consumer awareness, pricing and competition from other outlets which promoted organics but were mainly interested in making profits or were not that interested in ethical selling practices or in supporting the farmers by giving them a good price.

Finding solutions
Once the various problems were listed out, we tried as a group to find solutions to these. Soon after this exercise was over,  Krishna Prasad tabled the main aim behind the whole meet—which was an initiative by SS to start a Producer Company which would form a network with all organic retailers (with similar aims and philosophies), so that many of these issues could be addressed by them. They believed that with their long association with both sides, the small farmer on the one hand and the small retail outlets on the other, they had the experience to form such an organization.

Forming a network
To begin with all outlets in Karnataka could come together under this umbrella, followed by the other states across India. The advantages of such a network would be that certain standards of quality of the products, establishing a better reliability of supply, standardizing the pricing of organic products using some accepted guidelines, certification processes etc., could be put in place more easily. Small and struggling retail units would then not need to be concerned with these issues over and over again and could therefore concentrate on their work of selling and reaching out to larger communities. Other standards that could be established would involve packaging, product information labels and so forth. Mr.Shetty wondered whether our packaging in paper (although very environment-friendly) would suit large-scale marketing efforts.

We broke up about 4.30 p.m. after a general consensus was established in the room that starting such a networking company was indeed a good idea. Both the farmer and the retailer would benefit and the job of linking them up would become more efficient by doing this.

Behind the Scenes of the reStore Bazaar

September 24, 2008

A report in lighter vein about a normal day of packing—by Meera Rammohan

kolams at vishSajji told me that there was a ‘kolam competition’ on and the Vishranti paatis would come for cleaning ragi only after 2 pm. There wasn’t much packing because Sajji hadn’t been able to get the 5 kg bags at Parrys yesterday!

Anyway, I just grabbed the Nikon and rushed to Vishranti to catch the paatis doing kolam! Too bad I was too late. However, the entire pathway was lined with a variety of kolams (decorative drawings on the ground using flour); some with colour powder and some more traditional; some with fishes and birds and so on! I quickly snapped a few with the green overhanging branches and the shady pathway.

Meanwhile the Lions CLub was holding games inside for the paatis—they were playing—can you guess? Musical chairs!! Sometimes they used chairs and sometimes paatis doing musical chairsthey just walked round and round in circles trying to sneak in front of someone else! The others sitting round thought the whole thing quite hilarious so they were grinning and having the time of their lives! I pulled out the Nikon again and snapped some action.

Shekar and son—the Saga of the Covers
Shekar came along and said “Neenga pathengala; cover panniyachu!” (Did you see the covers we have made?) So I saw the butter paper covers and the double layer ones were pretty good; neatly done I thought. And the dual butter paper is actually stronger than the other for some odd reason! If you don’t believe me just ask Sajji—he never lies! So I duly placed some sample orders with them for the coming week.

Neem Leaf Collection and Drying
Sajji got lots of neem leaves off the branches of the nearby tree by simply going up to the balcony of the home and plucking them. We strew them around to dry on the yellow tarpaulin. The green on the bright ochre looked striking!

Discovery of Spices (Not in 14th century India but inside the sacks of ragi, carefully hidden!)
pouring ragi at vishHere we had thought there would be NO packing that day—but hey presto! As we unravelled the ragi sack strings out poured the spice bags (packed beautifully in plastic!) suddenly emerging from underneath. Sajji said, “Inga irukku paarunga—ellam—elakka,krambu,pattai,milagu.” (Here they are—all the spices!) Ok, so we fished out the small butter paper covers and started off—weighing and finding out the pricing for the new ones etc.

Rukmini (a helper at the Infirmary) insisted on sitting CLOSE to me and sticking labels; she thinks it is really a prestigious job! Soon enough there was Shanta paati sitting down to pack and weigh too with Sajji! Kanaka paati and SUbbi said “Engala photo edunga! Podaikkum pothu than edukkanum!!” (Take our pictures—but only when we are winnowing.) So I pulled out the Nikon again. Of course by now Rukmini was bobbing up and down asking for HER photo! I said, “All of you should just do what you are doing, then only I will take!” That threat worked and they all set about looking really busy! Sajji looked slightly disapproving of all this fun, as though he was thinking, “I can just see MY work getting done today!”

