Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest


An agroecosystem is constrained by environmental possibility and social choices, mainly in the form of government policies. To be sustainable, an agroecosystem requires production systems that are resilient to natural stressors such as disease, pests, drought, wind and salinity, and to human constructed stressors such as economic cycles and trade barriers. The world is becoming increasingly reliant on concentrated exporting agroecosystems for staple crops, and vulnerable to national and local decisions that affect resilience of these production systems. We chronicle the history of the United States staple crop agroecosystem of the Midwest region to determine whether sustainability is part of its design, or could be a likely outcome of existing policies particularly on innovation and intellectual property. Relative to other food secure and exporting countries (e.g. Western Europe), the US agroecosystem is not exceptional in yields or conservative on environmental impact. This has not been a trade-off for sustainability, as annual fluctuations in maize yield alone dwarf the loss of caloric energy from extreme historic blights. We suggest strategies for innovation that are responsive to more stakeholders and build resilience into industrialized staple crop production.

Innovations in Sustainable Agriculture: Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production

World Watch Institute’s report on Innovations in Sustainable Agriculture: Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production


Laura Reynolds and Danielle Nierenberg

Sustainable Agriculture with Low Cost Technologies (SALoCT)

A full report on the outcomes of the three year project on “Sustainable Agriculture with Low Cost Technologies (SALoCT)” run by Ramakrishna Mission, West Bengal.

– Multi-purpose and multi-functional liquid organic products
– Higher yield and higher income than chemical farming
– Less labour, less water, less weeds and less investment
– Better quality produces
– Ideal for resource poor farmers

The right to food: Joan Mencher


Interview with Joan Mencher, an anthropologist who has worked in India for long on issues such as agriculture, ecology and caste.


Joan P. Mencher: “Indian scientists should focus on sustainable agriculture with an emphasis on reform from below.”

JOAN P. MENCHER is a Professor emerita of Anthropology from the City University of New York’s Graduate Centre and Lehman College of the City University of New York. She is the chair of an embryonic not-for-profit organisation, The Second Chance Foundation, which works to support rural grass-roots organisations that work with poor and small farmers in India and the United States on issues of sustainable agriculture. She has worked primarily in South India, but also in West Bengal briefly, on issues relating to ecology, caste, land reform, agriculture, women, and so on over the past half a century. She has published widely both in the U.S. and in India on all of these subjects, primarily in academic journals. She has also, for several years, been a consultant with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank for their India operations. Excerpts from an interview:

Can you start off by discussing briefly your work in India? You are an anthropologist. So how did your engagement begin and what have been the academic areas that your work has extended to in this period?

After finishing my PhD research in anthropology, for which I researched on a slum in New York City, I got a Fulbright scholarship to come to Kerala to do research on child rearing and family life. That was the first time I came to India, in 1958, and even had a chance to meet Jawaharlal Nehru, who encouraged American students to visit India so that they would get a chance to observe India directly. I came from America when McCarthyism was at its peak, and as an American researching in Kerala, I also had to constantly prove my research credentials to the Marxists in Kerala.

I was in India for almost two years, until 1960, and then I went and came back in two years. This time I was looking at ecological issues and the differences between Tamil Nadu and Kerala and looked at how changes in ecology affected agriculture and social life. From then on I began to do other kinds of things. My most intensive work has been in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, but in 1963 I first spent about four to five months in West Bengal, and then I have kept coming back and forth for 50 years and have researched on various aspects, including women and agriculture, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. I also began to publish about caste this time. Caste was always there while I was working in Kerala, but I began to be acutely aware of the issues in Tamil Nadu. I have also written extensively on the problems with the Green Revolution and the efficacy of land reforms in India.

In your view, what were the main problems with the Green Revolution?

I think the main thing was the damage done to the soil because of the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers. The crop patterns also changed significantly from diverse cropping to mono-cropping during the time of the Green Revolution. The agricultural methods led to a much more excessive use of water. It was really quite striking how this could happen. It also ended up favouring large farmers. I remember farmers telling me that they did not want to use artificial fertilizer, that they did not believe in it, but they did not have a choice because everybody around them was using it and they were using pesticide too and so all the bugs were coming to their lands. It took away choice from many of the farmers. In rain-fed areas, many of the farmers continued to grow [crops] in the old pattern, but in irrigated areas they could not.

