How Sack Cultivation Helped Goma Darjee Grow
By Tanmoy Kumar Pal
State Programme Officer - West Bengal
Goma Darjee lives in Uppar Kalabari, a remote neighbourhood in the Nagrakata block of the Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal, India. She is a widow and mother of three young children. Goma joined Trickle Up’s intervention in 2016 through the local partner organisation Prasari. Like many other project participants, Goma was trained in livelihood planning and received a small seed capital to start an income generating activity. With her seed capital, Goma choose to raise goats. In order to diversify her income, Prasari staff and Village Resource staff suggested that she start cultivating a vegetable plot or kitchen garden. At first, Goma was hesitant to the idea because she worried she did not have adequate space to cultivate a garden.
However, project staff gave her a unique idea – raising saplings in nylon sacks.
How does that work? Goma was curious. Project staff demonstrated, teaching her to collect spare nylon sacks and fill them with soil she had previously treated. With mastery of this new process, Goma planted ten vegetable plants of different types. To best optimize her limited space, Goma combined climbing vegetables like bottle gourd with leafy vegetables like spinach. She quickly learned tricks to water the plants, like noticing that she did not need to fetch water from tube wells or streams to water the plants. Acting very resourcefully, Goma used wastewater from dish washing to water her plants. The compact nylon sacks made it easy for Goma and her son to move the plantings when there was too much sunlight or too much rain.
When her plants began to bear fruit, Goma started saving an average of $1.50 per week because she no longer had to buy vegetables from the market. Before cultivating her garden, Goma was completely dependent on the weekly market to buy vegetables.
What brought Goma the most joy was when teachers from the village primary school approached her to buy bottle gourd and beans. The schoolteachers used the fresh vegetables to cook lunch for the students. Goma earned $5.80 from selling these vegetables to the school. This relationship with the school prompted Goma to continue her nylon sack technique and expand her garden.
What is Sack Cultivation?
Sack cultivation is the practice of growing vegetables, exclusively in sacks instead of planting them in the ground. The system ensures that green vegetables are available throughout the year because the sacks can be moved to avoid harsh weather. This technique helps extremely poor households in achieving food security while also diversifying their diet. The nylon sack technique is a low cost version of container cultivation that has been adapted for extremely poor households. Container cultivation is often associated with small gardens on balconies or in urban apartments. Sack cultivation is ideal for projects participants who -
- don’t have extensive agricultural land.
- have small plots of land, but face problems of water scarcity or water logging.
- who have space around their house, but can’t do kitchen gardening due to low fertility of soil or soil pollution.
Spreading the Technique
Follow-up with project participants revealed that extremely poor women, like Goma, have reaped the following benefits of cultivating vegetable in sacks -
- It requires less water as water does not pass to outside the sack
- Water logging can easily be avoided/Logged water can easily be drained.
- Weed control is much easier; even a single weed can be identified and uprooted.
- Plants can be transferred from one place to another place as per requirement of shadow or sunlight, or in case of excessive rain.
- Replacement of dead plants is simple.
- Households who depend on markets become self-sufficient, reducing household food purchasing costs.
- If 8 – 10 plants yield crops, it is likely that families can sell the crops in the market or to neighbours.
One of the most important aspects of sack cultivation is that project participants can eat vegetables that have been grown without use of chemical fertilizers or insecticides. Project staff have reported that transitioning from inorganic farming practices to organic ones is made simpler when participants use the nylon sack technique.
In Jalapaiguri field, as many as 327 participants have adopted the sack cultivation technique – and their enthusiasm about the technique is especially evident.