Delhi’s organic farming shocker: Data a load of manure

Mail Today Bureau   |   Mail Today  |   New Delhi, March 26, 2015 | UPDATED 06:03 IST

According to the state department, there is hardly any activity of organic farming on Delhi’s land . It claims it gets no subsidy for for organic farmers.Believe it or not, almost 70 per cent of the national Capital was used for organic farming in 2011-2012, according to National Project on Organic Farming (NPOF), which comes under the Ministry of Agriculture. While the total geographical area of Delhi is 1.48 lakh hectares, NPOF data shows 100238.74 hectares (almost twice the size of Mumbai) was used for organic farming during that period.

What smacks of data fudging and a gigantic scam took place between 2009 and 2012 when the Sheila Dikshit government was in power in Delhi and Congress-led UPA ruled at the Centre. As per the central government scheme, a subsidy of Rs.10,000 per hectare of land is given to a farmer for organic farming. Hence, Rs.100-crore plus subsidies in 2011-12 were given by the Union government for organic farming in the national Capital for 100238.74 hectares. And Delhi, on paper, produced 4,765 tonnes of organic products in 2009. The state of Assam produced 2,329 tonnes. In other words, urban Delhi’s output of organic products was 100 per cent higher than that of Assam. The scam was exposed by the Crop Care Foundation of India (CCFI) through an RTI.

When MAIL TODAY asked the Ministry of Agriculture if indeed such gigantic tract of land inside Delhi has been used for organic farming or if the national capital is such a big producer of organic vegetables, we got no answers. Neither did the Commerce Ministry which is in charge of export of organic products come up with any answers. Both ministries passed the buck and pointed fingers at each other.

The Delhi Agriculture department says there is hardly any organic farming done in Delhi. “There is no awareness about organic farming in Delhi. We don’t get any specific data on such farming from the government. Neither do we get any subsidy,” an official from the department told MAIL TODAY. Delhi agriculture department records show 30,922 hectares of land were used for overall agricultural activities in Delhi in 2011-12. Agriculture activity in Delhi takes place only on six blocks, out of which there is negligible farming in 50 per cent of the area. NPOF was introduced by the Congress-led UPA government during the 10th five-year plan as a central sector scheme with effect from 10 October, 2004, with an initial outlay of `57 crore for promotion of organic farming in India. Though introduced by the UPA government, the scheme continues till date with substantially enhanced budget.

Dr Krishan Chandra, Regional Director, National Center for Organic Farming (NCOF), Ministry of Agriculture, said: “Agriculture is a state subject. The Centre’s role is to help states monetarily so that they can take up organic farming. We have different schemes through which we help farmers by providing money to states. But there is no scope of organic farming in Delhi as there is meagre land available for any kind of farming. As far as subsidy is concerned, we give subsidy for the export of organic produce.” According to the data available with the Ministry of Agriculture, the annual export value of Agriorganic products for 2012-13 was Rs.1155.81 crore.

Dr Chandra said that on noticing major glitch in the data provided by the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), under the Ministry of Commerce, regarding organic farming in Delhi, he asked them for clarification.

“The data regarding land for organic farming is maintained by APEDA and not by our department. They said that earlier they used to enter the data manually but now they are doing it using computers. There may be some data manipulation as it is not possible to carry out such large-scale organic farming in Delhi,” said Chandra. “At times the state helps the farmer financially to carry out organic farming. Farmers furnish address details of the national capital, but the land is somewhere else. The responsibility to check such details furnished by farmers lies with the Commerce Ministry,” he said. Sources in the Agriculture Ministry said that there is a possibility of embezzlement of funds at the state level because who the beneficiaries would be are decided by the state.

The state agriculture department claims to have no information on organic farming in Delhi. “We don’t have any information,” said Kaushal Kishore, joint director, agriculture, Development department, Delhi government. Rajinder Chaudhry, Director (Media), Ministry of Commerce, said: “We are not aware about the disparity in data from other sources. The data provided by APEDA is sourced from TRACENET – a web-based traceability system operational under NPOP.”

