Roadmap for India’s natural farming ambitions
- India’s commitment to natural, chemical-free, organic and zero-budget farming was reaffirmed by the centre in recent budget speech
- The zero budget natural farming has found a mention for the third time in the last four budget speeches but significant announcements from government are yet to come in this field
About Natural farming
- It is a method of chemical-free agriculture drawing from traditional Indian practices.
- It is a unique model that relies on Agro-ecology.
- It aims to bring down the cost of production to nearly zero and return to a pre-green revolution style of farming.
- There is no need for expensive inputs such as fertilisers, pesticides and intensive irrigation in this farming method
Budget allocation for Natural farming
- The FM talked of promoting natural or chemical-free farming across the country, especially in a corridor in the Gangetic basin
- But no specific allocations have been made to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare
- The currently-operational schemes such as the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana and the National Project on Organic Farming did not find any mention in the budget.
- Only Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, which has received a 4.2-times (year-on-year) larger allocation of Rs 10,433 crore can be seen as a hope for this sector
Suggestions to scale up chemical-free farming in India
- Promotion in rainfed areas: Govt should focus on promoting natural farming in rainfed areas beyond the Gangetic basin.
- It is home to half of India’s farmers who use only a third of the fertilisers per hectare compared to the areas where irrigation is prevalent.
- The shift to chemical-free farming will be easier in these regions.
- Farmers will also gain from this as the current crop yields in these areas are low.
- Enabling automatic enrolment of farmers to crop insurance schemes: Govt should enable automatic enrolment of farmers transitioning to chemical-free farming into the government’s crop insurance scheme, PM Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY).
- Any transition in agriculture like crop diversification, change in farming practices adds to the farmer’s risk.
- Covering such risks could enhance the appetite of the farmers to embark on the transition.
- Promotion of microenterprises: Govt. should promote microenterprises that produce inputs for chemical-free agriculture.
- As Lack of readily available natural inputs is a barrier cited by farmers in transitioning to chemical-free agriculture
- This challenge can be addressed by combining the promotion of natural farming with the setting up of village-level input preparation and sales shops.
- Two shops per village across the country could provide a livelihood to at least five million youth and women.
- Leveraging NGOs and champion farmers: Govt. should leverage NGOs and champion farmers who have been promoting and practising sustainable agriculture across the country.
- CEEW research estimates that at least five million farmers are already practising some form of sustainable agriculture and hundreds of NGOs are involved in promoting them.
- Learning from peers, especially champion farmers, through on-field demonstrations has proved highly effective in scaling up chemical-free agriculture in Andhra Pradesh.
- Upskilling of agriculture extension workers: Govt should run programmes to upskill the agriculture extension workers on sustainable agriculture practices beyond evolving the curriculum in agricultural universities
- Leveraging community institutions: the government should facilitate an ecosystem in which farmers learn from and support each other while making the transition.
- Supporting monitoring and impact studies: these assessments would ensure an informed approach to scaling up sustainable agriculture
- India’s food system needs a holistic transformation in demand, production, and supply chains. The government should convert its intent to promote natural farming into action by announcing concrete measures for promoting it . This will greatly contribute in achieving a chemical-free, environment friendly and sustainable food system.