Sustainable Agriculture Forum

Organic Farming: Nothing unscientific about it

Posted by Ramoo on March 19, 2007

The scientific establishment remains highly sceptical about organic methods. But Dr Tarak Kate and his colleagues at a Wardha-based NGO have collected data systematically, to negate the charge that this alternative is unscientific and unproven. Darryl D’Monte reports.

It is symptomatic of an event-driven media that there is now a great deal of attention paid to farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, but hardly any focus on the alternatives to the high-input farming that is driving farmers to desperation. As is now well known, most farmers have committed suicide because they are steeped in debt, from loans taken to sow improved seeds or use better fertilizer or pesticide, or most likely a combination of all three. The perils of those choices are now starkly before us, and the need of the hour is to look hard for alternatives, and adopt them rapidly.

The Rural Development Committee of the Rotary Club of Bombay, in association with the Forum of Environmental Journalists of India (of which this author is the Chairperson), recently organised a presentation by three experts and farmers from Vidarbha who have opted for organic methods. Unfortunately, it was sparsely attended, except for a few of the already converted and some enthusiastic vendors of organic produce.

Overcoming scepticism

Dr Tarak Kate, from Dharamitra, an NGO in Wardha, has extensive experience in research on agriculture which employs no external inputs. His work in Vidarbha covered two phases. In the first, between 1988 and 2001, seven NGOs worked with 400 small and marginal farmers in 22 villages in four districts. In the second phase, he concentrated with what these alternative proponents term “resource-poor” farmers – to carefully differentiate them from standard notions of poverty – in one block in Yavatmal district. According to Dr Kate, the scientific establishment, including some of the world’s top agricultural scientists, are sceptical about organic methods. Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Laureate and father of the Green Revolution, says: “We cannot feed 6 billion people with organic farming; if we tried to do so we will level most of our forests….” John Emslay, a senior Cambridge (UK) chemist puts it more bluntly. He says that the greatest catastrophe that the human race will face this century is not global warming but a global conversion to organic farming – an estimated 2 billion people would perish.

Such scepticism is why Kate and his colleagues in Dharamitra have collected data systematically, to negate the charge that this alternative is “unscientific” and “unproven”. The data relates to each farmer and covers the cropping pattern, yield and income per year.

In Vidarbha – now repeatedly in the news over its mounting suicides, and historically neglected by the government of Maharashtra which has pampered the sugar farmers in the western part of the state instead – subsistence farmers are left to the vagaries of nature: as is evident from this monsoon itself, rainfall is getting increasingly erratic. But Dr Kate and his colleague Madhukar Khadse are more concerned about what they term the “over-dependence on the market for external inputs”. The acreage devoted to pulses – which add nitrogen to the soil – has declined, which also means that the people lack a balanced diet. And there are no additional opportunities to earn income: Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who has championed the cause of cane and grape growers, has suggested that Vidarbha take up dairy farming, but where will the fodder come from, in this parched area?

The true picture is presented by the current cropping pattern. After the introduction of high-yielding varieties, cotton accounts for two-thirds of the produce in the region. Pigeon pea comprises 17% and the remainder is accounted for by sorghum and soyabean. Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that this excessive reliance on cotton as a monoculture has literally killed farmers. As much as 60% of the pesticide in the country is for growing cotton.

According to a survey by Dharamitra, in a typical village in the region, Rs.1500 to Rs.1700 is spent per acre on hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Additionally, up to Rs.700 per acre constitutes interest against loans taken from moneylenders for the capital investment required, at 5% per month, for the seven months from sowing to harvest. Hence the total capital expenditure works out to between Rs.2700 and Rs.3240 per acre, once labour charges are also added. With an average output of 2.5 quintals of cotton per acre, and the price of Rs.2000 per quintal, the gross income works out to Rs.5000 per acre. Hence the net income is only Rs.1760-Rs.2300. Prior to the introduction of high-yielding varieties, when farmers relied on local and inputs which were not chemical-based, the yield was lower at 1.5 to 2 quintals per acre but the profit greater at Rs.3000. Hence the conclusion: “This shows that enhancement of productivity does not necessarily mean increase in profits.”

This underlines the crisis in arid regions of the peninsula with what Dr Kate terms “high input, high output, high risk” farming. Dharamitra’s calculations further show that between Rs.2200 and Rs.2450 per acre of cotton – excluding the labour involved in applying chemicals – goes out of the village “in the name of external inputs and interest needed to be paid on cash capital borrowed from money lenders”. The NGO cites Umari village, with 75 families, which grows cotton over 250 acres. A staggering Rs.7.5 lakhs flows out of the village each year in this manner. As Dr Kate says: “There is need to stop this outflow and ensure that this money remains in the village.”

Dharamitra has organised farmers’ study groups to demonstrate how organic farming can prove profitable. “Seeing is believing,” he says. This was tried out at Saidapur, a small tribal village in Wardha district, for two years. Moreover, everything was pain-stakingly documented. One of the innovations was to create a grain bank, which provided 15-20 kg of foodgrain per head in a village as a safety net in times of extreme distress. Any needy person could access this bank but had to return it the following year with an additional 20% of grain. Inevitably, female self-help groups proved more successful than their male counterparts in using this.

