The concept of inter - cropping is based on the optimal utilization of expensive agricultural inputs, fertilize and water, by the varied root zones of the crops, trees and other plants.

The porous sandy soil of our region has very low water retention capacity and consequently most of the  irrigation provided, leeches both the nutrients and moisture to levels below  crop- root  zones.  This loss of expensive  inputs [fertilizers and electricity /  diesel {for irrigation}, both,  of  which are highly subsidized by the Government]  is intercepted  by the  tree-root  zones  thereby  in effect not only  utilizing the escaping inputs but also providing the farmer with a substantially increased income at virtually no cost.

Fruit trees include Pomegranate, Guava, Mango, Ber, Chikoo [Sapota], Papaya, Karonda, Lime,  Lemon and  Aonla [Indian Gooseberry]. These are planted at a spacing that are appropriate for  fruit  development  and  are  yet  adequate  for  the  farmer  to continue  traditional  agricultural  practices, as well as plant vegetables and other commercial plants such as Turmeric [ haldi ] etc., underneath the shady fruit trees.

Fruit Trees
Fruit Trees

This combination of high yielding  horticultural  trees with ground crops and vegetables allows the farmer to continue to grow his traditional crops while the fruit trees mature. As a result there is no financial loss to the farmer.

Inter - cropping and the use of varied root zones also extend to horticultural plants.  There are  usually  two  species  of  fruit  trees planted  in each unit / module, one tall, the other shorter.  This ensures maximization of the available solar energy while avoiding competing root zones and also provides dappled shade and moisture retention for the smaller trees and ground crops. These measures substantially enhance earnings from small land holdings.

Intercropping of lime and  Aonla
Inter-Cropping

The first stage of the project focused on demonstrations to the small and marginal farmers, of the usefulness of the various options. This is in keeping with the belief that farmers will not adopt alternative methods wholeheartedly until they have seen the benefits of the new system.

The very best plant material was procured from all over the country - Amrapali mangoes from Pusa -Delhi, Aonla from Kumarganj near Lucknow, Pomegranate from Nasik, Chikoo from Gholvad on the Western coast, Papaya from Bangkok and Coimbatore and so on.

These plants were then stabilized to desert conditions using drip irrigation. After an initial period the drip was withdrawn and the plants were forced to adapt themselves to the harsh climatic extremes of Rajasthan. Plant mortality was allowed so that only those that were the most fit for arid conditions survived.

From this hardy, high yielding, quality parent stock, we are now beginning to propagate plant material. If a poor farmer were to plant low quality fruit trees, mortality and low yields would discourage not only him, but his neighbors as well, which would be a serious set back and obviate the whole purpose of the experiment.

The demonstration modules have been designed for simplicity and ease of operations without the need of high tech methods, which in any case are beyond the ken and the reach of the vast majority of our rural people. This simple method of development has the potential to vastly enhance rural prosperity.

Fuel and fodder trees planted as wind breaks, not only protect the fruit and the crops and prevent top soil erosion, but also prevent the continued depletion and degradation of what little forest remains. Many of the species selected for windbreaks also have other nutritional or economic value and further mitigate poverty.

The land for this project, purchased in 1983, was chosen for its inhospitable arid conditions and because it was degraded. This was on the specific premise that if these horticultural experiments were successful at Patan [our little village], they would be successful in almost any other land type.

These experiments in the Thar are based on the belief that National Development as a whole hinges on vastly improving the agricultural sector's contribution to the Indian economy. The endeavor is to undertake this in a manner that is easy to adopt at the grass root level, since only then can the goal of development on a sustainable basis can be achieved.

Seed selection of crops avoids hybrid species and we are conducting experiments on old varieties of wheat. These will slowly be extended to other crops as well, such as naturally clobbered cotton and etc.

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