Changed the face of rural Odisha with organic farming

The Mahabharata happened due to envy, says eminent Odia environmentalist Radhamohan to this writer at his home in Odisha. “Awards and recognition are a burden. It turns friends into enemies,” he says. It is with such upbringing that Sabarmatee got from her father that she has been working for the last 28 years to develop a forest using organic farming, without any promotion.

It started as an experiment in 1988, when Sabarmatee, her father and other likeminded people wanted to rejuvenate barren land using organic farming. They zeroed in on wasteland in the interiors of Nayagarh district (earlier Puri). People from surrounding villages came, and one elderly person said: “You from cities don’t understand farming. It’s impossible to grow anything here.” The land was eroded, and the soil gravelly.

“We accepted the challenge and stayed committed to the cause. We call our journey Sambhav, from the impossible to the possible,” says Sabarmatee. What started on one acre of wasteland is now a sprawling 90-acre forest with three rainwater harvesting ponds, over 1,000 species of plants and 493 varieties of rice. Fondly called Tiki apa (Tiki means small and apa means elder sister), the irony of her name is evident when one juxtaposes her work and the humility with which she refers to herself as a volunteer at Sambhav.