Dr Kate is at pains to emphasise that organic farming is not a simple switch-over to different inputs – or, rather, a return to traditional practices – but involves a “bundle” of measures. It is most necessary to monitor the health of the soil. Samples randomly collected from 8% of the villages covered have shown a clear improvement in the nitrogen content and level of beneficial microbial activity. “If you save the soil, you save the nutrient,” he points out. There is extensive use of nutrients which are available in situ, like leaf litter and cattle urine.

Despite these gains, Dharamitra is aware of the obstacles to wide-spread adoption of this alternative. Farmers need to undergo a major change in mindset to apply contour bunding and composting, techniques which require constant monitoring and regular maintenance. As Dr Kate admits candidly: “Although crop productivity under the non-chemical system has been brought almost at par with that of the chemical system, the overall productivity is still quite low. Similarly, even if a noteworthy increase has been registered in the net incomes of the farmers under the non-chemical system, the total income is still very low to meet their livelihood needs.”

Manohar Parchure, who is the moving spirit behind the Maharashtra Organic Farmers Association – the state is the leader in this respect – cites how 5 lakh farmers have turned to this practice. However, none of the universities have done any work in this area and therefore there is no academic data available. The average loan, with current farming methods, is Rs.40,000 per family. “Earlier, we imported wheat,” he observes. “Now we import fertilizer.”

Darryl D’Monte
12 Aug2006

Darryl D’Monte, former Resident Editor of The Times of India in Mumbai, is Chairperson of the Forum of Environmental Journalists of India and founder President of the International Federation of Environmental Journalists. For Planning Commission policy on organic farming,


Posted in Case Studies, Organic farming | 1 Comment »

The Soil is our liberator-Vandana Shiva

Posted by Ramoo on March 14, 2007…

Excerpted from her recent lecture
to the Soil Association conference,
One Planet Agriculture, England

There is increasingly reference to the Carbon Economy and I kind of shudder when carbon is addressed because carbon is what we eat also. I’d rather talk and differentiate between the fossil fuel existence of carbon and the renewable existence of carbon in embodied sunshine transformed into all the edible matter we have.

I differentiate between the fossil fuel economy of agriculture and the biodiversity economy of agriculture. One is a killing economy and one is a living economy. Interestingly the word ‘carbon’ is increasingly used as an equivalence term across the board and then everyone is being made afraid of every form of carbon, including living carbon.

If we add up the amount of fossil fuels that are going into food; take production, Pimentel has done all the calculations. We are using 10 times more calories in production of food than we get out as food. And there was a Danish study done some years ago. I remember I was at the conference where the environment minister laid out these figures. For a kilogram of food traveling around the world, it’s omitting 10 kilograms of carbon dioxide. So you are wasting a 10-fold amount in the production and then generating a 10-fold amount of carbon dioxide, all of it totally avoidable because better food is produced when you throw the chemicals out…

The part of GATT that really troubled me was something called TRIPS within it – the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement – basically an agreement forcing every country to patent life. To me it was a scandal so I went back and started to save seeds and have ended up doing a lot of the work as a result of just, in a way, keeping seed free and in farmers’ hands and not transformed into the property of giant corporations like Monsanto. But even I could not have imagined what we would go through in the decade to come.

One of the things that has taken us totally by surprise is a new epidemic of farmers’ suicides. Indian peasants have been so resilient. I’ve been in villages after disasters of floods and droughts and hurricanes, you have one season of a loss of agriculture, one season of having to struggle, and you are right back again. You rebuild your hut and you’re back on the field and you borrowed some seeds from somewhere and you’re farming again.

But the new industrialised globalised agriculture is doing something different, because it’s not like a natural disaster which you know will not be there in a permanent way. The first step in the globalised agriculture is dependency on what I call non-renewable seed. We’ve even made seed the very embodiment of life and its renewability behave like non-renewable fossil fuel – once and no more. When non-renewable seeds have to be bought each year, that’s a higher cost. Then they are sold as a monopoly with intellectual property royalties linked to it. The genetically engineered BT cotton, for example, costs about 2-300 rupees for a kilogram to produce. But when Monsanto sells it for 4,000 rupees a kilogram the rest is all royalty payment.

The seeds aren’t tested, they aren’t adapted, the same seeds are sold across different climate zones, they obviously don’t perform well. Instead of 1,500 kilograms per acre, farmers get 200, 300, sometimes total failure; add to this the fact that even if they have 300 kilograms of a bad cotton variety because its fiber is of a very inferior quality. And new studies that we have done are showing that there are huge allergies linked to it because what is BT cotton but toxic? 1,800 sheep died last year feeding on the plants. Anyone working in a mill where this Bt cotton is being used is getting allergies. Farmers who are collecting the cotton ball are getting allergies.

