Go mutre (cow urine) is an abundant resource in rural India. For the past three months GF has started production of Kita Niyantrak (“Bug Controller” or organic insecticide) using cow urine from a specific Indian breed of cow known as Halikar as a base to ferment an infusion of botanicals. This recipe is the result of thousands of years of accrued experimentation, enshrined within India’s herbal Ayurvedic traditions.
First, Mallegowda (a project manager), Venkategowda (a field worker), and myself hopped on a public bus heading West over the border to Kerala—our more prosperous neighbors. Kerala is where everybody from Machur goes to find income and spend it as well. The town we went to, Katikolam, is eighteen kilometers away and takes about twenty minutes (with up to an hour spent waiting for the bus).
We purchased: 10 Ten liter jerry cans 1 Two hundred liter drum 2 One hundred ten liter drum
Including the bus fair over, the cargo auto back, and a vegetarian lunch for three people, the total bill came to 2,575rs.
Once back at the office, Venkategowda went around to all the houses in Hosur Village to see whether they had the right breed of cow, and if yes would they care to collect cow urine for GF at the rate of two rupees per liter. Those that met the criteria were each given one of the ten liter jerry cans.
Each can when full is worth twenty rupees. Because small change is hard to come by for an NGO using five hundred rupee notes, we issue specially made GF tokens instead. The tokens are machine stamped to avoid fraud, and each one has been assigned the value of twenty rupees. Once five tokens have been collected, the villager can exchange them for a hundred rupee note.
Every three days Mr. Venkategowda, the go-to go mutre guy, cycles through Hosur village collecting jerry cans and dispensing tokens. It took us a few weeks to get up to speed and for the villagers to get serious, but we were soon averaging our expected fifty to sixty liters per week. To successfully scale to our target of 100 liters per day by the end of March, Venkategowda will have to transition to a managerial role, supervising a fleet of local village collectors across three villages as opposed to doing the work on his own.
System in place, our barrels began to fill up and we would soon need to find the required botanicals. For 100 liters of go mutre, you need: 10kg Neem leaves 10kg Tobacco leaves 2kg Rakasabali stalks 1kg Partheneim leaves
These botanicals are then fermented with the go mutre for a month. Once the concoction is ready, the steeped leaves and stalks are strained out and discarded (eventually we would like to use/sell these byproducts as manure).
Finding the neem was a challenge. There were no houses with enough neem trees in the villages around us. After a few days of deliberation we sent Mallegowda packing to his home village fifty kilometers away along with a local villager being paid 300rs/day in coolie (casual laborer) wages to scout for neem trees. After their two day, one night sojourn—-the one night most probably having been spent in the company of a local whisky with power-suit-power-tie names locally referred to with acronyms such as: Original Choice (OC) or Director’s Special (DSP) or 666 (666)—-Mallegowda and Sanappa returned with twenty kilograms in tow, and a sack full of rakasabali.
The tobacco was easier. Gurumalapa, our Pradhan, retired school master and resident politician, hooked us up with some obscure relative of his in the neighboring county who was willing to supply to us for fifty rupees per kilogram. I was to realize what a terrible bargain this was only a few months later. So we sent Babu (a field worker at the time who no longer works with us) packing on a daylong decathlon through the myriad of public buses to go and retrieve fifty kilograms.
The partheneim was locally available.
On September 24th, 2011, we closed our first batch of one hundred and fifty liters for fermentation.
As our go mutre collection oiled itself into efficiency, we purchased more barrels to increase our production capacity to six hundred liters. We tried sourcing the neem from a local organic farmers union but the price was high, and the quality low (the weight of our thirty kilograms had been artificially inflated with the inclusion of twigs instead of just leaves). So for now we still send two guys out on a bus every other week.
Once the first batch was opened a month later, we managed to sell two liters locally for 30rs each—an encouraging sign of developing a local market for locally produced goods. One liter of Kita Niyantrak actually retails for 100rs, so it is a balance between competing social impacts of encouraging the adoption of Kita Niyantrak which is healthy for the soil and planet, and creating a profitable social business by levying higher prices on the meager resources of the villagers.
