Health
 India
Project #6938

RID POVERTY & HUNGER IN 50 INDIAN TRIBAL VILLAGES

by The Earth Trust
Vetted
Nimmi Networking
Nimmi Networking

Report - October 2016-December 2016

The year has whizzed past. Varuna the rain God passed us by. The monsoon has played hooky yet again. The one good thing about the situation is that farmers are gaining awareness of the need to store rain –water, to create percolation pits on their lands. The Government is giving subsidies on drip irrigation systems. We have urged all our farmers in the co-operative –BioGain- to avail these subsidies. We facilitate these activities.

Finding that Awareness programmes conducted for farmers in groups were not very productive in terms of ‘conversions’, Nimmi our Project Director changed tactics to a one-on-one basis preceded by word of mouth follow-ups. This resulted in over 25 farmers converting from Inorganic to Organic methods of farming over the last 4 months. Each day brings in a new enquiry. This may sound like a small figure and we may be tilting at windmills, but nevertheless a movement that was started ten years ago by our founder Ms Vanya Orr is finally taking off. ‘Siru thuli, peru vellam’- a Tamil saying that translates to –‘small droplet, big floods’. The total areal extent of the Nilgirs district is around 2551 km2, out of which 20% is cultivated, dominated by tea. 

Mondays and Thursdays are ‘market days’ at our shop-ET organics. Eddy – a Volunteer for ET and an ex-Cisco employee in a senior position set protocols for grading and quality control of vegetables. Just the bustle of farmers bringing fresh produce, telephones ringing non-stop to take orders, the trio of Indu, Shanthi and Jaya all sorting weighing and billing, regular walk –in customers who generally turn into friends and co-opted volunteers when there is too much to handle--- it warms the cockles of one’s heart to see all the activity, the shining vegetables and fruits and even more happy staff. It all becomes one huge family affair. We have nearly 50 farmers now who are members of Biogain—thanks to the hard work put in by Nimmi and her staff. Nimmi, working towards  her aim to make ET completely self-sustaining has gone around Organic farms in a radius of 20kms around the Annur, Avinashi and Sathyamangalam areas over the last three months, to study best practices, to source non-Nilgiri produce and oils for our shop.

Preserves like jams, pickles, chutneys and peanut butter are part of the ET Organics palette now. Parleys are going on with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, The Horticultural Research Station in Ooty to bring in small tea/coffee growers under the Organic/ET umbrella. This has been going on for the last two months. Ganesh our Research worker- an academician by bent has been thrown headlong into the melee of Organic versus Chemical agriculture, farmers haggling over the prices is seeing the whole thrust of Earth Trust activity from the ground upwards. He is a local- a Badaga and is normaly found in front of his computer in the office –‘far from the madding crowd’. Madam –he says with awe in his voice- “I am learning so much every day”. He has a PhD in Environmental technology; his area of expertise is effluent treatment in leather technology and has worked in France. He has dealt with pollution of a different kind. His disciplined approached to data and reports comes in handy for the staff who are heaving a sigh of relief at his ability to translate all their reports and stories  into cogent reading and which in turn is sent to his seniors. We pay him a pittance but he is content. ET must be doing something right to attract such talent. We get nearly 3 tonnes of vegetables and produce per week. All this hectic activity happens in a space of 750 sq ft!! 

Infrastructure work is poised to take off in the Holabettu Resource farm with the support of The Hans Foundation Delhi. Poly tunnels, rain-water harvesting tanks, solar pumps, not to mention toilets for the workers are on the card. Our boys cleaned the spring and the small revetment around it. They found a lot of crabs and promptly made soup and drank it apparently!! Every single vegetarian cell of this writer winced in protest.  Kadavule—(OMG in Tamil). But the realization hit immediately—our waters support life!!--- a huge achievement in the backdrop of the tons and tons of chemicals being leached into the soil, waters and streams of the Nilgiris courtesy the Chemical based tea industry and vegetable growers. We have fortunately a Reserve Forest above our Farm. As the year comes to a close, we wish all of you at GG and all our supporters Season’s Greetings and a Healthy poison- free 2017.

