In a series of special features, TPI journalist Colleen McKown reports from India's largest Tibetan settlement, Mundgod, in the southern state of Karnataka.
Mundgod, India: - Agriculture is the main industry in the Mundgod settlement. This year, farmers faced a difficulties due to the heavy monsoon. The Tibet Post spoke with some of them about their farming lifestyle and its various challenges.
Six of the nine villages in Mundgod currently practise organic farming and, within the next two years, the plan is for all nine to go completely organic. The farmers in camp eight of the settlement have all practised organic farming since 2008.
The move towards organic, explained Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) inspector Tenpa and farmer Lobsang Chodak, is based on the principle that, before moving into exile in India in 1959, Tibetan farmers didn't know about modern farming methods, and thus all farming in Tibet was organic by default.
In India, the farmers learned about chemical farming practices and began to implement them. But now His Holiness the Dalai Lama has emphasized the need for good, healthy food. He also says that, when Tibetans return to Tibet, they will be able to leave good pesticide-free land to the Indian government and continue their organic farming practices back in Tibet.
Challenges of the Organic Method
Lobsang Chodak has a three-and-a-half acre organic farm in camp eight, which he manages along with his son's wife. He expressed mixed feelings about organic farming. While he understands the shift to organic, and while he himself farmed organically in Tibet before coming into exile, he has also encountered many problems since making the change.
He said that maize and vegetables responded particularly poorly to the switch, as pesticides were a great help in the production of these crops. Farmed organically, for instance, maize requires seven tons of manure.
Lobsang employs other organic methods such as ‘live fencing’ - natural fencing, including planted teak trees, to control cattle. He also uses bio-pesticides, compost, and natural fertilizer made from a mixture of 5kg cow dung to 1kg cow urine, and 1kg jaggery to detract pests.
Organic farming also involves a lot of weeding, which is a major effort for Lobsang. For this he requires extra help and asked, "How can I pay so many laborers when I am not getting proper yield?"
Tashi, another camp-eight farmer, agreed there are many challenges with the shift to organic, and said he spends more on labor than he earns from his crops. He has a six-acre farm and says pests have gotten out of control in several of his crops.
Looking to the Future
CTA officials have visited the farms and advised farmers to begin growing cash crops such as alphonso mango, coconut, cashew nut and amla (Indian gooseberry). A food processing unit is planned, to enable fruit-juice production, for which there is a high global demand.
As to whether the younger generation will continue the tradition, the farmers said they are not very involved. "Now they are not coming to the field - they are just roaming here, there," said Lobsang.
Tashi agreed, saying that although his son was very involved in setting up a pump for him, he no longer visits the farm, leaving his father with all the work.
"The young generation, they are busy with football!" he said.
Lobsang believes that if modern technology were to be implemented in agriculture, many more young people would gravitate toward farming. He said younger Tibetans are not interested in what they see as antiquated methods, such as using branches to carry buckets on their backs, and want to move to mechanical production.
The weather has been extremely unpredictable in Mundgod for the past few years, and continuous rain during the last monsoon prevented farmers from planting crops.
Lobsang said that, while 2010 saw a good crop, the two previous years also saw problems with the rainfall pattern.
Alluding to the uncertain conditions Mundgod’s farmers face, Tashi concluded, "I have no specific aim. If I have no ambition - I think that's good."