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One flew over the Chickoo orchard

On February 9 and 10, the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) hosted the Chickoo Festival organised by the Kokan Bhumi Prathishthan at Dahanu, a coastal city on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border. The space, populated by a significant proportion of Warli tribals, is famous for its Chickoo orchards that are owned mostly by the Parsi community.

Soma Das
Soma Das tries a session of rappelling across the artificial reservoir

It was a colourful affair held adjacent to the picturesque Bordi beach where stalls showcased Chickoo-based preparations including Chickoo Kachoris, Chickoo Halwa, Chickoo Milkshake, Chickoo pickles as well as Chickoo chips. Apart from these, there were a display of tribal arts and crafts, a photo exhibition, cultural performances including tribal dances, and a Chickoo Safari to Tarpa (also known as the Save Farm). The farm offered an ideal spot to unwind and escape from the city’s madness while learning about sustainable ecological practices.

Chickoos are plucked using this stick
Chickoos are plucked using this stick 

Green revolution
Save Farm, run by Prabhakar Save, was established in 1970 on a barren piece of land. The Save family opted for the land only due to their financial limitations and it presented a great challenge for them to develop the infertile, eroded land into a horticultural orchard. Using scientific technology and innovations, they converted this once-neglected land into a productive farm. Their aim is to share their horticultural knowledge with investors, entrepreneurs, farmers, students, hobbyists and nature lovers and expose city folk, especially children, to nature and rural life. 

Accommodation at the farm
Accommodation at the farm 

During a visit to the farm we were amazed at the information about numerous plants grown on the farm (chickoo, litchi, avocado), farming techniques, principles of organic farming, rainwater harvesting, fish farming and the plant nursery. At the farm, one can learn more about planting, growing and plucking chickoos, how fertilisers are made, live in huts and houses decorated with Warli paintings and savour locally produced vegetables cooked by locals. There are also activities such as rappelling over a man-made water reservoir that adds to the wow factor.

Turn for the better
Speaking about Tarpa, Prabhakar Save, the man behind the organic farm recounts the uphill journey: “After graduation, I opted for farming as my career. I come from a farmer’s family who were poor financially but rich in the traditional knowledge of farming. I am proud of inheriting it from my father and forefathers. The land in Dahanu was grassland, neglected and thus eroded. The fertile soil was nearly washed out. I had to settle for it because of budget limitations. It took some years to make it productive to an extent. Initially, I used chemicals to boost plant growth but had to give up due to the cost. That’s when I realised that practicing organic farming was one way of making farming sustainable. Farm waste and crop residue get processed into value-added manure and applied to the soil, thus reducing the expenditure on manure.”

The scarcity of water in the region also made Save give up traditional irrigation practices and switch to drip irrigation. “After attending an international course on irrigation and soil management in Israel in 1988, I realised that drip irrigation is not just a solution to water shortage, but a proper application of water for better results. Using drip irrigation, I could manage to fulfill my water requirement quantitatively with available sources of ground water for some years. This relief lasted only for ten years as I started facing the problem of water quality. Though I was using ground water very carefully, managing 30 acres of plantation with only three borewells, I had no control on surrounding farms where several borewells were dug every year. I decided to use the water quality crisis to fulfill my dream of having a lake of my own right in my farm. Two years of pond making and rainwater harvesting was a mixed experience of financial stress and joy of creativity. I thoroughly enjoyed both,” he adds. 

The rainwater-harvesting project that Save undertook had unique features: before the water entered the pond, it was allowed to seep into the permeable layer of soil. The water entered the pond lined with geo-membrane film. It was diverted to recharge the borewell by a siphon system. Save also designed a solar drier to dry vegetables and fruits in hygienic conditions.

Nurse nature
Among the many achievements, the Save Nursery Farm is one of the oldest government recognised horticulture nurseries of the region.

 

Farmer’s collective in dahanu
Gandhiana is an initiative working with communities in and around Dahanu, which is a protected tribal district. It is based on the belief that technology should facilitate community building. Michelle Chawla, a member of the Gandhiana Organic Farmers Self Help Group (SHG), explains that Gandhiana was initiated in 2003 as an online bookshop selling Gandhian books.
 
Farmers
 
“We have expanded the concept to include a portal that attracts people interested in working towards an alternative lifestyle,” she says. Gandhiana was revived at the end of 2012 and behind it are two organisations — Tamarind Tree and Nomad. “At one of the meetings, we initiated the Gandhiana SHG to ensure they follow natural farming practices. We buy their produce and sell at a higher price and with the money earned we attempt to cross subsidise the Tamarind Tree school for tribals,” adds Chawla. Nomad India, a group of technology enthusiasts, are their technological partner. The SHG includes 25 farmers from Sogve village who practice natural farming.
 
Activities: Activities include an e-commerce portal selling non-perishable produce, building a seed bank to preserve local seeds and starting an organic brunch at the farm where local organic food will be on sale.
 
How to get there
>> Dahanu is 143 km from Mumbai. It takes around three hours to reach Dahanu from Mumbai by road.
>> By road, you can take the NH8 and go via Mumbai to Thane to Charoli Naka and on to Dahanu. Trains also ply from Mumbai to Gholwad and Dahanu railway stations.
>> You can also avail of state transport and private buses that head between Dahanu Road- Bordi- Mumbai and Thane.

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