Saturday, 27 October 2012

"Mindful Marketing" : An Inclusive Approach for Small Holder Farmers


Recently I had an opportunity to visit Mysore in India. Mysore is the second largest city of Karnataka State and is about 120 kilometers from Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India. It is well known for its palaces, the famous ‘Dasara’ festival , silk sarees and unique style of painting. Not to forget the sweet delicacy ‘Mysore pak’.

Every year I conduct an advanced course on organic/biodynamic agriculture at BASIL Academy, Mysore (www.basilacademy.in) for the organizations and people who are already pursuing organic farming. The aim is to go beyond the traditional inputs like composts and bio-pesticides to more potent preparations and innovative approaches which can enhance the quality and quantity of the produce. I enjoy sharing the technical knowledge and practices  to falsifies the general perception on organic agriculture as low yielding farming system.

During the advanced course I could interact with three participants Mr. Hari, Mr. Giri and Mr. Murthy who were fully devoted to organic agriculture and wanted to do things differently in this sector. They were part of an organization ‘Nesara’ (meaning rising sun) which markets organic produce in Mysore. Infact, Nesara is a platform that links the small  organic farmers in an around Mysore to market their produce. Their concept of marketing is akin to ‘Mindful Marketing’.

Mindful Marketing

Mindfulness is an important concept which is core to the Buddhist philosophy. It’s a process of increasing awareness of oneself and the surroundings to induce the divine qualities of a human being. How can mindfulness be linked to marketing? We all know that marketing is all about making long lasting and positive connection with ones client or customer. On the other hand ‘Mindful marketing’ is a conscious effort to market a produce whereby the seller does not squeeze the producer on price of the commodity rather understands the difficulties involved in the production process and acts accordingly with compassion and cooperation. In other words the producer (here farmer) decides on the price of the commodity which is intended for sale unlike the market fixing the price of commodities. It is a unique concept which may not fit into the corporate agribusiness but is apt for the small holder farmers who faces lot of difficulties for market access.

Nesara- The Organic Outlet

Nesara’ adopts a similar strategy akin to ‘Mindful Marketing’. The first step Nesara undertakes is to create awareness amongst the small farmers around Mysore region who are interested to cultivate crops adopting organic agricultural practices. The interested farmers become members of Nesara with a nominal membership fees and use the outlet of Nesara for marketing their produce. The most important aspect is that the farmers fix the price for their produce depending on the cost of production plus a margin for a particular commodity. Nesara then markets the farmer’s products in their outlets. Another interesting factor is that, this marketing strategy is not driven by market forces rather farmers are free to produce in accordance to their choice, while the consumers had to plan their consumption accordingly. This is an excellent example for ‘food sovereignty’ wherein, farmers choose to produce the crops which is quite contradictory to the market driven production process.  

Nesara Sales Outlet

It was during 1996-97, a group of people comprising Mr. Chandrashekar, Mr. Ravi Kumar  initiated a movement on safe food and organic agriculture in Mysore. Initially it started with marketing the farm produce of Mr. Chandrashekar and few active participating farmers during weekly meetings and awareness campaigns. Due to the demand for vegetables and other farm products which are not commonly seen in the market like the native or neglected vegetables, fruits and millets, it was felt that marketing of these products should be carried out on a large scale by involving more number of small farmers. At the same time the growing demand for organic and local produce transformed Nesara into an organization to link the farmers and consumers. A gradual transition happened from a weekly activity of interaction and farm produce sales to a fully fledged outlet marketing products that are produced and processed by farmers. People from Mysore city throng the organic shop to stock their vegetables, fruits, spices and other products.
Minor Millets
Organic Vegetables











Membership & Organic Quality Assurance

Any farmer who wishes to utilise the Nesara platform has to become a member by paying one-time fees of Rupees 1000 (approximately USD 20). The perquisite is that the member farmer should be committed to cultivate crops by adopting organic agriculture practices. The farmers are inspected by the core members of Nesara by visiting the farmer’s field without any additional costs. This is to assure the consumers of the organic status of the produce i.e devoid of any agro-chemical residues. Since there are no certification costs and also middle-men involved in the supply chain the cost of organic produce is almost the same as the market price.