Bihar potato farmer sets new world record

Patna: Bihar’s farmers have done it again. A farmer from Sohdih village of Bihar’s Nalanda district has set a new world record in potato production through organic farming this year.
The potato farmer, Rakesh Kumar, has harvested 108.8 tonnes of potato per hectare and set a new world record in potato production, Nalanda district magistrate Sanjay Kumar Agrawal said on Monday.
Last year, a farmer of Darveshpura village in Nalanda had set a world record in potato production through organic farming.
“Rakesh Kumar has created a new world record in potato production through organic farming. It was verified by experts, scientists and officials,” Agrawal told IANS over telephone.
He said several officials and agricultural experts were present in the field at harvest time to verify the claim and record it.
According to him, last March, a potato farmer, Nitish Kumar, harvested 72.9 tonnes of potato per hectare and set a world record.
Till then, the world record was 45 tonnes per hectare, held by farmers in the Netherlands.
Earlier, farmers of the village in Nalanda had created a world record by producing 224 quintals of paddy per hectare.
Rakesh Kumar, who is also chairman of the Nalanda Organic Vegetable Growers’ Federation, said he used his learning, inquisitiveness and innovation to deploy high density plantation technique, used for enhancing mango, litchi and guava production, for growing the kufri pukhraj variety of potato to lift the old benchmark to an entirely new level.
“The big-sized potato also helped to make a difference,” Mr Rakesh said.
District horticulture officer DN Mahto said the achievement occurred because of the use of organic methods. “Once again, the organic method of farming proved superior to other methods of farming,” he said.
Mr Mahto said the loam soil of the village is suitable for several crops, including potato. “The new record will certainly go a long way in removing doubts about low production associated with organic farming and encourage other farmers to adopt it,” he said.
Nalanda, the home district of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, is already the leading potato producing district in Bihar, with farmers growing the crop on over 27,000 hectares.
Bihar is the third-largest potato producing state, after Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Last year, five farmers in Bihar created a world record, producing 224 quintals of paddy per hectare.
The state government has decided to promote organic farming in at least one village in each of the state’s 37 districts. It launched an “organic farming promotion programme” over a year ago, intended to develop organic ‘grams’ (villages).
Agriculture is the backbone of Bihar’s economy, employing 81 percent of its workforce and generating nearly 42 percent of the state’s domestic product, according to the state government.

Economics of Organic Farming: A case study of Dhule district (M.S.)

Author(s): Shivaji B. Patil and Pawar Vishal S.
The present paper is to investigate the economics of organic farming. The concept of organic farming or natural farming came forward from Asian countries. This
art of farming already preserved and cultivated by Indian and Chinese farmer. Before the invention of chemical fertilizer farming is cultivated in organic farming way. even today the organic farming is increased all over the world due to environment point of view, health point of view and as well as economic point of view. Thus in the present paper it is find out economical benefit of organic farming with compare to chemical farming

Neither a myth nor a panacea: Organic farming can not just feed the world but is easy on the environment too and hence more sustainable

Neither a myth nor a panacea
Organic farming can not just feed the world but is easy on the environment too and hence more sustainable
Rajinder Chaudhary

ORGANIC farming is neither coterminous with the non-usage of chemicals nor homogenous. Besides, the non-usage of chemicals, it has many other components. What goes under the rubric of organic farming can vary from farming dependent on external inputs (some times provided by some of the same corporations that supply chemical inputs), practising mono-cropping similar to one practised by conventional farming, looking for a year-round supply of ‘tomatoes’ to those using no external or minimal external inputs other than labour, insisting on mixed cropping and combining animal husbandry etc with farming, respecting nature and producing only seasonal crops to the point of excluding mono-cropping from the definition of organic.

This diversity within the ‘organic’ is often ignored in comparative studies while amongst practising ‘organic’ farmers, one will find wide diversity going up to the point that each one gives a different name to it! This diversity should be acknowledged in all comparative studies. The moment we do this, we will realise that comparing individual crop yields does not make much sense as contrary to the conventional practice, practising organic ‘wheat’ growers are often growing no less than 6-7 crops in the same field at the same time. An organisation in Wardha refuses to treat any farmer producing less than 10 different crops in his/her fields as an organic farmer.

