The 10th Agricultural Census reported a gradual rise in input cost, including seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, labour and other pieces of equipment and machinery. There was, however, nothing surprising in this as it has been in the discourse for a very long time that rising input cost has been a crucial factor behind declining farm incomes.
Now, one way to ensure that the input cost doesn’t rise for cultivators is through subsidization by the government. Over a period of time, it has been established that subsidization is not a foolproof long-term solution since there are various issues pertaining to it, including leakages, accurate identification of beneficiaries and so on. Subsidization becomes a cause of concern when we are on the negotiation table in WTO meetings. We are already under pressure by the western world to cap our farm subsidies since it distorts world trade according to them.
The other way is to find sustainable alternatives. I believe alternatives have always been there. I wonder how we cultivated our land before the advent of the Green Revolution.
Subhash Palekar gave the idea of Zero Budget Natural Farming. It is a holistic alternative to the present paradigm of high-cost chemical inputs based cultivation. It is believed to be highly effective in addressing the uncertainties of climate change.
Basically, it promotes the application of jeevamrutha—a mixture of cow dung, cow urine, jaggery, pulse flour, water and soil. The inputs used for seed treatment and other inoculations are locally available in the form of cow dung and cow urine. A similar mixture, called bijamitra, is used to treat seeds, while for pest management, green chillis, tobacco and neem are used.
ZBNF has immensely benefitted farmers of Andhra Pradesh. After adopting it, they are getting higher incomes. The government of Andhra Pradesh is now implementing ZBNF Programme through Rythu Sadhikara Samstha.
The idea of Organic Farming is no different. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and crop cycles adapted to local conditions rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. It harnesses on-farm resources like crop residues, compost and vermicompost, animal manure, green manure, on-and-off farm wastes and biofertilizers for soil management and natural predators, cover crops, resistant verities and biopesticides for protection against pests.
One good thing about these practices is that they not only reduce input cost but take care of the soil as well. Organic Farming talks about conservation tillage system, which represents a broad spectrum of tillage systems. These tillage systems can be limited to the area around the plant and don’t have to disturb the entire field. No-till, strip-till and ridge-till are such systems which Organic Farming talks about.
For soil and water conservation, it suggests contour farming, terracing, grassing waterways, broad bed and furrow system, inter-row water harvesting, inter-plot harvesting, scooping, etc.
If you get the opportunity to travel to Bangalore, I would recommend you visit the Art of Living International Centre at least once. There is a farmland there in the ashram which was once a wasteland or degraded land. Now, it has become highly fertile, and you will see grass, herbs, fruit and vegetable plants, medicinal plants, large trees and so on. You will learn how agroforestry and multi-layer farming is practised in reality.
I got to know later that it is called Permaculture, a term derived from permanent or sustainable agriculture. According to Venkatesh Dharmraj, it is a design science that has three visions, earth care, people care and future care. It is designing and maintaining an agricultural land in such a way that it has the resilience, stability and diversity of natural ecosystems.
It helps recharge the groundwater table, build soil from bio-waste, grow crops through multiple cropping, build garden beds and forests that also generate fodder, along with offering sustainable housing.
Is there something extra-ordinary in Permaculture?
No. It largely and primarily talks about rainwater harvesting.
Are we hearing this term for the first time?
Rainwater harvesting structures have been in our country from ancient times. We are aware what watershed management is. Isn’t it?
If nature has given problems, nature also has provided solutions for the same. The problem is that we don’t try to understand nature.
Permaculture says you don’t need to burn your crop residue. It will only harm your soil sooner or later. It decomposes in 108 days, according to Binay Kumar, a permaculturalist. Unaware of mulching like practices, we burn stubbles and then complain about soil infertility and rising air pollution.
Similarly, for pest management, Permaculture suggests growing crops that attract insects like onion or marigold plant. Cover crops or trap crops can also be used for the same. This is what Integrated Pest Management is all about.
We have started using chemicals for protection against locust attack. But I am surprised why we are not thinking about microbial bio-pesticides (fungus and green muscle), controlling serotonin level, and maintaining healthy a population of natural predators which I talked about earlier in this article.
The reason lies in the lack of awareness among farmers. I don’t understand why knowledge dissemination of innovative approaches is difficult while it is easy to teach the farmers about pesticide usage. Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), largely non-functioning, have a huge role to play in information dissemination. Paddy growers need to be told what System of Rice Intensification Technique (SRI) is all about.
There is something wrong with our approach. Clarity is missing. Let’s first decide whether we want to protect the soil or increase the productivity. Policymakers are not sure whether to adopt conservation agriculture or continue with productivity-driven farming. It is like asking a patient, suffering from fever, to take herbal decoction in the morning, homoeopathic Arsenicum Album in the noon and paracetamol in the evening.
Infrastructure, which I talked about in part 5, is not just about creating storage structures and making transportation easier. It has to be created in accordance with sustainable approaches, for instance, GOBAR-DHAN scheme, which is a step in the right direction. After all, mixed farming has a lot of potential in increasing farming incomes.
I might be too idealistic, but I believe, if we can think of Farming 3.0, Precision Farming and Artificial Intelligence in agriculture, it is also not unrealistic to think of sustainable agriculture.
When you take care of your health, you don’t need regular blood pressure, sugar or cholesterol check-up. When you take care of your land, you don’t need a soil health card.
Do check the earlier parts to the series. Here’s part 5 to this series.