Even the cropping pattern changed significantly. In one of my early studies in India, in a village in Tamil Nadu they were rotating ragi with rice and they were also growing other coarse grains. It certainly led to a switch to rice and away from coarse grains, which were so much more nutritious. It’s beginning to come back with its health values beginning to be recognised.

Certain changes in agricultural methods took place in the U.S. before the Second World War when the government adopted a corporate model of food governance. Why has this model been emulated in India?


A farmer sprays fertilizer in a paddyfield on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Indian agriculture should go back to an ecologically sound approach based on local food production, says Joan Mencher.

Well, to answer that complicated question, let me briefly start off by discussing how research in agricultural universities in America has been compromised, and its connection with India.

When agricultural universities were first established in the United States, the land was given to the universities and all the research at that time was financed by the State governments and not the federal government. When food corporations became more and more powerful, they began to pay for most of the research. Slowly, over time, most of the research done in America was supported by corporations rather than by the state, which means that any independent research was totally compromised. All the research began to serve an agenda of profit. The research was not supposed to benefit farmers but was supposed to help investors make more money.

The change in American agriculture started even before the Second World War. It was during that time that Dow Chemical, Dupont, and so on were making poison gases for the American government. When the War ended they shifted into making chemicals for agriculture. They started making fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides for agriculture. There were more companies in the beginning but slowly they consolidated and consolidated to form fewer companies. So this is something that didn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that took place over 50 years. And these ideas came to India through the Green Revolution.

In the 1960s, there was a bad time in India when the country went through a drought, and America offered aid, but India had to concede several things in order to get the aid. Several young scholars from India, the brightest in Indian agricultural studies, were sent to America to get educated and brainwashed at the same time. Even Indian agricultural universities were influenced by this model and began to teach a similar corporate syllabus. Two generations of agricultural scientists began to think in certain ways because of the brainwashing they got in America. There is a continuing alliance between agricultural universities in India and these American universities.

All these people began to be influenced by a certain ‘modern’ pedagogy. Well, modern means you don’t get dirty and you use machinery. Modern means you have many more machines and fewer people involved in agriculture. There is a certain belief in ‘growth’, ‘modernity’, or ‘progress’ in shaping policy, while the world faces economic collapse, unemployment, and [there is] a worldwide food deficit. The food deficit is being used as a rationale to deprive farmers of their autonomy and traditional assets and knowledge. People both in the West and in rural India are being manipulated to accept corporate approaches by myths like ‘individualism works best’, that all forms of ‘socialism’ in farming do not work, and the belief that private industry is the only mechanism that can solve today’s major food security problems.

What were the main processes that changed the face of Indian agriculture?

There were three processes that destroyed the traditional face of Indian agriculture. First, the Green Revolution; second, the 1991 liberalisation of the Indian economy; and third, the George Bush-Manmohan Singh summit in July 2005 [U.S.-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture], which really gave free entry to large American food corporations into India.

But there are people trying to revive ways of traditional forms of agriculture. One of the important things to be aware of is that large corporations are spreading the idea that anyone who tries to oppose all these scientific innovations is anti-science, anti-technology, [and] anti-modern, whereas I would argue that what they are calling modernity is not modernity and, furthermore, they ignore the much more complicated discipline of eco-science completely. Colleges have a big deal of knowledge about what works, but they do not support ecological sciences. Even eco-sciences are often pressured to do absolutely simple research. Eco-scientists are testing only one part of a thing when they do research on it without understanding the larger implications of such work. It’s the synergy between various parts that matters. Research in the ecological sciences needs to be improved.

What are your current concerns?

My current concerns are with issues of sustainable agriculture and alternative agriculture. Two things I have been concerned about are: one, the destruction of our environment, the total pollution of our environment through pesticides, herbicides, GMOs [genetically modified organisms]; and the other, corporate control, with companies getting more and more powerful.

