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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 37 September 9, 2023

These Small Farmers Have Big Hopes from Natural Farming | Bharat Dogra

Saturday 9 September 2023, by Bharat Dogra


A quiet but significant change has come over the remote village of Bahera (in Niwari district of Madhya Pradesh) in recent times. More and more villagers are involved in intense discussions on natural farming. In fact even farmers from neighboring villages have been coming over to look at the demonstration plots of natural farming and at the multi-layer vegetable gardens and fruit trees grown using natural farming methods. The verdict on these discussions is most often favorable for natural farming, as is evident from the increasing number of farmers opting for this.

These efforts, which started at the initiative of a voluntary organization SRIJAN about two years back, were helped much by two factors. Firstly, SRIJAN contributed some funds and mobilized villagers to repair a check dam and increase its rainwater conservation capacity by digging 21 pits in it. Secondly, it motivated and helped Vandana, an enterprising woman farmer, to start a natural farming center where she produces a surplus of organic fertilizer and pest repellants based on cow dung and cow urine ( with some jaggery and gram flour added) so that other farmers who cannot produce this can purchase this from her at a modest rate.

These initiatives, helped by financial support from IndusInd Bank, have increased the possibilities of adoption of natural farming. Surendra Kumar says he has only two acres of land but things appear much more hopeful now with natural farming. His saving on expenses incurred on chemical fertilizers is significant for him, he says. What is more, he has been able to get good yield without this.

Scientific organic fertilizer generally produced on farms as well as more productive use of farmland , such as by growing a diversity of vegetables, have helped villagers to maintain or even improve yields despite giving up chemical fertilizers and pesticides. For women like Ram Kumari, it is the improvement in health based on organically produced food including several vegetables which is even more important.

In Bahera I also met farmers from neighboring villages like Janki and Ajay who had come over to know about natural farming being practiced here and the possibilities of similar efforts being made in their villages.

A similar upbeat situation prevails in Neemkhera village of this district which has a very active women’ group. Here too a combination of water conservation and natural farming has led to a significant improvement in the livelihood prospects of several farmers. A small farmer here may grow as many as 15 vegetables on less half an acre of land. Some farmers have been able to improve yield under natural farming while others have been able to maintain this. Women in particular take a very keen interest in natural farming, kitchen gardens and multi-layer vegetable gardens. The women’s group here also discusses prospects like bringing back millet crops.

Teraih (in Lalitpur district of Uttar Pradesh) village did not require the initial help from water conservation steps as it has good irrigation sources. Komal Prasad Aharwar is a Dalit farmer here owning about 4 acres of land. He tells with great enthusiasm about how in recent times he has converted this entire land to natural farming. Komal’s enthusiasm increases as he talks about the soil quality improving with natural farming and tree growth, with the soil becoming more porous and retaining more moisture. He says happily—Do you know earthworms are coming back in good numbers?

For me the most important question is—Do you think that with these changes your small land holding can sustain you adequately?

Komal does not hesitate at all before answering—“Yes of course. Our expenses have been reduced in a big way, our productivity particularly from vegetables and orchards is increasing.”

Several other farmers in this village to whom I spoke are also quite upbeat about their prospects. The combination of natural farming, multi-layer vegetables and fruits came to their village a little over two years back, thanks to the efforts of CARD and Srijan voluntary organizations under the BIWAL program, which receives financial support from a group of philanthropists called Caring Friends.

Starting with 10 lead farmers who adopted almost the entire range of recommendations for successful, scientific natural farming together with more productive use of small farms, more and more farmers of this village have been joining this initiative, first bringing in a part of their land and then extending it.

Pajan Lal Kushwaha has just a little over 2 acres of farmland. Yet he is no less confident about his ability to make a satisfactory livelihood. He has converted most of his land to natural farming, and is in the process of converting the remaining land too. Pointing to one patch of his land he says that at least five vegetables are being mixed cropped with maize, after duly considering which vegetables can be best grown here. Then pointing to a very green space he said that this multi-layer garden involves even more careful knowledge-based planning about which vegetable growth will be supportive to each other so that many vegetables can be grown, with the help of wires and bamboos, with creepers at the top, followed by smaller plants and then root vegetables at the bottom. Then there are suitably spaced fruit trees of lemon, guava, papaya, jackfruit ad mango. With such a diversity of crops there is always something being harvested for sale at the neighboring markets, and good rates are available for organic produce. Hence there is a steady stream of income coming in all the time.

The farm, garden and animals are tended with a lot of care mainly by Pajan Lal and his wife Bhuniya. The nutrition of the entire family has improved since they took up natural farming with emphasis on diversity of fruits and vegetables.

Pajan Lal has three brothers in the village and they too are following his new path of hope. One of them Jagdish says that he started his tryst with natural farming on a part of his land with such poor soil quality that this had been yielding close to nothing. He felt he had nothing to lose here and so willingly started natural farming here, putting in a lot of organic fertilizers. To his delight, he could achieve reasonably good production even on this land. It was as though the land was hungry for organic fertilizer produced with cow dung ad cow urine as the base and with additions like some jaggery and gram flour.

What struck me in the course of these conversations with several farmers who have adopted natural farming is that they are very happy while talking about their farming and this happiness in turn appeared to be related to the great creativity involved in natural farming. Women farmers in particular appeared to be very involved in natural farming and in growing diverse vegetables and fruits. As they are small farmers, they are able to sell much of their surplus produce of perishable vegetables and fruits in local markets on their own. Organic farmers tend to have a good reputation in local markets for the quality of their produce. So far the progress of natural farming in these villages during the last three years has been quite steady, and this has created a situation of great hope among these farmers regarding the strengthening of their sustainable livelihoods—hope as well as happiness.

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