When Mekapothula Vijay Ram bought a piece of parched agricultural land in his native village and started tilling it, the soil, with remnants of pesticide was not fit for farming. Neighbours laughed at his actions. But, that very year his efforts yielded 18 bags of paddy per acre. Later, the number grew considerably and he got 58 bags last year. It effectively shut down his detractors and led Vijay on to a path of activism.
The farming community in the two Telugu States doesn’t need any introduction to Mekapothula Vijay Ram. An entrepreneur, painter, and a social activist, 50-year-old Vijay Ram has been fighting against environmental hazards that are taking a heavy toll on the ecological system. He conducts awareness programmes and farming workshops along with organic farming proponent Subash Palekar in rural districts. “It was in 1999, that I became aware about how polythene and plastic waste have been damaging the soil. Of course, I am just a mithaiwala, how can I fight alone? I thought I should start small by doing water conservation. So, I started digging rain-water harvesting pits in various pockets of Hyderabad back then,” says Vijay who spends an entire day at his residence-cum-ZBNF promotional cell at Lower Tank Bund, advising farmers on agricultural matters and even techies, who migrated to America and Canada and want to start farm ventures in India.
After meeting Subash Palekar in 2010 and coming across the work of Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka’s ‘One Straw Revolution’ which details the concept of spiritual farming and re-vegetation, Vijay Ram realised the need to dedicate his time to bring back the lost charm of traditional farming.
“Manadhi dharidram kadu dhaurbagyam (Our present plight is not poverty, it is distress). No other profession has the word ‘culture’, except agriculture and its related fields. I was deeply moved when Subash Palekar he told me 70 percent of agricultural lands in the country have lost culture i.e they are devoid of microbes and earthworms, due to indiscriminate usage of insecticides. When a farmer was happy, all other artisans in a village were happy. But the storm of Green Revolution has swept them away,” he says.
According to Vijay Ram, there is nothing that a man should create as far as food safety and agriculture are concerned. “Tell me how forests have been maintained for centuries? No man would go to the jungles to water them. No pesticides were required. Yet, the trees take care of themselves naturally. All the micro-nutrients that plants need will be provided by microbes. The suitable atmosphere for microbes will be provided by the root system,” he explains.
Rejuvenating forest cover
Gandhian in his philosophy, Vijay Ram also collects seeds of banyan, peepal and neem trees and prepares seed balls with mud and cow manure. He then throws them during road journeys by the wayside, near hills and valleys as these tree varieties provide a large extent of green cover. He has also been fighting against usage of PoP idols for the past five years. Every year, he provides employment to potters and artisans in making clay idols in Hyderabad, Karimnagar, Warangal, Vikarabad in Telangana and Krishna, Ongole and Chittoor districts in AP.
All things food
Through his non-profit organisation ‘SAVE’, Vijay Ram also creates awareness among people about global warming and importance of veganism. “There are many factors that depend on increase in earth’s temperature. In order to increase the weight of chicken by a kilo, the poultry bird has to be fed six kgs of grains. I know a few farmers who cultivate maize only, to encourage those in hotel industry to prepare non-vegetarian dishes. There is increase in demand for firewood that goes directly into the kitchens of dhabas and hotels for cooking non-veg food. And the firewood comes from cutting trees near National highways. There is an urgent need to address this issue,” Vijay points out.
Besides organising field visits to his model farm near Kotipalli in Vikarabad district during weekends, Vijay advocates producing edible oil on one’s own through cold-press machines and bull-driven ganugas. “Cancer and heartstrokes can be prevented, if people shun using refined oil. Calling the refined-oil business a mafia is an understatement. A lot of food items are adulterated these days, whether it’s milk or chilli powder available in the market. If this remains addressed, the future generations may pay a heavy price later,” he concludes.