Linked to the fact that this is inferior cotton is the fact that in the United States there are $4 billion of subsidies linked to cotton, and now with these so-called ‘open markets’ the price has started to come down. In India, they’ve dropped to half. So your costs of production have gone up two, three, four times, sometimes 10 times, sometimes 100 times depending on what you were farming, and meantime what you are earning at the end of it has fallen to a third.

It’s a negative economy. Farmers get into debt, it’s unpayable debt. The people giving them the credit are the same as the salesmen and the agents at the local level. I don’t know how many of you read the Economist – it has a special article on the farmers’ suicides in India. We have been doing reports since the first farm suicide happened in ‘97. The first report was a 10 pager because only one farmer has killed himself, now there’s 150,000 farmers.

So the fossil fuel economy, the globalised economy, is not just ruining our atmosphere. Before it ruins the atmosphere, it’s killing millions. For us, the alternative is necessary just so farmers can have a safe, secure livelihood. In addition to that we have just had new surveys again from the government, the health standards of the Indian people are falling as the economy gets globalised and food is no more food, agriculture is about exports…

The planet’s food. There are two kinds of one world agriculture – there’s a One Planet Agriculture that respects the laws of the planet and maintains the processes of the planet, and there’s another One Planet Agriculture that reduces the planet to a supermarket. And then of course it seeks the cheapest from the furthest away which means longer food miles which also means more industrialisation and more mechanisation.

For those of you who feel troubled that the new certification consideration that food that has been flown in will not be certified by Soil Association, and you are feeling troubled about the farmer in Kenya, or the farmer in India, let me tell you, by the time huge volumes of exports happen in lettuce or beans or baby corn, the farmer is the first to go.

Their land is taken away and put in the hands of agribusiness. And agribusiness through corporate farming does the exports. It’s not peasants. The peasant was finished at the beginning of the process. So in fact by your refusing to add to food miles and add to carbon emissions you are in fact giving protection. You’re not just protecting the atmosphere, you’re protecting a peasant economy.

The imperative here for you is of course to grow more food better, to grow it locally, organically and by doing that you avoid two kinds of harm to the food sovereignty and food independence of the South. The first is you contribute to the security of livelihoods by not adding to dumping. Of course organic farmers are not involved in dumping on the South – it’s too costly. Dumping means selling below the cost of production, technically, and since organic farmers aren’t subsidised they can’t afford to go around putting cotton on someone else’s market and putting corn on someone else’s market.

In any case this idea that there are surpluses to dump is a big illusion of the globalised agriculture because that surplus is created only by specialising in one or two crops so all you have is dairy and then obviously you will have oceans of milk and mountains of butter. Tracy was here this morning and I remember a piece she had done at some point in The Ecologist about how what we are seeing is not really surpluses but a swap.

So there’s huge amounts of milk in England and there’s huge amounts of milk in New Zealand and huge amounts of milk in The Netherlands and everyone’s buying and everyone’s selling and everyone’s selling is subsidised for exports so that the imports everywhere end up being cheaper than local production.

So by defending a local economy you actually protect the livelihoods of Southern farmers by avoiding dumping. Dumping takes away markets, dumping takes away options to sell your produce and when you can’t sell you produce you don’t have a livelihood. Let me give you two examples of again how serious this can be. In ‘98 the United States soya lobby managed to manipulate India’s market and remove all import restrictions on soya and edible oil imports. This was subsidised and the price of soya that year was $150 a tonne, the subsidy behind it was $191 a tonne. Now, with that kind of subsidy you could undercut even the low cost production within India and within a season all our local edible oil production was wiped out.

… By growing food locally you also prevent a second kind of exploitation and when that lettuce is growing in the land of the Masai and it’s diverting the water of the Masai’s you are actually displacing the Masai and exporting drought. You are actually contributing to displacement of local producers, pastoralists, as well as farmers.

So the energy descent here has to be an energy descent out of oil into a biodiversity economy. For us, actually the challenge is absolutely the same, except that we don’t begin with the fossil fuel economy. We have to produce more food and the idea that more food can be produced through oil and chemicals is chemically wrong, physically wrong, ecologically wrong. Food is not nitrogen phosphate or potassium. No plant is primarily NPK and yet that’s what we keep throwing into the soil.

Years ago, in 1984, I did my first major study on agriculture, not because I’m an agriculturist, I’m not, but I was very troubled about the fact that extremism had emerged in Punjab, terrorism had emerged in Punjab, and nobody could understand. Where was it coming from? So I went and did a study, and I found out the anger of the farmers – it’s a peasant state, it’s a farmers’ state, Punjab. It means the land of the five rivers.

It’s the most prosperous state of India, the most prosperous well-to-do farmers, most hard-working farmers, and yet the introduction of chemicals and mechanisation had meant that initially, they had subsidies and it looked like a free ride. Slowly, the subsidies got withdrawn, the World Bank paid for a decade but now they needed four bags of urea rather than one per acre. Their water levels had gone down and they needed more energy to pump out water, because the green revolution takes 10 times more water to produce the same amount of food compared to organic farming.

