Samir Bardoloi – Organic farming – North East India
Forests are home to most of the world’s life on land. About 58% of the Indian population depends on agriculture for their livelihood and survival depends on the correlation between nature and mankind.
The North East covers nearly 7.9 per cent of India’s total geographical area. It comprises eight states—Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura (commonly known as the “Seven Sisters”), and the “brother” state Sikkim. This region shares International borders with Tibet, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Despite the majority of people being in agriculture, only 16-20% land is under cultivation.
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Some of the major issues directly relating to the agricultural sector are- small and fragmented land-holdings, lack of quality seed and planting materials, lack of adequate storage and processing facility as well as absence of sound marketing facilities etc. Some major factors are also the decades-old ethnopolitical conflict which prevents economic development which has led to the exploitation of the region’s abundant natural resources and communities. Unplanned and unsustainable agricultural practices have replaced the traditional eco-friendly and sustainable farming followed for ages.
There are many questions that arise today.
Why is farming no longer considered an attractive sustainable career option for the youth?
Even though awareness about global warming is taking speed, yet, there is an alienation from our land and traditional farming methods.?
Samir Bardoloi, who was passionate about his land, environment and his people, took up this issue seriously and has successfully found a way to change the future of farmers.
His slogan- Climate grief to Climate action !!
Samir is trying to reverse the negative impact of chemical farming and mono-cropping by creating edible food forests on existing forest land using traditional food knowledge.
Through the Green Commandos programme and his organization SPREAD NE – (Society for the Promotion of Rural Economy and Agricultural Development, Northeast), Samir hopes to change the mindset of the youth and make farming a dignified and attractive career option for them.
Samir was born in the northeast state of Assam, in the town of Jorhat. His family was not into farming but Samir grew up surrounded with nature as his father, being an IAS Officer in the government of Arunachal Pradesh, was usually posted in such serene soundings.
He was an average student in school but was always fascinated by nature. Later he enrolled into Assam Agriculture University, where he studied genetic modification of seeds and plants and chemical agriculture, among other agricultural concepts.He was later invited to be on the board of management of his university for five years.
Getting a secured job was the only aim of most Indian families which he got. He worked in their Research and Development dept, where he was exposed to the reality and impact of chemicals and pesticides on plants and crops.
In his job,he had to promote the use of pesticides and fertilizers to the tea growers. That is when he realized the dangers of careless use of chemicals being pumped into the earth and mono-cropping. He decided to walk a different path and work more consciously towards changing this trend by helping the farmer’s improve their yield and revenue, while still maintaining the ecological balance. He quit his secured job. This was his turning point.
He had seen a lot of issues farmers faced during his work experience. He decided to start a Plant Health Clinic in 2008 in Jorhat, becoming a plant doctor, to diagnose diseases in crops. He would propagate zero-cost organic farming among farmers.
He also sold organic products which were expensive. It was a good start but hardly any farmers actually came to the clinic.
Ms. Peggy Carswell, an award winning environmentalist and crusader for organic farming, visited his clinic and requested him to take her around. During this exploration journey, Peggy shared her ideas about how he could use natural organic products and promote them with local farmers, instead of selling expensive ones.
This was the eureka moment which led Samir to shift his focus towards low-cost ecological farming techniques and helping farmers to reduce costs and increase revenue.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new” -Socrates
This is how he started his venture by riding on his bike with a backpack. Bordoloi traveled long distances into the interior areas and remote villages, meeting farmers, telling them about organic farming and also learning from them in the process.
He also realized that the youth were not taking up this profession as they did not feel the pride in it..to be called a farmer. Plus, it was not a lucrative career option.
So he started going to local schools and giving workshops. The children were excited and shared all the information about vermiculture and compost etc with their families. They in turn started making this compost at home and using it successfully to improve productivity. And Samir’s organic compost ideas became popular and demand increased. More and more schools started inviting him, as family revenue was also increasing over time.
He helped the residents create the Chitralekha vermicompost brand and opened bank accounts for the children where they could deposit the money from the sale of manure. Over the years, Samir got to know later that many children used these savings to study further and many followed his footsteps too.
