The food production on this planet depends on its natural resources. How well these are used and conserved will ultimately decide how much we can produce and to which extent we can ensure food and nutritional security for all? Unfortunately, we have a very poor record as far as use and conservation of natural resources is concerned. Let me take the case of water, a natural resource taken for granted. The agricultural sector consumes about 69 percent of the planet's fresh water. In India the percentage of water used in agriculture is much more. The report ‘State of Food and Agriculture 2020’ released by Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) stresses on overcoming water challenges in agriculture. The report reveals that at present 3.2 billion people live in agricultural areas with high or very high water shortages or scarcity, of which 1.2 billion people live in areas with very high water constraints. From the 1.2 billion people, nearly half live in Southern Asia, and about 460 million live in Eastern and South-eastern Asia. Without creative conservation measures in place; many more will be affected.
Next, let me talk about pollution. Agriculture is the leading source of pollution in many countries. The indiscriminate use of chemicals in the form of synthetic fertilizers and plant protection chemicals has poisoned the water bodies and the entire food chain. Their persistent use over the years has already poison fresh water, marine ecosystems, air and soil. They also have the potential to remain in the environment for generations. Many pesticides are also reported to disrupt the hormonal systems of people and wildlife. The run-off further impacts waterways and coral reefs. Moving ahead, Climate change is also as a result of many agricultural practices. Many farming practices are significant contributors to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Clearing land for agricultural production is a major contributor to climate change, as the carbon stored in intact forests is released when they are cut or burned. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) contends that the livestock sector alone is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas production. The biodiversity loss, toxicity of air, degradation of soil, desertification, climate change and many other challenges that today the agriculture sector today is confronted with can be attributed to the indiscriminate use of chemicals and our unsustainable practices used in agriculture.
The large scale use of chemicals also makes farming non remunerative and thus more and more peoples are leaving agriculture. In fact it is not wrong to say, the planet is on the verge of a catastrophe. The challenge of sustaining life on an increasingly crowded planet of more than 7 billion people grows more complicated every day. By the year 2050, our planet will be home to another 2 billion people. How will we feed them all? Not only will there be more people, but everyone will have more money to spend on food. The biggest issue of the twenty first century is thus a production system based on conservation, sustainability and profitability. Situation and time thus demand the urgent need for sustainable management of its resources. When agricultural operations are sustainably managed, they can preserve and restore critical habitats, help protect watersheds, and improve soil health and water quality. Agriculture’s deep connections to the world economy, human societies and biodiversity make it one of the most important frontiers for conservation around the globe.
One such conservation approach that has caught the attention worldwide is the ‘Natural Farming’ approach. Natural farming is a system where the laws of nature are applied to agricultural practices. This method works along with the natural biodiversity of each farmed area, encouraging the complexity of living organisms, both plants and animals that shape each particular ecosystem to thrive along with food plants. Natural Farming is an ecological farming approach established by Masanobu Fukuoka, A Japanese farmer and philosopher who introduced it in his 1975 book, ‘One Straw Revolution’. It is thus also known as ‘The Fukuoka Method’, ‘The Natural Way of Farming’ or ‘Do Nothing Farming’.
Natural Farming Vs Organic Farming
Both of these are ecological approaches that are chemical and more or less poison free farming methods. Both of these approaches discourage farmers’ from using any chemical fertilizers, pesticides on plants and in all agricultural practices. Both of these also use farming methods that encourage farmers to use local breeds of seeds, and native varieties of vegetables, grains, pulses and other crops. Organic and natural farming methods promote nonchemical and homemade pest control methods. However there are some basic differences between the two.
In organic farming, organic fertilizers and manures like compost, vermicompost, cow dung manure, etc. are used and added to farmlands from external sources. In natural farming, neither chemical nor organic fertilizers are added to the soil. In fact, no external fertilizers are added to soil or give to plants whatsoever. In natural farming, decomposition of organic matter by microbes and earthworms is encouraged right on the soil surface itself, which gradually adds nutrition in the soil, over the period. Organic farming still requires basic agro practices like plowing, tilting, mixing of manures, weeding, etc. to be performed. In natural farming there no plowing, no tilting of soil and no fertilizers, and no weeding is done just the way it would be in natural ecosystems. Organic farming is still expensive due to the requirement of bulk manures, and it has an ecological impact on surrounding environments; whereas, natural agriculture is an extremely low-cost farming method, completely molding with local biodiversity.
Components of Natural Farming
There are many working models of natural farming all over the world. One of them is Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) as promoted by Subhash Palekar in India. In the recent times, the Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) has emerged as the most popular model in India. This comprehensive, natural, and spiritual farming system has been developed by Padma Shri Subhash Palekar. Even commercial level farming can be done in almost Zero Budget through Natural Farming techniques even by using locally available and farm-based resources.
The five different components of Natural Farming are:
a. Bijamrita: It involves treatment of seed with cow dung, urine and lime based formulations.
b. Jeevamrita: It is also a solution that enhances the fertility of soil and is made by using cow urine, dung, floor of pulses and Jaggery to be applied in the fields.
c. Whapasa: As is the common belief that the plant roots need a lot of water. In Natural Farming the considered opinion is that the roots need water vapour. Whapasa is the condition in which the soil contains both air and water molecules. In NF, the reduction of irrigation is encouraged and it is done only during noon.
d. Mulching: It is done using crop biomass to create a micro climate and helps conserve soil moisture. Weeds are considered essential and are also used as living or dead mulch layer. Mulching also promotes aeration and water retention in the soil.
e. Plant Protection: It is done by spray of biological concoctions. These protect the plants and at the same time improve the soil fertility. Natural, farm-made pesticides like Dashparni ark and Neem Astra are used to control pests and diseases.
In India, Natural farming is also promoted as Bharatiya Prakritik Krishi Paddhati Programme (BPKP) under centrally sponsored scheme-Parampragat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY). Several studies have reported the effectiveness of Natural Farming in terms of increase in production, sustainability, water use efficiency, improvement in soil health and farmland ecosystem. It is considered as a cost-effective farming practice with scope for raising employment and rural development. In the country, National Institute for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog along with Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare (MoA & FW), GoI are already on the job in this direction. States such as Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka and Kerala are promoting Natural Farming.
Andhra Pradesh is the frontrunner among all states in implementing natural farming programme at a mass scale. According to the Andhra Pradesh government, as of March 2020, 0.62 million farmers (10.5 per cent of all farmers) were enrolled in the programme. Of the enrolled farmers, 0.44 million farmers (7.5 per cent), were actually practicing natural farming on an area of 0.45 million acres, which works out to 2.9 per cent of the net sown area spread across 3,011 gram Panchayats. In the last few decades, natural-farming movement led by farmers and civil society has spread to states such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, among others. More than one lakh farmers have been estimated to follow natural farming practices and the number is going to increase in the near future as the government is focusing it on a lot and as more and more states are adopting this type of farming.
(Dr. Parveen Kumar is a faculty at SKUAST-Kashmir, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)