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Natural farming transforming lives in Himachal Pradesh

The studies showed that 15 types of companion crops are being grown in apple orchards through natural farming. As also, the overall disease incidence in apple crops has reduced.

SNS | New Delhi |

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Natural farming in Himachal: Het Ram, an orchardist from Ror Panchayat in the Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh, had to borrow money to buy chemical fertilizers and pesticides yearly. However, since he adopted natural farming techniques he no longer requires a loan. The ever-increasing cost of cultivation at his 13 bigha orchard has come down drastically with assured increased returns.

Het Ram is not alone in having realised the benefits of natural farming with increased income and productivity of the land. As per official data from the Agriculture Department, there are around 2 lakh farmers in the hilly state whose income has doubled after they adopted natural farming under Prakritik Kheti Khushhal Kisan Yojana.

The state government has implemented PK3Y in 2018 with a mission mode for the long-term benefit of farmers. The aim of the PK3Y is to increase the income of farmers while maintaining harmony with nature through sensitisation, training and handholding of the farmers through natural farming.

In addition to rising expenditure and the resultant debt burden, what is worrying the farmers the most is the depletion of productivity of the soil. This has led the smallholders in this ecologically sensitive Himalayan region to give up the use of chemicals and pesticides and switch to low-cost, climate resilient natural farming techniques for sustainable agriculture.

Over the past three decades, procedures based on the green revolution have had a significantly negative impact on the existing agricultural systems in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh. Farmers now grow high-input, high-value crops like apples and vegetables instead of a variety of nutritious, low-value commodities (854 and 365 per cent area increase). Due to increased cultivation costs caused by these monocultures, farmers with little resources have been forced to give up farming (around 25 per cent in two decades).

Interestingly, while the Covid-19 pandemic witnessed adverse effects on all the sectors, it saw more than 1.10 lakh new farmers coming under the banner of natural farming in Himachal Pradesh despite all the odds. To date, 1.10 lakh of farmers have been trained in the state. Of these, 1.71 lakh are practising natural farming on 9,421 ha land across all 4 agro-climatic zones ranging from 345-4200 m AMSL of the state. Natural farming has gained prominence in 3,590 panchayats (99% of a total 3615) in all 81 development blocks and 12 districts of the state, despite constraints of tough hilly terrain.

Women farmers in the state have also shown an inclination towards natural farming due to ease in practices, input preparations and problem-solving abilities. The capacity-building workshops under PK3Y have not only empowered them with knowledge but have also led to their social inclusion through exposure. A number of woman groups in different districts have been formed under PK3Y. They are sharing natural farm inputs with each other and are putting in the collective effort to be aware and educate other village women about this concept.

The State Project Implementing Unit (SPIU), PK3Y has conducted several scientific studies that have validated the relevance and viability of the natural farming technique in Himachal Pradesh. According to one such study, the natural farming technique has reduced the cost of cultivation by 46 per cent on average and has led to an increase of 22 per cent in net returns. Also, with natural farming techniques, the farmers are growing nine crops concurrently, which has led to crop intensification and increased crop diversity on their farms.

The studies showed that 15 types of companion crops are being grown in apple orchards through natural farming. As also, the overall disease incidence in apple crops has reduced. The farmers observed that crops grown with natural farming have better drought resistance and better taste and flavour than chemically grown crops.

The PK3Y is working beyond the production of crops. While individual farmers have developed their own models of marketing for natural products through their local and outside links, the Yojana is now working on the principles of traceability, transparency and true costing for sustainable food systems in the overall interest of farmers economy and nutritious food.

It is developing a Sustainable Food Systems Platform for Natural Farming (SuSPNF) which aims at creating a complete framework for producer-consumer connection to enhance farmers’ capabilities and consumers’ confidence.

A first-of-its-kind innovative self-assessed certification by the farmers is also being put in place. It is easier and more transparent and will be helpful for the farmers to sell their natural products in the market with ease. Systems are also being worked in every block in the state to provide a better market to the farmers by making Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs).

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