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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

In Himachal Pradesh 80k farmers take up natural farming, tap nature to boost crop yield, quality

Natural farming is different from organic farming, which was earlier being advocated in Himachal to counter the ill-effects of chemical-based farming. But organic farming required large quantities of organic fertilisers, and productivity was low in the initial years leading to financial losses.

Written by Gagandeep Singh Dhillon | Shimla | December 13, 2020 10:53:27 am

A number of farmers in Himachal Pradesh are adopting a method of natural farming being promoted by the state government to decrease their input costs and improve the quality and yield of their crops.

Till date, according to the department of agriculture, around 80,000 farmers in the state have switched partially or fully from conventional farming to Subhash Palekar Natural Farming (SPNF), a method in which all things required for the growth, development and health of the plant are taken from its natural environment.

“My cost of cultivation has dropped by Rs 1 lakh per year since I adopted SPNF, and the crops produced are now healthier for the consumers since there are no harmful chemicals used,” said Shailender Sharma, a farmer from Jaunaji village in Solan who grows tomatoes and vegetables in a polyhouse.

Field surveys by agriculture officials in Himachal have shown that among apple growers, while the total variable cost for conventional farmers is Rs 2.29 lakh per hectare, it is only about Rs 1 lakh per hectare for growers using the natural farming method. The overall productivity of apples among farmers who have switched to the new technique has increased marginally from 11.24 tonnes per hectare to 11.65 tonnes per hectare, and the productivity of companion crops in these farms has risen by a whopping 158 per cent.

According to the surveys, 99 per cent of apple growers have reported a better taste of apples grown with SPNF, 59 per cent of them have reported a higher yield, 89 per cent said the production cost has decreased and 99 percent reported a better drought adaptation of the crop.

In 2018, the state government decided to introduce the SPNF technique as a more sustainable and viable option. A scheme – Prakritik Kheti Khushhal Kissan Yojna – was launched, under which farmers were given a subsidy of upto Rs 25,000 to purchase an indigenous breed of cow, and also a susidy for cowshed lining and drums needed for preparing the microbe cultures.

Farmers began to be trained in making formulations which are used at various stages of crop growth. Sharma, the farmer from Solan, said that he now uses jaggery, besan, neem and kitchen materials like garlic, ginger and chilli along with cow waste to make the microbe cultures needed by the soil.

Professor Rajeshwar Singh Chandel, executive director of the project, said that around 45 thousand bighas, or 3,600 hectares of land, have so far been brought under the scheme, and at least one farmer in 3,000 out of around 3,500 panchayats in the state has adopted natural farming. “Our target is to cover all 9.6 lakh farmers in the state by 2022,” he said.

Farmers have also reported a reduction in crop diseases. For instance, there is zero incidence of yellow rust in 70 percent of the wheat crop under SPNF, as compared to 41 percent under conventional farming, according to a survey of 254 farmers.

Similarly, tomato diseases such as Tuta absoluta and Liriomyza trifolii have reduced, and apples produced by SPNF have lesser scab lesions, scab disease on leaves and Marsonina disease on leaves.

Gagan Pal, a farmer from Sayar village in Bilaspur, said that after succesfully adopting natural farming for wheat and other crops on his land of 150 bighas, he has started training other farmers in the technique. “I bought a Gir cow from Rajasthan, and my cost of cultivation has nosedived. This year, I have planted kesar on my land as an experiment, as it is not generally grown in these parts. I am hoping that it flowers after the winter is over,” he said.

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