Author – Rashmi Kulranjan
Modern agricultural practices have a major impact on the environment. Climate change, deforestation, genetic engineering, irrigation problems, pollutants, soil degradation and waste are some of the concerns that are connected with agriculture. Excessive use of fertilisers such as urea, nitrate, phosphorous along with many other pesticides have affected air, water, and soil quality.
Genetically engineered crops are herbicide-tolerant and their overuse has created herbicide-resistant ‘super weeds’. Non-target plants, birds, fish and other wildlife have also been killed because of pesticide application. Soil degradation has affected the microbial community of the soil, altering the nutrient cycle, pest control and chemical transformation properties of soil.
Natural farming in India is an ideal solution to reducing all these hazards. This sustainable way of farming is also known as ‘Do-nothing farming’ or ‘No-tillage farming’. It was first popularised by Masanobu Fukuoka way back in the 1940s in Japan. The idea is to let nature play a dominant role to the maximum extent possible. In natural farming, the farmer is considered only a facilitator and the real work is done by nature itself. There are no good or bad organisms; all are vital for a balanced ecosystem.
Main Features of Natural Farming in India
• Physical work and labour can be reduced as compared to other agricultural systems
• Yields similar to chemical agriculture is possible
• There is a steady increase in soil fertility year after year
• Water requirement is minimized
The idea of natural farming is, however, not something that is imported from Japan. Similar ideas have been widely practiced in Indian agriculture for thousands of years. In India, natural farming is often referred to as ‘Rishi Kheti’, which is based on ancient Vedic principles of farming like the use of animal waste and herbal juices for controlling pests and promoting plant growth.
The key principles of natural farming are:
- No till farming – plowing the soil alters the natural environment of the soil and promotes the growth of weeds.
- No weeding by tillage or herbicides – weeds are not eliminated but can be suppressed by spreading straw over freshly sown land and growing ground cover.
- No chemical fertilizers – this is because adding chemical fertilizers help in the growth of the plant but not of the soil, which continues to deteriorate.
- No dependence on chemical pesticides – nature’s own balancing act prevents any one species from gaining the upper hand.
Case studies of Practices of Natural Farming in India
Rasulia, Madhya Pradesh
Pratap C Aggarwal who became the Coordinator of the Friends Rural Centre at Rasulia, founded the ‘The One-Straw Revolution’ – the Indian version of the Fukuoka method. The community’s concern for soil health and small farmers led them to make drastic changes in their own farming practices. They slowly took to natural farming and called it ‘Rishi Kheti’. Ploughing was banned for they believed that it would damage the soil and turn it into sand. Chemical fertilizers were stopped and instead organic manure was used. Hardy local varieties of crops were grown. Plants such as clover were grown to eliminate the other less useful ones. Some of their achievements are:
• Yields of up to 20 quintals were obtained
• Good yields for all food crops except wheat
• Higher total production than under the previous chemical assisted system
• 6-8 fold increase in net profit and a vast improvement in the soil fertility
In 1990, Ananthu, Jyoti, Partapji and Sudeshji, all belonging to different backgrounds, founded Navdarshanam. It is an expanse of 110acres of hilly land that borders the Thally reserve forest, along the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border. Here different varieties of locally available crops like rice, chilli, turmeric, lemon grass, onions, potatoes, coccinia, amaranth, and lady’s finger is grown. Some of the crops grown here are used to make food items that are sold by their organisation – Navdarshanam Trust Self Help Group.
Zero Budget Natural Farming – Maharashtra
Subhash Palekar innovated a new method of natural farming called ’Zero budget natural farming’. His method is inspired by various ancient Indian farming techniques, the main being ‘Jiwamurtha’. The formulation was a revelation that followed appraisal and practical experience of various farming techniques for over two decades, right from the seventies while he was a student at the Shri Shivaji Agriculture College in Amravati. Palekar has conducted around 150 research projects on his own farm for over six years to develop this method. According to him, it acts as a natural catalytic agent to increase the microbial populations in the soil thus encouraging humus formation.
Organic Mandya, Karnataka
Krishnappa Dasappa Gowda from Karnataka does natural farming in five acres of land. His land is purely rain-fed and he claims that the straw mulching can collect 6 liters of water every day. The magic is because of humus. In his farm, he grows banana, arecanut, coconut, musambi, vanilla, black pepper, coffee and ginger. His total income per acre is around INR600,000 per year as compared to a mere INR20,000 if he were to practice chemical farming. Farmers like him are empowered by regional retail outlets such as Organic Mandya that pay a premium for organic farm produce.
Amarjeet Sharma has been practicing natural farming on 5 acres of his land since 2007. Increasing costs of inputs, degradation of environment and water quality and deteriorating health of the people consuming the crops were the reasons why he switched from chemical to natural farming. With this method, he was able to reduce his water consumption by up to 70%. He is currently growing cotton, wheat, bajra and jowar. He plans to grow fruit trees like banana, peaches, pear, mango and orange in the coming years.
Sher Singh is practicing natural farming on six acres of his land since 2009. He grows about 30 vegetables on 3-4 acres and turmeric, wheat and basmati on the rest of the land. Application of a mixture of cow dung, urine, jaggery and gram flour has resulted in good yields on his farm. He also does mulching of unnecessary grass and vegetable waste. This helps to increase soil biomass.
Currently, numerous farmers throughout India are practicing Zero Budget Natural Farming and many have been successful.