It is a great moment for me as I sit down to rather chronicle the memories of my life, particularly, my childhood days ( about fifty years back from now). Very often my mind travel to those days and find things which are in great contrast to the ones I come across with nowadays. It pains me a lot to see the sad plight of the natural resources left available to us humans!
It is a great steady decay of nature since then. I must not hesitate to say that the state of agriculture is in a pitiable condition today, rather in shambles!
In those times, it seems everything was different, at least for my place where I lived! Wait a bit. Am I correct when I say this? No. absolutely “No”! Because the situation has changed invariably. Not only for my place but for other places, like our places, absolutely, because I have seen it over the times through my own eyes, but also for other regions like Blocks, districts, State and the country as a whole! And not only for my country but for the whole world as everybody can see with their own eyes and experiences!
What had been the situation like ?
The situation had been startlingly different then, I must say. Everything was different at that time. In every aspect. In village everything revolves around agriculture. So everything had been different then as had been the case with agriculture! Wht hd been ltogether different then ?
Let me start with the most important aspects of the most important field crop Paddy at that time ::
I can very distinctly remember that paddy transplantation at that time was very regular. The first heavy downpour started within a stipulated time of just fifteen days. That was fixed for every year ! The famous Bengali proverb uttered by my youngest grandfather was that,” Joishther saat aasaarer saat tobe jaanbo migher baat “. This was related with the starting time of monsoon every year that was well-known to all the framers of our area. Actually this was known to all the members of the farming community of the surrounding villages. The meaning of the proverb is that ” the first monsoon rainfall is known to begin from the last week of the Bengali month”Joisthya” to the first week of the Bengali month “aasar“” ! This time spanned just fifteen days !
I don’t know whether this is a Khona’s parable or not, but this had been widely known by all and sundry around the region and uttered frequently by my youngest grandfather then.
This saying is known by all even today out there in my native village , but happens, only very rarely and accidently !
My two elder brothers are still engaged out there in farming till today, but they lament that Rainy season do not start timely nowadays. Rather it is quite ‘normal’ these days to start paddy transplantation on the irrigation obtained from the underground water through Shallow Tube Wells (STW) run by electricity ! It has then become customary to start paddy transplantation at least one month ‘late’ from the “normal” time. What does it indicate, to be very specific? It does indicate very specifically that the season has changed!
Is it for the better or for the worse? Not obviously for the better. Because you see the ramifications the world over! Maybe you belong to another school who think Climate Change is yet to begin, even if “Season” has changed! I only mean the “Rainy Season” here which I have discussed in the last paragraph! Being optimistic is good , but being ‘unrealistically’ optimistic is not! It might well be a mental problem for you for which you should consult psychiatrist doctors or you have not the information with you or you’re shrugging off the real challenge of Climate Change that we are already facing in different forms. This had been the scenario till at least decade back, but I think most people are now convinced about it.
Just a short description of what is the situation like right now is given in the previous paragraph. I think there are very few people on earth now who can deny the fact that we’re certainly inside the vicious situation of climate change and environmental degradation!
Yes, there are ‘some’ silver linings of climate change found out by us. Grossly Ten or Fifteen years back I used to see Summer Nor’wester a very regular phenomenon in West Bengal in the Bengali months of Vaisakha and Joisthya ( First two months in Bengali calender ). Summer Nor’wester in the West Bengal (State) of India is a Storm which appears from the North-Western horizons in the afternoon , generally in between 4.00 to 5.00 pm. Sometimes it would happen at even 1.00 pm and also after 5.00 pm. The storm generally would start off from deep dark clouds with intermittent lightnings and thunders. Dust whirlwind storm was its initial phase followed by rain, sometimes hailstorm.
The Nor’wester had been a regular phenomenon then. Just five decades back it was rather a welcome phenomenon that we would enjoy in many instances. For example, we would go out of our houses, along with our friends to pick up mangoes shedded out of moderate to medium storms. In case of higher severity of storms we used to come back to our houses or take shelter in common places when we could not make it to our houses from a longer distance.
During Nor’wester there had been a lot of lightnings laced with thunderstorms , but I had not heard so much casualties struck out of these as we see nowadays! I think this has a lot to do with the level of Nature’s degradation and pollution associated with rampant, ruthless industrialization, mechanisation and so-called modernisation.
The Nor’wester had not been quite regular but not so ‘dangerous’ as we find today. People used to make it a point to return home before the Nor’wester hours as it had been a regular phenomenon. Nowadays Nor’wester is not as regular. In some years it had been just about absent, but in most of the years it is irregular and devastating!