Subbi paati meanwhile had pallu vali (tooth ache). She took some lavangam (cloves) in a small cover to keep on the tooth and chew. Meanwhile, all the spices were emanating a glorious aroma all round.sajji and kanaka at vish

Arrival of Jaggery and Ud dal from CIKS
One chappee arrived on a scooter at about 4 o’clock loaded with two sacks on each side. He said he was Chandru from CIKS; we can expect groundnuts only Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

A Long but Satisying Day at Vishranti

August 15, 2008

A report by Meera Rammohan (August, 2008)

A glimse into what goes on at Vishranti
paatis at vishAll our grains arrive first at Vishranti—an old age home located in Palavakkam, just by the beach. Our association with the paatis (the elderly destitute women) and Savithri Vaithi, the founder, plus women like Ganapathi Ammal (the supervisor) and some like Chellama and Saroja who live there has been so warm and remarkable. The place has large open spaces, is peaceful, homely and run like clockwork by their wonderfully calm and efficient staff.

We have been going to Vishranti at least twice every week now. Typically, the paatis help us clean and sort the grains; at a glance some of them can tell us if they are of good quality, whether they are clean and fit for use; their nutritional aspects; recipes etc. They chat with us non-stop, and we enjoy each other’s company while we busy ourselves.

Ganapathi Ammal suddenly appears in the midst of all this bustle, with her upright bearing and quietly smiling face, bearing a jug of cooling buttermilk, making sure we refresh ourselves. We are also witness to other goings-on at the home—the paatis (some of them completely bent over but quite unfazed) passing by, taking out their clothes to dry, or singing their bhajans and chanting at mid-morning. Everyone who passes our processing area has something to share with us; wishes us well, asks after the bazaar and our welfare! At present we also do our packaging here (gasping in dismay at the leaky ones, sealing and resealing, weighing and pouring and so on and so forth). sajji at vish

We enjoy the chance for all the physical activity, the chance to get our hands dirty and feel a sense of accomplishment at it!

Visit to Tribal Health Initiative, Sittilingi, Tamil Nadu

July 12, 2008

– A Report by Sangeetha Sriram

Changing lifestyles of the tribals

This is a picture-perfect place with mountains, streams, forests and people. I spent some quality time with Dr.Lalitha who spoke about their definition of health being not one limited to just curing illness, but one encompassing physical, emotional and spiritual health. The tribals, who used to once cultivate nutritious dry-land crops like millets and pulses, and dry-land paddy varieties, and vegetables for their own consumption, gained  irrigation facilities in the 80s when outsiders bought land and moved in—then began land-leveling using machinery, the use of urea, irrigation, and the cultivation of water-intensive hybrid paddy varieties, sugarcane, etc., as cash crops for the market.  Now, with the invasion of TV sets, the people no longer have interest in growing and processing millets for their consumption, but conveniently buy ready-to-use ration rice for Rs.2.

In just two years, the consumption of bajra / kambu has dropped by 80%. Most farmers are in debt. Nutrition levels have fallen drastically. THI entered the area of agriculture just two years ago. And the response has been good.

What THI does

I liked the way THI didn’t go about blindly promoting ‘organic agriculture’ in a narrow sense of the word. They urge their farmers to produce nutritious organic food for their consumption, and they will find a market only for what is grown in excess. Farmers are seeing the value in this and are agreeing to the condition. I expressed my concern to Dr. Lalitha about how our coming in to source for the urban market would unnecessarily entrench the tribals into a cash-economy. Her response was that due to forces much larger than us, they are already entrenched. “We need to begin somewhere. So, let us first get them to at least go back to growing miIlets for Chennai people rather than sugarcane for the mills.” I was assured about their sensitivity to the issue.


Working with reStore

Dr.Lalitha was very happy to work with reStore and supply us with produce. I met two women farmers (Sonal and Kuppi) who are also heading a women’s group to process millets and pulses for selling in the market. I saw the pulveriser and decodecator that they have bought and operate. They make satthu maavu kanji and turmeric powder. We can source rice (four varieties), six millets (a few varieties from among these six), toor dal, urad dal, groundnuts, oils (coconut, gingelly, groundnut).

The Lambadis

Sittilingi is inhabited by the Lambadi tribe, where the women and men traditionally made extraordinarily decorative articles for their daily use. Their broom is quite an art piece! Their embroidery (for their own garments) is exquisite. When there were only two women left in the village who knew the Lambadi embroidery art, THI got them to train other young women in the art.
Now, the women make some very nice designs for cushion covers etc. We saw some amazing designs that Neela (one of the two women) and Sarada (her daughter) had made. Neela’s son Arul stitches finished products using these pieces which THI helps market. They are also experimenting with soap-making using natural oils and herbs, which they can supply to us at a later date.

