Social Entrepreneur

Kalpavruksha A Hub for Natural Farming

About 20 steps inside the gate of Kalpavruksha is a sign that says: “Cooperation is the fundamental Law of Nature” – A simple and concise introduction to the philosophy and practice of natural farming! Further inside the farm are numerous other signs that attract attention with brief, thought-provoking sutras or aphorisms. These pithy sayings contain all the distilled wisdom on nature, farming, health, culture and spirituality, Bhaskar Save, the founder of the farm, has gathered over the years, apart from his extraordinary harvest of food!

If you ask Bhaskar Save where he learnt his way of natural farming, he might tell you – quite humbly - “my university is my farm.” His farm has now become a sacred university for many, as every Saturday (Visitors’ Day) brings numerous people from all over India, and occasional travellers from distant lands.

Bhaskar Save’s 14 acre orchard-farm, Kalpavruksha, is located on the Coastal Highway near village Dehri, District Valsad, in southernmost coastal Gujarat, a few kilometres north of Maharashtra-Gujarat border. About 10 acres at Save’s farm is under a mixed natural orchard of mainly coconut and chikoo (sapota) with fewer numbers of other tree species. About 2 acres are under seasonal field crops cultivated organically in traditional rotation. Another 2 acres is a nursery for raising coconut saplings that are in great demand.

Kalpavruksha compels attention for its high yield that can easily outperform any modern farm, using chemicals. This is readily visible at all times. The number of coconuts per tree is perhaps the highest in the country. A few of the palms yield over 400 coconuts each year, while the average is closer to 350. The crop of chikoo (sapota) – largely planted more than 45 years ago – is similarly abundant, providing about 300 kg of delicious fruit per tree each year.

In the orchard, there are numerous other crops are growing such as bananas, papayas, areca-nuts, and a few trees of date-palm, drumstick, mango, jackfruit, toddy palm, custard apple, jambul, guava, pomegranate, lime, pomelo, mahua, tamarind, neem, audumber etc. In addition, there are some bamboo and various under-storey shrubs like kadipatta (curry leaves), crotons, tulsi; and vines like pepper, betel leaf, passion-fruit, etc.

Nawabi Kolam, a tall, delicious and high-yielding native variety of rice, several kinds of pulses, winter wheat and some vegetables and tubers too are grown in seasonal rotation on about 2 acres of land. These provide enough for this self-sustained farmer’s immediate family and occasional guests. In most years, there is some surplus of rice, which is gifted to relatives or friends, who appreciate its superior flavour and quality.

Excluding the 2 acres under coconut nursery, and another 2 acres of paddy field, the remaining 10 acres of orchard have consistently yielded an average food yield of over 15,000 kg per acre per annum. In nutritional value, this is several times superior to an equivalent weight of food grown with the intensive use of toxic chemicals, as in Punjab, Haryana and many other parts of India.

The diverse plants in Bhaskar Save’s farm co-exist as a mixed, harmonious community of dense vegetation. Rarely can one spot even a small patch of bare soil exposed to the direct impact of the sun, wind or rain. The deeply shaded areas under the chikoo trees have a spongy carpet of leaf litter covering the soil, while various weeds spring up wherever some sunlight penetrates.

The thick ground cover is an excellent moderator of the soil’s micro-climate, which – Bhaskar Save emphasises – is of utmost importance in agriculture. “On a hot summer day, the shade from the plants or the mulch (leaf litter) keeps the surface of the soil cool and slightly damp. During cold winter nights, the ground cover is like a blanket conserving the warmth gained during the day. Humidity too is higher under the canopy of dense vegetation, and evaporation is greatly reduced. Consequently, irrigation needs are very low. The many little insect friends and micro organisms of soil thrive under these conditions.

The farm yield is superior to any farm using chemicals. This is true in all aspects of total quantity, nutritional quality, taste, biological diversity, ecological sustainability, water conservation, energy efficiency, and economic profitability. The costs (mainly labour for harvesting) are minimal and external inputs almost zero.

Bhaskar Save, the Gandhi of Natural Farming

On January 27, 2014, Bhaskar Save – the acclaimed ‘Gandhi of Natural Farming’ – completes 92 years. He has inspired and mentored three generations of organic farmers. In 1997, Masanobu Fukuoka, the legendary Japanese natural farmer, visited Save’s farm. He described it as “the best in the world”, even better than his own farm.

Indeed, Save’s farm is a veritable food forest; and a net supplier of water, energy and fertility to the local ecosystem, rather than a net consumer.

Save’s way of farming and teachings are rooted in his deep understanding of the symbiotic relationships in nature, which he is ever happy to explain in a simple, down-to-earth idiom to anyone interested. In 2010, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) honoured Save with the ‘One World Award for Lifetime Achievement’.

Bhaskar Save’s Plea for India’s Agro-ecological Resurgence

On July 29, 2006, Bhaskar Save addressed a detailed 8-page Open Letter to MS Swaminathan, the then chairman of The National Commission on Farmers. This was at a time of an unrelenting wave of farmer suicides in various parts of India, particularly Vidarbha and Andhra Pradesh, but also Punjab, the frontline state of India’s ‘green revolution’, now turned black.

Bhaskar Save’s Open Letter – widely circulated and translated all over the world – presented a devastating critique of the government’s agricultural policies favouring chemical farming, while making an eloquent plea for urgent and fundamental reorientation. Save states, “I say with conviction that only by mixed organic farming in harmony with Nature, can India sustainably provide abundant wholesome food and meet every basic need of all – to live in health, dignity and peace.”

Swaminathan wrote back to Save, “I have long admired your work and am grateful to you for the detailed suggestions… valuable comments and recommendations. We shall take them into consideration in our final report.”

A further independent Open Letter from Bhaskar Save, dated November 1, 2006, was sent to the Prime Minister. Save asks in his letter, “In this vast nation, does any government agricultural department or university have a single farm running on modern methods, which is a net supplier of water, energy and fertility to the local ecosystem, rather than a net consumer? But where there is undisturbed synergy of Nature, this is a reality! By all criteria of ecological audit, my farm has only a positive contribution to the health of the environment. Economically too, I get income higher than ‘modern’ farmers.”

The success demonstrated by Bhaskar Save in decreasing and eliminating external fertility inputs while achieving high productivity, is thus a model for promoting food security; and his method of tree-cropping – integrating short lifespan, medium lifespan and long lifespan species – has been hailed as potentially revolutionary for wasteland regeneration, while also offering sustainable and rewarding livelihoods to large numbers of people.