rain water harvesting tank
rain water harvesting tank
Raven
Raven's nest farm,Kerkombai

JULY2016-SEPTEMBER 2016

The Monsoons have been erratic. Our Farming team is hard pressed to proffer solutions to farmers dependant on the rains. However, the number of farmers who have expressed a desire to join Biogain our farmers co-operative has gone up. Earth Trust facilitates the functioning of Biogain. Biogain accepts those interested farmers as members who regularly follow ET protocols for Organic/natural farming. They meet regularly. ET facilitates these meetings. The farmers decide the price of a particular vegetable or fruit or other produce after collecting data from various agencies like the open market, Uzhavar Sandhais ( State sponsored farmers’ markets) and other similar agencies. The price is then frozen for a minimum of 3 months. These decisions are taken solely by the farmers. A premium is fixed for their produce being organic, again fixed by the farmers. ET Organics (ETO) buys their produce and markets it. Payment is made on a weekly basis and the money goes directly into the farmer’s bank account. Thus the farmer not only gets a fair price but is assured of regular payment.ETO profits are ploughed back into Earth Trust. It is an effort by Earth Trust to become self-sustaining in the long run.

Providence College for women Coonoor, celebrated its Golden Jubilee (July 28th) by distributing 50 seedlings per tray per farmer and to anyone else interested. The programme was inaugurated on the platform of Coonoor railway station. The plants were being taken to Ooty by the Nilgiri Mountain Railway train. At every stop in between, farmers, house wives, students thronged the stations to receive vegetable seedlings/fruit trees saplings. It was a gala event. The Nilgiri Mountain railway has been declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco. It is the only rack and pinion driven train in the world. It travels at a dignified speed of 10 kilometres per hour!! Nimmi - our Project Director was requested by the College to address the gathering of school and college students at Coonoor railway station. She gave a rousing speech saying that what the Nilgiris need is 100 more NGOs like Earth Trust!! Our farmers were there at every stop-5 of them, to receive plants.

August saw an increase in enrollment in Biogain. Some our farmers are quite a distance away. Raven’s nest farm at Kerkombai – is 38 kilometres away- a distance of 76 kms up and down from the office. But our Farming team is almost evangelical in its determination to detoxify the soil. So distances do not matter-every cent of land made chemical free is a step towards a Healthy Environment.

We ushered in September with unexpected Bandhs- a shutting down of all activity. This was because of the dispute between the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka over the sharing of waters of the river Cauvery. More and more rain-water harvesting systems are being factored in our appeals for helping the small-holding farmer. Our marketing routines went haywire as busses and lorries were prevented from crossing over from one state to another. Dealing with produce unexpectedly not sent, had the ETO team on its toes. Value addition is the answer for such crises in the future. It is proposal writing time—trying to get information from our busy teams is like juggling with both hands as they are very busy with their respective programmes. The bigger Trusts and Funding organizations call for submissions, to be ready for disbursal from the next financial year- April 2017.The farming team is in a flurry co-ordinating with farmers regarding crop planning. We do this working backwards from the buyers’ requirements.  We cannot miss this window of the planting cycle. The harvest will be ready before the cold sets in. We go up to -1 to -2 degrees in peak winter sometimes during end December to mid January. Many big buyers are headed our way because of the trust the ET stamp engenders. We signed our first MoU with one of them from Kerala. We are in no rush to do this with others, as, we as a team, need to have a philosophical discussion on the pros and cons of being beguiled by commercial compulsions. It needs to be tempered by wisdom and our big picture vision.