But all this should not be read to mean that comparisons of yields and income are not important or that organic performs poorly on these counts. A conference organised by the FAO in 2007 had some 350 participants from more than 80 countries, including five inter-governmental institutions, 24 research institutions and 31 universities. ‘Recognising the need to increase agriculture productivity by 56 per cent by 2030’, it evaluated the available data to determine whether organic agriculture could offer an alternative system. It concluded that ‘organic agriculture has the potential to secure a global food supply … but with reduced environmental impacts’.

Then there is the case of Cuba, which in the mid-nineties in the post-Soviet phase, devoid of petroleum products, had no choice but to go organic and it is no worse for that. Nutritional status as well as rural employment are reported to have improved.

It is a well-known fact that conventional agriculture is in crisis. Father of Indian Green Revolution M.S. Swaminathan himself calls conventional agriculture ‘exploitative agriculture’. This ‘exploitative agriculture’, according to a Planning Commission report, has ‘damaging impacts on environment, human and animal health, soil and water resources’. … The rural economy is in ruins because of over-dependence of outside inputs in agriculture such as seed, fertilisers, pesticides, growth-promoting chemicals etc.’ Another Planning Commission study reports that according to official reports, ‘it appears that nearly 2/3rd of our agricultural land is degraded or sick to some extent’.

So, one has to certainly look for alternatives. If there are various ‘organic’ alternatives available that claim to work wonders, one must. study and evaluate them seriously rather than brush these aside as ‘misinformation’. We must devote a significant part of resources going into agriculture research into these alternatives too. Way back in 2001 a Planning Commission committee had recommended that ‘all the state governments may be advised to consider experimentation and demonstrations on government farms on 50:50 area basis on organic farming and other forms of farming’. How many mainstream agriculture research institutes in India have implemented this? Without having done this, to claim that non-chemical farming does not work out is ‘misinformation’!

The writer is a Professor, Department of Economics, M. D. University, Rohtak

Impact of policies favouring organic inputs on small farms in Karnataka, India: a multicriteria approach

Interesting published paper from ATREE which uses a multi-criteria analysis to compare villages supported under an organic farming project/policy in Karnataka with those that are not, in terms of a variety of parameters on the economic, environmental and socio-cultural fronts. I am not too sure where I picked up the paper from, and might be circulating it back to a group from where I picked it up and my apologies for the same.

Purushothaman et al 2012 mca ktaka(1)

Seema Purushothaman • Sheetal Patil • Ierene Francis
Received: 3 October 2011 / Accepted: 12 February 2012

Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012
Environ Dev Sustain
DOI 10.1007/s10668-012-9340-1

The paper presents the results of a multicriteria analysis conducted to comprehend
the effects of two different practice–policy scenarios on smallholders in Karnataka—one
scenario ‘with policy’ (WP) to support organic agricultural practices and the other a
‘business as usual’ (BAU) scenario that continues to stress on market-based, synthetic
inputs for cultivation. The paper integrates results from quantitative and participatory
techniques to compare and project effects on ecological, economic and socio-cultural
indicators. Ecological and economic indicators in WP are projected to be significantly
higher than BAU in a majority of the study sites, while socio-cultural indicators show
mixed outcomes, depending on regional and social characteristics. Across the study sites,
small and rain-fed farms are benefitted better in WP compared to large and irrigated farms,
respectively. Among small and rain-fed farms, soil fertility, water quality, agro-diversity,
net income and freedom from indebtedness improve considerably, while there is slight
reduction in collective activities and no perceivable change in land-based subsistence. 

India for Safe Food Campaign responds to CIFA’s open letter to Aamir Khan on inevitability of Pesticides

Read CIFA Letter to Aamir Khan

 A letter from Chengal Reddy, Secretary General of Consortium of Indian Farmers’ Association (CIFA), dated 11/7/2012, supposedly an “open letter” to Aamir Khan and his “select group of environment activists” who appeared in an episode of Satyamev Jayate on 24th June (not on 12th June as mentioned in the letter) prompts us to write an open response, as part of the India For Safe Food Campaign.


