We have drawn youth to herbal farming
Interview of Umesh Lahkar, an Assamese farmer
Q: How did Rangajan herbal garden come into existence?
The govt of Assam granted me 2.5 bighas of land in Rangajan, a small village near Golaghat town in Assam in 1991, to develop a herbal garden. Then I purchased 2.5 bighas adjoining this land and consolidated it into one holding in the 1990s.
Q: How has this garden helped farmers of Assam earn a living?
Apart from growing and distributing herbal plants at Rangajan for nearly 25 years, we ran many social activities for the benefit of local villagers and their children as well as for animal welfare. From 1991 to 2006 we ran a charitable ayurvedic dispensary once a week at Rangajan. We also ran a veterinary clinic for dogs and cattle twice a month for nearly 10 years. For school kids who could not enroll in kindergarten we came up with the unique concept of an arts school. Village kids aged 6-7 years would come to Rangajan garden twice a week and draw and sketch the plants and trees they saw growing around them. We provided them with the paper and coloured pencils for doing the sketches and an arts teacher was invited to guide the kids. Later several of these kids were enrolled in local primary schools being run in the surrounding tea gardens, since this is an area of tea gardens. We also invited a retired botanist Dr Padmeswar Gogoi to give lectures to the local village youths on various herbs and their medicinal uses and economic prospects. This awakened the interest of the local youths in herb farming. Our experience has shown that through social activities like these, the interest of the local youth can be developed for herb farming.
Q: Please tell us about the challenges you are facing at Rangajan garden?
Due to paucity of funds, Rangajan has become unkempt and we have had to stop all social activites at Rangajan. Lack of irrigation facilities has hampered the rejuvenation and expansion of our herbal nursery.
Q: Have you tried to get govt support for Rangajan?
We tried to approach both the Congress and the BJP governments in the past decade and even sent our petition with the help of the local district magistrate to the secretariat in Guwahati, but nothing happened.
Q: What are your dreams for the future?
We want to install a tubewell for irrigation, have the garden fenced off with barbed wire fencing, build up a herbal plants nursery and plant some unique jackfruit trees (Thailand Pink Lady) so that the garden can be self-sustaining. We would like to continue with the open air arts school for village kids and lectures by botanists or herbal experts.
Q: If anyone wants to help you how should they go about it?
Some well wishers of Rangajan herbal garden have launched a crowdfunding campaign on the internet in August 2020. Those who wish to donate can do so on the internet. Here is the link: https://gocrowdera.com/in/other/rangajanherbalgarden/Nuriya-29089#essentials