The youth of Sittilingi

Naveen and I were taken around in a jeep to these places by three young men from Sittilingi, who are now staffers. Selvaraj is a Therukkoothu artist, and a farmer, and has extensive knowledge about plants there. Like all other youth, he left his village, tried his hand at being a lorry driver, conductor, working in Tirupur mills, and finally came back to his village to do farming. Manjunath also learnt computers, stayed in Chennai and then decided to come back to his village and seems to find his work here meaningful. Ediappan (who finished school two years ago) decided not to leave his village and is working in THI and likes his work.

We had a discussion about the latest trend of youth leaving for Tiruppur and other cities, owning expensive cell phones and ‘showing off’. Some of them have started returning to Sittilingi to their farms, seeing the poor quality of life in the cities–pollution, noise, stress, etc. We also met with Anu and Krishna, who run a small alt-ed resource centre called Thulir.

Visit to Timbaktu Collective

April 1, 2008

Visit by members of reStore: Sangeetha, Ananthu, Manasi and Meera (April,2008)
A report by Meera Rammohan

Location: Near the village Chennakottapalli, ½ hr from Dharmavaram, Andhra Pradesh.
Main Contact Persons: Dakshinamurty (Tatchi), Bablu and Mary (Founders) and Dinesh and Kalyani (also core members)
Nature of Organization: An NGO working in the area of forest regeneration, organic farming and revival of millet growing and consumption, school education,  women’s empowerment and employment generation (such as through revival of weaving and craft work) for the people living in more than a 100-odd villages in the area.

Our Onward Journey
We took a govt bus from Chennai Koyambedu (7.00 pm) to Dharmavaram (reached about 7.00 am);met by Tatchi (Dakshinamurty) of Timbaktu Collective at the bus stand and then by bus again to Chennakottapalli (CK Palli) (about 30 mins);met by Timbaktu staff and taken by auto to the campus.

The countryside appeared dry, dusty with stony hillocks and few trees. The heat is of a different kind—there is a sense of being parched—no moisture in the air or in the ground. As we reach CK Palli, the woman sitting in the bus next to me points out a shining, aluminium (or metallic) rooftop (somewhat large, floating out of nowhere like a spaceship) as belonging to the ‘Timbaktu office’—we find out later that this is the grain storage and processing unit—a large godown area that was constructed about three years ago.

The campus, living areas and residential school
The campus is more green and cooler than the rest of the area in or around the village.

A few acres have been converted from barren, dry land into the living campus for the permanent members of Timbaktu where they have built about three sets of cottages using sustainable materials with basic comforts and a kitchen-cum-dining area.

The campus contains a few cottages built with pakka materials, simple and small. Dinesh (who comes to meet us) and Kalyani and their son, Prithvi live in one cottage next to our guest cottage while Bablu and Mary (the founders) live in a larger one a little way towards the entrance, next to the kitchen area. The cottage is reasonably cool but no fans are used here. There are two rooms and a simple bathroom with a western loo without a flush! You need to pour water. No running water—water is collected in a large cement (or stone) vessel from a pump outside and carried by bright colourful plastic kodams. We quickly wash, have some tea at the kitchen and meanwhile bump into Bablu and Mary as they go to have their breakfast. Bablu is a big-built, tall and bearded Bengali who appears to have a sense of humour and intellectual all at once!

Dharani Millet Restaurant
As part of the re-introduction and popularizing of millets the Timbaktu collective have built a small thatch-roof structure which serves as a tiny restaurant which can serve about 15 people at a time. There are two cooks both of whom are local women who have been trained by Kalyani (mainly) in making various millet-based recipes. They are really friendly and work with good spirit in such scorching heat! Thinai is the main millet crop grown here and the largest in terms of volume as compared to the other millets.
The Recipes
Most recipes (such as idli, pongal, dosai, pulao etc) are made using thinai as a substitute for rice. They also serve ragi mudde (balls of cooked ragi flour mixed with jowar or bajra flour), which is eaten as a substitute for rice. No coconut chutney is used in this area of Andhra!!instead, since groundnuts are such a widely-grown cash crop groundnut chutney is the common thing. We (all of us from reStore and Tatchi and Dinesh) had breakfast and lunch on both days here.  The food is quite tasty and very filling (quite heavy). The only lack (I thought!) was that being a health food restaurant they could offer more vegetable-based dishes and at least good fresh salads which are at present not part of the menu. The women cook inside a small dark little kitchen area with an asbestos sheet on top and they are almost broiled themselves in the process!