I remember reading in a publication that one of the public relations men for Monsanto had the gall to say, “When we can control land, water and the sea, we can feed the world.” I was so shocked by this. The implications that one or a few companies could control the entire humanity’s food are just terrifying. I see it as really, really frightening.

It’s not that many large corporations control the food system in the world, I think it is four or five. What’s interesting about them is that they have interlocking directors so that people who sit on the board of one sit on the board of another. Even in India, after this treaty was signed by Bush and Manmohan Singh, between India and the United States, the way these companies have been allowed freedom in India is scary. One of the things I was impressed with earlier [before the liberalisation of the Indian economy since 1991] was that India had import substitution; India had kept out unbridled corporate power. I think that once liberalisation started, it broke the back of Indian industry in many ways. It broke the autonomy; once you are part of a large corporation you don’t have autonomy – maybe you make more money but you don’t have autonomy. India’s economy started growing at a much faster rate but who benefited from this? It still has not reached people who are poor; the agricultural labourers did not receive any of this benefit.

I want Indian agriculture to go back to an ecologically sound approach based on local food production, imitating nature instead of fighting natural processes, while increasing healthy food production by focussing on small family farms as well as medium-sized and cooperative farms. A recent study by IFAD [International Fund for Agricultural Development] noted the greater efficiency of production and the higher growth potential of small-holder farms, but there is an unstated belief among agricultural planners that getting rid of all family farms is good.

What should Indian agricultural scientists and economists focus on right now?

Indian agricultural scientists and economists need to pay more attention to poor farmers. They should not decide that a one-hectare farm is small. They should focus on small farms. I hope that agriculture departments will encourage small farms and give them money for alternative agriculture. Agriculture needs to be seen as tied to the human right to food, land, seeds and water. There must be support for NPM [Non-Pesticidal Management], water harvesting, SRI [System of Rice Intensification] rice, WSHGs [Women Self-Help Groups] and farmers with a range of holdings. There should be diversification of crops.

They should totally focus on sustainable agriculture with emphasis on reform from below. And they should combine it with poverty alleviation. Do not let traditional knowledge of agriculture disappear. Use it, don’t sell it to companies. Use it for the welfare of the community. Another is helping people to help themselves.


Sustainable smallholder agriculture: Feeding the world, protecting the planet

What promise will Rio herald for agriculture?” A conversation with Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda

As the international community prepares for Rio+20 in June 2012, Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, Chief Executive Officer of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANPRAN),  will speak with Naga Munchetty, international journalist and television presenter, on the prospects for elevating the role of agriculture in the climate talks.  Dr Sibanda will present her views on what global policy and investment changes are needed to ensure that smallholder farmers in developing countries can play a central role in meeting the multiple challenges of increasing their production to ensure food security while preserving the natural environment and coping with the effects of climate change.

At the centre-stage event, Dr. Sibanda will discuss the ways in which smallholder agriculture is impacted by resource scarcity and climate change – and how farming can and must become environmentally friendly.

A leading supporter of the Farming First campaign, Dr Sibanda advocates a holistic approach to sustainable agricultural development. At FANRPAN, she coordinates policy programmes aimed at making Africa food-secure. Since 2009, she has led “No-Agriculture, No-Deal” global  campaign that has mobilized African civil society organizations to push for  the inclusion of agriculture in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations. Recently, Dr Sibanda joined some of one of the world’s most influential thinkers and provocative voices as a member of the Guardian Global Development advisory panel as one of the world’s most influential thinkers and provocative new voices on the future of agriculture.

‘Virtuous circles’ can help secure food supplies and address climate change

Submitted by Mike on Tue, 22/11/2011 – 00:01

A book published today by IIED paints a vivid picture of an alternative future in which food, energy and water supplies are sustainable and in the control of local communities.

The book show how the linear systems that shape our world are flawed as they assume a limitless supply of resources and a limitless capacity for the environment to absorb waste and pollution.

The global food system’s dependence on fossil fuels that contribute to local pollution and global warming is just one example of an unsustainable system.

