Bhubaneswar, Nov 8 (LocalWire): A 59-year-old veterinary scientist is on a noble mission, undertaking over two lakh-kilometres bus journey through rugged rural roads, walking miles and chatting umpteen hours – only to disseminate scientific knowledge to people living in the remotest corners in a ‘giving back to society’ initiative.
Very few are driven by such missionary zeal to see rural farmers become self-reliant like the way Balaram Sahu, the diminutive veterinary scientist from Odisha, is.
The perseverance of Dr Sahu, currently officiating as Joint Director, Odisha Biological Products’ Institute, has led to the creation of ‘Pathe Pathasala’, People’s University on Move, a unique effort to educate farmers on nuances of farming at their own backyard.
Over one lakh farmers have received guidance from the university sans bricks-and-mortar.
As a well-placed government employee with a reasonable salary, life was going on as per plan for Dr Sahu till realization dawned two decades ago that he needed to give back to society.
‘I hail from a humble agriculture background. I got educated by God’s grace and got a job with decent salary. I made up my mind to reach people’s doorsteps to make them understand the basics of farming and cattle rearing to improve their annual yield,’ he said.
He made a humble initiative by deciphering complex scientific procedures in lucid Odia language for dairy farmers and came up with a book Jeunthi Pasu Dactar Pakhere Nahanti (Where veterinary doctor is not present close by).
His book was an instant hit among dairy and poultry farmers as it illustrated methods on how to tackle illness in animals using locally available materials such as seeds, herbs and plant species. He also publishes a magazine on rural innovations.
The scientist felt many farmers who had no access to books were being deprived of the knowledge beneficial to them. Most of those coming to training programmes organised regularly by government and non-government organisations as part of extension programmes were not genuine farmers and had lack of interest. Why should a farmer attend training and waste his day’s wage or a woman farmer divesting her duty of household chores?
He hit upon an idea of going to farmers’ houses at their time of convenience and converse with them in their own language.
It was difficult to translate the concept of roadside school into reality without funds. Here, his wife Malabika Sahu pitched in assuring Dr Sahu that she would minimize their home budget to fund his travels.
Pathe Pathasala began its journey from Dalibati village in Ganjam district in 2008 when 33 goat-keepers were taught the nuances of goatery which is being continuing for a decade now.
‘There is no dearth of universities, scientific laboratories and research minds in the country. What is lacking is the mindset to disseminate knowledge which will ease daily struggle of people,’ Dr Sahu explained.
The scientist has a simple theory. ‘A human brain with 80,000 neurons can think different ways and a farmer is more focussed and skilled. If we implant ideas without going into complexities, we will surely achieve our goal,’ he says.
For the last 10 years, Dr Sahu has conducted 641 classes generally in village community halls, cowsheds, pastures, riverbanks and crop fields on weekends or holidays and sometimes class hours are stretched to late evening till every doubt is cleared.
Around 8000 farmers have been trained and over one lakh farmers have been reached through various training sessions and tele-vet programmes in which farmers can call him for advice.
Dr Sahu’s classes are a joy to watch. He gives agricultural advices through story-telling and rhythmic poetries. ‘My targeted audiences are women. Women should be empowered with knowledge as they are the real doers. In tribal society, women work in the fields and also take care of families,’ he emphasised.
Pathe Pathasala assumes more significance at a time when climate change has further increased vulnerability of farmers with rising input cost. ‘For minor wounds in cows, farmers spend more than Rs 100 on antibiotics. We give solution which cost less than Rs 10. We always advice farmers to go for indigenous treatment to bring down input cost,’ he said.
‘There is a condition called anoestrus among cattle. Sometime modern medicines are required to be administered for inducing heat. We advice life-stock keepers to use nutmeg which can induce heat naturally and the cost is only Rs 5. The practice is also climate resilient,’ said the veterinary scientist.
With Pathe Pathasala creating positive word of mouth, farmers are now increasingly demanding training sessions in their villages. On request of a camel breeders’ association in Marwar region of Rajasthan, Dr Sahu recently demonstrated simple formulae to 300 camel keepers.
Sarat Das of Aul area in Kendrapara district had attended a few sessions of Pathe Pathasala. He then mastered the skill and his monthly income now ranges between Rs 20,000 and Rs 25,000. There are many successful farmers who have started earning by propagating traditional skills.