While Chengal Reddy launches a scathing attack on the environmental activists who spoke out against chemical pesticides, and calls their perspectives, knowledge and experience as elite discourses, we should not forget that many so-called farmer leaders are actually not into farming, though they would like to equate themselves with millions of Indian farmers. Incidentally, this is one show that is being watched by millions, including from the farming communities and the message on ill-effects of pesticides has indeed reached millions of rural homes, as it rightly should – the discourse around synthetic pesticides which are essentially poisons has for too long been hijacked by vested interests which have promoted these poisons as “medicines” and projected them as indispensable and beneficial to all of us. The main philosophy churned out by the vested interests is that of the “greater common good” and the activism against pesticides is based on the fact that there is no greater common good here, only corporate profiteering, especially given that pesticides are not indispensable. The evidence brought into the show is based on the experience of lakhs of farmers, and also evaluated for its positive effects (of non-pesticidal management) by agriculture scientists.


While hitting out against activists and their “elite sermons on farming in India sitting before TV cameras”, Chengal Reddy should remember that he does a more elitist thing: of sitting and discussing about “emerging business opportunities in Indian agriculture” with industry friends in 5-star hotels in conferences after conferences.  At least these activists have sought to use the medium of a popular TV show, to put out a message of hope on alternatives to farmers of this country, who are reeling under a severe distress. The farmers who sought to produce the most, by increasing their yields at any cost, egged on by unaccountable players like the state agriculture apparatus and the industry, are in fact in the greatest distress as study after study shows from the farm suicide belts of India. Punjab’s farmers are a classic example for this.


In fact, CIFA is doing great disservice to farmers by ignoring and discounting the evidence in favor of giving up chemical pesticides.


The main points of this open letter centre around:


–          organic leading to lower yields, leading to hunger and starvation;

–          household pesticides being as dangerous or as safe as agricultural pesticides but not being attacked;

–          pesticides should be safe since our governments and scientists are permitting them!


Chengal Reddy has not progressed in his discourse, unfortunately and has brought up hackneyed arguments, as he has done in the past too, addressing press conferences organized by pesticides industry.


The most important thing that CIFA & Chengal Reddy don’t seem to have realized, while they have been watching only their chemicalised agriculture, IS THAT ORGANIC FARMING IS PRODUCTIVE, VIABLE AND EXTREMELY SCIENTIFIC. EQUATING TRADITIONAL INDIAN FARMING WITH ORGANIC FARMING IS REFLECTIVE OF A LACK OF UNDERSTANDING AND KNOWLEDGE ON BEHALF OF CIFA. While traditional farming is indeed organic, organic agriculture in today’s world is way beyond traditional farming (organic, natural, ecological, bio-dynamic etc., are the variants of appreciating nature’s way of functioning and emulating it without dependence on external inputs – organic agriculture which only seeks to replace on set of chemical inputs with another set of organic inputs is not desirable either though the organic industry might want it for various reasons). It is an application of modern science in understanding and appreciating nature’s complexities and re-creation of sustainable farm eco-systems that optimize yields even as it conserves and regenerates resources. There is much evidence to show the multi-faceted benefit of ecological farming at the international and national level, just as there is enough and more evidence of the ill-effects of chemicals in our agriculture and food.


CIFA is exhibiting that it lacks any medium and long-term vision for Indian farming and farmers by endorsing chemical pesticides and bringing in funny examples on rice and wheat yield comparisons in different states. Yield is a complex phenomenon and yield maximization is not the only reason why farming is done. The yield maximization paradigm has, after all these years, only resulted in Indian farmers on an average getting lower incomes than the minimum wages in farming as per official data. Therefore, aiming for optimal, sustainable and stable yields is a major perspective in organic or ecological approaches to farming.


WE should stop placing the burden of feeding the nation on individual farmers when the nation and the elected governments do not care enough about farmers and their real welfare and well-being. We urge CIFA not to place this unreasonable burden on farmers either in its advocacy of the “produce more and perish” mode of production.


When CIFA calls upon environmental NGOs to walk their talk – it should know that they have indeed done so. They have shown a variety of small scale to large scale examples that farming of a different kind is indeed possible and viable. Not just in hundred acres per district but on millions of acres. It is in fact this kind of farming which has not ended up in farmers becoming indebted or contemplating suicides. It is now the responsibility of the government and organizations like CIFA to take this forward, if they care about farmers.