Our Income Generation Programmes and Health programmes run for women are chugging along in tandem. They are being conducted at Kallakorai and Ottimara Hosahatty. These neighbouring villages are about 17 kilometres from the office.Our team members have to change two buses at times to reach there. But as always, the enthusiastic greetings from the participants make it worthwhile. Every time a programme is inaugurated or a valedictory function is held, we the Trustees or guests always groan at the thought of all the food that the village women serve. Their idea of hospitality translates into stuffing us all up to the gills. Nimmi our Project Director has started making a small dent in the menu. She was a practicing nutritionist with 30 years experience before she joined Earth Trust. Instead of sickly sweet milky tea, we are served herbal concoctions. We hope to be able to persuade them to serve millets instead of rice. It is such a pity that rice has become such a staple part of their diet. They traditionally ate a lot of Ragi- finger millet. Rafeeq our general factotum cum driver cum Health team member went for an advance course in Varma Kalai—an ancient South Indian healing system called ”art of vital points”. It evolved from martial arts training. The Gurus are Asaans –like the Japanese Sensei.

The Eco club programmes are carrying on as usual. We have had to deal with schools being closed due to the Bandhs.

Jogi- a foundation stone of The Earth Trust and part of the Biodynamic farming team has an aneurism in his brain. He has been part of Earth Trust since inception. We send this report with sadness in our collective hearts, but also with a prayer on a wing.  

Ramvel Gardens Farm
Ramvel Gardens Farm
Yoga under  gaze of an elder, machines to be used
Yoga under gaze of an elder, machines to be used

 

There was a time when it would rain 6 months in a year in the Nilgiris.  There was a time when the South west monsoon would set in on June 1st, regular as clock-work. No more. This year, the monsoon has still not set in. On our resource farm, there is a spring and by careful conservation Jaikumar our farm manager and Jayalakshmi our manager in charge of medicinal plants and herbs are keeping things going. Our farming thrust is taking off---- Nimmi our project director is going full steam ahead with sussing the market, creating niche markets for baby carrots and peppinos in nearby Bangalore. Thirty new farmers have joined us-- meaning that they have started the transition from inorganic to organic agricultural practices. Our Farming team is run off its feet--- mentoring, monitoring and travelling long distances to remote areas. Kookal Thurai is a farming belt near Kotagiri- a big town in the hills. It is an aggressively chemicaly- driven vegetable growing area. The first farmer from there has approached us for guidance. This is a significant event for Earth Trust. We hope it becomes the thin edge of the Organic wedge there. A group of farmers from Erode, a town in the plains 270 km away, visited us. They were part of a co-operative called ‘Uyir’---Life.

On the Health Programme front, Mala and Meera our health workers are busty at Melkowatty village. Around 20 women attend both the Income Generation programme training and the health Programme. The basic course having been covered, they are running the Advance Course which includes teaching massaging techniques and preparation of medicinal oils based on traditional recipes with value addition. The 3 month course teaching the women to knit, sew and other soft skills is over. We are having a base-survey done to facilitate a one-day health check-up camp. This is being organised by Earth Trust in association with a teaching hospital in Coimbatore.

We celebrated World Yoga Day in the Government school at Odaikadu on 21st June-the Summer Solstice. The total strength is around 68 children. The Middle-school, 6th to 8th standards has around 20 children. They participated in the celebrations. The Head-master and senior teachers could not match the children’s effortless bending and stretching!!These children are from the lowest economic strata.

Our shop- Earth Trust Organics is picking up and at 11 in the morning on our market days- Mondays and Thursday, there is frenzied activity—farmers bring in their produce, customers dropping in, consignments being packed and sent to our buyers in Chennai Calicut, Bangalore and sometimes even as far away as Mumbai.

We sign off for now. As soon as the photographs come in, we will send them.

Report for the Period November 2015 to March 2016 

This is the time of the year, mid- November to mid –February that the Badaga villages in the Nilgiri Mountains of South India host “Hubbas” – festivals. They celebrate their ‘Hethai’, - grandmother / Tribal ancestress who has seamlessly morphed into the Divine Feminine. The festivities are held in different villages at different times. In India, many of our gods and goddesses are comfortably anthropomorphic as well!