The authors call instead for circular systems that mimic natural cycles to produce food, energy, materials and clean water.

“Circular economy models that reintegrate food and energy production with water and waste management can also generate jobs and income in rural and urban areas,” says co-author Dr Michel Pimbert, a principal researcher at IIED. “This ensures that wealth created stays within the local and regional economy.”

One example is a system that recycles food waste and chicken manure to feed a worm farm. The worms in turn feed the chickens and farmed fish whose bones are used as fertiliser in a market garden. Human waste via a compost toilet also enriches the garden, whose crops — together with the farmed fish and meat and eggs from the chickens — feed the people.

The system is a closed circle with loops within it. All the nutrients stay in the system and just move about through the circle, rather than being pumped as sewage into the sea and leaving the soil forever poorer.

“A transformation towards re-localised food systems will significantly help to address climate change and other challenges,” says Pimbert. “Circular systems also provide the basis for economic and political sovereignty – the ability of citizens to democratically manage their own affairs and engage with other communities on their own terms.”

Dr Caroline Lucas, a member of parliament from the Green Party of England & Wales, has written the book’s foreword.

“I warmly welcome this book’s contribution to the debate on how food systems can be redesigned and re-localised to sustain diverse local ecologies, economies and human well being,” she writes.

“The authors rightly emphasise the need for a systemic and fundamental transformation of industrial food and farming in the face of peak oil, climate change, biodiversity loss, the water crisis, food poisonings, and the impoverishment of farmers and rural communities.”

“The challenge is to design resilient food systems with, by and for citizens – to reduce ecological footprints and foster local democratic control over the means of life. But rather than look at food and agriculture in isolation, we need to consider ways of re-integrating food and energy production with water and waste management in a diversity of local contexts in rural and urban areas, – and at different scales. “

To mark the launch of the book – Virtuous Circles: Values, systems and sustainability — IIED invites bloggers to join a virtual circle to share their blog posts about the book. Once you have posted a blog on your own site please send us the link ( IIED will then profile the best posts on its own blog and via Twitter with the hashtag #vcircles.

Download the book: Virtuous Circles: Values, systems and sustainability

Sustainable agriculture reduces distress migration in Orissa

By Pradeep Baisakh
Infochange News & Features, November 2011

Thanks to intervention from MASS, migration from Orissa’s Bargarh district has reduced considerably as villagers have been encouraged to start their own kitchen gardens, keep goats and chickens, and set up seed and grain banks, thereby adding to their income from agriculture and reducing their dependence on unscrupulous moneylenders

Let’s make climate change talks inclusive M. S. SWAMINATHAN & KANAYO F. NWANZE

Climate-resilient sustainable agriculture requires knowledge. Successful projects such as these can provide a model for others to follow. Knowledge transfer that brings the benefits of research from the laboratory to the farm is essential.
The HinduClimate-resilient sustainable agriculture requires knowledge. Successful projects such as these can provide a model for others to follow. Knowledge transfer that brings the benefits of research from the laboratory to the farm is essential.

Price volatility and the persistence of widespread and hidden hunger underline the need for enhancing the productivity and profitability of smallholder agriculture in an environmentally sustainable manner.

When world leaders sit down again to discuss climate change, we hope that the people who live and work on the world’s 500 million small farms will be with them, at least in spirit. Their voice — and the issue of agriculture as a whole — has, for too long, been missing from the conversation. But without increased support to smallholder farmers now, the number of hungry people will grow, and future food security will be placed in jeopardy.

The upcoming 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012 — marking the twentieth anniversary of the landmark Earth Summit that produced Agenda 21, “a roadmap” for sustainable development — will both need to ensure that agriculture and the world’s smallholder farmers are high on the agenda if we are to overcome the many challenges we face in achieving the Millennium Development Goal 1.

The front line

In the last 20 years the global population has risen from about 5.3 billion to seven billion; the reality of climate change has been accepted beyond doubt; and the number of hungry people in the world has remained stubbornly around the one billion mark. Meanwhile, aid to agriculture has only just recently begun to pick up after decades of stagnation. More needs to be done — a lot more — and supporting smallholder farmers must be at the heart of any agenda.