Diversity of products

Home Made Snacks

Oflate Nesara markets more than 400 products which includes fresh fruits, vegetables, oils, raw farm produce and value added products like medicinal formulations, handmade soaps, pickles etc.

Mr. Giri with  a variety of Health products
Future Plans
Plans are underway to introduce ‘food baskets’ which will be directly delivered to the door steps for interested consumers. This would help many consumers who are willing to go for healthy and organic food but may find it difficult to visit the outlet.  Shortly consumers would be able to place orders over phone, including dairy products, vegetables, fruits and the grocery which will be delivered at a reasonable cost.  

Mr. Hari, Mr. Giri and Mr. Murthy - The Team
Nesara had a rough ride initially; most of the problems faced during the early stages were more related to organizational restructuring and governance.  “It is the enthusiasm of the consumers which has kept us motivating and pushing to expand our activities and also to conduct several food exhibitions” says Mr. Giri, Secretary of Nesara. 

Let’s wish Nesara to grow leaps and bounds and help the small farmers through market access while providing safe food to the consumers of Mysore. At the same time Nesara like organizations that adopt ‘mindful marketing’ strategies need to mushroom in the developing world where majority of the farming community are small holder farmers.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Elatostema lineolatum (Dumroo) – A Wild Vegetable of Bhutan


Bhutan, a land of rich biodiversity is a home for a variety of wild plants that are used as food, fibre, fodder and medicine. Owing to the seasonal nature of these wild plants, one can see different species appearing and disappearing in the local markets through out the year. The native population relish the wild vegetables and is a part of the Bhutanese traditional cuisine.  During the winter months one of the most popular wild plants used as a vegetable soup is Elatostema lineolatum which is known as ‘Dumroo’ in the local language. ‘Dumroo’ belong to the family of stinging nettles (Urticaceae) but they don’t have any stinging properties. It is a medium sized herb about 30 centimetres height. The leaves are greyish to greenish colour and the stem is very succulent green and at times greyish brown colour.
Dumroo

A large native population in Bhutan live in remote hamlets in the mountains and have a very good knowledge of the biodiversity of their region. They have to trek for few days to reach their villages. While they are resting during the long treks, it is customary to have ‘Dumroo’ soup as it relives body pains and also these plants are easily available in the forests. They believe that Elatostema lineolatum has lot of medicinal properties and builds immunity. Probably it may be true as the stinging nettles are the rich source of iron and magnesium and in traditional systems of medicines they are recommended for anaemic patients. In the north eastern parts of India which share similar geographical conditions as Bhutan, Elatostema lineolatum is used as a medicine. The leaf paste is applied on the wound and the locals in Assam region of India say that it works like a miracle. There is a need for more detailed scientific studies to establish a link with the traditional knowledge. However, people in Bhutan enjoy the soup of ‘Dumroo’ and are not waiting for scientific research to prove and ratify its benefits.

Elatostema lineolatum starts appearing in the vegetable markets in Thimphu, capital of Bhutan through out the year. But it is in high demand from September to January months. They are sold in bunches and each bunch comprises of 40-50 plants. Each bunch is sold at 20 to 25 Ngultrums ( approximately 50 US cents). It’s amazing to see and learn the use of ecofriendly practices employed by the farmers who sell these wild plants. These ‘dumroo’ plants are made into bunches by tying with a local grass or a natural fibre like jute. Some farmers reuse the old polythene bags by cutting them into strips. The ingenuity of the native people in making the best use of the natural resources needs to be appreciated.
Vendor at the market

‘Dumroo’ is most popularly used as a soup in Bhutan. The leaves and the succulent stems are cut into small pieces and boiled in water for 5-10 minutes. A small quantity of butter or cheese and salt is added to the boiling water. Some even add chillies according to ones taste. The hot soup is served during meals and provides a great solace in winter as it warms up the body. It tastes slightly bitter which is relished by the Bhutanese. Some people believe that this soup is good for those who are recuperating from some health ailments.

