‘Ab main ration ki kataron mein nazar aata hoon
Apne kheton se bichchadne ki saza paata hoon
(Now I am seen in the long queues of ration shops.
This is my punishment for separation from my farmland)
Itnee menhgaayee ke bazaar se kuch laata hoon
Apne bachchon mein us’se baant ke sharmaata hoon’
(In these days of price rise, I buy something from the shop.
I share the purchase with my children, with shame)’
The lines from a famous ghazal ricochet at once, when you learn about the dire circumstances that pushed 28-year-old Amrut Gample to the brink, forcing him almost to quit farming and take up a small job at a petrol pump, so he could make enough to feed and educate two of his children.
This World Environment Day, as we debate hot topics like climate change and sustainability, it feels like a good time to bring the farmer to the discussion table. Unknown to the eyes of the world, a crisis has been brewing in Indian agriculture, that has not just impacted our environment by shrinking forest cover and making agriculture water- intensive, it has pushed our farmers to the brink of disillusionment and poor health. The worst is, there are no checks and balances to stop the crisis from unfolding.
As per reports from the World Bank, India has the highest agricultural land in the world with 1.89 M sq Km. India uses 60% of her land in agriculture, and 54.6% of its labour resource find their bread and butter in the sector. Research suggests, India’s total food grain demand is likely to grow to about 291 and 377 million ton by 2025 and 2050, respectively. Can we truly afford to have our farmers living in fear, poverty and misery?
Except for farmers like Gample, the onslaught of chemical-dependent farming has worst hit the small farmers who farm on an acre or two of land. Because the farming area is small, a drop in the yield over time due to the use of chemical inputs and loss of fertility (an irreparable loss), deals a more significant blow to the small and marginal farmers in comparison to the farmers with the larger cultivable area.
Adding to the pain is the ubiquitous myth that farming cannot be profitable without the use of chemical fertilisers, GMOs and increasingly sophisticated chemical pesticides. Nearly 200 megaton chemical fertiliser and 5.6 billion pounds of pesticides is being used in the world each year. What it is mostly doing is killing the life supporting and pest resistant microbes in the soil that could make the land productive. Killing soil’s natural productivity would mean the imposition of incremental dependence on more chemical solutions and pesticides to give the farmer same produce on a less and less fertile soil until the soil is left redundant for use.
It is yet another thing that agricultural pesticide poisoning is a significant public health problem in the developing world, killing at least 250,000–370,000 people each year.
1 Ton Wheat Produced. 0.5 Acre Land Used. Zero Chemical.
Gample who owns all of 3 acres to practice farming (that qualifies him as a ‘small’ farmer only based on the size of land that he cultivates), has managed to draw an output of whopping 1-ton wheat from only 0.5 acres of land, that is, 5 tons per hectare. This is 1.5 times the average yield of an Indian farm and at par with high yielding farms from the west. But the real good news is, owing to the high quality of wheat, Gample’s produce is booked for sale already.
With a country looking to demand of 377 million tons of food grains, can you imagine what will happen to India’s food security if our farmers feel disillusioned and give it up?
Latur based Gample had lost interest or even hope in agriculture. “First thing is that when I used to do chemical farming my produce was decreasing day by day, which concerned me and pushed me to move to natural farming. With scarce water resources and low yield, I was giving up on agriculture,” he shares.
Like a lot of other farmers, Gample was looking at alternative sources of income and took up a job in a petrol pump. With plenty of sugar factories around, the farmers in this area were used to cultivating sugar cane, with not many of them knowing about the excessive water required for sugar cane cultivation. But water availability in the region has plummeted to crisis levels in the last decade, while agricultural practices continue to remain water-intensive.
With yields falling, Gample’s health took a hit as well.
“I never used to feel hungry when I used to eat chemically produced food. I wouldn’t eat for 1-2 days. When I used to do chemical farming, it was very difficult to do any other work. It was very difficult to breathe after spraying fertilisers. I was worried because back then I was just 25 and such kind of health problems had already started to surface.”
Gample, who was tired from the low yields and high input costs for his already small land having tried all type of chemical fertilisers and pest control, took a leap of faith by switching over to natural farming and took special training for it.
“The awareness programs (as part of the Art of Living’s Natural Resource Management project for farmers) helped us understand that wheat needs lesser water and is ready to yield in three months. Poor yield isn’t just a result of water shortage, but ill-informed decisions too,” he says.
The project trains in and encourages natural farming as a way to make:
There are two methods – one which requires tractors to sow seeds and the other is the single sowing practice which is done manually. For small farmers like Gample, single sowing works best because the use of tractors requires 30 kgs of seeds compared to 2 kgs of seeds when using single sowing method.
As a trial, Gample decided to sow wheat and use enzymes on 0.5 acres of 3 acres of his land.
“I prepared the enzymes at home using substances like jaggery and organic waste like food leftover, vegetable waste, lemon peels, among other ingredients. I didn’t need to add medicines or fertilisers to ensure good produce,” he recalls.
In three months, magic unfolded with the produce of a ton of wheat which he could sell, keep for his consumption and the villagers!
“You have to understand why this means so much to me. I am a small farmer and have to think about what I will eat at my home first and then think about selling my crops. Big farmers with 10-20 acres of land don’t have such kind of mindset because their crops sell easily, but we have to keep this in mind,” Gample says, “Now after moving to natural farming I produce enough to use it at my home and sell it.”
Gample was the first in the village who dared to do this trial. “One indigenous seed eventually led to 48 seeds of wheat“, Gample says, as he waits for the first spell of rains.
“My quest to look for alternate sources of income has ended. I make enough to support the education of my two children and lead a happy life. I feel relaxed, and I am looking forward to a comfortable life ahead,” he shares.
“My earnest message for all the farmers and especially small farmers is to move to natural farming because those doing chemical farming with 2-3 acres of land will destroy their soil completely and eventually will be left with no produce and no usable land.”