The rural poor across the world, including India, have contributed little to human-induced climate change, yet they are on the front line in coping with its effects. Farmers can no longer rely on historical averages for rainfall and temperature, and the more frequent and extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, can spell disaster. And there are new threats, such as sea level rise and the impact of melting glaciers on water supply.

How significant are small farms? As many as two billion people worldwide depend on them for their food and livelihood. Smallholder farmers in India produce 41 per cent of the country’s food grains, and other food items that contribute to local and national food security. Small farmers cannot be ignored, and special attention must be given to the most vulnerable groups — particularly women, who make up a large percentage of farmers in the developing world.

Small farms also add up to big business: In the world’s 50 least developed countries, agriculture is the backbone of the economy, accounting for 30 to 60 per cent of Gross Domestic Product and employing as much as 70 per cent or more of the workforce. Addressing the plight of smallholders isn’t just a matter of equity, it’s a necessity if we are going to be able to feed ourselves in the future. Smallholders farm 80 per cent of the total farmland in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. If we don’t help them to adapt to climate change, their achievements — feeding a large portion of humanity — will be endangered.

With appropriate support, smallholders can play a key role in protecting our environment, for example through actions that contribute to carbon sequestration and limit carbon emissions (planting and maintaining forests, engaging in agro-forestry activities, managing rangelands and rice lands, and watershed protection that limits deforestation and soil erosion).

To continue farming in a sustainable way in the face of climate change, rural women and men need to be given the resources to cope with the challenges. Smallholder farmers need support such as resilience-building technologies (including drought- and salt-tolerant seed varieties and new methods of rainwater harvesting), and training in sustainable practices of conservation agriculture, such as minimum-till farming to reduce erosion and moisture loss. Investing in adaptation measures now will be far less costly than in the future.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the M.S. Swaminathan Foundation, together with the government of India and other partners, have undertaken a range of projects to do just that.

For example, in Tamil Nadu, we have been supporting rural communities to produce and market nutri-cereals like millet, which can easily grow in dry and arid environments. We worked with smallholder farmers to use simple techniques to increase their yields, while also helping rural women create and market modern recipes — for example, a millet malt drink now being sold in major health food stores in India. The result has been not only increased food for the community, but also increased income and non-farm employment opportunities.

To help farmers adapt to increasingly dry conditions, a programme in Chhattisgarh has expanded cultivation of traditionally produced Niger seed oil, which grows well in areas that receive little rain. Land and forest regeneration were promoted to improve soil structure and moisture levels, and solar energy technology and biogas digesters have been introduced, which reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as the need for fuelwood. Another project in the northeast has helped restore degraded jhumland and has benefited almost 40,000 households in 860 villages.

Climate-resilient sustainable agriculture requires knowledge. Successful projects such as these can provide a model for others to follow. Knowledge transfer that brings the benefits of research from the laboratory to the farm is essential.

Programmes targeted at vulnerable groups such as women and tribal communities are particularly important. IFAD-supported programmes and projects in India promote tribal development by building and strengthening grassroots institutions that enable vulnerable people to plan and manage their own development, negotiate improved entitlements, and broaden their livelihood opportunities. Conferences and talks among world leaders can do many things but they don’t feed people. We hope that leaders will keep in mind those who do: the smallholder farmers. Price volatility and the persistence of widespread, endemic and hidden hunger underline the need for urgent attention to enhancing the productivity and profitability of smallholder agriculture in an environmentally sustainable manner. This is the pathway to increasing agriculture’s contribution to climate change mitigation as well as to sustainable food security.

(Prof. M.S. Swaminathan is Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, and Chairman, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation. Kanayo F. Nwanze is President, International Fund for Agricultural Development, a U.N. agency and international financial institution dedicated to helping poor, rural people overcome poverty.)