The Processing and Packaging Unit
This is a really large structure with a metallic roof that rests on girders and appears like a space ship in the midst of this dry village landscape! They have a really large main internal space divided into three areas. One for packing and storage for which they use plastic covers for the millets and dals etc. For larger grain storage they have ready-made large synthetic drums in different bright colours. They are sealed with tape to make them air-tight.
They carry out:

    1. Groundnut Oil Processing
    2. Groundnut Processing (sorting, cleaning and quality checking)
    3. Millet (thinai) processing
    4. Toor dal processing
    5. Millets such as jowar and bajra are made into flour

Tatchi took us around the unit showing us the way groundnut oil is cold pressed using a machine that is an adaptation of the old-fashioned hand-turned method for expressing oil. We also saw the groundnut sorting unit which helps in sorting of nuts into three different sizes or quality. Dehusking is at present being done by hand, but it is not particularly efficient or cost-effective. Milling of bajra, jowar etc., is also done here using a modified regular flour mill. Ananthu tried his hand at the mill!

Meanwhile, in the outer courtyard area some of the village women were mixing in rich red earth into the toor dal—this was done in large containers and this stirring and soaking in the earth apparently helped to remove the outer husk. We saw also the women sitting around in a circle winnowing and dehusking the thinai—their beautiful rhythmic movements looked simple but they had in place a really efficient technique of removing the bits of husk from front, winnowing the left-over cleaner thinai again and again till it was really free of most of the husk.

After every such exercise where they took about 20 kg at a time, they take the lot out in the open and pour it out one corner of the muram from about shoulder height at just one particular angle. The breeze does the rest of the work; the softer husk gets blown away while the cleaned thinai seeds are left behind! You can see the photo of Sangeetha trying out this fascinatingly skilled task. This process gets repeated for every lot of thinai three times till it is indeed thoroughly cleaned and dehusked. Timbaktu Collective has specialized and fine-tuned this process so much so they are able to process large quantities of thinai by this traditional but labour-intensive method.

Once processing is done, these cleaned grains, flours, groundnuts etc., are placed in the large storage drums and sealed tight for later distribution to various places.

Discussions about millet storage
We had an extensive conversation with Tatchi regarding the methods of millet processing and storage adopted by Timbaktu. The soil around this area had been badly denuded due to monocropping, application of chemicals. For an acre of land they are able to harvest only 10 to 15 bags of groundnuts.

Tatchi explained to us about the initiative taken by the Women’s Federation in setting up the processing unit and also starting the organic movement among six villages with 120 farmers taking part. The farmers began forming sanghas or groups and now a total of about 415 farmers belong to the movement.

Certification Issues
The concern about certification was also discussed. Tatchi told us about the examples of Brazil, New Zealand and so forth which have begun the concept of a community-based certification system. There is an attempt to evolve an internationally accepted set of norms for certifying of organic produce. Third party certifying is not of much use—what is more important is working with trust regarding the honesty of the farmer. There have been cases of returned goods being found to contain pesticide residue even after certification. Regional councils can oversee the functioning of local farmer groups who would have together undertaken a pledge. The quality of produce thus becomes a collective responsibility.

Visit to a Farmer’s Meet
That evening Dinesh arranged a trip to a village about 35 km away where a farmer’s meet was to take place. These farmer groups around Timbaktu had converted to millet farming with the support and initiative of Timbaktu collective. The sanghas gathered together once in every month or so—these were community events which served as bonding and morale building opportunities for these poor farmers of the area; they discussed their problems and the staff of Timbaktu such as Dinesh spent much time offering encouragement and education regarding millet farming techniques, nutrition and health, lifestyle changes and so on and so forth.
This meeting went on for over three hours with the farmers also singing some of their traditional songs and spending time introducing themselves to us; similarly Dinesh asked each of us to talk about ourselves and about our involvement with reStore, our motivations for doing this work etc., since he felt it would be of moral support to them.
We went back to our guest cottages well past 10.30 p.m. at night by jeep. I could only think of the shyness of the village women, who attended the meeting, but who sat silently towards the back rows away from the men—the young girls seemed to be enjoying themselves and the little kids were grinning, but it was the faces of the weather-beaten old women, who sat upright and stoic that came to me in my dreams that night.