All of it added up to a higher cost farming, with not equivalent returns, and in that period, the farmers took to guns. They became terrorists, they directed their anger outwards. Now, in the last decade that same anger has been turned inwards, into the suicide epidemic, one difference being that at that time they could look at state agencies, the distributors of fertilisers, the dam managers, those were the people who were getting killed and assassinated in that period.

The key managers of the state pushing chemical agriculture on them. Today it’s anonymous, they don’t know where the real forces are, they’re not identified, it’s totally invisible. And Monsanto arrives in their farm, without the Monsanto name, it’s a local company’s name, the dealer they’re dealing with has been around forever giving them good supplies and suddenly it’s unreliable Bt cotton seed.

So it’s anonymous, it’s invisible, you can’t figure it out, and all you know is you were told you’d be a millionaire. Where did it start, this becoming a millionaire game? It started as a TV show. But now they’ve taken it to farmers’ lives, and they literally are making farmers believe that it’s possible to be a millionaire – by doing everything wrong – using more chemicals, using GM seeds. We’ve been working now for more than 20 years to build alternatives, and we are finding that every argument that chemicals produce more food and agrichemicals are necessary and fossil fuels are necessary and mechanisation is necessary, large-scale farms are necessary – every aspect of the industrial agriculture myth is totally false.

First and foremost, chemicals, especially in tropical climates, even more than in temperate climates – they are disastrous for the soil. They’ve led to the creation of a water crisis both by using more water and then polluting what remains. You might have heard of the big controversy where the Coke and Pepsi was found laced with pesticide residue.

In terms of more food, definitely not. All that the green revolution did was produce more rice and wheat by converting more land to rice and wheat and irrigating it better. Land and water can account for that increase in production, you don’t have to have the chemicals and definitely not the new seeds. I mentioned I’ve been saving seeds for the last two decades and an old variety of wheat that I’d given to a farmer…has just produced organically 6.3 tonnes on a hectare. Native seeds, organically farmed.

But very often, we think intensification of agriculture is intensification of fossil fuel and chemicals, but what we can have is intensification of biodiversity, and I have brought a few copies of our latest report, which is the ‘New paradigm for food security, biodiversity-based organic farming’. Organic farming when it’s merely based on external inputs and you have to keep buying them and it’s a monoculture will not build up the resilience that we need to deal with the climate change that’s coming. You need the biodiversity. You need the biodiversity for many, many reasons.

The first is, biodiverse farms have more biological output. They might not have more commodity output, a single commodity, they might not have more maize, but they will have more biological output and what do you need for better absorption of carbon dioxide but more biomass on your land. So it’s a mitigation system.

We are also doing very long-term experiments right now on biodiverse organic farms versus industrial monocultures and finding that there is, within one season, up to 20% higher levels of carbon build-up in the soil. That’s in the soil, that’s not even in the above ground biomass. So it’s better at mitigation, but it’s also better at adaption, and it’s better at adaption because biodiversity allows you to deal with the flood, or the drought, or the late rain or the early rain or the high temperature or the low temperature. Something in that diversified production system will be able to give you a yield.

Whereas, when it’s one monoculture, one variety, one breed of animals, something going off. And you know, one thing about climate change is we better be prepared for things will keep changing, you’re not going to have a predictable climate at all any more. But one aspect of biodiverse farms that’s often ignored is that they are actually sources of energy, not consumers of energy, but producers of energy…

There isn’t enough land to produce the biofuels industrially to maintain the levels of energy addiction that we have reached. Whereas at a decentralised level, farms can be a major source of energy and in the third world they are. Where else do women get their fuel from? There are two sources: one are the by-products of crops, particularly crops like leguminous crops, the pigeon pea, the toor dahl, the plant grows that high.

You get the beans, you get the dahl, at the end of it you’ve got food being cooked on the spares. You go to eastern India, Bangladesh, the jute, after they’ve got the fibre off, the jute is a wonderful fuel. Rice and wheat – you can’t burn the straw but you feed it to the cattle and one of my most favourite technological innovations of the world is cow dung cakes.

Now the fact that in India, in the most densely-populated part of the Ganges basin, cow dung cakes have sustained the energy economies – isn’t for nothing – it can just be renewed and renewed and renewed. And the assumption that they’re diverting organic matter from the soil is not true, except in Punjab where chemical addiction was introduced, but everywhere else the women make the most sophisticated calculation about how much should go to the soil and how much should go to their hut to cook their meals. So we need to be fully alive and fully aware that the options available outside oil are limitless. Oil was limiting and limited, but how else we get energy, and we don’t have to imagine that we are looking for energy today, we lived on this planet with energy. We invented fire, we learned how to cook, all of that was energy.

Human energy itself, which is the heart of the transition, because what was the industrial revolution but replacing human energy with fossil fuels. That’s all it was. Now if we’ve to get out of oil, we’ve got to get back human energy into the equation. And if we’ve to get human energy back into the equation, there definitely are two things that we need to do.

The first is we have to stop thinking of work, physical work, as degrading. And the minute we do that, something changes. It means you here in the North can set the example to say ‘it’s fine to work on the land’, that a peasant working on the land is not an extinct species who should disappear tomorrow.