There is no point in boasting about food surplus and food security in India if we cannot actually feed the starving, the hungry and the malnourished. It is a shame that a majority of the hungry in India are actually partaking in the food production process and are actually impoverished in the process! It is obvious that we have more than we need and it is high time the nation as a whole thought of addressing hunger and malnutrition in fundamental ways.


The argument around household pesticides vs. agricultural pesticides – surely both are harmful and no activist is arguing that household pesticides are harmless. The harm from agricultural pesticides is certainly higher however, in terms of the quantities used (it does not help to give the market worth in rupees, as Chengal Reddy has chosen to do), number of exposure routes for the poison that such large scale use opens up contaminating many life-sustaining resources, the effect it has directly on our farming community members etc. Activists are arguing for agri-workers and farmers to be saved from such poisons and no farmer leader in the right senses should have any objection to this?


Finally, about the great faith that Chengal Reddy is placing on government and scientists permitting pesticides only because they know that such pesticides will not cause any ill-health etc. – it is laughable and it is such an opportunistic rhetoric being put out that one feels like asking CIFA to close down shop since it has so much faith in the government and scientists doing only the right thing by Indian farmers! CIFA better stop its advocacy work since it believes that the government will only think of the good of our farmers and citizens in general. It is unbecoming of any farmers’ organization to forget the ignominous stories of Indian regulators being bribed by MNCs for registering their pesticides or that pesticides once allowed as “safe” being banned or restricted later on for their negative impacts. This does not even deserve a response!

Organic farming promises to yield a sustainable future for India’s rural poor

Organic agricultural practices are improving prospects for India’s farmers by providing greater profit and sustainability

MDG : India : An farm labourer displays a cabbage at the Sardar Patel organic farm

A cabbage on an organic farm near Ahmedabad. Organic practices have the potential to improve rural livelihoods in India. Photograph: Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images

Sixteen months ago, Delhi-born Ashmeet Kapoor returned to India with a wish to make a difference. The 26-year-old graduate, who had recently completed his masters in innovation management and entrepreneurship at Brown University in the US, knew he wanted to improve the lives of India’s rural poor in some way.

“I wanted to work to improve rural livelihoods using enterprise, but I needed to get my feet on the ground to explore where I could have the most impact,” Kapoor explained.

It didn’t take long for him to identify agriculture, which accounts for almost half of India’s workforce, as his chosen sector.

Kapoor’s search began with a train journey across India, the Jagriti Yatra, where he joined 400 other young people eager to gain inspiration for entrepreneurial work. The experience introduced him to the challenges facing farmers in India, as well as the attendant opportunities.

“Our agricultural system is in a mess,” he said. “Many of our farmers are underpaid, malnourished, are frequently using chemicals that harm their health, and rely on practices that seriously degrade their land. Not only this, the food that they are producing is often coated in harmful chemicals, has little taste and is low in essential nutrients.”


Kapoor was also struck by what he describes as the “lost talent” in rural areas. “I was amazed to discover that a lot of people in rural India actually have BAs and MAs, but there are no jobs for them. Their only option is to move to the cities to take jobs in factories. If you want to support rural development, you have to create the right opportunities. Farmers are still not really looking at agriculture as a business.”

Kapoor moved to rural Uttar Pradesh and started a two-acre demonstration farm to experiment with different agricultural practices and spend time among farmers. The more farmers he spoke to, the more convinced he became of the relevance of organic practices as a solution to many of the challenges they face.


“Organic farming, when practiced properly, reduces the input costs for fertilisers, pesticides and seeds, dramatically improves farmer health and enhances the fertility and resilience of their land,” said Kapoor, as we travelled to Haryana, just north of Delhi, to visit a group of farmers he plans to work with. “Of course, it also gives you tastier, safer and more nutritious produce.”

