Report of the activities of Pipal Tree/ Fire Flies from October 2002 to March 2003

"Ecological Agriculture, Empowerment of Women & Poor farmers for sustainable life "

US#2500 to Pipal tree for a project on ecological agriculture, empowerment of women & poor farmers at Uthari village on the Bangalore Kanakapura Road in the Kagalipura panchayat.

Objectives of the Project

a. Forming women's groups for self -reliance through small savings, income generation programmes and socio, economic and political empowerment.
a. Watershed management practices
b. Promoting integrated organic and traditional knowledge based agriculture and health practices.
c. Curtailing soil erosion and improving soil fertility
d. Protecting catchments areas, improving infrastructure of tanks and tank desiltation
e. Undertaking community forestry.
f. Sensitisation of urban youth to problems of villages and arranging for interaction and participation in a few activities.
g. To propel village youth and women for leadership and to build self sustaining " self Help Groups"

Programs & activities

1. Empowerment of Women:
Strengthening the Self Help Groups of women:

a) 3 Trainings were organized on capacity building, leadership, and book keeping & social awareness for 45 women representatives of these groups in November and December 2002.
b) Training on Herbal Soap making was held at Fireflies by an expert from Kerala on January 7th for 18 women from SHGs (self help groups) using extracts of herbal leaves like 'Tulasi' and 'Neem'. The women need practice to reach the right quality. However the women are using the soap in their homes.
c) Educational sessions were conducted for women and adolescent girls on preventive health care, reproductive & sexual health and awareness on HIV/AIDS and need for compassionate community action in January, February & March 2003. Doctors and paramedical personnel from hospitals of Bangalore were invited for the sessions.
d) An Eye camp was organized at Uttari village with the help of Mahavir Jain, Eye Hospital, Bangalore. 28 elderly persons were taken to the hospital and operated for Cataract free of cost. SHG women and youth were actively involved in organising the camp..
e) Vermi compost and income generation: 15 women of SHGs have been trained in vermicomposting . As a support system and encouragement a plot was provided to the women for the construction of compost pit. And as motivation Fireflies ashram has initiated a "Buy Back" scheme in order to help with the marketing. Fireflies, in turn, sells the compost to those who visit the ashram.

The women have availed the loan for the construction of the compost-container and built 2 containers for vermicomposting in the month of November 2002. Women monitor the process regularly. In the initial stage the earth worms which were introduced in the containers could not survive due to unfavourable conditions. The women's group was disappointed but anyway continued to rebuild the earthworm population. Their efforts did not fail. From January 2003, 265kgs of vermicompost was produced and sold to Fireflies at Rs.5per Kg. They have also sold to the outsiders at the rate of Rs. 8 per kg. The income of Rs. 1875 was earned out of this and the group was able to repay their loan amount. With greater experience the women hope to sell a few thousand kilos of the compost in the next 12months.

II. Social and environmental issues|:

1. Land Rights to Dalit (untouchable) and tribal women- landless labourers

Negotiations for allotment of residential of plots is under way for 20 dalit & tribal women-agricultural labourers. These women have been living in small thatched huts on the private land outside the village "Dinnepalya" for almost 2 generations. Prior to intervention of `Fireflies team' the local upper caste leaders who would not tolerate any demand for land rights oppressed the women. After organising the women into groups and with gradual social and economic security the issue of getting some land to build their huts was raised. But the strategy was not to have an outright confrontation with the upper caste leaders but to skilfully bypass them and approach the local political and government leaders who are not totally weighed down with local vested interests. The need to recognize the dignity of these women through dialogues has led to common understanding and fruitful results.