Most important is the fact that boundary lines of the seasons are becoming less distinct, overlapping. Rainy season is starting late for long two to four decades. It has become customary now to transplant paddy with underground irrigation water. Even after late start rainy season is interrupted with intermittent as well as prolonged drought. Transplanted paddy suffers from lack of water as it is dependent on irrigation water with scarce rainfall in between.
Paddy Fields as Source of Fishes
In those days we had lot of fishes from the paddy field as there had been plenty of regular rainwater and people in the rainy season had no dearth of fishes of so many species! Every type of fishes had been available in the paddy field then. A lot fish species has become extinct now, thanks to pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers on the field and pollution on the air having bearing on amount and timeliness of rainfall.
The marginalised poor people had plenty of fishes available to them from these paddy fields. They women from the labourers’ families used to collect fishes from the paddy fields and used to sell in the adjacent villages. They were known people. So they used to take other materials like rices( unboiled), potato, food materials (rarely) from the landholding farmers’ houses to whom they used to sell locally, all belonging to the same neighbourhood. Good social relationship were there, a relation of trust and acquaintances just.
The surrounding ponds and other water bodies were overflowed with the initial rainwater and the fishes therefrom would populate the surrounding paddy fields. A good amount of fishes used to be caught from the field while puddling operation before transplanting. As there would be plenty of water a lot of fishes still could be there to spread further to act as reservoir in the next phases.
There had been no dearth of fishes at that time absolutely! The poorest of the poor had sufficient amount of fishes available in their daily dishes, almost always at least. Gone are those golden olden days! I must say without any ambiguity! Regular beginning and continuance of rainy season had been the most important factor, I must say!
What had been the Fish Species or Varieties Available then ?
A number of the fish species are no more or nearly extinct. Maybe they are available in some other areas of Bengal basin where water in the lowland paddy fields are assured. But these areas do not represent the major and overall scenario in our area of West Bengal, India. Some local fishes have vanished. I am trying to find their scientific names so as to ascertain whether they have disappeared from the face of this earth or not ! Till then I am sure that some very important species have disappeared from our locality. They are my childhood memories and nostalgia! Such experiences is true in the cases of people who have seen life over 4 – 5 decades.
Are Population Explosion and Air Pollution are Responsible for Late and Erratic Rainy Season?
There is no doubt about it. Anyone can understand this. Increasing population led to higher rate of industrialisation and consequent air pollution. Air pollution can be blamed as a genuine culprit.
Are the Uses of Chemicals like Pesticides and Fertilizers to Blame ?
While air pollution can be detected as a likely factor for erratic rainy season behaviour, the impact of chemicals in agriculture can not be overlooked I think. It took about a number of years to motivate the farmers adopt chemical fertilizers. The chemical fertilizers are associated with the cultivation of High Yielding Varieties.
High Yielding Varieties Precede the Use of Chemicals in Agriculture ?
High Yielding Varieties in the 1960s is a major development in agriculture. The dwarf varieties replaced the tall varieties. The dwarf varieties can carry higher grain loads without lodging. But they consume higher amount of chemical fertilizers. The farmers use only Nitrogenous fertilizers, namely Urea, which makes the crops visibly luxuriant and at the same time succulent.
HYVs are meant to consume higher dose of chemical fertilizers to yield more. But in the field level it is seen that the farmers are tempted to use only Urea as the source of Nitrogenous fertilizer and reAmain satisfied with their crop growth which are deep green and sappy making the crops attractive to insect and disease pests. They are reluctant to use basic other fertilizers dose of Phosphate and Potash fertilizers which makes the crops hardy, resistant and capable of more yield bearing, because these two types of fertilizers have less of visible impact on crops.
Farmers are also reluctant to use the most required dose of organic manures for the same reason of lack of visible effect. Organic manures are also difficult to be available as greater rate of mechanisation have led to less number of cattle they are to raise in their farmyard. These are not or less available in the locality either, because there are less of empty land nowadays where the poor people can graze their cattle hassle-free. If there are cropped land almost everywhere around, the cattle cannot graze freely, the cattle of the poor landless farmers can graze the crops bringing compensation from the farmers.
In brief, farmers use only Nitrogenous fertilizer (Urea) to the full recommended dose or more and in this way invite more pests to their crops which again compel them to use more chemical pesticides.
