Ten years from now, in 2020, when we try to look back, Indian agriculture can be transformed into a healthy and vibrant system where farmer suicides have been relegated to history, where distress and despondency has been replaced by the lost pride in farming, where agriculture becomes sustainable in the long run, and does not add on to global warming.
As we enter 2010, the script for a futuristic agriculture, which brings back the smile on the face of farmers, without leaving any scar on the environment, is being rewritten.
What began as a small initiative some six years back in a non-descript village in Khamam district, has now spread to over 2 million acres in 21 districts of Andhra Pradesh. I remember when I first talked about the miracle brought about in village Pannukula in Andhra Pradesh, many thought I was simply trying to romanticise agriculture. How farming can be done without the use of chemical pesticides, I was repeatedly asked.
Pannukula dug out a lonely furrow, but eventually blazed a trail. In the next four years, more than 318,000 farmers in 21 out of the 23 districts of Andhra Pradesh have discarded the intensive chemical farming systems, and shifted to a more sustainable, economically viable and ecologically friendly agriculture. A silent revolution is in the offing. In Kharif 2009 (the monsoon season), some 1.4 million acres was covered with what is now known as Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA).
As I write this in the first week of January 2010, the area had expanded to 2 million acres of 21 districts. More than 0.6 million acres increase in a farming system that does not use chemical pesticides, and is also phasing out chemical fertiliser, that too in matter of few months, is a record of sorts. And all this has happened without any push from the government agencies and the private sector. I see no reason why this environmentally safe, and a farmer-friendly system of sustainable agriculture, cannot cover 200 million acres across the country in another ten years or so if the government gets serious.
60,000 acres increase in a farming system that does not use chemical pesticides, and is also phasing out chemical fertiliser, that too in matter of few months, is a record of sorts. Ten years from now, in 2020, when we try to look back, Indian agriculture can be transformed into a healthy and vibrant system where farmer suicides have been relegated to history, where distress and despondency has been replaced by the lost pride in farming, and where agriculture becomes sustainable in the long run and does not result in climate change.
What began as an experiment to evolve a farming system without the application of chemical pesticides is now also phasing out the use of chemical fertilisers. It uses a mixture of scientific proven technologies, indigenous knowledge and traditional wisdom. Farmers are replacing chemical fertilisers and pesticides with microbial formulations, intensive use of composting techniques, vermi-composting, and apply bio-fertilisers, and use bio-extracts for controlling pests.
Paddy crop has increased significantly under CMSA. It therefore brought in a complete shift from conventional agriculture and offered secure and stable livelihoods. The crop yields have remained the same, the pest attack has drastically reduced, and the soil is returning back to its natural fertility levels. As soil fertility improves over the years, crop yields have started going up still further. More importantly, farmer’s expenditure on health problems emanating from pesticides application has also gone down by 40 per cent on an average.
There is more money now in the hands of the farmers. The cost of cultivation per acre has also come down by 33 per cent. Take the case of cotton, a CMSA farmer saves more than Rs 12,500 per hectare in a year on account of no application of pesticides alone. With his crop productivity remaining stable, cotton farmers have got a new lease of life. The environment too has become healthier and safe.
What began as an experiment to evolve a farming system without the application of chemical pesticides is now also phasing out the use of chemical fertilisers by relying on a mixture of scientific proven technologies, indigenous knowledge and traditional wisdom. Normally, 56 per cent of the cost of cotton cultivation is primarily on account of pesticides. And don’t forget, elsewhere in the State and for that matter in the country, 70 per cent of the farmers who are committing suicide are engaged in cotton cultivation.
No farmer has committed suicide in the areas where non-pesticides management system of farming is being followed.
More money in the hands of farmers means less debt. I haven’t seen any other village in the country in past three decades of my work in agriculture, which has been able to recover its entire mortgaged land from the money lenders in just three years of adopting non-pesticides management. This happened in village Ramachandrapuram in Khamam district where all 75 farmers have even paid back the outstanding rate of interest.
Studies in five districts show that out of the 467 families that had mortgaged their land, at least 386 have recovered it in two years time.
This is a roadmap for the future of Indian agriculture, and for that global agriculture. It not only provides a sustainable path, with a very low carbon footprint, and has tremendous potential to remove poverty and hunger. It has been conclusively demonstrated that household food security has improved with a 40 per cent drop in the purchase of food from the market. The crop yields have gone up, and farmers are now able to cultivate two crops in a year. This is the Zero Hunger model that I normally talk about which needs to be adopted under the proposed National Food Security Act.
Women and farmer Self Help Groups’ play a critical role in CMSA. Savings have increased, and a federation of 850,675 self-help groups now involves 10 million women from the poor households. This federation now holds a corpus of US $ 1.5 billion providing a bundle of economic services. No wonder, sustainable agriculture without external inputs can revolutionise the rural landscape, where hunger and poverty becomes history.
Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, thinker and researcher respected for his views on food and trade policy. His writings focus on the links between biotechnology, intellectual property rights, food trade and poverty. He is a regular contributor to leading national print publications.