2. The peoples struggle against encroachment of community water tank in the village.
"Hanumanthayyana Kere", a freshwater tank, (3 acres) was encroached by an outsider who bought the adjacent cultivable land in the village with the support of a few local unscrupulous villagers and govt officials. He had also filled the tank with earth mud. For this new landowner the lake was mere land that he could cover and sell later after having doctored the records.
The women SHG members and active youth had challenged the powerful individuals against this encroachment. After confronting and appealing to the elected representatives and government officials for almost one and half years the village community finally succeeded to get the local MLA (member of the legislative assembly) to investigate and break the granite-pillar-fence which the new landowner had erected around the tank. The MLA passed an order that the ashram would be the guardian of the lakes in the village on behalf of the whole village.

The efforts to restore the lake have begun. A part of the late that was covered has been restored. We hope to continue this restoration in the next few months. This is a victory for Mother Earth and for the poor people who need water to graze their cattle , wash their clothes etc.

III. Eco Agriculture and water

1. Focus on farm ponds
There has been acute water shortage for the past two years because of the failure of monsoon rains and also over exploitation of ground water. The farmers ,especially the small and marginal ones, have been affected as they totally depend on rain water for farming.
During February and March 2003 several discussions were held between agricultural and water experts and the farmers in the villages regarding the need for harvesting the rain water in the coming monsoons. The focus was on the reviving rain water harvesting through farm ponds.. Though this used to be a traditional rainwater harvesting practice it has been neglected by most of the farmers. Five farmers have decided to build ponds measuring 30ft X 30ft before the next monsoon.

2. Desilting of Tank:

The tank "Reddikere" was partially disilted by the village community with the support of government in 2001. Pipal Tree put in a lot of effort to motivate people to lobby with the government to get the necessary funds. Over a metre of earth was removed from about two acres of the lake and carried over to the fields of the farmers as compost. This earth is rich in bio-mas as it is the topsoil washed into the tank. Despite the poor rains the silt served as rich manure for the ragi crops.
The women & youth along with Pipal Tree team have taken up the responsibility of restoring the rest of the tank.
When the lake holds more water as a result of de-silting then water will percolate downwards and there will be more water in the wells. The water will also go through the cracks in the rocks of the tank bed and restore the deep aquifers.
We hope that slowly we can restore all the lakes in the village.

3.Tree cemeteries

The traditional practice of planting saplings on the tomb of the dead used to be common among the tribal people. By planting they believed in the continuity of the positive energy of the loved ones in the trees and sharing this energy with all living beings. This has been one of the ways of connecting oneself with the dead ones and with nature. In modern times the people have neglected this traditional practice of conservation of ecosystems and started using brick and stone for the tombs. (In our village the local people bury and not cremate)

This traditional wisdom has been revived and the women enthusiastically started planting fruit saplings on the tombs. These trees will never be cut as they are sacred.

4. Roof top rain water harvesting on the rural school building.

The community and the local govt has been motivated to participate & contribute to the urgent need of the hour i.e harvesting rainwater, as every drop of water is precious. Rainwater harvesting in the rural school building is being carried out and will be completed before May 2003. The students and the youth are involved in promoting this model approach. Pipal Tree brought in a rain water harvesting expert to initiate this process.

IV. Bhoomi Jatre:- "Festival of Earth Music

An all night festival of Earth Music was held in Fireflies on 15th February 2003 to coincide with the peace marches all over the world. Music groups both in English & Kannada (our regional language) and dancers performed. There was a talk by Siddhartha on earth spirituality and peace at the beginning of the festival. More than 800 people from Bangalore city had joined the festival. It was a pleasant exposure to multi cultural dimensions for SHG and local women. They also participated in the festival by arranging `Food stalls' and selling different types of tasty traditional foods. Vermi compost was also sold. At six in the morning about two hundred people were left. We ended with a meditation for half an hour.

Money received
The first instalment received was Rupees 119,327.


Under 1a) of report (womens training) 18,000
Under (1b) of report " 6,000
Under (1c) of report " 9,000
Under (1d) of report eye camp 17,000
Protection of lake 12,000
Salaries for 6 months 36,000
Travel 18,000
Telephone 4000

Total 120,000 Rupees