Indian farmer promotes 'magic farming'
A farmer in the northern Indian state of Bihar is using magic shows to promote organic farming, Amarnath Tewary reports from Govindpur village in Muzaffarpur district.
Shreekant Kushwaha, in his late 40s, is a farmer who is a trained magician and has been using his skills to convince farmers in the state to convert to organic farming methods.
In the last few years, he has conducted more than 1,000 magic shows and converted thousands of farmers to organic farming to "increase both their yield and incomes".
"Magic and farming are both science and need use of hands for their execution. Both become obsolete if denied new tricks," he says.
End Quote Shreekant Kushwaha Farmer, magician
I couldn't go to school, but I sent my children to school for a proper education.”
Most of his magic shows begin with some popular trick like making a small ball vanish into air, or pulling a pigeon out of a hat.
"Once I've grabbed the attention of the crowd, I go for the real thing," he says.
"I show them two boxes and tell them that one box has seeds with organic fertiliser while the other has seeds with synthetic fertiliser. Then I put a lid over both the boxes and say let's see which grows faster.
"When the lid is lifted, the seeds treated with organic fertiliser seem to have grown into small plants but those treated with synthetic fertiliser have not grown at all," he says.
"And then I explain why and how it is done."Fortunes changed
He says most among the audience return home convinced that organic is the way to go.
Mr Kushwaha himself learnt the benefits of organic farming in 2001 from a training camp held in his village by a non-governmental organisation.
He says moving to organic farming changed his fortunes: he grows rice, wheat and more recently, medicinal plants on his farm and yields are high.
Once a poor farmer who could not even afford two daily meals for his family, he now owns a double-storey house, has a beautiful kitchen garden with decorative lights and flowers, a cow, a colour television, a computer and printer and a motorbike.
"I couldn't go to school, but I sent my children to school for a proper education," he says.
"It was all made possible once I started organic farming on my two-acre plot of agricultural land," he says.
"And, now my only mission in life is to promote organic farming."
The idea to promote organic farming with magic shows came to him in 2003 when "at a village agriculture fair I saw a magician pulling in the crowds for his shows and keeping them interested for well over an hour with his tricks".
"But when I approached the magician, he refused to teach me any tricks."'Magic spell'
Mr Kushwaha did not lose hope and went to meet Ram Ratan Sharma, a famous magician in his area.
End Quote UK Sharma Agriculture expert
Mr Kushwaha has cast his magic spell on the farmers of the area.”
While he farmed his land during the day, he learnt magic at night, picking up more than 500 tricks in two years.
"The villagers and even my own family members said I was mad but I kept on," he says.
In 2005, Mr Kushwaha conducted over two dozen magic shows in his village to convince farmers of the benefits of organic farming.
A year later, Govindpur - a village of 150 households with a population of over 1,200 - was declared the first organic village in the state by the Bihar government.
Soon, the government-run State Bank of India adopted the village to provide all facilities to the farmers as they moved to organic farming.
An unlettered farmer who could barely write his name in Hindi, Mr Kushwaha has now been felicitated by several institutions, politicians and local organisations for his "unique experiment of farming with magic".
Today, he gives tips to farmers on how to make organic fertiliser to increase the soil fertility and better their yield.
Farmers Shankar Ram and Rajdeo Singh are all praise for Mr Kushwaha who has done the village proud with his sheer "dedication and determination to convert all of us to organic farming".
Says agriculture expert UK Sharma: "Mr Kushwaha has cast his magic spell on the farmers of the area."
At present though, Mr Kushwaha is worried about the depleting number of cows and buffaloes in the village which, he says, may hamper the move towards organic farming. Cow dung and urine provide valuable fertiliser for organic farming.
"Cattle rearing has become quite expensive these days so many people are moving away from it and migrating from villages to find jobs in the cities," he says. "But then, there is always a new trick in science and magic."