All this translates to staff taking leave and schedules going haywire. Nimmi our Project Director is generally in a tizzy trying to juggle people and timings around.

 

Changing climate is a reality, not just a buzz-phrase to include

For as long as the older folk in the villages remember, forest fires came and the grass lands underwent burning. Pastoralists point out that fire was an integral part of grassland regeneration. But for the last seventy-eighty years, the fires have been man-made. Over the last quarter of century, there seems to be a periodicity of three years between occurrences. The last one was in 2015 and the next one could be anticipated in 2018. But this year, we again had fires last month--------. This time, it was because some people had burnt forests to stop leopards from coming for their cattle. Because of strong wildlife protection laws, the leopard population has increased. Same stories worldwide, only latitudes and longitudes differ. There are no easy answers.

We at Earth Trust are looking to provide a tentative road map for the next decade which will factor in changing climate patterns combined with dwindling natural resources and political lethargy. Towards this end we have been talking to individuals who are concerned, can think ahead and anticipate. We hope these conversations will lead to many small-scale positive impacts which will cumulatively add up to comprehensive adaption to the effects of climate change. At the end of the day, a farmer wants to be paid, a Tribal person wants the freedom to gather and live as he has always done. Women want the security of a roof and meals for their families. Words like ‘Climate change’- an incontrovertible fact- have no relevance to them in the abstract. However they certainly observe and can relate to changes that are happening around them. It is Earth Trust’s responsibility to help counter worst-case scenarios with appropriate action. The challenge lies in eliciting a ‘what-next’ reaction and not an ‘OMG what shall we do?’ one.

 

Farming Programme

Changing and unpredictable weather patterns mean that traditional times and rhythms for sowing and harvesting that have been followed for generations do not work anymore. This again is a challenge for our Farming team. They have to constantly re-invent, customize and provide inputs to farmers.

Over these past years the numbers of farmers under the ET umbrella has grown. More and more of them want to be part of ET and Biogain- Biodynamic Organic Growers’ AssociationI In Nilgiris- a co-operative of farmers who follow our protocols for Organic/Natural farming. This is for 3 main reasons:

  • The credibility and dependability established by Earth Trust, thanks to Ms Orr, over the last 10 years,
  • Public awareness of the ill-effects of consuming chemically grown fruits and vegetables/produce, basically consuming poison, has increased due to efforts by both the medical fraternity and the media.
  • Neighbouring states like Kerala have been considering banning vegetables/fruits/produce from the Nilgiris because of very concentrated chemical residues.

To provide assured marketing support for our farmers, Earth Trust opened a new shop on the 4th of February 2016. (News article at http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Coimbatore/earth-trust-opens-organic-outlet/article8190684.ece). This is a big step forward. Nat and Mo—sounds like a vaudeville act!!—are two very bright sparks volunteering at the shop. They are International high school students at Lawrence School Lovedale, Ooty. Nat is from a farming background in Colorado and Mo is from Thailand. They are learning firsthand about all activities of ET.  Sale of Organic produce from 01.4.2014 to 31.03.2015   was: Rs.15, 86,410.00= 23,752.24 U.S. $.

 

The Central Government Horticultural Research Station (HRS) in Ooty (also affiliated with the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in Coimbatore- the nearest big city in the plains) has approached us to collaborate on a Geographical Indicator Research Programme for ‘Malai Poondu’-hill garlic, specific to the Nilgiris.

 

On November 30th, 2015, Earth Trust was invited to participate in a programme conducted by BERAS (http://www.beras.eu/about-us) titled Western Ghats-Nilgiris Biosphere Regional Level Seminar on Ecological Regenerative Agriculture (ERA), Sustainable Food Societies(SFS) and Diet for a Green Planet-“Food from a living soil” We participated as these are all an integral part of the Earth Trust vision.