The remaining 148 liters was due to be transported back to Bangalore for sale to a wholesaler there, but first we needed to find a wholesaler, ensure our product met their criteria, and find a cost effective way to regularly transport large quantities of Kita Niyantrak from Machur to Bangalore.
One fine day Mr. Madhyasta, GF’s Bangalore support man rung me up to announce that the Krishi Mela was coming up. Krishi Mela had an exciting name, was one of the largest agricultural fairs in the region, and I was to have one hundred and fifty liters ready in Bangalore in three days’ time.
I had procrastinated on securing cargo transportation to Bangalore, and as Krishi Mela loomed closer, it became apparent that the seven hour public bus was how this was going to go down. 150 liters on the crowded public bus—potentially standing room only with no guarantee of being able to use the luggage compartment tucked under the bus—was a nonstarter.
I purchased three thirty five liter jerry cans from Katikolum, and Mallegowda helped me strain out a fresh batch of 100 liters.
On the day, November 15th, I was ready by 10am, face washed and shoes polished, at the Hosur stand—an amalgamation of four petty shops, three chai shops, and one “hotel” (really a dhaba, or a small restaurant, or a wooden shack which serves food)—waiting for the bus with one hundred liters of Kita Niyantrak in three jerry cans, one large suitcase, and my backpack. Although I would ordinarily hop on the first bus that arrived, today I was waiting for a specific green bus that went all the way to Bangalore without requiring a transfer (impossible with all my luggage).
The green bus arrived five minutes early, and my motley crew of villagers and shopkeepers over ran the bus and powered the hefty jerry cans into the back of the aisle. Luckily that back seat was completely free, and I constructed myself a little fort with the luggage and drifted away with the passing scenery.
As the bus lurched onwards and out of the protected national forest the villages are nestled in, with its pristine single lane highway, the roads all went to hell. My luggage fort crumbled as the bus dangerously lurched from side to side, bumpity-skipping over pot-craters. There was a baby cradled asleep in the seats across the aisle, and I didn’t want to fathom the possibility of my huge black suitcase bumpity-skipping into its face. In heartbreaking slow-motion, the bus crashed over a pot crater sending my three jerry cans of essentially fermented cow urine smashing onto the floor and skittering down the aisle. Good thing I thought to myself that we double secured those lids. Had that jerry can splattered over the passengers like a traumatized water balloon I would have little to say not because I am afraid to apologize, but because I don’t know the right words for it in Kannada, and even if I did nothing could compensate for this unusual transgression of social convention.
I played musical luggage and with mythology-making heroics secured all my luggage properly, cramming the jerry cans into the space for my legs and sitting cross legged for the remaining six hours and twenty minutes. The scenery outside drifted slowly, and then faster, and then all of a sudden into urbanization.
In Bangalore, I asked the bus to stop on the side of the road instead of taking me to the station (easier for the car to pick me up) I threw out my luggage onto the sidewalk, and man handled my jerry cans down the steep bus stairs onto the boulevard with a ceaseless rush of scooters, cars, autos, trucks, city.
The sun was setting, it was about 6PM. The Islamic call to prayer silkily filtered through the rushing traffic from a mosque across the street.
My ride finally arrived—-a white Reva. We fit all my luggage into the clown car sized vehicle easily, but there was no space left for me. I bit the bullet, creamed in somehow with my legs aggagle, and asked the driver to drop me off at UB City (a shopping arcade near home) and I went straight for an expensive haircut.
Although my hundred liters of Kita Niyantrak unfortunately remains sitting in Maini Sadan for reasons I don’t fully understand.
Krishi Mela was great. Mr. Madhyasta and I saw all the stalls, drank some fine Kodagu coffee, and Mr. Madhasta was even pulled into a group picture with a formation of dour looking farmers who were promoting some kind of corn products.
Anyways, this is just the start. By March 31st, 2012 we will be expanding to producing three thousand liters per month, requiring collection from one hundred Halikar cows, and a decentralized collection system in three separate villages, a regular form of transportation to Bangalore (or a drastically expanded local market) and have it all be completely financially sustainable.