Natural Farming - Reviving a sustainable practice for a healthy future

Non-chemical pest control being sprayed

Mankind has always been seeking betterment in areas like health, safety, ease of work, equitable social order and economic prosperity. It is important that the growth should be sustainable without collateral damage to society and environment. For millennia, holistic practices followed by ancient civilizations made this possible. India’s Vedic culture has been a glowing example, where all-round progress was envisaged, both material and spiritual. Teachings like “Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam” (The world is one family) and “Sarvepi Sukhinah Santu, Sarve Santu Niramaya” (May all become happy, may all be free from illness) have served as a guiding light in this quest.

But, over the centuries, looting by imperialist forces and the misuse of scientific discoveries and inventions in the Western world brought devastating effects globally. A glaring example of the 20th and 21st centuries, has been the rampant use of chemical fertilizers and insecticides in agriculture to increase the yield for trade and profit. This was caused by the mentality of treating humans as mere customers, unlike the age-old custom of dealing with a Sewa attitude (business with ethics for benefit of all stakeholders).

The chemical menace

Uncontrolled use of chemicals in farming is a big problem. Research published by National Pesticide Information Centre, U.S.A, shows that about 1.1 billion pounds (4,98,952 tonnes) of pesticide active ingredients are used annually in that country. In India, as per the government records, 41,822 tonnes were used in 2009-10. This, although much less, is still significant, given that India is 1/3rd the size of the US. Moreover, a CARE Ratings report predicts a 10% rise in usage.

Impact of agricultural chemicals on human health includes disorders of blood, nerves and hormones resulting in reproductive diseases, birth defects, asthma, Parkinson’s, tumours, cancer, etc. There is adverse impact on the environment as well. Chemicals used on crops, pollute the soil, air, rivers and groundwater. This causes diseases, deformities and deaths in plants, insects, birds and animals, as the poison travels up the food chain. U.S.A Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that 72 million birds were killed by pesticides in that country in 2011. Rachael Carson’s book ‘Silent Spring’ extensively highlighted the damage being done to ecology. 

The consequences of chemical farming on human health and environment have also been observed in many Indian states like Punjab, Haryana, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Poison-free and nutritious food is a basic need of humans and the same cannot be compromised for short-term economic gains. Hence, it is extremely necessary to revive the earlier sustainable agricultural practices for a healthy future.

For this, ancient Indian concepts like Vrukshayurved (science of natural disease treatment for plants) and use of Panchgavya (cow-based fertilizers and pesticides, derived from native breeds) need to be revisited and clubbed with modern concepts like organic farming (use of certified non-chemical crop inputs) and natural farming (avoidance of manufactured crop inputs and mechanized equipment as described by Masanobu Fukuoka – Japanese farmer philosopher).

The solution - Natural and spiritual farming

Every small piece of land holds the potential to take the first step towards poison-free farming. The students and teachers of Vishwashanti Gurukul School (VGS), Pandharpur, set up by MAEER’s Maharashtra Institute of Technology (MIT) Group, have been leading from the front. 

Taking inspiration from the holistic thoughts of Dr Vishwanath Karad, visionary educationist and founder of MAEER, naturally grown crops like Spinach, Fenugreek, Brinjal, Marigold, Lady’s Finger, Chilli, Tomato, Carrot, Radish, Beetroot and Groundnuts have become a salient feature at the school campus. The main objective behind this hands-on initiative as a part of the school curriculum is to inculcate a sense of dignity of labour and promote natural produce.

The students first study natural farming techniques, speak to experts, make presentations and then implement the same by spending a few days on the field under guidance of staff and farmers, through activities like soil testing, ploughing, sowing and monitoring. This helps in developing a deep and meaningful relationship of love and respect with nature and the land.

Most of the techniques used in VGS are adopted from zero budget spiritual farming, as promoted by the Padmashri awardee farmer and author Mr Subhash Palekar, whose technique has benefited lakhs of farmers. Taking a clue from forest trees like Mango, Jamun and Bor, which yield ample fruit without any human intervention, and the variety of other plants growing around them, he started growing crops on his farm by naturally enhancing the existing soil nutrients instead of using chemical or manufactured inputs. This significantly reduces the cost and stops deterioration of the quality of soil.

The 4 pillars of this method are seed treatment with cow dung and urine, use of microbial culture, mulching and soil aeration. Since this technique involves cultivation in harmony with nature without harming any living beings, it is called spiritual farming.

Organic waste from VGS campus and locally brewed microbial cultures are used as inputs and the harvested vegetables are sent to the school kitchen for preparing wholesome meals for students, thereby creating a win-win situation. Activities like street plays have been conducted by students to highlight the importance of natural farming. VGS intends to conduct larger campaigns as a part of community work to promote heathy living.

Most importantly, similar initiatives can be easily undertaken on small-scale by anybody, even in one’s balcony or terrace, with the organic kitchen waste as manure. Seeds/saplings are available in most good nurseries and cow dung and urine can be procured from goshalas. A little attention and care can result in one’s very own chemical-free kitchen garden! 

Moreover, taking inspiration from this success, if consumers start patronizing chemical-free produce, more farmers will start natural farming, with benefits for all. Happy planting…..

Author Atul Sathe is Content Developer – Curriculum & PR, MIT Group, Pune. K V N Ganesh Kumar, Project Manager – Academics, VGS have contributed to this article. 

Also read

1. How was farming done in India before advent of fertilizers