A visit to Subhash Sharma’s organic farm, Chhoti Gujri, Yavatmal, Maharashtra

 (Source: India Water Portal)

This presentation by Sultan Ismail, deals with the experiences of Subhash Sharma of Yavatmal, Maharashtra in organic farming. As he watched the decline of his soil and agricultural yields he let nature be his teacher and tried to understand the agro-economics of agriculture. He abandoned insecticides and chemical fertilisers and relied instead on the cow, trees, birds and vegetation with remarkable results. Click: Economics of agriculture under natural farming – Research paper – Subhash Sharma – Yeotmal – OFAI SAC (2009) 62.29 KB)

Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture-Interview with Raidu DV

The Andhra Pradesh agriculture department has decided to join hands with the rural development ministry’s Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) to take the Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA)  programme forward. This ushers in good news as it indicates the acceptance of chemical free agriculture by the agriculture department, which is usually known to back chemicals in the name of productivity.DV Raidu, Director, Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) in an interview with Savvy Soumya Misra talks about the success of the programme and its future  with the agriculture ministry.

How do you see the partnership with agriculture department panning out in promoting sustainable agriculture in the state?

With this partnership, we will be looking to build on each other’s strengths. The community based character of the program through decentralized extension model will converge with technical strength of Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) and take Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) to its logical conclusion. We start working at farm (household) economy comprehensively in addition to production and productivity. Further SERP’s efforts in trying to find out “end to end” solution by integrating dairy, poultry and small ruminants will be a big strength. Already we are working in convergence with the animal husbandry department in a small way; this will further strengthen our programme.


What do you envisage will be the role of the agriculture ministry in the scheme of things?

The ministry of agriculture will bring in the latest technology that will help farmers’ to reduce dependency on external inputs and help them revisit their own traditional wisdom. They will help communities to better implements like neem pulverizer, power weeder, small transplanters, small harvesters to reduce drudgery and improve efficiency of workforce. The ministry of agriculture would facilitate work on empowering farmers by mobilizing them into ‘joint liability groups’ (JLG) or ‘producer companies’. These farmers’ organizations will play critical role in accessing credit, improving marketing facilities and deciding markets for better prices.

How has CMSA changed agriculture in Andhra Pradesh since 2004?

Currently the programme is being implemented in 8033 villages of 503 mandals across 22 districts with 10.47 lakh farmers and 27.05 lakh acres. The emphasis of CMSA has been on reducing the cost of cultivation through non pesticide management (NPM) methods, restoring ecological balance, promoting green manure and dung based inoculants. The emphasis is on reduced dependency on external inputs and using locally available resources and this has improved the profitability of farmers. By preserving beneficial insects we are able to withdraw chemical pesticides. A survey followed by a third party assessment in 2008 showed a 70-80 per cent reduction in cost of pest management and 50 per cent reduction in fertilizer cost. The number of cases of hospitalization due to pesticide poisoning has also reduced. There is growing demand for this kind of agriculture.

Talking of pesticide poisoning, pesticides are also associated with a lot of health problems. Has there been an improvement in health after shifting to NPM?

In areas where NPM is practiced, cases of acute toxicity due to spraying of pesticides have completely gone away. It has also benefited those who weed chili fields, the leaves of which were always covered with pesticides and were prone to skin and breathing ailments. NPM has improved the quality and freshness of vegetables. In our interaction with women, we learn that their health has improved. We need to study the health impacts of the agricultural interventions. There is a plan to do such a study with organizations like IFPRI and the rural development ministry at the centre.

How difficult was it to get farmers to shift from the conventional agriculture to non pesticide management of farming?

Initially it was difficult. They were unsure how pests that were not being killed with powerful pesticides could be killed with botanicals. But they were keen on getting rid of chemicals. They were explained how the life cycle of pest should be observed and non chemical methods like summer ploughing and other nine practices called non-negotiables would be adopted for pest control. They were told about the importance of family labour in monitoring fields and pests. Farmers were encouraged to try NPM farming on a quarter of an acre initially and compare it with the other area for the entire season. It was a slow but a steady process.

What are the key inputs of Non Pesticide Management farming technique?