 

Health and IGP

November 2015 through March 2016, the Health programmes –primary health care –for women were in full swing in Bembatti and Ithallar villages. Our time-table for our programmes have to accommodate all the Hethai festivals. Earth Trust was invited to the Hethai festival at Bembatti held on the 11th and 12th of January. You can see our staff dancing with gay abandon with the locals. Our Health Team and IGP (Income Generation Programme) have started their three-month long training programmes for women in Melkowatty village. Both these programmes run in tandem, 2 days of Health training and 3 days of IGP training. The inauguration was a lively affair. There was an elderly woman in traditional attire in the front row, busily knitting away during all of the ceremonies—perfectly comfortable with herself!! She was a fitting example of IGP – optimal use of time and indirect savings. So much for speeches and lengthy soporific introductions!! All the older people were nostalgic about the taste of the food they ate as children.

 

Eco-club

Suresh of the Eco club and Nimmi our Project Director organized an awareness event in connection with ‘World Sparrow Day’ at Mountain Home School in Ooty. We had an inter-school competition where the participants had to create out of waste material an object that birds would use. Predictably, there were bird houses and feeders. The first prize was awarded to the entry which did not use any nails. The School Board Examinations for 19th and 12 standards are held during this time. So we have decided in future to create a Nilgiri Sparrow day that will not clash with exam timings. The usual rounds of visits to 14 Middle level Government schools are ongoing. The Blue Mountain School children were taken to Pillur dam and treated to a ride in a coracle- a country boat that is just a piece of leather over a frame.

 

Behind all the light-heartedness, the operational activities of Earth Trust continue. It is the end of the financial year for us. We are wrapping up accounts, collecting bills for expenses, hassling our staff for their reports so as to send a consolidated summary to you-Global Giving and to our other potential funders; preparing the schedule of all activities for April 1st 2016 to March 31st 2017. We have also let 3 of our staff go – lack of sustained funding being the mail reason. There is always another year ahead.

 

THE EARTH TRUST ANNUAL REPORT FROM OCTOBER ’14 TO SEPTEMBER ’15.

 

The Earth Trust is a service organization trying very hard to make a difference to the Nilgiris District.

Our core activities are farming, Health programmes for women, working with the Kurumba Tribals at Droog and the eco-club programmes for school children.

We have small holdings at Holabettu, Kollimalai, leased land at Thambatty and YWCA Ooty. We no longer lease the latter two.

The Holabbettu and Kollimalai farms grow vegetables organically and bio-dynamically, are Training/Resource Centres and will evolve as centres for Safe-seed growing.

The cuttings propogated in these farms are sold at subsidized rates to farmers and the medicinal plants to the women in our Health and Income Generation Programmes and to the Tribal women at Droog. They are distributed free of cost to the Government school children in our eco-clubs.

A report by its very definition reduces, in this case, human effort, struggles, successes and setbacks to figures in a table at best or colourful graphs. These by their ability to convey at a glance a picture, are necessary. It becomes difficult for the writer of the annual report to be completely objective and not be constantly reminded of the odds against the backdrop of which, the figures and percentages unfold.

So, while reading the farming report, you also have to visualize the bison trampling over the fences and destroying in one night the labour of two months. This has happened at least 4 times in Holabettu. For Jaikumar of our farming team, this involves, each time, repairing the fence and starting all over again- a daunting task. We also as a principal always follow the dictum that we live and work with Nature. All the environmental ills facing the whole world have arisen out of a need to control, forgetting that “No man is an island”.

While reading the report on cuttings, you have to picture Jayalakshmi of our farming team, calling at the office in a panic, that the wind had blown away the plastic sheet under which she nurses and nurtures her cuttings, or that the rain had collected in the plastic sheet and was threatening to tear it down and drown the young plants.

The Health Programmes and Income Generation programmes are subject to village activities---- a funeral will shut everything down, a wedding or festival will throw every single carefully orchestrated activity out of schedule. But the love with which the village people greet our Teams helps us make light of every single chaos. The relationships forged carry on for years. A random meeting with someone who calls out in a bus or some office—Ma’am, don’t you remember me, I attended the Earth Trust IGP programme in Kilinjada----- makes every single moment worthwhile.

