Why natural farming is the need of the hour for India
Natural farming is in vogue nowadays. It’s a practice that emphasises working with nature to create a self-sustaining ecosystem. Experts talk about why India needs it.
Anushruti Singh May 9, 2023
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Over the years, organic farming has made an impact on the Indian agrarian sector as well as on the consumers, implying that the ecosystem is moving away from chemical means to grow crops. Even the organic market has grown quite steadily here with various initiatives such as the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) and the Mission Organic Value Chain Development for the north-eastern region (MOVCDNER) since 2015.
But nowadays, another farming perspective has been trending.
It’s called natural farming. And the leaders of India feel that it is the need of the hour.
“But first understand that they both are different. Often people get confused between both (Organic VS Natural) and use it as an interchangeable word for that reason,” says Gaurav Kedia, Chairman, Indian Biogas Association.
“We can get confused with organic farming because, by default, natural farming and organic farming are chemical-free. So, when you talk about natural farming, it is a system where the laws of nature are applied to agricultural practises. In this system, natural humus is produced and used. But in organic farming, we intentionally produce the natural humus or organic manure, and enforce it on the mother land, whereas in natural farming it happens by default,” he further explains.
Why India needs natural farming
Due to its name—natural farming sounds kind of old fashioned. Over the years due to the rise of conventional farming methods (with chemicals), natural farming practices began to be forgotten. However, natural farming is back in vogue now.
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To begin with, the government has been promoting and pushing natural farming quite a lot.
The promotion of natural farming began in 2019-20. The Bhartiya Prakratik Krishi Paddhati (BPKP), a sub-scheme of PKVY, was launched to assist farmers in adopting traditional indigenous practices for encouraging all forms of ecological farming, including Zero-Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF). The Economic Survey of 2021 also mentions that ‘good agronomic practices’ with chemical free farming should be promoted.
Currently, under the BPKP, 4.09 lakh hectares of land has been brought under natural farming in 8 states, according to Economic Survey 2022-23.
Besides the government’s initiatives, there are a few more valid reasons for going back to natural farming.
To improve farmlands
Natural farming offers a sustainable approach to agriculture that can help to address some key challenges. Ushik Gala, Chairman & Managing Director, Suumaya Industries Ltd highlights those reasons.
“As environmental degradation and climate change become increasingly urgent issues, natural farming has become an important tool for achieving sustainable agriculture and food security. It represents a shift away from the industrial model of agriculture and towards a more ecological and socially responsible approach to food production,” he says.
“Conventional farming practices have had a negative impact on the environment and human health, as they rely heavily on chemical inputs, monoculture farming, and intensive tillage. This has led to soil erosion, water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity loss. The excessive use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides has contaminated food and water sources, posing a risk to human health,” he continues.
Natural farming or regenerative agriculture offers a solution to these problems by adopting a holistic approach that enhances the resilience of agro ecosystems and promotes sustainable agriculture.
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According to Gala, natural farming is a way to restore degraded land, enhance soil health, conserve water, and reduce chemical inputs while improving the nutritional quality of crops and supporting local food systems.
“It is a farming practice that emphasises working with nature to create a self-sustaining ecosystem that is based on natural resources and processes, such as crop rotation, intercropping, cover cropping, and composting,” he adds.
It can bring down costs
In today’s times, as the cost of food grain production is increasing, the gaps in the demand-supply chain are large and innovative solutions are needed to address these challenges. Natural farming is one such solution.
Even Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog has highlighted the importance of adopting natural farming as a practice and has recommended an immediate shift towards this innovative model for transforming the Indian agricultural landscape.
The fact is that due to the excessive use of chemicals and fertilisers, the quality of soil has degraded, and beneficial bacteria are being killed.
Consequently, the cost of food grain and vegetables is soaring.
The gaps and inefficiencies in the supply chain are further rendering a significant impact on the sector’s agricultural productivity.
“In such a scenario, natural farming is a boon for the Indian market,” comments Dr. Deepak Birewar, Chairman & MD, Inventys Research Company.
“Natural farming encompasses the usage of cow urine and dung, which are sufficient for fulfilling the requirements of natural farming. It is a chemical-free, agro ecology-based, diversified farming practice that integrates crops, trees and livestock with functional biodiversity. It is a cost-effective practice that produces higher yields,” he points out.
At the same time, with the increasing demand for food induced by the growing population, the shift to natural farming is essential.
“Additionally, due to the extreme climate changes, we need to lay more emphasis on natural farming. Considering India is a food-surplus country now, natural farming as an alternative to chemical farming can be easily promoted and practised,” he asserts.
Consumers back natural methods
Post the pandemic, health matters a lot—no doubt. Nowadays Indians are taking their health very seriously. It’s one of the reasons behind why consumers are going back to old remedies and natural methods. Therefore, to fulfil this growing demand for natural produce, Indian farmlands ought to convert to natural farming.
