“Trade increases the wealth and glory of a country; but its real strength and stamina are to be looked for among the cultivators of the land.” — William Pitt
Traditional agriculture in our country is one of the oldest and most advanced forms of food production. In the recent past, India has witnessed increasing number of farmers converting to organic farming. Together with the modernisation of agriculture, changes in agricultural practices and cropping patterns, farmers are not just benefitting themselves, but also providing us fresh and healthy produce.
In order to inspect the perceived relevance, profit and barriers to conversion to organic agriculture, I interacted with three farmers who despite of many difficulties have managed to set-up a sustainable farming business.
“We rely completely on our fields as the whole source of livelihood,” said Kajju Ram Bijarniya who is a farmer at a village called Bheslana in Rajasthan. Soil and climate conditions in India’s dry lands make them particularly well suited to organic agriculture. These marginal lands, with their marginal soils, tend not to respond well to intensive farming practices. They are actually better suited to low-input farming systems that make ample use of biodiversity, and it was quite evident from the words of Bijarniya. “I am the one man army of my farm,” said the successful farmer Bijarniya. With no labourers to do his farming work, except for his wife who at times helps him in sowing seeds, Bijarniya prefers taking care of the farm himself.
With a small land holding of 15 ha, Bijarniya uses integrated farming method to grow crops. Specialised in spinach production, he rears crops of bajra, moong, moth, palak and barley and uses both organic and chemical fertilisers to cultivate his crops. “When the rains come on time and in the right amounts, families in our state have enough to eat to lead healthy and active lives,” he said.
Asked if he plans to convert his farm to an organic one, he regretfully answered, “It is not an easy task in a semi dry region like Rajasthan to sustain a small land holding without using chemical fertilisers.” “However, the growing of suitable vegetable crop for seed production in the semi-arid region could be a profitable enterprise for farmers,” he added.
Satisfied with his crop yields of around 50 to 60 quintals annually, he suggested that one can incorporate vegetable cultivation in the existing cropping since one can earn good amount of money by selling vegetables. To put his suggestion in perspective, he is indeed right! The Half Yearly Progress Report April-Sept 2011 from ICAR states that Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology, Udaipur promoted vegetable cultivation and integrated farming among the farmers in some places of Rajasthan. And their encouragement earned popularity in all the clusters among marginal and small farmers.
In Abu Road cluster of Sirohi majority of farmers have adopted growing tomato. In Talwara & Garhi clusters of Banswara farmers are growing chilli on mass scale. In Mavli-II & Kherwara kharif onion cultivation has gained popularity. Poor farmers earned good amount of profits from the cultivation of vegetables.
Bijarniya revealed that seed production is economically more attractive than cereal farming in the same area. Concluding our conversation when finally asked, why spinach cultivation has always remained his forte, he cheerfully joked that his love for spinach pakodas has always remained the same since childhood and more spinach cultivation means more pakodas!
In an another conversation with Jakir Hussain, a progressive farmer in his locality at Howarah, West Bengal shared with me why and how he developed interest in medicinal plant cultivation.
Hussain in his 10 bigha land used to grow rice, potatoes and other vegetables until he attended workshops and training programmes organised by the state department of agriculture and other agencies. A pure believer and preacher of organic farming, Hussain strictly avoids using any artificial/chemical fertiliser. “I use only organic manure and apply vermi compost to the field,” affirmed Hussain.
Convinced from the workshops and seminars the importance of medicinal plants in pharmaceutical industry and huge profit margins and availability of institutional finance, he decided to opt for commercial cultivation of medicinal plant. “I stopped cultivating rice and other edible crops as the prices of vegetables are soaring day by day, hence, not much buyers are available.” He started with the collection of aloe-vera suckers from Narendrapur Ram Krishna Mission, South 24 Parganas and Sriniketan, West Bengal. “I saw a good amount of profit just after a year of cultivation”, he revealed. When asked how he manages the marketing part and who his buyers are, the contented farmer said “Marketing is not a headache for me. The produce is purchased by the Centre for Rural Development of Jadavpur University, and they also advise me how to improve my cultivation and try out other medicinal plants.”
So does he dream something big? “I really want to start my own agro-processing unit in the near future.” “I also wish to see more farmers indulging in organic farming. It is not only health beneficial but also has great earning potential,” he added.
“You can’t stand straight if your backbone is broken. Farmers give Indian economy the analogous strength. Without farmers the economy is cripple and so is the country,” he stated when we revealed that we are going to show the country how farmer like him is working hard towards a stronger economy of our nation.
Another farmer hailing from the small village Balwant, Santosh has proved himself to be an icon in the locality by his hard work and successful farming. Known for his record of drumstick cultivation, Santosh also cultivates sugarcane, grapes and other vegetables in his 10 acre land. “I use both organic manure and chemical fertilisers for my crops. But I am trying to stop the usage of chemical fertiliser in my fields.” So, does he plan to go totally organic? “I might give it a try but going totally organic will be difficult in the initial stage. I feel there wouldn’t be much profit if I use only organic manure and some vegetables that I cultivate require high dosage of fertiliser.”
Earlier Santosh used to cultivate brinjals as well, but now he has stopped cultivating since brinjals require the highest amount of chemical fertilisers which is very dangerous to human health.
With machines like tractor, drip system, thrasher, gobar gas plant, and solar water pump, Santosh doesn’t feel the necessity of hiring labourers regularly when he alone could do everything. “But at times when there’s too much of work or I am not in a position to do, then only I hire people”, he said.
Sharing what kind of organic manure he uses, he said that the organic manure is collected from the reared animals. He also mixes water with cow’s urine and sprinkles it in plants as it provides ammonia and nitrogen to the soil.
“I had a vermi compost plant as well in the past, but I discontinued with it as rats eat away the earthworms and tapeworms which are essential to compose the manure,” he added. With cost input of 3-4 lakh annually, Santosh earns a remarkable amount of Rs 30 lakh per year.
For any ideas and suggestions on organic farming you may get in touch with the farmers:
Kajju Ram Bijarniya – 09001435246
Jakir Hussain – 09732449555
Santosh Sambhaji Kalane – 09960611855