Fellow Since 1998
This profile was prepared when Vijay Uttarwar was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
Deeply frustrated with the lack of solutions to the financial and environmental crisis being faced by farmers in India, Vijay Uttarwar tackled the problem as a practicing farmer on his own 125-acre farm. Convinced of the importance of conserving and restoring soil ecology, Vijay worked, through trial and error, to re-build the fertility of his land. The resulting method for achieving environmental and ecological compatibility is based on the insight that factors now widely considered to be anti-agriculture (weeds, insects, lack of cultivation, etc.) are in fact energy conserving and naturally-regenerating forces that are necessary to improve and retain soil fertility. He presents a distinctly alternative approach in agriculture and crop management. For example, Vijay does not believe that there are any real "pests" in crop management, only "companions." He abhors the use of pesticides to control insects and prefers finding "companions" to solve the problem. The management of crop destroying insects, therefore, is not based on mechanical or chemical activity or the use of organic pesticide/insecticide, but rather the belief that each "pest" can be linked to a companion. Instead of destroying the crop, the insect actually saves it by multiple cropping, mixed cropping and relay cropping. The process of identifying the companion to a potential pest is one of trial and error and often is based on traditional wisdom and understanding of what kind of plant attracts a certain "pest" species and which of the species can effectively balance the other. For example, some vegetables have a problem with grasshoppers and cotton plants have a potential problem with bolworms. When cotton is grown along with the vegetable plant, the grasshoppers concentrate on eating the eggs of the bolworm and spare the vegetable plant. In addition, a type of moth that is attracted to cotton then controls the grasshopper. Through understanding and proper management of these and other aspects of permaculture and natural farming, Vijay is demonstrating to others that high technology agriculture can be replaced by his scientific "high design" methods without resulting in loss of productivity. Vijay's natural farming program has been spread among hundreds of tribal families covering 1,800 acres of forest and revenue land in Vidharba in South India. He has demonstrated that large numbers of farmers will embrace natural and sustainable farming when specific technical information is combined with use of creative marketing options that link value-added incentives to the business of natural farming. With this pilot experience behind him, Vijay now aims to introduce his approach nationally through a farmer's movement that begins in his own region.