The problem is that the right incentives for farmers to convert to more sustainable practices have not been effectively created, said Kapoor. “People want good, nutritious food but they don’t want to pay more for it. Farmers want to be paid fairly for their work, and to farm in a way that can support them long into the future, but today’s systems don’t provide for that. Certification is expensive, many of their skills have been lost and much of the money paid for good produce is, in any case, lost to middlemen.”

As a result of these experiences, Kapoor set up a company, Jagriti Agro Tech, which, on Thursday, will start to supply affordable organic fruit and vegetables direct to households in Delhi, sourced from farmers in the surrounding states under the brand name I Say Organic.

His remit is simple: by connecting farmers directly to markets, he hopes to address several challenges simultaneously, providing better incomes and quality of life to rural farmers.

Kapoor plans to pay his farmers prices 25% higher than the current market rates for their produce, incentivising the use of more sustainable practices. In addition, unlike most “box schemes”, few of which exist in India today, he says the cost of his produce will remain competitive with local non-organic fruit and vegetables. Kapoor believes customers should be able to choose what they want, and receive it within a day.

It sounds an impossible task, but the only way to achieve these goals is to work with the system, said Kapoor. “You can’t just create markets, nor can you just work with farmers, so instead we are trying to work from one end to the other: to create and support the whole value chain.”

The farmers appear to have seen rapid benefits. “We currently have no means of marketing our produce, and initial conversion costs to organic farming require time, effort and money,” said Nepal Singh, a farmer from southern Haryana. “I Say Organic is giving us better rates for our produce, and clearly labels it, making it far more worthwhile to farm organically.”


“In the future, I believe organic produce will be in great demand,” added Gulzar Singh, another farmer from the same region. “I want to be one of the first people to grow it, just like our ancestors used to. I Say Organic is providing us with proper markets for our produce, and better prices than the Mandi [local market].”

Kapoor’s work is part of a wider wave of change in India.

“The organic market is growing in India,” said Sunil Gupta, founder and CEO of Dharani Organic, and one of Jagriti’s first partners. “More farmers are becoming aware of both the hazards of conventional farming and the opportunities, financial and otherwise, of more sustainable methods.”

A number of Indian states, including Mizoram, Uttarakhand and Sikkim intend to go 100% organic, with many more adopting policies to promote organic farming. There is a growing dialogue around the potential for India’s organic market both within and outside India. One study has estimated it could grow by about 15% between 2011 and 2013.

To scale up his business, Kapoor plans to increase the number of farmers and customers he works with from hundreds to thousands, and to diversify his business model.

“Our goal is to make organic produce accessible to everyone eventually, not just a niche group,” he said. “To do this, we hope to start also marketing B and C grade produce – vegetables which might be smaller or less physically perfect, but perfectly usable – to lower-income customers, to develop rural markets, and even to start processing any food we don’t sell. It’s just one step along the road at a time.”

Emulate DDS: Minister

Staff Reporter

Decorated bullock-carts being taken in a procession at DDS programme on bio-diversity at Pastapur in Medak on Monday. —PHOTO: MOHD ARIF
Finally, women working to protect nature and making efforts for self-sustenance under the guidance of Deccan Development Society (DDS) led by its director P.V. Satheesh, are set get due recognition.

Major Industries Minister J. Geeta Reddy, who participated as a chief guest in the concluding programme of the Bio-diversity Festival at this remote village in Medak district on Monday said that it had been decided to emulate the example of millet cultivation with organic forming across the district. The farmers from other areas would be called here and shown how to cultivate millets even in adverse weather conditions. If not, the women farmers from this area would be taken to other parts of the district to explain them on how to do it. The responsibility has been entrusted to Joint Collector A. Sharath.

It was also decided to present ‘J. Eswaribai Memorial Award’ to the women working in the DDS for sustaining the traditional crops, protecting the soil health and people’s health by supplying nutritious organic food and standing as an example to the farming community across the nation. The award would be presented on February 24 at Hyderabad by Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy.

Dr. Geeta Reddy was so impressed with what the women in her constituency were doing that she saluted them, literally.

“The nation has to learn a lot from you. You are teaching lessons to the farming community on how to face adverse weather conditions and cultivate multiple crops that will save peoples’ health as well as that of soil. This is a silent revolution that has been taking place in this remote area which needs due recognition,”’ she said. She has also felicitated some women farmers who narrated their experiences.