While in the eastern parts of Bhutan ‘Dumroo’ is cooked along with rice. The method of preparation is very simple. The ingredients are,
i.              one bunch of  chopped Dumroo plants
ii.            one bowl of rice (200 grams)
iii.           turnip/ radish (50 grams)
iv.           salt 1 teaspoon

The rice is put in a rice cooker with 450-500 ml of water. Chopped ‘dumroo’ plants, turnip/radish and one teaspoon of salt are added and the rice is cooked. It is considered to be good for health. Some farmers say that during the shortage of rice, to add up the bulk this method is employed. Isn’t it a wonderful adaptation strategy for survival during tough times with the knowledge of biodiversity? 

I have tried to use Dumroo as a vegetable fry and it tastes very good. You can try this method and it goes well with most of the green leafy vegetables. Wash the bunch of ‘dumroo’ thoroughly in clean running water. Cut them into pieces of size 3-4 cms length. Heat some vegetable oil in a pan and put one or two chopped onions, two flakes of crushed garlic, 2-3 tomatoes and chillies according to taste. Fry this mixture till the onions and garlic turn golden brown. Now add the chopped ‘dumroo’ and fry for about 10 min till it is properly cooked. Add salt according to taste and serve hot. If you don’t relish the bitter taste, add 2-3 tablespoons of balsam vinegar or tamarind paste. It goes well with bread, rice and also can be topped on pizza.

 The traditional knowledge of biodiversity is very helpful in reducing the pressure on food production. Woefully, research and policies are attuned to the main crops like wheat, rice, potatoes and maize while a large number of traditional crops which were the main sources of livelihood of the rural population world over are forgotten. There is a need to educate the research organizations, policy makers and masses on traditional wisdom of living in harmony with nature and sustainable use of natural resources. With the ongoing climate change impacts on food production, the traditional knowledge on biodiversity and food are ‘climate smart’ approaches to combat hunger and suffering.

Next time when you are in Bhutan during winter don’t miss ‘Dumroo’.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Bitter Tomato : A Potential Underutilized Crop




Bitter Tomato: Sweet Facts

Let me share an interesting neglected and underutilized plant species (NUS) which has a great potential as a neutraceutical with tremendous health benefits. In the present changing climate scenario there is a need to cultivate these NUS to address the food and nutritional security. 

Solanum incanum or Bitter Tomato is one of the common underutilized vegetable found in the markets of Bhutan. Locally it is called as ‘Bi’ sounding more like alphabet ‘B’ in English language. Belonging to family of potatoes, tomatoes and chillies, a native of Northern and north eastern Africa, it is found in Bhutan, Nepal and north eastern states of India.
Bitter tomato

In Bhutan ‘Bi’ is cultivated in elevations ranging from 1000 to 1200 Metres above sea level (msl). However the temperate regions are not suitable for cultivation of this crop. The plant looks more or less similar to Brinjal or egg plant or aubergine (Solanum melongena). However the fruits do not resemble brinjal, they are more spherical in shape and green to pale yellow in colour. The fruits can grow upto a size of 6 centimetre in diameter. Unlike brinjal, ‘Bi” tastes slightly bitter. The cross section of the fruits looks a lot like tomato which probably may be the reason to call this vegetable as ‘bitter tomato’. The seeds are similar to the tomato seeds and for an amateur it would be very difficult to distinguish them.
Slice of bitter tomato


Cropping of bitter tomato is similar to brinjal beginning with early monsoons. The seeds are sown like brinjal in a nursery during the month of May and transplanted to the main field in June. The land is prepared in a traditional way by ploughing with bullocks. The local breeds of cattle like ‘Nublong’ are versatile draft animals in farming because the tractors and agricultural machineries cannot reach most of the remote villages.  Farmers still adopt the time tested good agronomic practices of applying farm yard manure and well decomposed forest leaf litter to maintain the humus of soil. Much of farming in Bhutan is organic by default; hence the soil is rich in organic matter.