This is a vicious cycle. Nitrogenous fertilizers are easy to use and produce greater visible effects on crops. The farmers put in more of urea as nitrogenous fertilizers. The luxurious growth of crops invite pests and the farmers have to run to apply pesticides to save the crops.
Use of only nitrogenous fertilizers makes the crops vulnerable to insect and disease pest attack as the crops tend to become dark green, sappier and tenderer. The pests are lured to attack such crops. So the farmers have to invest more in pesticides to save the crops.
These nitrogenous chemical fertilizers ( namely urea ) have corrosive effect on the soil and make the soil ‘hard’ ! The microbes living in the soil are killed. Such hard soils become hot quickly and add to global warming ! And the use of pesticides makes the soil add to this as it kills the earthworms. Nowadays the crop fields are devoid of earthworms. Earthworms are termed as “friends of farmers”. Now the young farmers are perhaps unaware of this ! The earthworms dig the soil, aerate the soil making it more fertile. Very simply. The earthworms are dying out of starvation and poisoning . The herbicides and pesticides kills the soil microbes which are actually the food of the earthworms.
The earthworms consume soil with microbes and excrete. The excreta makes the soil fertile. They also aerate the soil through burrowing. When these earthworms are gone, the soil health is deeply hampered.
Nowadays earthworms are not found in paddy fields! This is very serious indication to te damage to soil ecology that we have overlooked for decades while we have become health and fitness-freak ! The earthworms are bio-indicators . When they are gone, the signal is grave that something is wrong !
I clearly remember my childhood days. I used to collect fallen paddy ear-heads from the paddyfields along with my elder sister just after the paddy crop had been harvested. We used to the stumble upon the “Earthworm Soils’ ( locally termed as “kechomati” ) which were hard and injuring to the bare feet causing bruises and bleeding.
In those days the little children used to collect the ripe, severed, fallen paddy ear-heads from the fields to collect pocket money of their own ! This had been a great fun for them in paddy harvest season leading to several harvest festivals known as “Navanna”, “Poush sankranti”.
The ‘collection’ of the ripe paddy ear-heads had not been a joint enterprise, rather it had been separate enterprises for us. So it used to be highly competitive task with my elder sister racing towards picking up more ear-heads than me and vice versa. This would be more joyful under the mild winter sun with other people of our village engaged in their paddy harvesting, dumping, loading and carrying activities around. All of the villagers are generally well-acquainted with each other. At that time the relationship would be better than we see nowadays and there would be an atmosphere of amity and comity in the meadow where harvesting operations used to be an occasion of joy and happiness for all and sundry.
In our joy over collecting the paddy ear-heads we used to forget of the bruises and pains of stumbling over the hard earthworms dunes which would be very frequent in numbers. And nowadays , you will not find those earthworm dunes in the paddy fields. This is just unthinkable ! The soil have become more solidified and hardened reflecting more heat to the atmosphere, absorbing and stabilizing less of it.
This has been evident since the introduction of chemicals, viz. fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. But who cares ? We are nonchalant so far as we get ‘higher’ productivity!
The ear-heads in those days used to be shredded more because tall varieties were in vogue then. The traditional tall variety straw was tall and the varieties would lodge with the weight of the paddy ear-head grains to the ground, sometimes moist ground, thus giving way to breaking off of the ear-heads.
Not only the earthworms have vanished from the paddy fields, but some very common creatures in the paddy fields like different types of field crabs, snails have also vanished from the paddy field ecology, along with the fishes. I think this is a great loss in terms of biodiversity and sources of proteins in the day-to-day diet of the villagers in general and the poorest of the poor, in particular. The villagers spanned from big farmers to small ! Extinction and/or diminution of these fishes, crabs, snails have robbed the villagers, both farmers and non-farmers ( including landless labourers ) of their livelihood and nutritional security to a great extent !
This has also led to the loss of biodiversity of birds as well in consequence to absence and/or near-absence of all these field crabs, snails, oysters (from ponds) etc. serving as food sources and resources. Field cranes (of different types), dahuks (waterhen), guruls, kites esp. sankhacheel, pankouri, baalihans, chatakpakhi, etc. (local Bengali name) have diminished a lot while nilkantho/texona, while tuntuni, vulture, babui, chorui etc. have totally vanished from our area !
It would not be irrelevant here to say something about the birds as these birds are very much related to ‘ Serene Pristine Unforgettable Agriculture’ and they are important bioindicators of the ecological condition of a particular time period. They are quite effective to control crop and plant pests as well. Most of the birds species are threatened due to their steadily decreasing habitat and so-called plant protection chemicals.