Natural farming gaining momentum in India?

By Badhri Jagannathan|14th Jun 2009
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Here is something that looks up for India’s most vital and at the sametime most sluggish industry – agriculture! A story on NGOpost, talks about Natural Farming and its successes in India. The most recent one was reported in The Hindu on June 11.

The story which starts with an impressive rubric “No ploughing, fertilizers or weeding needed to get a good harvest” reports on Kailash Murthy, a banker-turned-farmer, earning 3 tonnes of paddy using natural farming as against his neighbours’ 1.8 tonnes using conventional chemical farming.

But this seems to be just one of the few, but very promising successes reported by the article in NGOpost. An even more significant success is that of Subhash Sharma, reported in InfoChange India. The significance in this success lies not in the numbers, but in the place and the time. The place is Yavatmal in Vidarbha district which is usually associated with farmer suicides, and the time is April, the month in which these crops were sown. (Normally farmers don’t sow in April because it is peak summer and water is scarce)

“I was very close to breaking point, in 1994, when I got to hear about organic farming and decided to switch to it as a last-ditch effort,” says Sharma. Today, 13 years on, production has peaked to 450 tonnes on the same 32 acres of land.

As testimonies of both of them goes, chemical farming yields short-term results, but gradually it turns into a double whammy; the slow death of the soil and gradual development of resistance in pests against which the chemicals are used. As a remedy, both of them slowly switched to natural means of farming that would restore the ecology of the farm land.

In case of Kailash Murthy,

“Except seeds, I did not use any other external input and a remarkable transformation started taking place gradually,” says Mr. Murthy. The natural balance of the soil got restored, which transformed his fields into a mini-forest. Thousands of plant varieties, including many medicinal plants, started growing. [ The Hindu]

while Subhash had to take care of an additional consideration in water management

Water management was very important because Yavatmal district is a hilly area and both irrigation and soil quality are affected by rain water run-off. Sharma designed a simple technique to conserve water – planting along contours….
Constant practice of this method of water conservation has raised water levels on Sharma’s land, and the effects are visible. He now gets three crops from his land every year, while in most parts of Yavatmal farmers have just one.

The pioneer of natural farming in India is Bhaskar Save (no pun intended!) about who one can learn more at this website. All these have a common starting point. They are all inspired by a book called The One-Straw Revolution, by Masanobu Fukuoka.

With similar and positive reports coming in from various and contrasting places in the country, the natural farming way seems to be the logical direction to move. But one can’t jump from chemical to natural farming suddenly.

“It is better to maintain soil productivity by adopting organic farming for at least three years before switching over to natural farming,” Kailash Murthy explains.[The Hindu]

However, all things considered, only a handful of farmers have braved giving up the conventional farming and succeeded. Even if it has yielded good returns, is it a recognized and approved technique? How will it help in meeting the demand of the rising world population? These questions are also answered in the article from The Hindu

“In the last five to six decades, we have inflicted irreparable damage to the lands as a result of which agricultural output is declining. This method rejuvenates the land, which directly increases the food output. Instead of worrying about what to do to the land, we have to think about what not to do, Kailash concludes.
Scientists from the Indian Institute of Horticulture Research, Bangalore visited his farm and endorsed his zero farming technique.

So, is this the beginning of a new (rather good-old) chapter for agriculture?

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