Santosh is a dedicated farmer who along with his wife Chunni Devi worked very hard in recent months to convert a small patch of unproductive land into a lush green, multi-layer vegetable garden. This has ensured year-round supply of organically grown vegetables to his family as well as fetched several thousand rupees in cash sales. This couple has grown over 15 different vegetables on a small piece of land which is just one fourth of a bigha of land, but used this so productively that this has made a huge improvement in their nutrition and livelihood.
They have learnt in the course of recent trainings to use cow dung and cow urine (as well as other freely available local resources such as leaves of some plants) in more scientific ways to increase productivity of farming organically, avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides entirely. They also save their healthy seeds carefully. Hence the vegetables and other foods they produce are very healthy, nutritious and enriching, while their production costs are extremely low. Their vegetable garden in Bhaista village with its poles, wires and net presents an intricate and careful design for a lot of biodiversity to co-exist in mutually protective way with more tender plant being sheltered by sturdier ones.
In Artara village a few miles away Krishan Kumar is a farmer with more resources but he follows the same low cost, ecologically protective technology favored by Santosh. He has also started a natural farming centre which stores surplus organic manure and pest repellant, based mainly on cow dung and cow urine, which can be purchased by other farmers at a low price.
Krishan Kumar says that within about 2 years of organic farming soil quality has improved, its moisture retention capacity has enhanced and earthworms have started returning. He says with strong conviction that the future belongs to natural farming and the government must shift its subsidies from chemical fertilizers to natural farming. He denies that natural farming is exceptionally difficult or demands a lot of time. He appears to have been very comfortable with his experiences of natural farming. He says that many farmers visit his farm and are convinced about the benefits of natural farming. He is also trying to revive threatened local wheat varieties by growing these on a demonstration plot.
In Rawari village Vrindavan and his son Narendra have emerged as the pioneers of natural farming and many farmers in the village are looking with keen interest at their recent experiences with cultivating vegetables and grain organically. Although he has been growing several vegetables, he says that in the very first season of natural farming he was able to earn about Rs. 30,000 from the sale of radish alone. He is also active in trying to create a small seed bank.
What is common to these three farmers of Maudha block (Hamirpur district, Uttar Pradesh) is that they have received training and guidance for natural farming by two voluntary organizations, Yuva Kaushal Vikas Mandal (YKVM) and Srijan, under BIWAL program for promoting sustainable livelihoods. In the 22 villages of this district where this program has been implemented so far the response has been generally quite encouraging and more particularly so in a few villages including Bhaista, Gurdaha, Karaiya, Reewan and Artara. A special effort here has been to produce plant pots and bricks with holes for plants which have been produced with a mix of clay, cow dung and cow urine and have been found suitable for good plant growth.
However the successful natural farmers here also agree that an important part of the base for their success was provided by water conservation work, particularly the silt removal from 12 tanks and deposition of this fertile silt in the fields of farmers. In this way the rainwater collection capacity of important water tanks like Bada Talaab and Daane Baba Ka Talaab increased and their water recharge capacity also increase, making available more water in these villages and conserving more moisture as well, creative favorable conditions for the successful adoption of natural farming by many farmers.
This effort has also been helped further by tree planting work. Rallies of villagers were taken out to emphasize the protective role of trees and then people participated in tree planting. Many villagers were identified as Vriksha Mitra and Taru Mitra (Friends of Trees) and involved closely in looking after these trees, leading to better protection and survival of planted trees. This campaign was called Vriksha Ganga Abhiyan ( A River of Trees) and implemented in several villages.
These early successes of natural farming indicate that with well-planned and thought-out implementation strategies natural farming, which in the Indian context should also be emphasized as low-cost and self-reliant farming, has a much brighter future and potential than is commonly realized. This is good news for India agriculture.
Bharat Dogra is honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food, Man over Machine and Planet in Peril.