Many villages of Shivrajpur block in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur district have suffered for years due to low crop productivity due to the soil’s sodic properties. As Rajaram, a farmer of Dibanivada village, explains, “The farmland here has big patches of sodic land where soil has salt-like whiteness. Nothing grows on these patches, and the overall farm yield is also low.”

Most farming households have known for several years that sodic land can be reclaimed to a considerable extent by a gypsum-based technology, but as gypsum is not available to them in quantities needed for this purpose, they felt helpless in the matter.

In recent times, however, knowledge about organic methods of land reclamation has brought new hope to the farmers as these are well within their reach. Sushila Yadav, a Dalit farmer, explains the technology: “We first spread raw cow dung on a patch of sodic land along with paddy residues or pual. This is done at a time when the paddy crop is to be taken. Then later wheat crop can be taken.”

She adds, “We grow crops largely using organic compost and in addition, use a mixture call amrit pani and neem oil to organically keep away pests.” She is encouraged by the healthy yield given by the land that earlier produced almost nothing.

Rajaram, who tried this technology on his two-bigha land, says that he has achieved a significant increase in the production of rice.

The project on organic reclamation of sodic land was initiated by Shramik Bharti (SB), a voluntary organisation working in this area. Ravindra Katiyaar of SB says, “We recommend organic methods but not all farmers have given up chemical fertilisers. They take their own time to phase out methods practised earlier as they do not want to take any risk. We are content to let them respond in the way they think is proper.”

Rama Vajpayee, an SB activist, has been working closely with the women of Dibanivada village and helped them set up self-help groups (SHGs); today, most of the women are members of these SHGs.

Rama says, “Now farmers increasingly use organic methods successfully on their normal land as well. The use of chemical pesticides has been given up in a big way and replaced by organic methods of pest control. We started with sodic land reclamation but now benefits go much beyond this.”

Interestingly, she adds, setting up of SHGs of men was also tried out, but the women’s SHGs have out-performed and survived the test of time. When asked about the reason, Rama replies with a grin: “Essentially men are spenders and women are savers!” Woman farmers like Sushila and Sharda have achieved good results on their fields, and have also played a mobilising role for the entire community.

This success story is being replicated now in several other villages in this block like Sakhraj Garariyapurva and Rampur Sakhraj. However, on the way back to Kanpur, we passed by large patches of sodic land. Clearly much work still remains to be done, but the way forward has been shown by Dibanivada.