In the main field the young ‘Bi’ seedlings are planted at a spacing of 45-60 centimetres. Since the cropping season coincides with the rainy season there is no special effort put forward by the farmers to irrigate the crop. During monsoons weeds grow very fast which starts competing with the main crop. Farmers resort to hand weeding at least 2-3 times during the cropping season. The uprooted weeds are either mulched or fed to the cattle as fodder which is a traditional ingenuity of utilizing a waste as a resource. 

The crop starts bearing fruits from late July and continues till early December. Unlike other nutrient guzzling vegetables “Bi” is a trouble-free crop to cultivate as it does not require much care. The initial application of   farm yard manure (FYM) and leaf litter during the land preparation takes care of the crop nutrient requirements. Moreover bitter tomato is resistant to the pests and diseases. The bitterness in the fruit probably may be hindering the pests to feed on the crop which is a boon for the farmer. Some innovative farmers intercrop ‘Bi” with brinjal and other crops to repel the pests.

Bitter tomato in Bhutan is generally fried in oil with potato and spiced up with chillies, garlic and onion. Some people even cook with other vegetables like potatoes and cauliflower and make into a stew or curry. While boiling ‘Bi’ it exudes thick gelatinous substance which improves the consistency of the broth. Interestingly in the West African region bitter tomato is used as a thickener for the soups and stews instead of adding artificial thickening agents.

The traditional knowledge on bitter tomato is not well-known by the natives. Many in Bhutan believe that ‘Bi’ helps in improving the rejuvenation of blood and a popular belief exists that atleast once in a year it needs to be consumed for good health. Also people believe that women after delivering the child needs to be fed with bitter tomato to regain her lost energies and also to purify blood.
  
However, scientific studies reveal that bitter tomato is used for skin problems and is anti-microbial in nature. The curative properties are attributed to the presence of solanine and glycol alkaloids.

In the vegetable markets of Thimphu in Bhutan ‘Bi’ is sold at USD 1 -2 per kilogram. A very profitable crop to the farmers as it requires less effort and resources. To a large extent Bhutanese relish vegetables that are slightly bitter in taste. Since the cultivation of bitter tomato is restricted to the warmer regions of Bhutan like Tsirang, Punaka, Wangdi, Samtsi, natives of these areas are well acquainted with “Bi” unlike their mountain counterparts who are not familiar as it is not cultivated in the higher altitudes.


Cultivation of bitter tomato and other native crops helps to diversify the cropping system which has its direct impact on nutrition and health. In addition, it an important sustainable approach for insitu conservation of neglected crops and rediscovering the traditional wisdom of living in harmony with nature.




Tuesday, 10 July 2012

High Yielding Organic Farming Systems


Organic agriculture can be a high yielding farming system when a scientific approach is adopted whereby the natural resources are efficiently utilized by appropriate technologies. By merely substituting the NPK with bio-inputs will not result in high yields, rather would add on to the cost of production. To a large extent farmers are being advised to replace Urea or Nitrogenous fertilizers with compost or biofertilizers and other inputs available in the market. This type of substitution farming does not work and largely results in yield reduction rather than enhancing the yields.

Like the human body, farm is also a system or an organism which means, many factors contribute to the quality and quantity of the produce a plant can provide.  It starts with seeds. I have seen through my experience that “Seed is the function of yield”. When good seeds are used, crops yields high naturally. Farmers should not be dependent on the seeds; there are simple methods to produce open pollinated or heirloom seeds having the desired traits which have been perpetuated for generations. Such open pollinated or heirloom or traditional seeds serve as insurance during adverse climatic condition and also reduces the cost of production.