I mentioned the Economist article and at the end of it, it’s interesting that the Economist has finally reported on Indian farmers’ suicide and it’s called the great unravelling. And 80% of it is about how the subsidies of the North are pushing down prices, how the Bt cotton seeds are failing the farmer, but at the end of it, he doesn’t say the global trading system needs to change, the global food economy needs to change, the global agriculture economy needs to change. The last sentence is ‘The solution is the farmer must escape from the soil’.

Soil isn’t our prison; the soil is our liberator. The soil is our meaning, and disembedding from the oil economy in the post-peak oil world means re-embedding in the soil and in all of its life. All of its life including the ability of the soil to renew itself, the ability of the soil to provide for the needs we have, the ability of the soil to give us another meaning. Which brings me to the second example that has to be set from the North. When I was thinking and hearing about transition towns, I was just thinking wouldn’t it be wonderful if all these gyms that have come up for people not working were shut down and everyone was told ‘your workout is going to be on the farm’.

Because surely something has gone wrong where on the one hand we say every technological invention is ‘don’t work, don’t work, don’t work, just sit’ and then health is ‘workout, workout, workout’. We have to overcome this schizophrenia. And I don’t know how many of you read the Competitive Enterprise Institute put out ads, now that Mr Bush is also making noises, they put out these ads saying ‘carbon dioxide is the most beautiful product’. And it’s true, we exhale it and plants inhale it, so to accept that we haven’t exhaled it biologically when we burn fossil fuels, that’s a whole different relationship, and within that advertisement they have the line ‘and we can’t get rid of fossil fuels because they are the reason we got out of drudgery’. Now to the extent we will keep talking of work as drudgery we will annihilate the small farmer and talk about it as their liberation. When Monsanto markets Round Up in India, it has these billboards and it has a woman imprisoned with green leaves and says ‘Liberate yourself, use Round Up’.

That work and weeding, which accounts for 50% of rural work for women in India, and when they were working on a one acre farm or half-acre farm, weeding is not like working on a 1,000 square kilometre farm in the United States. You might need Round Up there but our farms are like gardens, and on these gardens we can actually produce more food. There was another question that kept coming up this morning, about the big city, but I’ll take the issue to the large scale farm. When I go to schools the kids will always say, ‘But don’t we need large scale farms to produce more?’ and I always say, ‘What is a large scale farm? More land in the hand of one person’.

The land is the same. It could be a thousand hectare farm in one ownership or a thousand hectares with a thousand farmers. The thousand in the one ownership does not make it more productive, it just makes it more consolidated. The concentration of ownership does not translate into higher productivity. In fact the opposite is true. All the data from around the world, and this report of ours is very detailed, is showing the smaller the farm, you can produce more because you can give it more care. And biology, after all, is a living system.

So where do we meet? We meet, literally I would say, at the door of the factory farm. You’re locked into the factory farm with all the mad cow diseases and everything else that goes wrong with it and all the dependence on oil, and you need to get out. We are being told ‘you have to get in’. The free range is slavery. Free range is backwardness and under-development, and we are in the climate change discussion in this terrible, terrible dilemma.

On the one hand, the North needs to de-addict. On the other hand, the South is being pushed into addiction by the same powers that created the fossil fuel addiction in the North. In the meantime, on the ground people are being squeezed out. Farmers are being squeezed out and they are saying, ‘We don’t want to give up farming, we don’t want to give up our land, farming for us is a dignified job’. We just had a wonderful debate in Calcutta where the chief minister announced that you know these rickshaws? The non-fossil fuelled mobility? That they were degrading. And the rickshaw wallahs said, ‘But we don’t find it degrading, we find it extremely dignified to earn an honest living through hard work’.

So this idea that work is degrading is coming in the way, to the extent that it’s the tribal, the peasant, the fisherman saying, ‘I want my catamaran, I want my one acre piece of land, don’t throw me out’. They are a lone voice, and they’re a marginal voice, but if that same voice is joined from you, from here, to say, ‘The future of the world in farming is to produce more food in diversity, locally, and that can’t be done without substituting fossil fuels for renewable energy, including human energy’. Then for the first time in the last 500 years since colonialism split us into the North and South, the colonised and the coloniser, for the first time we actually have the opportunity to be one family practising a One Planet Agriculture.

What you need to do in the North is the same thing we need to do in the South, the only difference is we begin in different places, but where we have to end has to be the same end of living within the limits of this planet, producing abundance through the generous gifts the earth gives us in terms of her soil and her water and her biodiversity, and recognising that working for a living, working with the land, working with the soil, could actually be the most evolved status of being human, not something that should disappear in history and will be put into a dustbin, and that that’s our common future, everywhere.

Farmer Suicides – Vandana Shiva

Thanks to 


Published in:

on March 13, 2007 at 7:00 am

Posted in Policy issues, Soil Productivity Management | 1 Comment »

Farmers turning towards neem based pesticides to cut cost

Posted by Ramoo on February 27, 2007…

New Delhi, Feb. 26 (PTI): Debt-ridden farmers in Maharashtra, particularly in Vidarbha region which has reported highest number of suicides among peasants, are turning towards eco-friendly neem-based pest control agents to cut down their huge expenditure on chemical pesticides.