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“Anything that is against nature will have repercussions at one point in time. And mostly because of the pandemic, the consciousness about health has heightened. So, it’s clear why people are talking more about it. I think that now people are taking health more seriously,” Kedia expostulates.
A natural product consumer and a PR Professional, Devesh Purohit, stresses on the need for more awareness regarding natural products and their advantages. “Natural farming will keep the food organic at the basic level,” he says.
“Organic food will sustain or improve the quality of health of people and their lifestyles. Governments should support organic farming through subsidies and incentives so that in the long run we all have a healthy lifestyle,” he further points out.
Besides the health factor, there is another reason for why farmers and natural products supply chain stakeholders are jumping on the natural farming bandwagon, says Kedia.
“I have seen this in Europe. They started practicing bio and organic farming mainly because of the health factor. But of course, they quickly realised its economic benefit as well. You can put up to a 100 per cent markup on a product; and the consumers will buy it because it is organic and comes from a certified organic farm,” he elaborates.
Can an agrarian society be a full-fledged natural farmland?
It’s a pertinent question when India’s farmers are trying to go back to the basics of farming. Can we be the first to achieve the title of a natural farming nation?
“I personally don’t think so; we need a balance in today’s world. Just by being too idealistic, maybe it will happen. It will evolve, but let it evolve on its own in a natural manner. But jumping from where we are to a 100 per cent, let’s say tomorrow, will never happen,” he elaborates.
Even if we set this goal for ourselves, it will take quite a lot of time to reach it, he adds.
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However, there are a few regions that are working on it. For instance, in the north-eastern part of India, organic farming states do exist. But as a nation, we still have a long way to go as far as natural farming is concerned.
For starters, a lot of push is needed in this arena on various fronts.
Challenges need to be addressed
“To be honest, the government wants natural farming to be on the commercial level, in the form of zero-budget natural farming. But ultimately, you know, there is nothing like zero-budget. Because you need to put in a lot of effort into farming, for e.g., fertilising the soil, levelling out the land, maintaining the soil, maintaining the microclimate, culturing it, etc. Ultimately, we have to feed 1.2–1.3 billion people as well. So, we need to strike a balance, and it’s not just about organic farming. Of course, it’s good from a nutritional perspective, but food security should not be disturbed,” Kedia tells us.
Secondly, the ecosystem needs to figure out the problem of biogas fertiliser production in bulk. To cultivate natural crops, tonnes of bio manure is required. This is where we need big interventions. Be it during production or in the matter of finances.
“We need to think more from a supply chain perspective, a logistical perspective, and a storage perspective, when we want to promote the use of bio fertilisers. Because again, to grow natural farming, you need organic fertilisers, it’s as simple as that. And to satiate that demand, biogas plants are needed, which can produce organic fertiliser in bulk. But there is a mismatch from a time perspective, and that is one of the biggest challenges. Fertiliser is usually sold in bulk. Also, the timely sale of organic fertiliser is another factor,” he further points out.
Thirdly, experts are talking about handing out more subsidies. Currently under the NMNF, farmers receive a financial assistance of Rs 15,000 per hectare per year for three years for the creation of on-farm input production infrastructure. But there are various conditions that apply.
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Farmers will only be eligible for incentives if they commit to and practise natural farming. If a farmer defaults or ceases to practise natural farming, the subsequent instalments will not be paid.
Similarly, the government pays subsidies to fertiliser companies to make it affordable for farmers. According to Kedia, this is market development assistance and not a subsidy. He foresees that the government will announce some incentives for selling fermented organic manure which will aid the natural farming ecosystem further.
“It’s still lower in my opinion. Subsidies could be a push factor,” he says.
In the end, regardless of the efforts being made by the government to promote natural farming, the biggest boost to it will come when we, the consumers, start to use natural produce more extensively in our daily lives. That will be the pull factor that will counterbalance the government’s push factor on natural farming.
“This pull will come from people like you and me. The more we consume natural products, the more we respect them. Consumers eventually realise that it is preferable to eat organic foods rather than taking supplements. As a result, despite its high price, consumers will buy it. I believe this pull factor has already set in, because, as I previously stated, we were in a transition period following the pandemic. So, long ago, there was organic farming, then there was inorganic or chemical farming, and now we are going back to the roots,” enthuses Kedia.
Natural farming is an agricultural revolution that will not only improve crop yield at minimum cost but will also help to increase farmers’ incomes. With the pace at which soil degradation is happening globally, only 30 years of the harvest will remain for consumption. In order to save the world from a food crisis in the future, natural farming is the ideal solution. And the government believes that the right time to bring about this transition from chemical farming to natural farming is ‘now’!