Nature and agriculture: The Increasing Importance Of Organic Farming

2 November 2011

yp gupta
ORGANIC food without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides is being promoted  in the USA, Canada, Austria, Italy, Poland and Cuba. These are processed without artificial preservatives. The products are more nutritious and resistant to diseases. Organic fruit and vegetables contain around 40 per cent more anti-oxidants than those produced with fertilisers. The products are required to be certified by an accredited agency.
The Green Revolution of the 1960s needed high inputs in respect of quality seeds, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, irrigation, farm mechanisation, etc. As a result, the problems of that agricultural phenomenon are now emerging. It can have an adverse effect on agricultural development. There have been both qualitative and quantitative degradation of land, waste and bio-resources; fertile lands have become uncultivable due to waterlogging and salinity, and the post-harvest losses have been substantial.
Organic farming is now being promoted in India. It plans to cover a range of high-value crops, including spices, fruit, vegetables, milk, poultry products, etc. An estimated 3.8 million hectares are now under organic farming in different states. These products fetch 25-30 per cent higher value than non-organic products.
Earlier, India had earned foreign exchange worth $78 million in a year from export of organic products to European countries, the USA, Japan, Australia and the Middle East.
Organic farming does not cause environmental and social damage. It maintains soil fertility, reduces tilling, suppresses weed growth, promotes humus formation and enhances the water-holding capacity of the soil. It is less costly for sustainable agriculture. This may reduce rural poverty and distress among the poor and marginal farmers, and may improve their income and livelihood.
Natural farming is a boon to the hapless farmers in Punjab. No institutional credit is required and hired labour is reduced. Home-made preparations such as a mixture of cow dung, cow urine, water, lime and soil protects crops against harmful soil-borne and seed-borne pathogens. Kerala is converting 20 per cent of the cultivable land to organic farming. Farmers are being encouraged to use bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides. Six thousand hectares of arable land in Sikkim are under organic farming. Farmers have succeeded in growing maize, paddy, ginger, cardamon and turmeric.
The use of bio-fertilisers for nitrogen is being encouraged these days. Agriculture today consumes high inputs of nitrogen. On an average, 100 kg of nitrogen fertilisers are consumed per hectare in the country. This requires a huge investment. The present needs of nitrogen are largely met from synthetic nitrogen fertilisers. A part of the requirement is met by imports. Their demand is expected to increase by 25 per cent in the near future.
These fertilisers are quite expensive because of high production cost. Their high inputs have considerably increased the cost of farm production. Production consumes a substantial volume of energy. Given the energy constraints, attempts are being made  to tap alternatives and supplement nitrogen resources by directly utilising atmospheric nitrogen through the biological procedure.
In view of fast depleting resources and to avoid depletion of fossil fuel and damage to environment from excessive use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, exploitation of the biological nitrogen procedure has gained special importance. A national project on the development of bio-fertilisers is being promoted to produce over 10,000 tonnes of bio-fertilisers.  The commonly used varieties  are rhizobium, azotobacter and blue green algae. The first two stem naturally from the soil. The blue green algae grows in the stagnant water of ponds and rice fields. Their efficient strains are being isolated.
Azospirillum-based experiments have also shown promising results. Its use increases yields of cereals amounting to considerable savings.
In the symbiotic nitrogen fixing system, photosynthetically stored energy is utilised instead of fossil fuels. In this process, atmospheric nitrogen is converted to ammonia with the help of biological catalysts, which are present in some of the plants or in the bacteria in the soil. In this system, certain nitrogen fixing bacteria (rhizobium species) grow in close association with a higher plant (leguminous), usually with its roots, where nodules are formed. The process takes place in these nodules through an enzyme system. Nitrogenase is the key enzyme. The efficiency of the process and the amount of nitrogen fixed depend on synthesis, control and regulation of the enzyme.
One major limitation of nitrogen fixation in legumes is the availability of photosynthetate which is dependent on the efficiency of the process of photosynthesis. Therefore, increased nitrogen fixation must be accompanied with more photosynthetic activity. The fate of nitrogen fixation also depends on how regulation of nitrogenase is effected under environmental factors such as oxygen concentration, ammonia in concentration and the presence of certain metabolites.
In the non-symbiotic process, there is a wide variety of “free-living organisms” such as azotobacter or clostrida, which fix atmospheric nitrogen under aerobic (presence of oxygen) conditions, depending on the organism and conditions like proper moisture, temperature, acidity and source of energy.
Blue-green algae also possess the nitrogen-fixing ability. These algae are now commercially grown, dried and sold in packets as bio-fertilisers. Application of a combination of blue-green algae at a rate of 10 kg of soil containing 5 per cent algae per hectare is commonly used. This saves about 30 kg fertiliser nitrogen per hectare.
The application of blue-green algae has an additional advantage. It reduces salinity. It is successful with the rice crop because it gets favourably submerged conditions for growth. These algae could not be exploited in wheat fields. However, its use would largely depend on developing efficient strains for adverse environments to ensure better success.
The long-term future of Indian agriculture will thus depend on the success of these efforts, which will ultimately mean going back to nature and reducing the dependence on synthetic chemical fertilisers.
The writer is ex-Principal Scientist, IARI, New Delhi