Feeling encouraged, Samir began thinking of how to implement new ideas. He was able to visualize the ecological web and how everything was inherently grounded into interdependency. He actually converted this visualization into reality designed interventions and organic farming methods that consolidate this interdependent relation between nature, the land, cultivation, young people and the farmer. This supported his theory of encouraging and moving the entire ecology towards a more climate resilient and sustainable model that is in sinc to the changing environment, leading to ecological security, grounded in livelihood sustainability and uplifting the dignity of the farming community.
Over time he realized that to make his ideas successful, he needs to encourage the youth to join and add an element of pride in this profession. His workshops and lectures in colleges became popular. Word spread and more and more youngsters and college students joined him. They would get trained under Samir and then go into villages and share that knowledge with the farmers and hand hold them to shift to organic methods till they became successful. These young warriors came to be known as Green Commandos.
In 2017, Bordoloi started Green Commando’s formal training in Sonapur. The food forest of Sonapur is their camp which is also the home to many wild animals, ranging from wild boars, leopards and elephants and animals and humans survive together and eat from the same forest.
The results were commendable as these Green Commandos became powerful advocates of low-cost organic methods. Samir has so far trained over youths as Green Commandos at his training center, creating a strong network of change-makers who support each other and promote zero-cost organic farming. They also help in creating marketing linkages for the farmers by connecting them to urban centers so they earn a dignified income.
Bordoloi and his Green Commandos have trained about 20,000 farmers in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland Meghalaya, Tripura and other parts of the country.
This awareness and training project became the basis for his food forest model that he is successfully promoting among farmers and youth.
Samir says, ” that the gap has been created because the policy makers are sitting in offices and are unaware of the ground realities. The type of policies and agricultural practices that have been advocated by the government has created a disconnect between reality and projected outputs. Instead of promoting local crops and traditional farming, they have made farmers dependent on costly hybrid seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, making farming an expensive and non-remunerative proposition”. He says the food forest is the viable model which has worked successfully.
The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude’ -Oprah Winfrey.
In 2017, Bordoloi took the initiative and created a farmers’ collective with 25 farmers in Guwahati. The Food Forest land is an agreement between tribal farmers and his SPREAD NE, to grow together, in this tribal belt.
Samir explains,” Creating such a food forest has resulted in animals returning to the area. We have porcupines, wild boars, elephants, panthers and even a Royal Bengal tiger. They eat the crops we grow but we still have enough to make money. That’s why I call this compassionate farming, co-existing with nature,”
There is a natural coexistence and the correlation that he witnessed in these food forests and the compassion that existed between him, the animals and the whole biosphere gave birth to “compassionate farming”.
The forest gave him the power of independence where he did not have to depend on outside support. He did not need loans or live a life of debts. This type of farming is compassionate because everything exists in correlation. The birds are eating the fruits , they digest and release the seeds which help growth of plants, so all are farmers indirectly.
You are braver than you think, more talented than you know, and capable of more than you imagine. Samir Bardoloi proved the same. Hard work always pays off.
Award and Accolades
He was awarded the Pragati Puraskar in 2016 from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the All India Agricultural Students Association.
Followed by the Best Agripreneur of the Country by the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare in 2017.
In 2018, he was awarded the Krishak Ratna Award by the Assam Agricultural University.
He has also received the Innovative Farmer Award of the country in 2019 from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, IARI.
He is an Ashoka Fellow, 2019 and also received the Omega Resilience Award Fellow 2023.
He is spending most of his time attending conferences and seminars to spread his ideas and experiences far and wide. It is a matter of pride for the people of Assam.
But the best award among all is the growing crop of young enthusiasts he has created, who will change the mindset of the coming generations. His Compassionate Farming, the farmers collective, the Green Commandos and Food Forest initiatives have changed how farming is looked at, as a career now.
Samir Bardoloi has brought in huge transformation in Assam and North east region and has become a role model for many.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” –Barack Obama
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