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The BAIF Saga - in Dr Manibhai Desai's words

Part 3: Vineyards in Uruli ~ The irrigation system spreads ~ Discovering the cross bred cow

With this close contact, all the farmers stopped drinking alcohol, except for one. Consumption of alcohol has a direct correlation with employment. However, one must love the man who is drinking. He is not a brute but because of circumstantial pressures, when children are starving and there is tension, he becomes desperate and takes a glass of alcohol which can put him to sleep. So he develops a habit. It is a symptom of a disease. Gandhiji said,"Drinking is not a disease; it is a socio-economic disease which is not easily understood."

...a missionary said that the families who accept Christianity are given five cuttings of this variety....fortunately pruning of the vines was on. So I brought 10,000 cuttings to Urulikanchan...

In 1960-62 I brought a delicious grape variety - Thompson's Seedless- from Kumbhum valley near Madurai, where this variety was available. When I went to that area, a missionary said that the families who accept Christianity are given five cuttings of this variety. I went to Kumbhum and fortunately pruning of the vines was on. So I brought 10,000 cuttings to Urulikanchan and planted them on the same night. The cultivation of grapes was a turning point for Urulikanchan. I became an authority on grape cultivation. People forgot Nasik, a traditional vineyard area. I broke the world record in grapes by obtaining 168 tonnes of grapes. So Professor Weiver and Professor Winkler from California who were authorities on grape cultivation said, 'We will have to come to learn grapevine cultivation in India!" I met Winkler in California. Our grapes attained standard quality in the Bombay market. I started selling grapes in Deccan Gymkhana area of Pune in a hut.

In the year 1965-66, Maharashtra particularly Pune district was suffering from a serious scarcity. With the support of the State Government I organised the Haveli Taluka Lift irrigation Federation and designed about 42 lift irrigation schemes on five rivers. This brought in about 6500 hectares of land under irrigation.

As an off-shoot of these activities, a proposal to establish a co-operative sugar factory was taken up. With a condition to include the area covering Urulikanchan, I accepted the offer to associate myself with this project. Being a poor area, many small farmers were not in a position to invest in the share capital and so I secured a special bank loan even for paying the share capital. I had to work at every step including securing a licence, obtaining a loan, procuring machinery and organising the production in a record time of three years. This project proved to be a grand success. I also organised a sugar factory near Urulikanchan by involving maximum number of small farmers.

Turning our attention to cattle, we started with the selection of Gir breed. The first lot I brought from Saurashtra. I had one bull which was known as Dharmarag and several cows - named, Jamuna, Gauri, Ranjan, Kaveri, Ranga and Gorar. When Shri Debharbhai, Chief Minister of Gujarat, came for treatment for ulcer, he was happy to see our system and donated a few heifers of superior pedigree.

I also brought a pregnant cow named Savitri from Spicer College in Pune. She was bred by an imported Holstein bull, Trueman. Savitri gave birth to a female calf which was the first cross-bred at the Ashram Goshala. We also named her as Savitri. She was a jet black cow with a good physique. She first came to heat at ten months and four days. It had never happened in the case of Gir. Normally it takes three years. She turned into a cow before completing two years and then produced milk over nine lactations. No cow had ever touched that milk production. This opened my eyes and I found an answer in this cross-bred cow.

The cow had inherited reproduction and production traits of the exotic bull and the Indian cow brought in great resistance against the heat and diseases. Economically, I saw that this animal which could give gainful self-employment to millions of people.

This activity strengthened my conviction that an all India organisation should be constituted for taking up rural development programmes through agro-based activities. The concept was finalised in 1966 and I was able to convince the new policy makers in Maharashtra, Shri Yashwantrao Chavan, Shri Vasantrao Naik and Shri Annasaheb Shinde about it. These leader happened to be travelling by car to the Ujjani Project. I thought of travelling with them. With the concept paper of BAIF, I stood on Sholapur road. Fortunately, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Shri V P Naik, saw me standing and the car was stopped and this was how I joined them. All of them had great respect for me as an individual and for the programmes developed at Urulikanchan. I informed them that I would read out my paper during our travel to Ujjani and they agreed. Immediately after I finished all of them said, "We are with you, go ahead."

Late Shri Tatyasaheb alias B R Kolhatkar who was working as the Principal of our school took great pains in preparing this document. Thus an organisation was established under the aegis of the Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation on August 24,1967. In the opening speech I said, "I will not recruit a single social worker. This organisation will be professionally managed by technocrats and managers." I coined the name 'Agro-Industries' to give a boost to convert agriculture into an industry. Our basic activity should be agro based - wasteland development, agro forestry, horticulture, grasses, cattle and goats. It must be developed around the village and the family and so I told our then President Dr. Zakir Hussain, that "this is a revolutionary concept which we have inaugurated today." I said, "only sacrifice, simple life and high thinking will not change the village economy. These are very important virtues but value system is more important. There must be professional management, technical know-how and solutions to problems which agriculture is facing today in India." Even Mahatma Gandhi said to me in some of his talks, "Mass production is important but production by the masses is more important." So, if you involve a large number of small farmers for mass production, it will create a healthy socio economic base. This is the Gandhian approach.

People asked me, "Did you take up cattle because you are a Hindu?" I said, "no."....it is better than a spinning wheel. You don't need to sit for 24 hours with a cow.

We have natural resources like land, livestock, water, vegetation and even other components like management skills, financial accountability and credibility. All these things are there but which is first and what are the priorities? I thought cattle was available all over India. The second thing is that it can be handled by old and young alike, literate or illiterate. However, it is better than a spinning wheel. You don't need to sit for 24 hours with a cow. You have to take care of feeding, some preventive medicines and you can do it whenever you are free. It is an instrument to get sustainable income at the door of a farmer, provided you design a door-to-door service. Then I emphasised on fodder trees . When you feed the cow, you are not a Hindu. However I thought this is an easier way, an universal idea even though there is some criticism. When there is criticism, you should take it for granted that your work is going in the right direction. Even Gandhians shouted about cross breeding. I said all right. I could have replied that my clients are not social workers. My client is a farmer. If the woman says, "yes, I want it", you can go ahead. If they say no, we don't want cows but we want buffaloes, then think about buffaloes. If they don't want cows or buffaloes, you should be competent enough to develop a programme on goats.

Whatever little time I had spent with Gandhiji he would say, "People will tell you are not a Gandhian. They may abuse you but don't bother about it. There is nothing like Gandhism. For discussion sake, if you presume there is Gandhism, then there is only one Gandhi and that is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi." I said, "Bapuji, do you have any idea how much a woman will earn if she works on our spinning wheel?" He was provoked. Looking directly at me over his glasses he said, "If you find any alternative , you may burn this spinning wheel in your chulha." Vinobha said, "Don't just burn it; cook bread on it." But my guess is that both of them thought that I would not get any alternative. Vinobha was not happy because I was opposed to Bhoodan. I was sent for ten days to walk with him in a padayatra in Maharashtra. Although I asked him several questions, he never replied.

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