Seeds are not just planting materials. They are the signatures of the rich biodiversity, manifesting traditions, culture and heritage. It links to the gastronomy and the culinary culture of our ancestors. For me seeds are more like ‘living fossils’. It’s sad that the farmers are losing the tradition of seed conservation and sharing. It is quite evident when we visit the market often find one variety of vegetables;it can be juiceless tomatoes or tasteless cucumbers and many unpalatable veggies. It is because of monoculture of one variety of tomato or cucumbers or a particular crop by using hybrid seeds. Hybrid seeds have destroyed the genetic diversity. Such practices have direct impact unfortunately on the culinary traditions. Many traditional food preparations are vanishing quickly along with the seeds. Thanks to some organizations like ‘Slow Food” and NGO’s who are constantly emphasising on the importance of gastronomy on human health, welfare and ecology.

Prophets of Doom:
 On the other hand the picture of present farming and food is quite gloomy. One needs to be very careful of the food one is consuming. The souce of food, how it is produced and processed, need to be understood. A variety of synthetic chemicals are used to enhance the physical appearance of food to give a 'cosmetic touch'. At the same time there is a big lobby of organizations who are the staunch supporters of technologies that support hybrid seeds, synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides and GMO’s. For them the “Modern Agriculture” which uses the concoctions of toxic chemicals is the saviour of humankind.  Media, research organizations and some development agencies also join their bandwagon. The most common argument is that organic farming systems are low-yielding and may be a threat to the food security. They would also question, How to feed the growing population and address malnutrition? It’s interesting to see how tactfully these organizations package the problems of agriculture to market their programs, projects and products.

The purpose of my blog is to create awareness and confidence amongst the organizations and farmers who are adopting organic farming practices that, there are innumerable examples across the world which proves that sustainable farming approaches is the solution to the problems of the world concerning food and nutrition. With some basic training on low-cost organic technologies farmers can increase their yields.  Let me share some examples from my activities in Costa Rica.

Miguel and his son
During 2010, I organized few workshops in Costa Rica on an invitation from INTA (National Institute for Technology transfer in Agriculture), Ministry of Agriculture, Government of Costa Rica. The coordinator of INTA Ms. Laura Ramirez and their consultant Mr.Leonardo are keen to promote these technologies to the farmers and farmers organizations in Costa Rica. Many farmers benefitted from my workshops and the subsequent follow-up programs by INTA.

The farmer whom I have chosen for this blog is Mr. Miguel Navarro and his wife Ms. Sandra, a family with two young children. They have a small farm about 4 hectares wherein they have dairy cows, piggery, poultry and grow a variety of vegetables. It’s interesting to visit their farm which is a research laboratory by itself. There is nothing called as wastes, every plant residues and animal wastes are recycled back to the soil by adopting low-cost organic agriculture technologies.

Biogas unit
The animal dung is pumped into a biogas plant for generation of energy which is used for cooking. The slurry which is generated during the process is composted by adopting the composting method which was taught in my workshops. They call it “Tim Compost” and with humour also refer it as Tim’s Tomb ('Tomba Tim' in Spanish).Looks like the Costa Rican farmers (tico’s !) have already buried me alive in their farms !!
Tim Compost














Tim compost doesn’t require turning unlike other composting methods. It is based on the principle “fill it, shut it and forget it . Farmers find it as a more convenient method to adopt, as it doesn’t require additional labour for regular turning and maintenance. Moreover there are no nutrient losses from the compost heap. Compost is used for cultivating a variety of vegetables which are being consumed by the family and also marketed in the local market.



Miguel's farm
Similarly the cattle urine, weeds in the farm which the farmers usually don’t use, Miguel uses them to make a variety of growth promoters, bio-pesticides which help to increase the yield of crops and manage the pests and diseases. I am happy that my workshops have made them to understand the importance of cattle urine and its usage in agriculture.

Biodiverse farming system
Polyhouse
Miguel also has a polyhouse wherein he cultivates different high value vegetables which are to a large extent ‘cash crops’.Polyculture or cultivation of crops in polyhouse is very important in areas which have extreme weather conditions like excess rainfall or severe winter wherein crops cannot be cultivated. Local materials like bamboo or wood can be used for making polyhouses.
Mrs. Neilly

The other example is Mrs. Neilly from Altimira in Costa Rica who has a coffee farm. She grows vegetables for her home consumption and her husband Mr. Oliver is an avid coffee farmer. I was astonished to see the big sized juicy tomatoes which were weighing about 500 grams each. She says that she harvests about 30 kilograms of tomatoes from each plant. She applies vermicompost (compost prepared by using earth worms) and nothing else. The seeds are the local seeds which she can produce and use for next crop.