Children of the soil try to save the earth

Article and Image Courtesy: India Today
Date: 31st October, 2011
Chandigarh-based activists Radhika and Rishi Miranhshah.

Two decades ago, Rishi Miranhshah – a student from Chandigarh – read The One Straw Revolution, an internationally acclaimed book by Japanese author Masanobu Fukuoka. The literary masterpiece on the alternative food movement influenced him so much that he gave up an established career in Canada and returned to India six years ago with his wife Radhika Malhotra Miranhshah for exploring the possibilities of enriching the earth.
The young couple has now taken the initiative to spread agroecological knowledge in developing sustainable farming through books.

Earlier, Rishi – a professional translator – did several odd jobs in India and abroad to sustain himself and his wife. But a deep ambition to spend the rest of his life working with the earth continued to haunt him.

After completing his education, he practiced law at the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh. But, he did not like the profession and started learning French in the city. He met Radhika there and they got married. Soon, he switched over to teaching French at Punjabi University in Patiala which he later quit to shift to Vancouver in Canada. He established himself as a professional translator and worked primarily for the ministry of health, British Columbia.

But The One Straw Revolution – which he had read in 1992 – prodded him to understand natural farming. The book has been translated from Japanese into many languages, including English.

It highlights the fact that man’s improved techniques appear necessary because they have upset the natural balance. The land has now become a slave to these techniques.

The couple realised that farmers in Punjab – who have been practicing modern agricultural techniques – needed Fukuoka’s wisdom for posterity.

With an aim to offer their own humble contribution to the efforts towards healing and enriching the earth, the couple came back to India about six years ago.

For the sake of convenience, Rishi began translating the Japanese master’s book into Punjabi a year ago and Radhika started exploring the means to ensure that the book reached the readers.

She was concerned that though a lot of valuable books were published worldwide, only a few reached those who could read only Punjabi. The farmers in Punjab – and elsewhere too – paid a heavy price for their lack of knowledge of English.

When they started exploring avenues for publishing the book, there were few takers. Several people in the publishing industry told them the book was not economically viable and they would not be able to publish it.

Finally, Radhika took charge and decided to set up her own publishing hub, Worthwords Books, to bring out Kakh Ton Kranti – the translated version of the masterpiece. The book – also “the founding document of the alternative food movement” which rolled out in the native language – has recently started generating interest among the farmers in Punjab.

Rishi and Radhika believe that a “civilisational” onslaught has been leading many forms of life towards extinction. People would not be able to understand it till they get this knowledge in their own words and language. The onslaught has been depriving people of natural resources.

The couple has also taken a pledge to publish books only on ecology, farming, gardening and spirituality on a not- for- profit basis. These books would be in Indian languages with the primary thrust on translating important works from other languages into Punjabi.

Rishi and Radhika have been witnessing that an idea which germinated about two decades ago is finally taking roots. They have Fukuoka holding their hand and leading their way through the vast green expanse – “the fields of joy, of laughter, of birdsong and of truth.