Natural farming is an agroecology-based diversified farming system that integrates crops, trees, and livestock with functional biodiversity. This model eliminates the usage of expensive chemical inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, etc., and propagates the usage of locally available natural resources. As a part of this practice, natural ingredients like cow dung, urine, jaggery, pulses, compost, and water are used that help increase the organic matter in the soil.
Significance Of Natural Farming
Natural farming is a sustainable agricultural approach that aims to lower production costs and return to pre-green revolution farming practices. Working with the principles of eliminating the usage of chemical fertilizers and herbicides and reducing the need for weeding by tillage as well as the dependence on chemicals, the technique aims to protect the environment, public health, and communities.
The practice has the potential to enable food production, ensure food security, and resolve the bottlenecks in the industry without compromising the needs of future generations. It offers a plethora of benefits for the farmers, crops, and the agricultural industry, such as:
Ensuring Better Health
Since natural farming eliminates the usage of chemicals, health hazards and risks are mitigated. As a result, the food has higher nutrition density and offers greater health benefits.
Increasing Farmers' Income
The technique aims at making farming viable and aspirational by increasing the net income of the farmers on account of cost reduction, reduced risks, similar yields, and incomes from intercropping.
Improving Soil Health
Working with an agroecological approach, the practice renders a positive impact on the biology of soil - on microbes and other living organisms such as earthworms. It boosts soil health and, in turn, increases productivity.
Minimising Production Posts
Natural farming significantly reduces production costs by encouraging farmers to produce crops using on-farm, natural, and home-grown resources.
Natural Farming As A Healing Source
The Indian agricultural industry heavily relies on chemicals that often harm the produce and reduce the nutritional value of the food. It also leads to higher pest attacks on crops for which farmers have to rely on pesticides. And eventually, because of soil damage, more and more chemicals are used to regain soil health. In this process, crop yield is significantly affected, and the farmer gets trapped in the vicious circle of poverty. The extreme climatic changes and global warming further add to the woes.
Today, the demand for food and the cost of food grain production are increasing significantly. To meet this surging requirement and address the gaps in the demand-supply chain, we need innovative solutions. Natural farming is one such revolutionary practice that can enhance current agricultural productivity. Various sub-techniques of this practice, such as organic farming, diversification, and agroecological farming, can be adapted to cater to the requirements of the evolving agricultural market.
India is a food-surplus country; hence, natural farming as an alternative to chemical farming can be easily promoted and practised. Even NITI Aayog has highlighted the need to ensure the immediate transition to this innovative model as it would help transform the Indian agricultural landscape.
The Government's Efforts To Promote Natural Farming
Recognising the importance of natural farming, the government is making concerted efforts to encourage its adoption and application in the agricultural sector. In fact, natural farming will soon be a full-fledged subject in the agricultural education curriculum as well. Additionally, the government has announced its plan to assist one crore farmers in transitioning to natural farming over the next three years. Initiatives like the PM Program for Restoration, Awareness, Nourishment, and Amelioration of Mother Earth (PM PRANAM) will be launched to incentivise states and union territories to promote alternative fertilizers and the balanced use of chemical fertilizers. The government has also formulated the National Mission on Natural Farming (NMNF) as a separate and independent scheme from 2023-2024 by upscaling the Bhartiya Prakritik Krishi Paddati (BPKP). But for all these initiatives to succeed, it is imperative that farmers facilitate the swift transition from chemical-based inputs to cow-based, locally-produced inputs.
The Bottom Line
Given the current scenario, with soil degradation being a serious issue, only 30 years of the harvest will remain for consumption. With the challenges that the sector is facing, such as increasing population and growing demand for healthy produce by consumers, natural farming is certainly necessary. It is a revolutionary approach that will help improve crop yield and increase farmers' income. The practice has the potential to reduce the risk of crop failure, help conserve soil and water resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, and even promote biodiversity. However, the right time to facilitate this transition is now, and hence, it's important that we act promptly.
About Author: Dr. Deepak Birewar is Chairman & MD of Inventys Research Company.