Likewise there are many successful examples world over on the high yielding organic farming systems which are resource conserving and climate smart approaches. Farmers can follow the basic concepts of Biodynamic agriculture, Natural Farming, Permaculture or even traditional agriculture systems. The common thread that ties these farming systems is understanding the multifunctional roles of the ecosystem. Agriculture from a holistic view, not only produces food but also provides a sequel of environmental services. 


In the days to come "Family Agriculture" would play a very important role. Food can be produced in every house.Those who have access to land or not they can cultivate crops. People who are staying in the urban areas can also grow food in pots and artificial media. I will try to share simple techniques of food production in my future blogs. Till then eat safe food and be consious of your food choices.



Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Climate Smart Women Farmer of Costa Rica



During my recent visit to Costa Rica on an invitation from Fundecooperacion, Asociacion Coordinadora lndigena y Campesina de Agroforesteria Comunitaria Centroamericana (ACICAFOC) and the National Institute for Innovation and Transfer of Agricultural Technology (INTA), Ministry of Agriculture, Costa Rica, I had an opportunity to meet organic farmers again.
Maria Luica, climate smart farmer

During 2010 I conducted few workshops on low-cost sustainable agriculture utilizing the local resources. The aim was to transform farming into a profitable venture by reducing the dependence on the external farm inputs like seeds, manures and pesticides without compromising on quantity and quality of the produce per unit area of farm land.

Organic agriculture to a large extent has become substitution farming. Prior to turning organic, farmers were fully dependant on hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other agro-chemicals. After turning to organic the dependence has not stopped, rather than chemicals the farmers are now dependent on organic composts, bio-pesticides and a series of products that are marketed for organic farming. At times I wonder is it Organic Agriculture in its true spirit? Woefully it doesn’t fit into the concept and philosophy of organic or sustainable agriculture. Farming needs to be sustainable and farmers also need to be sustainable.

By efficiently utilizing the natural resources farming and farmers can be sustainable. Organic farming is a “knowledge intensive system” and not input intensive. Understanding different approaches to address the seed, nutrition and pest/disease problems in agriculture is key to sustainability.

Ms. Maria Luisa and many women farmers from Costa Rica attended my workshop on low-cost agriculture in 2010 organized by INTA. Practical hands on training on various low-cost approaches helped the farmers to understand the resources which were considered as wastes. These smart farmers used their ingenuity and innovation to adapt these low-cost technologies to suit their conditions. 

Organic Nursery
Maria and Organic tomatoes












Maria use to follow hydroponics to cultivate vegetables. Hydroponics is a technique wherein in the plants are grown on an artificial media or coir pith and nutrition is provided in a solution form. The commercially available preparations are purchased by the farmers and are made into a solution and sprayed regularly. Though it is an efficient system but quite expensive as the farmers have to regularly purchase these solutions and not sustainable. At times it is unable to address the trace element deficiency symptoms observed in plants.



Shift from Hydroponics to Organoponics:

After learning the different preparations of utilizing the natural resources, Maria uses the fermented plant extracts from different plants which are grown as weeds and sprays her crops. By this technique she is efficiently utilizing the weeds but also reducing the cost of production by being least dependant on the purchased inputs.

She grows coriander, celery, cucumber, cauliflower and other vegetables which are not common in the Guapiles region of Costa Rica.

