Producer, Educator & Writer
The following are two profiles of women farmers from the Mandakini Valley in the Garhwal Himalayas, India.
“Everything comes from the earth. We sow one, and thousands come.” – Ganeshi Devi, Bhattwari village
Surrounded by her harvest, Ganeshi Devi’s short frame sits comfortably amidst the dal laid out to dry, “the dal is my chair,” she says smiling.
Ganeshi Devi’s favorite crop is black dal. After saying this, she immediately bursts into song. She is over 80 years old, and has two sons and one daughter.
“Everything is mine,” she explains, motioning towards the different kinds of amaranth and fingermillet. As an organic farmer, Ganeshi doesn’t use chemicals, instead she uses ash as a pesticide. She grows nearly everything she needs, and for the essentials such as salt and sugar she sells her Amaranth. She also exchanges seeds with those around her.
In addition to her crops, Ganeshi Devi also has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to herbs and medicinal plants. The tradition of healing runs in her family, as her father, uncle, and grandfather were also known as “wise people” and local healers. Despite this knowledge, the youth do not seem to be impressed, “The new generations says it is not good.” She mentions one herb that cures scabies. Another with three needles can be used for eyes and there are others for shampoo. “Everything is here,” she says, referring to the plethora of medicinal plants. However, now is not the right time to see it all. “Come in April. I can show you lots.”
Ganeshi explains that there are three or four types of jobs, but the number one is farming. “A job is not good, farming is number one,” as she says, “Everything comes from the earth. We sow one and thousands come. In the bank, we have to wait many years for it to grow.”
She also believes farming is intricately linked to hard work, “If you put mud on the roots of a small plant, then we get more. That person who will do work he will get [the crop]. Good farmers are those who work.” Ganeshi Devi depends on hard work and luck. “Who has luck? Water, food, flowers, money? Everything is here, it depends on hard work and luck.”
In other areas, people were worrying about water. She believes that having done good in past lives, was the reason they were doing good. “The knowledge comes when we speak and the water comes when we dig,” she says.
When asked about the weather she says, “They [the gods] will destroy and they will create again.”
Ganeshi interspersed slokas (traditional Sanskrit verses or songs) into her conversation. She seems to have a strong faith in God, which is also tied to the land, “We cannot see God, but this we can see, everything is earth, our mother.” When she goes to the temple they say “What will you give us?” She says “I will give you seeds.”
“Without seed there is nothing at all” – Narmada Devi, 68, Bhattwari village
Narmada Devi, named after India’s Narmada river, was 11 when she came to Bhattwari village. She works on her own now, as her three boys and two girls have all moved away from the village.
“In April or May we sow paddy, at that time we do hard work,” she says. “Lots of work we have to do.” She explains after the plowing is done, compost is spread, then the seeds are sown and finally the crop is harvested. She saves seeds as well. “Without seed there is nothing at all. We should save seed and only then we will sow,” she says.
According to Narmada Devi, “Before they [people] worked and now people are not hard working.”
These days she sows her wheat and then goes to Chandigar to her son’s house for the winter, and comes back in April to harvest the wheat. Her sons also come in June during their holiday, to assist on the farm.
While she could also live in Chandigar, she likes living on her farm. Even her son says, “come here we will feed you”. But Narmada Devi says “this is our habit, we like this, working with hands, then we become strong.”
“I grow everything every person sows,” she says, meaning she grows all that is needed to support her family. With the surplus harvest, Narmada Devi sells at the market or in exchange for necessities such as salt and sugar.
She says it is different now. “Now we don’t do as much hard work, but when my mother-in-law was here, [we did more].”
Her only challenge is that she is now becoming older, “that is why I am tired,” she says. She doesn’t believe her children will come back to work on the land.
Before the interview is completed, her mobile phone rings. With a sickle in one hand and a phone in the other, she has to go.