“Over 600 farmers from three districts namely Nagpur, Vardha and Yawatmal in Vidarbha region are being covered under the phase 2 of the neem project supported by the Chemical and Fertiliser Ministry,” Y P Ramdev from the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) said here.

Under the project, entitled “Production and Promotion of Neem-based Pesticides as Environment Friendly, Biodegradable Alternatives to Chemical Pesticides”, the target farmers are made aware of the benefits of the neem-based pesticides besides distributing neem seeds kernel free of cost for usage.

In fact, not only Maharashtra farmers from Vidarbha, but the plantation crops in tea, coffee and spices in north-eastern states, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Kerala will be covered under the project, initiated in 2006, for the next three years, he said.

The first phase of the project spanning three years was launched in 2002 in West Bengal and Vidarbha region during which a low cost technology for neem pesticides production was developed.

After getting encouraging response from the beneficiaries, the project has been extended to cover more farmers.

The Rs 3.6 crore project is being implemented across the country by UNIDO while the Fertiliser and Chemical Ministry is funding it.

The farmers would be demonstrated the use of neem-based pesticides as a cost-effective substances to substitute chemical pesticides.

An analysis of the plants treated with neem kernal aqua extract (NKAE) pesticides and chemical fertilisers have revealed that the former had shown either better results or equivalent to that of fertilisers.

The NKAE can be sprayed on varied crops such as rice, wheat, cotton, vegetables, fruit crops, pulses and spices, the UNIDO official said.

Issues like problems of toxic pesticide residues in the food, water and food material resulting in environmental degradation can also be resolved by this cheap alternative pest control solutions, he added.

Since neem tree, also known as ‘wonder tree’, can be grown in even the most arid and nutrient-deficient soils, the farmers opting the neem technology can rest assured for the availability of neem seeds.

Efforts are on to seek help from the Environment Ministry to plant more neems across the country to ensure its easy availability.

“It also helps farmers address several requirements such as organic manure, organic pesticides, generation of income and offer employment opportunities in the rural areas by forming self-help groups of women,” said Ramdev.

However, he said, erratic supply of organic vegetables and poor level of awareness among farmers about neem usages considering huge cost incurred on advertising by chemical pesticide producers, were some of the major challenges faced by this alternative pest control.

“Also, unlike chemical pesticides, results accrued from the neem pesticides are very slow though they are long lasting. That is why the farmers are reluctant to adopt the eco-friendly pesticides,” said Ramdev

Posted in Pest Management, Reports, Technologies | Leave a Comment »

Indian women take the lead in organic farming

Posted by Ramoo on February 25, 2007

Fri Feb 23, 2007 9:08 pm (PST)