 Following is a comparison of cucumber plants  under organoponic system in a polyhouse 2 weeks after transplanting and in field conditions (control). In two weeks the tender cucumbers started appearing in organoponic system while in the field the plant was still in the initial flowering stage. The organic cucumbers were very juicy, filled with flavour and tastier.
Cucumber plants 2 weeks after transplanting in organoponic system

Cucumber plants 2 weeks after transplanting in field (Control)

















Juicy Organic Cucumbers
Maria and her husband Gerardo regularly make compost which is popularly called as Tims compost or Tims tomb (I am referred as Tim in short and farmers in Costa Rica call the compost by my name !). Tims Compost technique is very popular in Costa Rica as it does not require turning and regular maintenance like other composting methods. All the available biomass comprising of crop residues, animal wastes, weeds and leaf litter etc are used in composting. Compost is used for vegetables and other crops.

Tim's Compost
Maria has been an innovative farmer and a leader in promoting climate smart agriculture technologies. She doesn’t keep the knowledge for herself rather she organizes regular meetings with the farmers of the region and trains then in low-cost organic agriculture techniques. Many farmers are her ardent students and follow these simple practices at their respective farms.
Maria and her husband Gerardo with the Award

In recognition of the great work of Maria Luisa she was awarded ‘Medalla al Merito Agricola (Medal of Merit for Agriculture) by the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of Costa Rica in 2011. Thanks to the Government of Costa Rica for supporting and recognising organic agriculture and rewarding the innovative farmers of their country. 

This is an example for many farmers and governments across the globe to emulate and replicate in their regions.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Use of Lunar Planting Calendar in Agriculture: Climate Smart Approach


Since civilization farmers, healers and craftsmen have meticulously observed the influence of sun, moon and planets on plants, animals and humans.  Agriculture was greatly influenced by the lunar rhythms. Farming operations like tilling land, planting, harvesting and wild collection were based on the lunar influences.

The science of Astrology and Astronomy was well known in the Indian subcontinent few thousand years ago much before the subject was understood in the Western world.  In addition to the influence of planets and zodiac, Indian Astrology used star and star galaxies to understand the moon phases with intricate details.

Like Indians, Romans were also intrigued by the cosmic rhythms. Pliny (23-79 AD), a renowned naturalist and author of Naturalis Historia, a comprehensive study of natural history advised Roman farmers to harvest fruits for the market during full moon as it would weigh more and for self consumption on a new moon day as it would have better storability. The timber trees were cut on a new moon day. During that period a Royal order was also passed to harvest timber only during the waning phase of the moon.

Similarly the traditional medical practices of Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, Sidha etc. medicinal plants are harvested only at specific time of the day or month. Such practices are known to exist in different cultures across the globe from mountainous habitats to islands and deserts to dense rain forests.

Even in Bhutan, Astrology plays a very important role in the life of Bhutanese. They believe that planets and zodiac have their effect on plants and humans. The local newspapers have a section for astrology (‘zakar’) listing days that are auspicious for important activity like constructing a house, marriage, shifting houses, starting business, undertaking long journey etc. Farmers adopting traditional farming follow the lunar rhythms in their farming activities.

The rich traditional knowledge passed down to the succeeding generations have contemplated the life patterns of all living organisms woven into the cosmic rhythms. Moon has its influence on the ocean tides, groundwater table and the movement of fluids in plants.

Several studies have shown the changes in the photochemistry of plants due to variations in seasons, harvesting period and circadian effect. It is quite interesting to note the research studies on the effect of tides on swelling and shrinking of trees. Renowned physicist and Nobel laureate Gerard Dorda used the concept of Quantum-Hall-Effect (QHE) to compute the effects of gravity from the moon on the water in living organisms. It was found that a regular, reversible, rhythmic pattern of water in cells and the variation in the pattern was maximum during the new moon.

