Thakur Das, 62, sifts through unhusked grains of basmati on the terrace of his two-storeyed house on the outskirts of Dehradun. The floor of the terrace is a carpet of gold—his rice harvest spread out to dry in the crisp September sun. Das’ basmati is special. It’s grown from indigenous seeds that make the Dehradun variety of basmati one of the best known in India, in soil that has no chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
It has not always been like this. Like most farmers in the area, Das was convinced that chemicals were needed to get a good yield. Then in1995, Das was contacted by Navdanya, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that promotes organic farming. “They asked us about our farming practises, our yield, the rates at which we sell,” says Das, “and offered us alternatives which we liked. They assured us that our old practice of usinggobar khaad (a natural fertilizer made of cow dung) will work, and taught us other techniques of organic farming.”