Movement gradually spreading in several pockets of north India
(Read this story on the International Business Times site)
By Rakesh Agarwal Ridh
DEHRADUN: Four decades after the country achieved self-sufficiency in food production through Green Revolution using high-yielding seeds and chemical fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides, a counter movement is gradually spreading in India: organic farming.
Districts in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, the three states which were instrumental in turning India into a surplus food economy, now seek to grow surplus food crops the organic way. The organic revolution has been quietly taking place in several pockets of north India.
In the late 1980s, Vijay Jardhari, a social activist and farmer, launched one of the pioneering organic farming efforts in India, the Beej Bachao Andolan (BBA), or Save the Seeds Movement, in the Henwal River Valley in Tehri district in Uttarakhand to save the traditional food crop seeds of the hills.
By collecting and conserving traditional seeds, the movement aims to promote agricultural biodiversity and sustainable agriculture. India's vanishing rural livelihoods, along with its cultural and scientific farming traditions, directly affects the country's rich agricultural biodiversity. The movement seeks to fight those agrarian policies of the government that favor corporate agribusiness at the expense of small farmers.
Over the years, Jardhari and his friends have traveled from village to village collecting traditional seeds. To date, they have collected some 200 varieties of kidney beans, 150 types of paddy and seven varieties of wheat, among other seeds. Many of the paddy seeds are high yielding. For instance, two varieties of seeds, tapachini and jhamcha, yield about 7,200 kg of paddy per hectare.
In 2002, Booker Prize winner-activist Arundhati Roy was so impressed by Jardhari's work that she donated Rs 1.5 lakh to this farmer's movement. Today, Henwal River Valley is on the international map and Uttarakhand promotes itself as a pro-organic food producing state.
To protect traditional varieties of seeds, the BBA organizes food marches as well as get-togethers and meetings to create awareness about the importance of protecting traditional seeds. Jardhari tries out different varieties and combination of seeds, and takes the particularly useful varieties back to the farmers.
The BBA actively promotes the use of traditional farming methods, such as baranaja, meaning 12 grains. Baranaja has been long practiced by farmers of Uttarakhand to grow a combination of cereals, lentils, vegetables, creepers and root vegetables. It employs traditional seeds, organic manure made from cow dung, and pesticides made from walnut leaves. Traditional agricultural practices such as these suffered a setback with the Green Revolution, as farmers started using high-yield, hybrid varieties of seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides, especially in the valleys and plains.
Today, many farmers are trying effective organic pest control. One simple method that the farmers are making use of is mixing the extract of wild marigold with kerosene oil, as well as the mixture of ash and cow's urine along with walnut and neem leaves.
"This mixture of wild marigold with kerosene oil that we use in our field has resulted in higher yields and is also safe," says Bhopal Singh, 46, a farmer and activist from Nahinkalan village, in Dehradun district. Singh has been engaged in environmental protection and conservation. He fought successfully the very first PIL in India when the Supreme Court banned limestone mining in the Doon hills in 1984.
In Meerut, in the neighboring Uttar Pradesh, activists belonging to a nongovernmental organization have been promoting organic farming since 2006 by holding regular meetings, workshops, and facilitation iterations with officials in 60 villages in five blocks of the district.
While in Uttarakhand, the people have traditionally practiced organic farming mostly for their personal consumption needs, large-scale commercial farming in western Uttar Pradesh has been almost totally based on chemical fertilizers and pesticides since the dawn of the Green Revolution.
So far, the activists of Janhit Foundation (JF), an NGO functioning in Meerut, UP, have succeeded in persuading 600 farmers to grow major food grains, pulses and vegetables, such as moong, masoor, black gram, paddy, potato, onion, garlic, turmeric, and even sugarcane.
Farmers growing sugarcane are buoyant about shifting to organic sugarcane, "I am getting a better price for this (organic) sugarcane that I have been growing since 2007 and wish that all farmers in the sugar belt shifted to organic agriculture," says Omkar Tomar, 34, from Davathwa village, Meerut district, located very close to the Upper Ganga Canal.
The biggest problem that farmers who chose to go organic face is the process of getting the organic certification, which is cumbersome and expensive. Farmers have to grow an organic crop for three years before becoming eligible for a certificate. "Here, we chip in and facilitate it," says Anita Rana, director of Janhit Foundation. "Either one can get a certificate from Van Cert Asia, which is expensive, or from Uttarakhand state government, which is cheaper."
The organization also helps the farmers get a good market for their organic products that have become a middle class rage of late. In 2007, the organization opened a shop called Organic Aaharam (aaharam means food) in Meerut city, with the objective of providing a market to the organic farmers and also making chemical-free certified organic products available to the consumers of Meerut and adjoining districts. The shop sells a wide range of food and food products.
Farmers in the region are quite upbeat about growing organic food grains. "Say no to chemical fertilizers and pesticides - it will save us and our children," says Harmeet Hooda of Gagaul village in Meerut district, who is growing organic paddy, wheat and lentils since 2008.
Another Meerut farmer, Umanath Mallick of Pali village, says he also benefited from going organic. "The JF people came to us in 2008 and convinced us to go organic," he says. "I took their word and am really thankful, as now I get more than what I used to get earlier as a good amount of the organic rice that I grow ends up in Organic Aharam."
Another district in the region that is experiencing the organic revolution is Karnal in Haryana, which has "ideal" conditions for intensive commercial farming, based on excessive uses of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides.
The district has loamy to silt clay loam soils, good quality underground water, and moderate (500-700 mm) rainfall, and has temperate and irrigated land conditions. It has an area of 246,026 hectare and is home to 84,982 farming families. Of this, 194,900 hectare is cultivated, with an assured irrigation on 93,200 hectare, with the cropping intensity of 180 per cent.
"Organic agriculture is accomplished by using, where possible, agronomic, biological, and mechanical methods, as opposed to using synthetic materials, to fulfill any specific function within the farming system," says Dr. Dalip K. Gosain, a scientist at the local National Dairy Development Institute, who is busy promoting organic farming in the district.
He goes from one village to another, persuading farmers to shun chemical fertilizers and pesticides and go for biological alternatives. As a matter of fact, many are listening to him.
Since 2003, a number of farmers in the district have adopted vermi-composting by using earth worms and dung obtained from their dairy animals. The use of vermi compost has reduced the utilization of synthetic fertilizers.
In a cluster of villages of one developmental block, more than 100 farming families have adopted vermi-composting and its use in organic crop production. "I opted for organic basmati rice, which is now sold in high price stores in Delhi," says Ranbir Tomar, 34.
By practicing organic farming, farmers allow only organic inputs for the supply of nutrients and management of pests and diseases. Farmers now insist on their produce being "certified" and "labeled" for premium prices, for which neither certification laboratories nor markets for assured sales are currently available.
This puts many off, but they are also ready to experiment. "This certificate business is quite cumbersome, but once we get it, there is no looking back," says Ishwar Pahel, a young farmer from Sultanpur village. (Global India Newswire)