Himachal scaling up farming, nature's way

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Shimla : Himachal Pradesh, the country's fruit and off-season vegetable bowl, has launched a scheme this year to scale up zero-budget natural farming, a chemical-free method, with Governor Acharya Devvrat taking the lead to sow the seeds of sustainability through nature's way.

The state has adopted a zero-budget natural farming model, promoted by Padma Shri Subhash Palekar from Maharashtra, for the first time with a budgetary allocation of Rs 25 crore for this fiscal. The aim is to double the income of farmers by 2020 as declared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Experts say input costs are minimal with no use of fertilisers and pesticides, resulting in high profits.

"Despite the excessive use of chemical fertilisers, the overall production of fruits, vegetables and cereals is declining even in the hill states, including ours. This is clear indication that the fertility of the soil is getting impaired," Devvrat told IANS.

Even the availability of water for irrigation in the state is not sufficient.

"So, it's necessary to bring qualitative improvement in the total agricultural system. This requires opting natural farming that will also help rejuvenating the barren land and minimising the use of water," he said.

Devvrat, who is raising "desi" or indigenous cows in his palatial bungalow in the state capital, sees zero-budget natural farming as a transformation towards sustainable agriculture, a better deal for the farmers, consumers and also for the environment.

Devvrat believes his experimentation in doing zero-budget natural farming on his 200-acre farm in Gurukul, a 106-year-old boarding school in Haryana's Kurukshetra district, is a grand success by depending largely on farm-raised indigenous cows.

He said as per data of Haryana Agricultural University, Kurukshetra has minimum 30 per cent biological carbon. Not even a single sample of the district was found where the quantity of organic carbon is more than 0.75 per cent.

Impressed with his advocacy to promote natural farming in the state, Prime Minister Modi entrusted Devvrat the responsibility to expand it across the country.

Himachal Pradesh, where agriculture is the mainstay of people, providing direct employment to about 71 percent population, has also initiated transformation towards sustainable agriculture on a massive scale by promoting organic farming with 39,790 registered farmers currently harvesting crops on 21,473 hectares.

Vegetable grower Rajesh Thakur in Baghi village in Rohru subdivision of Shimla district, who has been practising natural farming for the last more than 25 years, said it was difficult to convince the growers to go for eco-friendly farming.

"The pea and capsicum crops are yielding a good produce. They tasted deliciously compared to the crop grown by using pesticides and of course command good prices too," he added.

However, farm experts say zero-budget natural farming is easier said than done.

"It's practically not feasible on a commercial scale owing to its large dependence on cow dung and urine, which are not currently available in abundance with the change in farm practices across the country," said a senior agricultural official, requesting anonymity.

"Such farming can be done at the micro level. But again we have large subsistence farming communities who cannot experiment with their livelihood," he added.

Interestingly, farmers in the state's landlocked valleys like Pangi in Chamba district and Dodra Kwar in Shimla district have never used pesticides and fertilisers for growing crops.

Barring Chamba and some interior areas in the state, the farmers have been preferring domesticated hybrid varieties rather than the native ones due to high milk yields.

The BJP-led Jai Ram Thakur government for the first time initiated 'Prakritik Kheti Khushhaal Kisaan Yojana' to promote zero-budget natural farming and the state aims to make it a zero budget natural farming state by 2022.

As per the programme, the natural farming is totally based on domestic cow breeds. Availability of high yielding domestic cow breed germplasm would be ensured by the state Animal Husbandry Department. Farmers will be provided incentives for establishing infrastructure for the zero-budget natural farming inputs.

To facilitate efficient collection of cow dung and urine, essential inputs of natural farming, farmers would be provided 80 per cent assistance for lining of cattle sheds and construction of urine collection system.

In a first, Dr Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry has successfully undertaken the harvesting of peas planted under the zero budget natural farming.

The first picking of the peas was undertaken in March this year with encouraging results.

Based on the first harvest, the production was calculated to be around five quintals an acre.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)