Organic farming practices in India
India is a country which has followed the organic farming system since the days of old civilizations. Theavailability of favorable climatic conditions and plenty of natural resources has had a positive influence on organic farming. However, the unprecedented growth of the population and increase in demand for foods led the country towards the Green Revolution in the 1900s.
With the Bengal Famine in the British ruled India, the necessity for increased production of food items in all parts of India was identified. There onwards food security has always been a major concern in India. Although Green Revolution brought India to a place of self-sufficiency, it was not without a number of shortcomings.
The introduction of high-yielding varieties of crops significantly contributed in reducing the on-farm green biomass, resulting in reduced biodiversity, decreased productivity, disrupted nutrient cycles and disappearance of cattle from the farms. It greatly affected the sustainability of the traditional farming system creating a whole new ecological and economic crisis.
The heavy usage of chemical fertilizers and pesticides disrupted the natural balance and fertility of the soil making it more saline. It destroyed the soil structure over the years in an irreversible way. The soil became less productive and more toxic. It also became a source of water pollution. Farmers had to use even more chemical fertilizers to overcome the damage and this gave rise to a vicious cycle of damaging and re-damaging the soil.
Furthermore, thehigh yielding varieties of seeds, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation systems which were introduced along with the Green Revolution were highly expensive. As a result, the poor farmers became entrapped in huge piles of debts leading the field of agriculture towards a “Suicide Economy”. Thus, the farmers and policy makers of India were left with no other choice but to make a deliberate attempt to go back to making use of the natural ways of crop cultivation by embracing the concept of organic farming once again.
Organic farming is a way of making use of our natural environment without hindering its balance or sustainability. It involves maintaining the healthy interactions between the soil, plants, organisms, water sources and basically everything in the local ecosystem. Organic farming systems are implemented in such a way so that biodiversity is preserved while increasing the productivity of the agricultural processes. Keeping the soil alive by using organic products as manure and maintaining the nutrient cycles at an optimum level are key entities of organic farming.
India being a country gifted with a plenty of natural resources like water, rich soil, and enough land for cultivation along with the tropical climate provides the ideal environment for organic farming practices. Mostly in the rural areas of India, small farms less than one acre in land size can be found in abundance. Given the size of these farms less labor and machinery is required making it cost effective for the rural farmers. The International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD) stated that about 2.5 million hectares of land were being utilized for organic farming in India in 2004. In addition, there are approximately more than 15,000 certified organic farms in India.
Indian farmers specifically use crops that suit the local environmental conditions such as the climate, rainfall, soil type, and temperature fluctuations. They integrate their indigenous knowledge on agriculture on choosing the crops that will give the highest yield in a specific time of the year. They are well aware that growing the same type of crop all year long will significantly reduce the fertility of the soil. Therefore, they follow the special method of crop rotation which involves moving crops to a different area of the land each year letting the soil to regain its fertility in the meantime.
Seasonal crop cultivation is carried out in a systematic manner. Mostly, the seeds are soaked in a solution of cow’s urine, and other nutrients like calcium or potassium to facilitate germination. They can be either hybrid seeds or natural ones. These seeds are sowed or planted across the field so that each one of them maintains a specific distance from one another because it enables maximum rainwater harvesting.
The soil is given a prominent place in organic farming. Instead of using artificial, harsh agrochemicals, natural alternatives like compost, green manure, cow dung, human waste, and “JeevAmrit”, a liquid fertilizer made out of cow dung and urine are commonly used. These natural fertilizers improve the fertility of the soil maintaining the perfect combination of nutrients and ensuring biodiversity.
Compost is created by degrading organic matter with the help of microorganisms. Several methods of composting including the Indore method, Bangalore method, pit composing, etc. are used for composting.Compost feeds the soil structure, improves water retention, prevents soil erosion, and improves the aeration of the soil resulting in healthy growth of crops.
Another method commonly used by organic farmers is Mulching. It means covering the ground with a layer of loose materiallike compost, manure, straw, dry grass, leaves or crop residues. This brings many important benefits. They include, reducing water evaporation from the surface of the soil, adding organic material to the soil improving fertility, preventing soil erosion, minimizing weed growth, and much more.
In addition, green manure is used as a way of enhancing the fertility of the soil. Green manures are cover crops which are planted in the field of cultivation, alone or with other crops.They are dug into the soil at the earlier stages while they are still young. Overtime, they are grown into plants providing soil cover and they provide green leafy material which has high nutrient content.
In an organic farm, weed control is done in the most environmental friendly ways possible without destroying the friendly and useful plants. Crop rotation, hand plucking, mulching, using green manure, and hoeing are commonly used methods of weed control.
In addition, pest control is also done using organic methods avoiding any kind of chemical pesticides. As the initial step in pest control, most farmers select crops naturally resistant to pests and diseases. They plan cultivation so that the periods inducing the most pest damage are avoided. Besides, planting companion crops like garlic or onion is also an effective way of controlling pests.
Usually, along with organic farming, animal husbandry is also carried out, most commonly with cattle andcows. These animals are selected to breed, depending on the local requirements, conditions, and the availability of resources. Foods for these animals are grown using organic methods.
Although organic farming takes some extra effort at the beginning, it is one of the most cost-effective means of agriculture. No one can deny the positive impact of organic farming on the environment, biodiversity, economy and our overall health and well-being. Therefore, many Indian farmers have turned towards organic farming and in fact, it is taking the sub-continent by storm each day.