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How Can We Make Farming Profitable And Sustainable For Our Farmers?

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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.

Zero Budget Natural Farming

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.

For pest management, Permaculture suggests growing crops that attract insects like onion or marigold plant.||Credits: Medium

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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