India Is Embracing Natural Farming – And It’s A Welcome Change!
Natural Farming – The Future of Agriculture
Agriculture has sustained millions of livelihoods for centuries. In March 2021, it was found that India is home to over 500,000 farmers who are growing on 2, 16,000 hectares land - with its allied sectors, it is the largest source of livelihoods in India. 70 percent of its rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood, with 82 percent of farmers being small and marginal. It is the veritable backbone of the Indian economy, primarily agrarian in nature.
The agriculture ecosystem is flourishing based in technological progress. Growers have ample methods at their disposal to boost yield and maximize their earnings. However, historically, these methods have not been kind to the environment. A mix of pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemical additives have wreaked havoc on the soil and subsequently on human health. Moreover, such additives rid the soil of its fertility in the long run, leading to the destruction of green cover.
Fortunately, India has been waking up to a gentler way of farming – natural farming – which promotes sustainable, eco-friendly substitutes that lead to boost the quality of the soil while also protecting human health.
What Is Natural Farming?
For quite some time now, chemical-free agriculture, often known as organic agriculture, has been gaining ground in India. Natural farming is what the NITI Aayog prefers to call it. The phrases 'organic' and 'natural' farming are used interchangeably by most civil society members and farmers. It is a diversified farming system based on agroecology that mixes crops, trees, and livestock with functional biodiversity.
India is the birthplace of Organic/Natural Farming. The farmers of ancient India were known to have evolved nature-friendly farming systems and practices such as Agnihotra, Amrut Krishi, Mixed Farming, Mixed Cropping, Crop Rotation and many more.
Why natural farming?
Natural farming utilizes interventions like fermented dung like cow urine, jaggery, etc to increase the microbial count in the soil to provide nutrients to plants. Unlike chemical additives, these do not reduce the microbe content or hinder the natural process. Thus, farmers have noted better crop yield and tastier produce. Moreover, it’s good for the soil, water, and the environment.
Another reason why natural farming benefits farmers is because it helps them save on expensive soil inputs. In fact, a study by the Andhra University found that farmers saved significantly on pesticides and artificial nutrients, while also witnessing a 40-165% increase in revenues.
Natural farming gains scale in India
As the awareness around natural farming increases, several regions in India have started utilizing these methods. For instance, Karnataka launched a natural farming pilot on 2000 hectares of land in the state. Similarly, Himachal Pradesh has set a goal of converting the entire state into natural farming by the end of 2022 after the implementation of state funded scheme Prakritik Kheti Khushal Kisan. States such as Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka and Kerala are promoting natural farming. Andhra Pradesh is the frontrunner among all states in implementing natural farming programme at a mass scale.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been talking about need to reduce chemical fertilizers and promotion of organic and natural farming at various forums, including the United Nations convention. Union finance as well as agriculture minister have also been talking about promotion of natural farming at various occasions.
In a recent online convention organised by NITI Aayog, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and vice-chairman of NITI Aayog, Rajiv Kumar, strongly advocated for natural farming and agroecology.
Moreover, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research is in the midst of designing a natural farming curriculum for undergraduate and post-graduate courses, indicating the growing acceptance of this method of farming.
While farmers cannot be expected to do away with their current practices overnight, a gradual shift to natural farming will be holistically beneficial for every stakeholder from growers to consumers.
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