Locally available natural resources are the inputs for NPM. The only exception is pheromone trap which can be purchased. Communities identified 108 plants from which extracts could be made for controlling pests. The thumb rule is that any leaf which is not eaten by goat or sheep can be used for preparation of botanical extracts. The most prominent inputs are plants like neem, vitex, lantana, dathura and cow dung and cow urine. Moreover, farmer’s knowledge is the basic input here. Harvesting sun light by covering land in several tiers is key to raise productivity and incomes. The technology promoted under Integrated Pest Management (IPM), is followed here also without the option of chemicals as last resort. The availability of community based platform in AP facilitates the decentralized extension in transmission of technology.


CMSA now plans to convert to organic farming. What are the key changes you would bring in to convert to organic farming?

The key element in moving towards organic farming is to bring life back into the soil. And this can be done by using animal dung and urine which will help increase the microbial content of the soil by proliferating native earthworms. Rainwater harvesting has to be encouraged. The farmer has to be trained to shift from mono-cropping to poly-cropping with special emphasis on legumes except perhaps paddy. As leaves are integral to composting and compost is integral to NPM, so trees have become the focus of farming now. Leaves contain 85 per cent of the nutrients removed from the soil. The CMSA model has identified farmers to take this to its logical end. We are overlaying the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) with the help of the National Centre of Organic farming (NCOF). But the important point is to ensure that there is no reduction of yield and there is access to market premiums for pesticide free produce. It has happened in case of chillies in Guntur, where farmers have produced pesticide free chillies and exported to European markets with a premium of Rs.1800/- per quintal. Some farmers are migrating to organic farming.

Organic cultivation or Non Pesticide Management (NPM) method both are very labour intensive. With more and more people moving out of agriculture, especially the younger generation, do you think that a labour intensive farming method like organic cultivation or NPM is something farmers that would go for?

Organic or CMSA methods are most relevant to small and marginal farmers who are 80 per cent in number and area. Most of the times they are underemployed. With the popularization of ½ acre model under irrigated conditions the farmer’s family is gainfully engaged for 365 days. We have also noticed that a good number of farmers, especially women farmers, are young and they feel excited that they have control on the inputs and processes. These young women bring to the field traditional wisdom. So more and more people are getting attracted towards farming.

CMSA works on the concept of Self Help Groups. Is there a chance that there could be a certain section of the society (class or caste) that could be excluded due to any reason?

It’s an inclusive model. Self Help Groups comprise of four categories of rural house holds- poorest of the poor, poor, not so poor, Above Poverty Line. Further special efforts are made to rope in poorest of the poor women i.e Scheduled Caste /Scheduled Tribes and others who don’t have enough money for monthly savings. Government is supporting –initially to help contributing to their savings. Big farmers in the village are also included in the program. The groups work on two broad categories- one with farmers from SHG’s and the others outside of the SHG’s which also includes poor outside the fold of the self help groups. Thus there are no chances for exclusion of certain sections of farmers.


Have other states approached CMSA for promotion in their states?

They are now approaching us through the ministry of rural development at the centre. For some time we couldn’t take the offer in view of our own heavy engagement in the state; now we are willing to offer services of two to three experts for five days a month basis.


How much can one profit by converting to NPM?

At present, our experience shows, that farmers earn a profit of about Rs 2000- Rs 4000 per acre. There is substantial scope for further enhancement of profits if the farmer implements Rain Fed Sustainable Agriculture model and half acre model in mission mode.


It is always contested by agriculture department that organic cultivation and chemical free agriculture cannot be the solution to the country’s food security problem. Do you agree with this notion that our policy makers have at the centre?

No, we don’t agree. What we are practicing is basically Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Integrated Nutrition Management (INM) approved by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Regarding IPM, we are clear about withdrawing pesticides immediately. About INM, it is a gradual reduction of chemical fertilizer, simultaneously replacing with leaf based organic manure with dung as inoculant. For example, urea will be replaced gradually with azolla in paddy. Subsoil nutrients are recycled through tree based farming and leaves going back to soil. We should not get bogged down by calling it organic farming; this is ‘sustainable agriculture’. Chemicals will get reduced gradually; maintaining or improving the present yield levels, hence food security is not compromised.