Our summer holidays were spent at our village in the Konkan. Homes brimming with families returning and kids coming together to play hide n seek in large mansions.
Over the years, these homes started resembling empty caves. As families grew, landholdings reduced and growing mangoes became less remunerative. The price of chemicals to fight pests added to the expenses, reducing profits. The dependency on a single seasonal crop didn’t help their financial situation.
Fresh from my newly acquired knowledge of a PDC, my inquisitiveness to find why multiple cropping wasn’t practiced, threw up an interesting insight. Apparently stealing mangoes can get you arrested but this doesn’t apply to other crops (Not sure if this is a law or an urban, I mean rural legend). Locals who fancied certain crops would without permission walk into an orchard and help themselves, in the process damaging surrounding plants, the gate or boundary.
Taking action was futile. Eventually owners began wiping off any diversity and converted their lands to mango orchards. With the loss of diversity, came pests, the deterioration of soil and depletion of ground water. The heavy use of chemicals, especially in the 80s – 90s began taking its toll on the mango trees and the soil was dying.
Considering an average mango plant takes 10-15 years to provide a yield, we couldn’t afford to lose trees. Discussions introduced us to simple solutions like mulching, companion planting and chop and drop. With over 700 trees, fallen leaves and dung from wandering cows became a ready source of material for compost piles. Renewing and revitalizing soil became a mission, from the orchards to my window garden.
Back in the city, the barista at my office complex coffee shop became my new best friend. Ground coffee beans, otherwise ending up as waste, made great compost additions and feeders for flowers. Every few days, I’d receive a call from him – ‘sir maal tayaar hai’ and I’d be off to collect a silver bag of grounds.
10 years later, I now see changes. Once barren red earth, now shows luscious shades of green, with layers of fresh new soil, thick earthworms, a variety of fruits and flowers, but also the ground holding water instead of streams washing away soil.
What was once dying, is now coming back alive.
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