Have you ever wondered why most people nowadays complain about the general insipidness of vegetables and fruits, and even meats? Many of these folks even aver this is due to the widespread use of fertilizers, insecticides and artificial growth hormones. They may not be far from the truth.
The world’s population is growing exponentially. The masses are getting hungrier and today’s ever-expanding supermarket system demands of farmers to supply unblemished produce that looks nice and beautiful.
Farmers are left with little choice but to use the so-called conventional or chemical fertilizers to meet the market demands. Or, are they, really? Problem is, this chemical-assisted agricultural produce may not have the desired nutritional values and taste. Plus, they may come with residual toxins.
Chemical or artificial fertilizers and insecticides was the miraculous way to the massive agricultural mass production of foodstuffs earlier, to meet food demands of an ever-increasing populace. But soon the side-effects turned out disastrous, gradually suffocating the bedrock that supports all life: the soil.
Since our ecosystem is so finely tuned and fragilely balanced, any disturbance however small can cause the soil’s balance to disintegrate into unhealthy patterns of degeneration. Fortunately, the world’s governments are slowly waking up to this fact. And fortunately again, the soil is resilient by nature.
Bah Kit Nongrum, a former District Agriculture Officer once explained to me: there is an approach to farming without the use of artificial or chemical fertilizers, a technique that is actually Nature’s own way of soil regeneration.
Firstly, the soil tainted by artificial fertilizers should be left fallow, untilled and untouched for three years, and the resultant overgrowth slashed and mulched. Soil vitality will soon return, its micro-biome will increase and plants will once again begin to live off the beautiful circle and constant system of life around. Once artificial fertilizers are discarded the valuable topsoil is reclaimed.
Biodiversity will increase and every ecosystem component, forest and water cycle included, will be enhanced. A holistic, healthy environment will ensue, supporting every flora and fauna through nature’s own way, beautifully and intricately balanced. This, explains Bah Kit, is the very essence of sustainable and regenerative farming: the one and only answer to the food needs of the world at large. This is what our ancient ancestors did when they farmed. They understood that they are a part of Nature, not the other way around. So they allowed Nature to take its own course, and regenerate itself, again and again, creating abundance.
There are no real issues we cannot solve, concluded Bah Kit, we can grow all the food we need if we take care of the environment in the way our ancients did.
It is a mixed system of natural farming that keeps cycling and recycling, eliminating the need for fertilizers and artificial inputs. It creates healthy soils for both plants and animals and ideal habitats for the right sets of micro-organisms that actually make up the vital base of the ecosystem.
Farm animals - cattle, pigs, goats, chickens, and ducks etc - are all integral to the farm ecosystem. They add value to it. Their faeces and urine, along with all dead plant matter, are eagerly grabbed by the soil microbes, those invisible friends and helpers of the farmers, which rapidly decompose them into manure that feed the soil.
Carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases don’t only come from fossil fuel burning alone. They also are a result of how we farm. Regenerative farming utilizes natural, active and organic compost with natural inputs. This leads to carbon and nitrogen sequestration or capture, so essential to the maintenance of the carbon and nitrogen cycles, and ultimate water cycle.
The regenerative farmer also creates a natural forest ecosystem with many varieties of plants. He integrates cover trees and fruit trees that provide canopy cover from wind and sun, giving shelter to birds and tree animals, all essential for healthy farm management.
Below the trees lay the fertile habitat for shrubs and berries that love shaded and semi-shaded habitats: perennials, biennials, herbs of culinary or medicinal uses, roots crops, vines and many plants of indigenous and biological diversity, appropriate to the land. Bird, animal and insects species play a vital role too.
Birds and bees help in pollination and fishes fertilize the rice fields. Kites, owls, frogs, snakes, spiders, beetles and ants are also natural predators of harmful rodents and insects that cause damage to crops.
We are the soil, says Dr Daphne Miller in the IndigenousTerra Madre Festival 2015, while she elaborated on the links between the health of the earth and the health of our bodies. If biodiversity dies we die too. That’s why there’s need to allow equal footing to both traditional and scientific knowledge, without subjecting the former under science’s lens.
The end result of regenerative farming is healthy soil capable of producing healthy food, increased biodiversity and resilience against natural forces, calamities, drought and pests. The regenerative farmer holds the key to turn the world into a healthy, and wealthy, one. Eventually, too, global warming will reverse and greenhouse gases reduce, side by side with the inevitable rise in nutritional levels.
Unbeknownst to themselves, there are quite a few regenerative farmers in Meghalaya. There is Bah Khongsngi from Kyrdem Kulai in Ri-Bhoi district, a ginger farmer who uses no chemical fertilizers, not even animal manure. He does not burn fields and forests either. He uses the slash and mulch method to create the right beds for his ginger plants. His fields regenerate naturally year after year, continually yielding produce that are purely organic and healthy.
An increasing awareness of the importance of traditional and regenerative systems of farming is creeping in today. The need to preserve biodiversity and indigenous seeds for a sustainable future have been collaborated by organizations like NESFAS with even grass-root level organizations like primary schools to teach school children the importance of such preservation.
The regenerative farmers hold the key to future food security, food safety and a healthy earth. Zizira, in its small but unique way, pitches in to assist by spreading awareness about the undiscovered treasures and ancient, changeless wisdom in the pristine hills of Meghalaya. When we process these treasures we share to the world products packed the goodness of Nature’s regenerated bounty. Come, discover more of us at www.zizira.com.