"Agriculture is the backbone of human existence. For any civilisation to prosper, agriculture has to be healthy and sustainable. We need to get our focus back on agriculture which is the primary industry. Our earth has plenty for everyone. We only have to manage its resources well. "
- H. H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Chemical free Farming (Zero Budget Natural Farming)
Agriculture in India is the most ancient tradition and occupation. The methods of agriculture have been passed down generations and traditions well preserved over years. The crops are well tested and most suited for the soil and weather conditions prevalent in India. As a part of the Green Revolution, scientists developed new varieties of seeds which changed the way agriculture was carried on in India. To produce a good yield from these varieties of seeds and prevent pest attacks, chemical fertilizers for the soil and pesticides were introduced. The farmers were pressurized to not only buy these seeds but also invest in fertilizers and pesticides. For this, they had to take loans for the initial investment into the crop. The interest rates and all the expenditure further sucked the farmers into a cycle of debts. In several regions in India, farmers began to commit suicide as they felt trapped in debts.
To help farmers develop their crop and become economically self-reliant, the Art of Living Foundation organizes innovative agricultural workshops. They are trained to choose indigenous seeds and crops which are best suited to the local soil and climate. The farmers are further trained to develop, dry, preserve , store and pack seeds for use by other farmers as well. Villages allocate small plots for demonstration of methods of organic farming and seed development.
The Foundation also propagates another indigenous plant called the Lakshmi Taru. This is a medicinal tree with high oil content, high in nitrogen, and insect resistant wood.
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Importance of natural farming methods
In the 1960s, India underwent a Green Revolution in favor of high-yield farming to counter acute food shortages. Plant breeding, irrigation development and the use of synthetic fertilizers gave production a prop. Today, India is a major exporter of rice, and the world’s second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables after the United States of America. Yet ironically, many farmers are facing a backlash of their own remarkable transformation.
The changes caused higher operating costs and production that created a market glut exceeding demand at home and abroad. To remain in business, many farmers were forced to take loans at high interest rates. Once credit had been exhausted, they turned to private lenders for help, who charged exorbitant interest rates.
And that’s when the suicides started, most activists say.
“Suicide has become so common that no one takes it seriously anymore,” said Giridhar Patil, an agricultural activist in Nashik, Maharashtra. Analysts cite several factors for the suicides in areas like Vidharbha in Maharashtra, including crop failure due to agrochemicals and climate change, lower prices due to farm subsidies, state restrictions on export trade, and the dumping of surplus crops in an oversaturated domestic market.
“The phenomena of indebtedness will recur as long as policies to depress agricultural prices continue,” said Sharad Joshi, founder of Shetkari Sanghatana, a leading farmers’ rights organization.
Social Transformation: Farmers turn to Natural Farming Techniques
Around 500 farmers from 25 districts and over 100 villages pledged to stay away from chemical farming and vowed to stick to natural farming techniques for better health and environment at Art of Living’s workshop on ‘Zero Budget Natural Farming’ in Jaipur, India on June 26, 2008. This workshop was organized as the first step of ‘Mission Green Earth’ and was in collaboration with Bhartiya Kissan Sangh, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Rajasthan Goseva Aayog and Rajasthan State Agriculture Mktg. Board.
From agricultural planning to agricultural commerce, all were a part of extensive discussions during the workshop. Farmers were educated on the ill effects of chemicals in farming techniques and how natural farming techniques help in improving soil fertility and better yield of chemical free, organic crops thereby improving the economics of farming.
"I have tremendously benefited from these techniques. Now I can sleep peacefully as my crops can sustain extreme climatic conditions as well", said Krishan Jakhar, an agriculturist from Hanumangarh, who is one of the 1,20,000 farmers across the country who have adopted these methods. The farmers were also introduced to yoga, pranayam and meditation techniques by the Art of Living Foundation.