Investigations by Z├╝rcher reported the rhythmic variations in a tree species Maesopsis eminii (Rhamnaceae) in accordance to the moon phases. He found significant differences in the seed germination rates when seeds were sown during full moon and new moon. The study also revealed that the speed of germination, rate of germination, and average height and growth rate of seedlings showed better results and larger seedlings if the seeds were sown before the full moon. (Zurcher E.2000. Lunar related traditions in forestry and phenomena in tree biology. J Forestier Suisse.151(11):417–424)

Several fishes and insects synchronise their egg laying period during full moon. Many wild animals give birth to their young ones on a full moon day. These cannot be mere coincidences. It’s a fact wherein one can see the effect of cosmic influence but unable to comprehend with a scientific logic. The present scientific world may not accept the fact regarding the influence of the cosmic rhythms and the constellations on the life forms. However, human life, as well as animal and plant life, is strongly dependent on the rhythms of the earth and cosmos. The plant and animal life is instantly influenced by the sidereal and synodic relationships of the sun, earth, moon and other planets.

Understanding the effects of cosmos, and timing the farming operations is a zero-cost input for the farmers. It can immensely contribute to the increase of quantity and quality of the produce and reduce the pest attack by tuning farming to the rhythms of nature. This is a clear indication to develop standard operating procedures for crop production and harvesting and benefit from the influence of cosmos at no cost.

Farmers and researchers should experiment with the farming calendar and document the veracity of the traditional practices. Had these practices not showing results probably it would have vanished long ago. Traditional knowledge is not about turning the clock back. Rather it’s a set of practices and knowledge systems that have been replicated for millennia, which exactly fits into the definition of scientific experimentation. There is a need to blend the ancient wisdom with modern science.
  
The planting calendar for 2012 is prepared on the basis of such influences which are widely used by the biodynamic farmers across the globe. This calendar is specific to Bhutan which is + 06.00hrs GMT and can be tailor made to suit the different geographical locations.

How to use the Lunar farming Calendar?
Following are the general guidelines for the use of farming calendar.

i) Moon opposite to Saturn
It occurs approximately once in 29.5 days.
Activities to be undertaken
1. Seed sowing, transplanting, grafting, pruning and layering.
2. Spraying BD501 (Cow horn silica) or bio-pesticides to manage pests.
3. Spraying liquid manures and foliar sprays.

ii) Full moon
This occurs every 29.5 days
Activities to be under taken
1. Sow seeds two days before sowing
2. Apply liquid manures and CPP (Cow Pat Pit) manure
3. Spraying bio pesticides to control pest and disease.
4. Drench the animals for internal parasites (48 hours before)

iii) New moon
This happens once in 27.5days
Activities to be carried out
1. Avoid sowing seeds
2. Cutting timber

iv) Ascending periods
The moon moving in an arc from east to west and when this arc gets higher everyday, the Moon is ascending
Activities to be undertaken
1. Sowing of crops
2. Spray BD501or pest management practices
3. Spray liquid manures and CPP

v) Descending periods
The moon moving in arc from East to West and this arc gets lower everyday, the Moon is said to be in descending phase.

Activities to be carried out
1. Transplanting of seedlings.
2. Spraying BD500 (Cow horn manure)
3. Making and spreading compost or manures
4. Pruning trees.
5. Land preparation activities.

vi) Nodes
These are the days when moon pass the sun’s path. It creates negative influences on the growth of plants.

Avoid all agricultural activities during nodes.

vii) Apogee
Moon orbits around the Earth in an elliptic path. The point where the moon is far away to earth is called Apogee.
Activities to be undertaken
1. Planting potatoes
2. Irrigating the field

viii) Perigee
Moon moves around the earth in an elliptical path. The point where the moon is closest to earth is called as perigee.
Activities to be undertaken
1. Spray bio-pesticides to manage pest and disease

ix) Seed and Fruit days
These days influence the growth of seed and fruit crops and good for sowing and harvesting for the same.
e.g. Paddy, wheat, brinjal, ladyfinger, tomato

x) Root days
These days influence growth and development of root crops and good for sowing and harvesting for the same.
e.g. .Potato, carrot, beet root

xi) Flower day
These days influence on growth and development of flowers and good for sowing and harvesting for the same.
e.g. Cut flowers, cauliflower, rose, jasmine

xii) Leaf days
These days help in the growth and development of leafy vegetables and good for sowing and for harvesting.
e.g. Green leaves, cabbage
     


...................Happy Farming...............