If there is one programme that is very heart -warming it is the Eco-club programme. Children are a joy to work with. We at Earth Trust never forget that they will carry the burden of this environmentally damaged world on their shoulders. We try and inform them through play and activities.

Please find attached all our facts and figures for the period October ’14 to September ’15. 

Farming Programmes.

A total of 17 awareness programmes were held in 17 villages where 629 participants were alerted to the dangers of chemical farming and sensitized to the need for natural/organic farming. This is what their grandfathers and great grandfathers had been doing anyway-----. We try and emphasize the importance of food security and safe-seed sources to them. It is hard work, because they do not want to leave their comfort zones. We were able to set up 27 herbal gardens and 6 vegetable gardens in these villages. We held 5 training programmes spread over a year. Ninety-nine farmers who showed keen interest participated. These were held at our Resource farms at Holabettu and Kollimalai. They are free. We have scheduled the next one for the end of January ’16.The farms produced over 50 varieties of 14,231 Kilos of vegetables/herbs. We also produced seeds but just for ourselves and for our farmers. The Resource farms also propagated over 27,972 cuttings/seedlings of herbs, medicinal plants and seedlings. The farmers of Bio-Gain, which comes under the Earth Trust umbrella, produced over 75 varieties of vegetables /fruits/herbs, items like turmeric, traditional varieties of brown rice, tea, coffee etc.  totaling 46,585 kilos.

Health programme

We conducted our Primary Health Care programmes in 9 villages. Over 123 women participated. We set up 77 small medicinal plants/herbs gardens in the houses of the women who were interested. In the Kozhikarai Medicinal preparation Unit, Tribal women prepared and sold 2.3 kgs of Choornams(Triphala and Ashta choornam) , 62 kgs of nutritional flour, 1.6 litres of medicinal oils and 2 litres of medicinal syrup. The Droog Tribal women made 1.350 kilos of Choornams, 20.5 kgs of nutritional flour, 2.450 litres of medicinal oils and 1.3 litres of medicinal syrups. Our Health Team also held Tribal medicinal preparation workshop for 30 students from Jain International School Bangalore combined with a visit to a Shola forest. , farming exposure visits for 10 women from Oranalli, and held awareness on potential of medicinal Plant varieties for over 70 Tribal farmers and medicinal plant growers in the NAWA community hall at Kotagiri.

The Income Generation Programme.

The ET team held these programmes in 6 villages. Each programme covers basic tailoring, knitting sewing etc and is spread over 3 months. Over 83 women participated. The certificates they obtain from Earth Trust help them to get jobs if they so wished. At the end of the 3 months, the women surprise themselves at the variety of garments they are able to stitch! A lot of bonding takes place. This short paragraph will not tell you about the happy chatter and sharing of personal problems in an atmosphere of unconditional acceptance. Everything in life is not about targets and percentages.

The Eco-club programmes

Our programmes are mostly run in Government schools, where the total strength of students is dwindling year by year. We still believe that every child has a right to information that is vital – regarding the environment. This past year, we covered 18 government schools and one private school. A total of 542 children learnt about Shola forests, the environmental damages caused by us humans, how to grow vegetables organically. They were shown many programmes using CDs on Nature as well. A total of 159.4 kgs 10 varieties of vegetables were harvested by these children. These vegetables were then used for their Mid-day Meals, provided by the State Government. 

The journey continues, new faces replace the old, but the vision and soul of Earth Trust stays steadfast and true.  


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Organization Information

The Earth Trust

Location: Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu - India
Website: http:/​/​www.earthtrustnilgiris.org
Project Leader:
Vanya Orr
Ketty Post, Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu India
$13,340 raised of $88,200 goal
 
189 donations
$74,860 to go
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