In 2016, more than 8,000 farmers in India killed themselves. It was yet another year of despair in the agriculture sector, resulting in the same unfortunate loss of lives. Debt, crop failure, illnesses, and social pressures have plagued the farmers of our country. With the Green Revolution in the 60s, we may have managed to achieve food security in the country, an absolute necessity then, but the same chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid seeds, aka the High Yield Variety have poisoned our waters, depleted the soil of essential nutrients and adversely impacted the ecosystem.
With farmers relying heavily on fertilizers and chemicals, they are forced to take multiple loans to buy them. Although there is government subsidy on chemicals and fertilizers, poor rainfall leads to loss of crop, leaving the farmers helpless. In no condition to repay the loans, the farmers turn to the moneylenders. Thus, binding the farmers in the vicious cycle.
Throughout the year while most farmers were preoccupied in finding solutions to the pressing problem, Mahaboob Basha, a farmer from a small village called Lakshmapuram in Andhra Pradesh, made news when he produced 8,000 kg of green chilies in 15 days on a mere 1.5 acres of farmland.
During the same year, his district was hit by a severe drought, and all the farmers in Lakshmapuram received drought compensation while Basha made profits. In fact, he was even felicitated with the Best Farmer Award for 2016 by the state government.
- 1,550 farmers trained, 500 have taken up natural farming in Kurnool.
- 1,800 acres have been brought under natural cultivation.
- A mentor to guide them over a long period of time is also provided.
- Natural farming leads to reduced input cost.
- More land can be cultivated with lesser water, it rejuvenates the soil and yield is increased.
- One Indian cow can be used to cultivate 15-20 acres of farmland, biodiversity is maintained, the land is protected, and crores of rupees spent as subsidy on fertilizers is saved.
- The program started off as a pilot for three months, extended for a year and now has been extended for 5 years in Andhra Pradesh by the state government.
- In natural farming, the input cost is less than Rs. 1,000.
Another farmer, Sanjeev Reddy, from the same drought-hit district, took a loan of Rs. 2 lakh as an investment for 26 acres of his farmland. He managed to repay the loan in exactly 60 days. Sheikh Shah Ali, also a marginal farmer from Kurnool, made 14 lakhs in 10 months just by growing red chilies. His crop earned him Rs. 15,000 per quintal, while the rest of his peers were making only Rs. 9,000.
Basha and 500 other farmers from Mittur and Orvakal in Kurnool District are reaping the benefits of a new movement gaining momentum across the country. They owe all their bountiful produce and profits to Sri Sri Natural Farming. In Kurnool, over 1,550 farmers have been trained in traditional methods of cultivation by the Sri Sri Institute of Agriculture Sciences and Technology (SSIAST). They have made the much-needed shift from chemical cultivation to natural farming.
Uyyalawada, another village in the same district saw a remarkable 2 ½ times increase in the average yield of crops such as cotton, sunflower, black, green and red gram, even when there was no rain for 42 days at a stretch. The crops of most of the other farmers had withered away. We’re talking about a village with no wells and no irrigation system. There is groundwater at a depth of 1,000 ft., and there are around 5 borewells in the entire village. Sri Sri Natural Farmers’ incomes have tripled despite adverse climatic conditions.
Natural farming methods weave farming into pre-existing symbiotic relationships in nature. For example, pulses and cereals can be grown together on the same land, because bacteria on the roots of the pulses fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil, an essential nutrient for the cereal. Concoctions like the Jeevamrut made from the indigenous cow’s dung and urine contain microbes that help break down nutrients present in the soil for easy consumption by the crop, in return for a longer lifespan for the microbes. The SSIAST project, ‘Sri Sri Natural Farming’ borrows from the wisdom of the Vedas and our ancient Rishis, methods coming from a deep understanding of how nature enables life through mutually beneficial relationships.
On being asked what it is that is making the project a success, Prabhakar Reddy, a Trustee of SSIAST, says, “It is our commitment to help the farmer throughout the crop cycle. We give them personalized inputs based on the region and the season. We are able to do this because we have created a social ecosystem for the farmer. We don’t just take up agriculture projects.”
The Art of Living has engaged with the community on many levels through Youth Leadership Training Programs (YLTP) and meditation workshops for the community.
“YLTPs have created large groups of yuvacharyas (volunteers) who work towards social projects that are locally relevant. Be it river rejuvenation and water conservation, bringing electricity through solar power, Swachh Bharat or de-addiction drives,” Reddy adds.
Yuvacharyas focus on specific tasks like making Jeevamrut or bio-pesticides like the Neemastra, Brahmastra, etc., enabling the farmer to sustain natural farming. We have created natural farming trainers from within the community itself. Villagers are also gathered once a week to meditate or have a Satsang and sing bhajans. It is this community support that has made it easier for the farmer to adapt.
Reddy expresses gratitude for the continuous mentorship he received.
“Although I have previously attended Natural Farming workshops, it was the mentorship provided by SSIAST that gave me the confidence to switch to natural farming. Most people are scared to try something new, despite continuous losses. With chemical farming, I would’ve gotten 8 quintals of cotton, but with natural farming, I got 32 quintals. Jeevamrut kept my crops alive even when there was no rain for 42 days. I’m going to tell as many people as I can,” he says, with conviction.
About Sri Sri Natural Farming
Those trained under Sri Sri Natural Farming are small and marginal farmers, who own less than 5 acres of land. Typically, they spend up to Rs. 10,000 per acre on seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. But, with the help of the desi (Indian) cow, their costs have come down to about Rs. 1,000 per acre. Despite drought-like situations, these farmers stand as a beacon of hope, getting a healthy, disease-free, chemical residue-free crop, making profits when the rest of the farmers get drought-compensation from the government.
Initially, having received permission to take up a pilot project only for three months, Sri Sri Natural Farming is now being extended for five years by the Government of Andhra Pradesh. With 500 farmers and 1,800 acres of land under cultivation currently, the mentorship model has been wildly successful. All of this has been achieved in one year. They’re being invited to train farmers in other states and recently kicked off a training program for 200 farmers in Chikmagalur in Karnataka.
Writer: Samhitha Gomatham
Story credit: The Art of Living Bureau of Communication
Published: September 2017
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