Going organic

In Punjab’s Roopnagar district,farmers with small landholdings are shunning costly chemical fertilisers and pesticides to grow wheat,paddy,maize and vegetables,using organic methods

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Roopnagar | Published: July 20, 2012 12:00:01 am

Showing a way to the farming community trapped in the vicious circle of chemical fertilisers,pesticides and debts,a small group of farmers in 21 villages of Roopnagar (Ropar) district has come out of this net and is gradually shifting to organic farming.

Called the ‘Granary of India’,Punjab contributes 50 per cent wheat and 35 per cent rice to the Central pool and also has the record of highest wheat (4,462 kg) and rice (4,062 kg) yield in the country. But there is another fact about the state that it cannot boast of with as much pride — though Punjab constitutes just 2.5 per cent of the total agricultural land in India,it has highest consumption of pesticides (around 19 per cent of the total pesticide used in the country) and fertilisers (223 kg per hectare). This is much higher than the average national consumption rate.

Started with five farmers in 2008,over 250 small and marginal farmers owning 2 to 3 acres of land each are now doing organic farming on 105 hectares (around 265 acres) in the 21 villages of Roopnagar. They are growing wheat,maize,paddy and vegetables,and raising nurseries following organic methods.

The farmers were roped in for organic farming by an NGO,Ambuja Cement Foundation,under its corporate social responsibility,and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).

Didar Singh,52,a farmer from Alipur village,says he had done intensive chemical farming for decades on his 5-acre land,on which he used to grow wheat,paddy,maize,sugarcane,vegetables and fodder. With every passing year,he adds,the soil started demanding more and more fertilisers and he could no longer afford such costly chemicals. He decided to shift to organic farming and contacted the NGO and NABARD officials for technical knowhow.

“I realised that there was no logic behind use of fertilisers and pesticides for paddy,which is from the grass family. Does grass need chemicals? I started with one acre and used natural products like neem oil,ash,cow urine and dung etc instead of chemical fertilisers and pesticides,” says Didar. He learnt to make vermicompost as he attended various training programmes on organic farming. “Though the yield was quite less in the first season,I was confident it will increase with the effects of chemicals on the soil waning,” he says.

Didar now sells organic wheat at the rate of Rs 2,100 per quintal against the government rate of Rs 1,170 in the open market. “I am getting much higher price for my organic products and also raised a poplar nursery last year and get an income of Rs 50,000 from it,” he claims.

The farmer says he does not want to start calculating profits right now and would like to focus on reviving his land first. “It is important to first allow the land to stabilise and recover (from the effects of pesticides),” says Didar,who has become a role model of sorts for organic farmers in the area.

NABARD Assistant General Manager,Roopnagar,Bhopal Singh,says the Ambuja Cement Foundation came up with this idea that was the need of the hour in a state like Punjab where excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides has badly polluted the soil. “We extended every help required by them,including providing technical knowhow,” he says,adding that if a farmer gets consumer support he does not think twice before adopting new trends.

Gurnam Singh,45,from Dakala village does organic farming on his 2.5 acres of land. He had started with one acre — growing wheat,fodder and vegetables. “The yield had come down to half and other farmers would say I had gone mad. But the same farmers are following my path now,” he says,adding: “We cannot afford to upset the natural balance.”

Satnam Singh,50,of Gunomajra village has a 4-acre land. He raised a poplar nursery last year and grew over 25,000 good quality saplings on 1.5 acres. He was able to find a market and got booking for over 15,000 plants at a cost of Rs 16 per plant.

Due to his small landholding and high market rate of chemical fertilisers,Ujagar Singh,65,a marginal farmer from Lohgarhfidde,was forced to go organic three years ago,and hasn’t looked back. He is now growing potato,green chilli,capsicum,brinjal,ladyfinger,cauliflower,gourd,cucumber and onion,and earning well. “I feel good when I eat tasty,nutritious food and feed the same to others too,” he says.

Between the 1960s and 70s,says Ambuja Cement Foundation head Sanjay Kumar Sharma,farmers were told to use chemical fertilisers and pesticides in their fields to increase the yield,which ushered in the Green Revolution,but no one told them about the quantity and the exact method of use. As a result,rampant and unregulated use of pesticides poisoned the food chain.

“We realised our social responsibility and started making farmers aware against this poisonous harvest. Five farmers came forward in the beginning and the number rose to 283 in just three years,” says Sharma,adding that 150 tonne organic wheat was grown this year.

“We get certification of organic produce for our farmers from world-class organisations,” says Rajesh Kothari,Ambuja Cement Limited’s Ropar unit head,adding that their objective is to create awareness among farmers who can make others aware against the chemical shower on their crops and fields.

NABARD has also constructed a vegetable market for the farmers in the district where an outlet was opened for sale of organic products.

In the beginning,says Bhopal Singh,when farmers were getting just 50 per cent of the yield after shunning chemicals,the NGO compensated them by providing them with free seed and other help. The NGO also opened around 250 units of vermicomposts in all 21 villages to help the farmers get organic manure,he adds.

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