Indian women take the lead in organic farming
Posted: 23 Feb 2007
by Bhavdeep Kang
For millions of rural Indian women, organic agriculture offers
escape from the three demons of debt, disease and destitution,says
Bhavdep Kang, but despite all the evidence they have gained little
support from government.
In an arid corner of Rajasthan, Anand Kanwar of Laporiya village
recalls how, when she was an adolescent, the entire village would be
decimated by drought. Crops would fail, cattle would die and people
would have to migrate to cities in search of work.Today, thanks to a
community-driven watershed management-cum-organic farming project
implemented over 15 years, the village manages two crops a year and
at least one crop even in a really bad drought year and maintains
large herds of milking cattle. No one ever goes hungry or thirsty,
she says.
Crop rotation, use of bio-inputs, water-harvesting, animal
husbandry, development and maintenance of pastures and wildlife
preserves are all part of an integrated organic management system
which has made this possible. Says Anand Kanwar: “We conserve water,
we maintain forest cover and pastures. We do not poison the water or
soil with chemicals. We do not hurt birds or any other animals. We
do not cut down trees. We respect the earth and in return, the earth
sustains us”.
The project was first mooted by Anand’s husband, Laxman Singh,
himself a farmer. It was she who brought the women around to the
idea. Once they were convinced, they took the lead in developing and
maintaining traditional water-harvesting structures, wildlife
sanctuaries, pastures and woods and even learning about composting
techniques. Groups of women perform these community duties in
rotation, with spectacular results.
Apart from milch cattle, food processing is another income-
generating activity. Having realised there is an urban market for
organic food products, women like Anand have formed self-help groups
to process and package organic foods for Mumbai and Delhi. “We
supply traditional items like daliya and papad” Anand says proudly.
Local seeds
Organic agriculture is knowledge – rather than resource – intensive.
Much of the required knowledge and techniques are already available
with traditional farmers. The Indian Council of Agricultural
Research (ICAR) has conducted trials and validated many of these
indigenous traditional knowledge systems, whihc have now entered the
realms of “agricultural science”.
In organic farming, no inputs need to be purchased. Access to cattle
and cattle products is essential for organic cultivators – hence,
the special status accorded to cows in rural households. Women have
a critical role to play in the care and maintenance of cattle and
processing of cattle products. Even dry cattle provide the household
with fuel, building material, pharmaceuticals and draught energy.
Fertilisers and pesticides are manufactured on-farm from cattle
manure and locally available trees and shrubs. Biological and
mechanical systems of pest control are employed.
Organic farming promotes indigenous varieties of seeds rather than
hybrids, so that the farmer is not dependent on seed marketing
companies – a major saving. Women play a crucial role in selection
and preservation of seeds.
Better yields
The popular myth that organic farming leads to lower yields has been
exploded by trials conducted worldwide, including India. The Tamil
Nadu Agricultural University’s study on organic cultivation of green
chilli found it produced better yields and quality. Likewise, the
University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwar, Karnataka, found more
viability in organic cultivation of groundnut and french beans.
Punjab Agricultural University studies found use of organic inputs
produced better rice yields.
As ICAR Director-General Mangala Rai pointed out, in rainfed
agricultural systems, organic farming produces consistently better
yields. In Green Revolution areas, too, there is no diminishing of
yields. Even the World Bank admits: “Farmers in developing countries
who switch to organic agriculture achieve higher earnings and a
better standard of living, according to a series of studies
conducted in China, India and six Latin American countries by the
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).”
Asha Mawasi, a small farmer of Tagi village in Madhya Pradesh, is
one of the half-dozen women cultivators who have joined an organic
farmers’ collective under the aegis of the Krishi Vigyan Kendra
(KVK) in Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh. She says: “We do not use
chemical fertilisers nor chemical pesticides as they destroy the
crops. We follow what the KVK tells us and also our traditional
agricultural practices, like nakshatra farming (going according to
the movement of the planets). Our harvest is better and there are no
pests or diseases.”
All over the country, groups of small and marginal farmers are
coming together to form organic farming collectives. Through NGOs or
government agencies, they are getting their farms certified as
organic, thus opening up markets in Indian and abroad.
What’s lagging, however, is any major change in government policy.
The success of organic agriculture demonstrated by Vandana Shiva’s
Navdanya, the Kheti Virasat mission in Punjab, the Uttaranchal
Organic Commodities Boards, the Maharashtra Organic Farmers’
Association, the Spices Board and countless other agencies have
forced the Ministry of Agriculture to set up a National Centre for
Organic Farming (NCOF).
But, in terms of policy, the government continues to listen to the
pesticide, fertiliser, agri-machinery, bio-technology and seed
lobbies. Chemical agriculture is subsidised, organic agriculture is
not. It has been left to the Ministry of Commerce to lay down
standards for organic certification and for state governments to
promote organic agriculture.
Although 68 per cent of the total agricultural land available in
India is believed to be under de facto non-chemical farming, no
effort has been made to improve yields through organic methods or
obtain organic certification (thus opening up world markets to
India’s organic farmers). Only 6,000 farms, with a total area of
76,000 hectares, are currently certified as organic.
Source: Women’s Feature Service

Posted in Case Studies, Opinion pieces | Leave a Comment »

Sow less and you can reap more

Posted by Ramoo on February 24, 2007…

Karthik Madhavan

GOBICHETTIPALAYAM: What you sow is what you reap, so goes the adage.

Farmers here are now learning to sow less to reap more. Farmers who have practised System Rice Intensification (SRI) in the just-concluded season.


All that farmers like M. Nanjappan did was follow SRI techniques: transplanted a paddy sapling at a time as against the regular four or five instalments; transplanted only between the eighth and 13th day of germination as opposed to the traditional 25 to 30 days; maintained a width of a foot between two saplings; watered the field only for the first 10 days and then alternated between wetting and drying as against the practice of maintaining water on field until 10 days prior to harvest.

Adoption of these methods helped in healthy germination of the seed, transplantation at the suggested time led to early development, implementation of the intercrop width resulted in robust stem growth, and reduced water content helped the entire process.

The results were for farmers to see.

Mr. Nanjappan, who

Posted in News, SRI | Leave a Comment »

Organic Farming, Answer to Farmers’ Suicides

Posted by Ramoo on February 24, 2007…

by Bharat Dogra

NAGNI, Uttaranchal – As the phenomenon of mass suicides by farmers turns into a major national issue, small cultivators in this sub-Himalayan state are demonstrating that the way forward to sustainable agriculture may lie in sticking to traditional methods.

