In Bundelkhand region spread over 14 districts of central India (in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh), water scarcity has been a frequent constraint in rural development initiatives, so recent efforts to spread natural farming decided to start with water conservation. The results have been extremely encouraging, and many farmers including women farmers who have been prioritised are brimming with happiness and hope.
About 30 farmers of Elha village (in Manikpur block of Chitrakut district, Uttar Pradesh) have gathered for a group discussion in the courtyard of a farmer, along with activists of a voluntary organization ABSSS. One of the main subjects of discussion is – how far can the efforts of natural farming initiated about two years back progress?
Two farmers, Ram Bishun Yadav and Shiv Avtar Yadav, and an activist farmer, Gajendra Singh (from a nearby village) enter into a discussion on the progress achieved so far. In summary they say that a farmer getting two quintals earlier from a bigha of land has been able to get four quintals, increasing income from about Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,000. At the same time there has been a saving of Rs 2,200 per bigha by giving up expenditure on chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers, as also less intensive use of irrigation. Dry fodder or bhusa availability has increased by about Rs 1,000. Thus they calculate an increased net income of about Rs 7,200 per bigha of land.
However, before we rush to optimistic calculations, we must add that these numbers apply to those who have done very well in the recent spread of natural farming, and not all have done as well. Secondly, this result was not achieved just from natural farming practices as it was preceded by the cleaning of the village’s main water tank, deposition of its fertile silt on fields as well as other water conservation efforts. Thus, the production increase is the combined result of these three factors – deposition of fertile silt, water conservation efforts (the taking out of silt resulted in increased rainwater collection in the tank and improved recharge) and natural farming practices based on better use of cow dung and cow urine, as well as various other improved methods based on local village resources
Those who have taken up multilayer vegetable production using organic methods are able to increase their production and income even more, and this too from very small plots of land. This can be seen clearly in Sakrauhan village of this block. Sarita and her husband Rajbohar are known for their very well-cultivated multi-layer vegetable farming in which over 15 vegetables are grown in such a way that their various plants are protective and helpful to the growth of each other. Sarita has already emerged as a leader of this movement of natural farming in her village, having established a natural farming centre where she stores surplus improved organic manure and pest repellants prepared in improved, scientific ways from locally collected cow dung and cow urine.
In kitchen gardens, such cultivation is done closer to home on an even smaller scale and lower budget. This has been adopted by a higher number of women in improved ways, contributing much to improved nutrition. What people here highlight most of all is the health benefit they receive from organically grown vegetables and grains. Illnesses in families have reduced since we adopted natural farming, they say.
These encouraging efforts have been initiated by SRIJAN, a voluntary organization, as a part of a wider project called BIWAL for promoting sustainable development in the villages of Bundelkhand region. BIWAL’s model combining water conservation and natural farming has given a newfound strength to many farmers and rural communities. Arunoday and Srijan voluntary organisations have collaborated to take this model to several villages of Mahoba district, with emphasis on women farmers and relatively weaker sections.
Chhitarwara village in Jaitpur block provides an example of a village that is humming with new creativity in the course of experimenting with natural farming. Arvind, a small farmer known for his many skills, was quick to turn his creativity in this direction. As we now have a low-cost technology based on improved utilization of cow dung and urine plus other local free resources, Arvind asked himself, whether it would not now become viable to tend the neglected piece of low productivity land more carefully? Once he and his family took up the challenge, they ended up increasing the production on this piece of land by almost three times, from 5 to around 14 quintals, using only organic inputs.
Several other farmers like Surtai and Chhadami have also achieved encouraging results from natural farming. This as well as the steep decline in the costs of those farmers who have adopted natural farming has attracted others. Most other farmers are at least trying natural farming on a part of the land, or discussing moving to this path soon. This important and very creative change within a short time has become a big discussion point in this area.
Another such village is Thurhat where Ramesh Dada has set up a natural farming centre which has become a hub for these activities and more specifically also a place where other farmers can buy low-cost organic manure and pest repellant.
Ramesh Dada says that the first one or two years are difficult while shifting to natural farming but after this the yield stabilizes and can also increase. However, the cost reduction and quality improvement of produce is achieved immediately. In fact, so important is the qualitative improvement, Ramesh said, that he was able to obtain almost double the normal rate for the entirely organic wheat produced at his farm, so that despite a small decline in yield his income went up.
In these two villages as well as in Baura village of this block, the change has been facilitated by the removal of silt from tanks, leading further to deposition of fertile silt in fields and increase of rainwater retention capacity of tanks. In fact, Baura village suffered from acute water scarcity earlier and it was only after sorting this out that the prospects for natural farming’s success also increased. Now this village has formed a tank management committee to carry forward water conservation work and subsequently they have removed silt on their own.
In Gaurihar block of Mahoba district, the challenge is considered to be bigger as this is one of the most backward blocks of Mahoba district. However, here the work of the BIWAL initiative, facilitated by a grant from Indus Ind Bank, has progressed well in more difficult conditions.
Keshkali of Churiyari village in this block is an example of a woman farmer who has come forward to make full use of new opportunities. She has set up a natural farming centre, taking up natural farming herself and motivating many others to do so. She says she had problems in the first year of natural farming, but now she is well established.
Vipin Tiwari is even more enthusiastic and says that he has been able to almost double production in some of his fields by carefully adopting natural farming practices. The progress in this village has been very encouraging and most farmers are now being attracted towards this.
In some other villages, like Bahera in Niwari district, water conservation has also been helped by digging pits called dohas in natural water channels so that rainwater remains longer in the pits for use by villagers and their animals.
(The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘A Day in 2071’, ‘Man over Machine’ and ‘Hindi Cinema and Society’.)