Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Big Thambe and Little Thambe (Perya Thambe and Chinna Thambe)

These two farmers seem like they should be in a Grimm fairy tale; they do, after all, live around the hill, past the little church, and over the river that runs through the forest, and they farm small terraced plots that zigzag up and down the wooded hills. However, I’m pretty sure the farmers in those stories only had ogres coming out of the forest, not elephants, and none of them owned a beautiful John Deere tractor like Chinna Thambe’s. (I asked him why he chose a John Deere, and he said “Good mileage.” Paused. Looked at the hills. “Good brakes.”)

In a less poetic sense, these brothers embody a very Indian approach to agriculture: a willingness to experiment with new technologies, but a respect and thorough knowledge of some very old traditions. Farmers grow hybrid vegetable crops, but save their own finger millet seed to plant next year; use tractors to till the soil, but once the crops are up, weed their small plots by hand; buy insecticides from city shops, but border their fields with hedgerows and living fences where beneficial predator insects find refuge. This year, the Thambes want to try out drip irrigation: they’re going to be using our drip tape in one section of their tomato field. If we’re half as successful as cell phones or tractors have been in this rural community, we’ll have done well.

The Thambes’ future tomato field, Nellukunde village

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