Neem, totle, tulsi, nettle, kalturda, bojho, sage, chili peppers, canabis, rudilo, titepate, tobacco, bhogote, gandepate, sarifa, barbari, ginger — each of these plants can be found within a twenty minute walk from the community center in Koshi. On their own they serve different purposes: smoke from bojho is inhaled to cure tooth and throat pains; rudilo is used to deter fungus from growing on plants and can be ingested when someone is experiencing hemorrhaging; in the case of dysentery or gastric issues, one can harvest the seeds from bhogote and cook them down into a tea. Separately each of these plants can help to heal. Together, they can help to create.
We had the opportunity to participate in part of a three-day training about permaculture, organic farming, and edible plant identification here in the Terai. The workshop we attended was focused on how to create compost that is both a fertilizer and a pesticide: it gives nutrients to the plants while also protecting them. This compost is comprised of the above mentioned plants, cow and water buffalo dung, and water.
To make this compost mixture is very simple: once the plant matter is cut up into finer pieces, it is combined together and put into a dark barrel and covered with water. Next manure wrapped in a piece of biodegradable fabric is set on top of the whole mixture and seal it with a lid. The barrel sits for five to ten days to breakdown. After that it is will be a potent liquid that can be applied to gardens and fields. Due to its high concentration of nutrients, it needs to be diluted with water, but a whole barrel can last a farmer a whole season.
So, what did we gain from attending this workshop? What could we take away from observing farming practices in Koshi? Just this: the earth provides what we need. And as we take from her, we can also give back. Our soils are stripped of nutrients as a result of monocropping. Our time is spent thinking about the immediacy of attainment, not about how we will meet needs in the future. We focus on specific pieces of the equation, such as I will plant corn here, I will grow mustard there, but do not consider how the pieces can fit together to find a more efficient solution–like how the mustard and the corn can support one another in their growth. If we stop looking at the roadside plants as background information and can label it for what it is, if we can harvest and retain local knowledge about flora and fauna, if we can recognize the interplay between the land and its features, we can begin to support and sustain ourselves as well as the earth who feeds us.
The local participants of this training, and our group who visited for only a morning, all came away with the facilitator, Hommaya’s, words resounding in our heads: “each thing has its place, and together they can create something greater.” This is something to retain. This is something to practice. This is something to believe in.