Sustainable Agriculture Forum

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

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