For a Time, Organic Farming Thrived in One Indian Village

In the Magazine
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Not all beautiful stories have happy endings. Once upon a time, an illiterate Indian farmer named Shreekant Kushwaha tried organic agriculture, found it worked very well, and thought he’d share his discovery. But how? It turns out that Kushwaha had a passion for magic tricks. So he found a teacher, and practiced and practiced, and then started using prestidigitation to persuade other farmers to go organic. They knew it was a trick when his mystical seeds sprouted before their eyes, but they got the idea. In 2006 the Indian state of Bihar proudly proclaimed his hamlet an official organic village. Kushwaha spread the word far and wide. Then the droughts came. Young people left. There was no one to tend the cattle whose dung and urine served as fertilizer. The cows were sold. The government had supported organic farming, but not the cattle raising that was vital to it. Soon the magic disappeared from Kushwaha’s village. In despair he locked himself in his house, and that might be the end of the story. But as Kushwaha told developmental journalist Alok Gupta, it struck him one day that “in the world of science, there is always a new trick.” The show goes on.

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