In the lush and fertile valleys of Uttaranchal, farmers have long been suspicious of branded seeds that are being aggressively promoted by trans-national corporations (TNCs) like Monsanto that are now having an increasing presence in the country. The idea that crops can be grown without viable seeds for the future or that they have to be dosed with specific chemicals and other costly inputs is abhorrent to them.
“So many changes have been seen in recent years, but I continue to grow traditional varieties of crops without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. I also exchange seeds with other farmers and participate in efforts to save our forests. I think all this is very important for our welfare,” says Sivdeyi Devi, a woman farmer of Jardhar village.
Earlier this month, after a fresh spate of suicides was reported among distressed farmers, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh toured the worst-affected state of Maharashtra and announced a bailout package worth 840 million US dollars. That was the first major intervention by the government on behalf of farmers who fallen deep in debt by taking loans to buy costly farm inputs.
The independent Human Rights Law Network, which has been working on farmers’ suicides believes that more than 10,000 farmers have committed suicide over the last five years, in important farming states such as Punjab, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
But in Uttaranchal, farmers and peasants, unlike their counterparts in other states, are keenly aware of the exploitative practices of money lenders and contractors and know the value of organised resistance. This began with the ‘chipko’ (hug-the-tree) movement of the 1970s and 1980s that saved entire forests from greedy lumber contractors.
‘’The movement to save forests was followed by the campaign to save seeds as both are crucial for protecting our villages,” explains Sudesha Devi, a typical hardworking peasant woman from Rampur village who finds time to be active in both movements. She was even jailed briefly for her participation in the chipko movement which attracted international attention.
Devi’s rationale for growing healthy organic food is simple. “After all this back-breaking work on hill farms we can survive only if our food is based on the high-nutrition traditional crops using healthy (organic) methods to grow them.”
For villagers here, it has been important to retain confidence in their own seeds especially in the face of a campaign by the government’s farm extension network which decried putting seeds by for the next crop as a symbol of backward farming. But the farmers benefited from a counter-campaign by non government organizations (NGOs) such as the Save the Seeds Movement (SSM).
Vijay Jardhari, a key co-ordinator of SSM says, “About two decades back the government’s scientists started propagating the idea that the ‘twelve-grain’ (barahanaja) traditional inter-cropping system grown on higher land is backward and should be given up in favour of soyabean.”
Fortunately, better sense prevailed among the farmers and they refused to have anything to do with the government plan. ‘’Inter-cropping is a remarkable, risk minimising system that makes available a rich diversity of millets and legumes which are high in nutrition. In hindsight it would have been suicidal for us to sacrifice this for soyabean monocrop,” Jardhari said.
For activists, one worry is the Seeds Bill tabled in Parliament that seeks to allow TNCs to deal directly with small farmers. Several TNCs already have in place extension networks that are inducing farmers with promises of seeds with bigger yields and better profits.
Activists have warned that the new legislation could destroy forever India’s vast biodiversity in seeds and crops, and take away the independence of some 700 million farmers in this country with population of 1.2 billion people.
Kunwar Prasun, who walks long distances to spread the message of SSM , says: “When we carried out padyatras (foot-marches) to several parts of the state, we discovered that traditional varieties are preserved and greatly valued by people. We collected some of these varieties and made them available to other farmers who had lost them in recent years.”
Prasun has catalogued many rice varieties which he discovered in distant villages. SSM also made a rich collection of many varieties of grains, millets, beans and other legumes as well as medicinal herbs.
Dhum Singh Negi, a senior activist of SSM, said, “We are convinced that sustainable progress of our hill farming is possible only on the basis of preserving these traditional varieties and using traditional cropping-systems.”
However, some villagers are yet to be convinced. Bharat Singh, a youth said: “Our people are passing through a phase of lack of self-confidence and overdependence on the market. Somehow many people prefer to buy staples like rice from the market rather than stick to home-grown millets that have a much higher nutrition value.”
Ramlal Senval confessed that one problem was that ‘’we are tempted too easily by short-term gains and the fact that the government also gives loans and subsidies for exotic seeds, although these require costly agri-chemicals.”
So it is not surprising that despite all the recent campaigns of groups like SSM, some farmers in these parts still think of maximising short-term profits by adopting chemical-intensive methods to grow exotic varieties of tomatoes and other crops.
“Such trends will come and go. We need not worry too much about these but at the same time we should keep on exploring ways to improve returns from organically grown traditional crops,” says Bhupal Singh, a youth from Nahin Kala village.
Singh has begun tapping the growing market for organic foods among wealthy urban buyers in the national capital of New Delhi where, lately, awareness of the values of naturally grown foods has been spreading rapidly.
Bhupal Singh, Vijay Jardhari and others from SSM participate regularly in fairs for organic produce and are attracted by the possibility of exporting organically grown crops. In such efforts they are helped by friends in city-based NGOs like ‘Kalpvriksha’ and ‘GRAIN’ .
As Shalini, a representative of GRAIN, said, “The cooperation of groups based in villages and those in the cities for similar objectives like seed rights and organic food will benefit everybody.”
In addition, there is a need for greater cooperation with scientists. Sundarlal Bahuguna, veteran environmentalist, believes that ‘’farmers need to be more like scientists and scientists to be more like farmers.”
It is when scientists ignore close contacts with farmers and their traditions that conflicts emerge with movements like SSM, observed Bahuguna. ‘’This is particularly true of scientists who are employed by big agribusiness and seed companies. ‘’
‘’History records instances of the high value people in Uttaranchal placed on their seeds — in times of famine, families have perished from hunger but refused to touch seeds stored away for the future in ‘tomris’ (special storages),” said Bahuguna.

Posted in Organic farming | Leave a Comment »