Chemical farming is known to be hazardous to human health, crops, and the environment, whereas organic farming is a healthier alternative, but unfortunately not affordable for farmers from lower economic strata. Consequently, a way out is necessary, and that's where natural farming presents itself. Essentially, it is a return to traditional farming techniques, which is a zero-budget method being equally beneficial for humans and the environment.
The practical advantages of natural farming have led agriculture universities to incorporate natural farming courses into their curriculum. Effective from the next academic session, thousands of students will be taught natural farming, and the advantages of this system will be shared with the masses.
The 74 Agriculture universities and 113 colleges under the Indian Council of Agriculture and Research (ICAR) would commence under graduate and post graduate studies in Natural Farming beginning this July.
Dr SK Sharma, ADG-ICAR informed the media about the new courses on Natural Farming and their benefits to the farming as well as students community. Sharma who had been the Ex-Director Reasearch at Udaipur's Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology (MPUAT) said , " The move not only enhances awareness about natural farming techniques but also creates more employment opportunities in the agriculture sector for the students with the knowledge and skill set to implement these practices. Coupled with increasing demand for naturally produced food and environmental sustainability, the inclusion of natural farming in the curriculum is a step in the right direction.
The new courses to be taught in the universities would be BSc in Natural Farming Hons (4 years inclusive of research), BSc NF Degree course (3yrs), Diploma in NF (2 yrs) and Certificate in NF (1 yr).
Giving details on the course Dr Sharma said the courses would have 21 components including soil conservation, traditional farming practices, pest management, water management at community level, Bio diversity, international practices of natural farming .
Introducing NF as full fledged courses
Scientists at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) have been advocating for a reduced use of chemical-based fertilizers in fields. This is due to the deleterious impact of chemicals on human health, the environment, and crop cultivation.
In a similar vein, the United Nations Organisation (UNO) highlighted the significance of natural farming in 2018, prompting many countries across the globe to adopt zero-budget natural farming.
The ICAR has taken this initiative further by revamping the curriculum of the undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate (PG) courses offered in the field of agriculture. ICAR already notified a dedicated Masters course in Organic farming
Gujarat Organic Agricultural University
(GOAU), Godhra, is running degree courses on natural farming.
Specifically, from the next academic session onwards, the ICAR has decided to incorporate natural farming into its university curriculums. Previously natural farming was not taught as a separate subject. It was taught as a component of organic farming lessons. However, this time complete dedicated curriculum would be introduced in agri universities and colleges so that students would have an in-depth knowledge of traditional Indian farm practices.
To this end, an eight-member committee was formed in December 2021, headed by Praveen Rao, the vice-chancellor of Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU).
The committee's task was to modify the university curriculums to include natural farming components. The proposed changes will help students comprehend healthy and eco-friendly agricultural practices and impart them with the knowledge to become natural farming enthusiasts. In due course, farmers would benefit from the students' expertise as they apply these practices in their farms for improved production, soil quality enhancement, and a healthier environment.
What is Natural Farming ?
Natural Farming is a farming system that is devoid of harmful chemicals and rooted in traditional methods.
It is a farming technique that is gaining popularity in recent times, especially in India. This technique avoids the use of chemical fertilizers and instead relies on natural methods such as cow urine and dung to promote soil health and improve crop yield. It is also known by names like Zero Budget Natural Farming, Prakrithik Krishi, Cow Based Natural Farming, and Chemical-Free Agriculture. The Government of India is promoting this technique through a scheme named Bhartiya Prakrit Krishi Padhti (BPKP), which is geared towards improving the livelihood of small-scale farmers and reducing their dependency on external inputs. This technique has various benefits, including reducing cultivation costs, reducing the water requirement of crops, rejuvenating farm lands, producing safer and healthier food for citizens, and reducing the requirement for synthetic fertilizers.
Dr Rampal Meena, Dean Rajasthan College of Agriculture of MPUAT says, " BPKP seeks to revive indigenous practices that reduce external inputs and rely on on-farm biomass recycling techniques such as mulching, on-farm cow dung-urine formulations, soil aeration and natural farming with the exclusion of synthetic chemicals." The High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) report concedes that such a model can unshackle smallholder farmers from the credit burden and reduce their dependence on purchased inputs.
Natural Farming, as a method, has already been embraced in India by many states such as Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. Researchers have found that Natural Farming - BPKP has resulted in increased productivity, enhanced sustainability, savings in water use, soil health improvement, and prosperity of ecosystem in farmland. Cost-effective farming practices that can promote rural development and employment can be attributed to this approach.
NITI Aayog, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers' welfare, has organized high-level discussions with international experts on Natural Farming practices. It has been roughly estimated that around 2.5 million Indian farmers are already practicing regenerative agriculture. Furthermore, it is expected that this number will rise to 20 lakh hectares in any form of organic farming, including Natural Farming, by the next 5 years, according to BPKP.
Benefits of Natural Farming
Reduces cultivation costs
Reduces water requirement of crops
Increases climate change resilience and reduces risks in farming
Rejuvenates farm lands
Produces safe and healthy food for citizens
Utilizes the available cattle (Desi Cow) as a valuable resource
Helps in reducing the growing need for fertilizer and reduces the subsidy burden
Experiences of NF in leading states
Initiated in 2015 by Rythu Sadhikara Samstha (RySS).
Knowledge dissemination to Community Resource Person (CRPs) through Master Trainers.
Started with 900 CRPs and grew to 18,000 as the best practitioner of NF.
5.92 Lakh farmers (12.3% of total farmers), 3,730 gram panchayats (28%), and 2.68 Lakh Ha of cultivation land (4.6%) are covered under this program.
The implementing agency is RySS, which is a State Govt. Corporation.
Launched in 2018 by Hon’ble Governor Acharya Devvrat.
Four mega farmer sensitisation programs for six days each were conducted.
Farmer experiences led to the development of local crop-wise package of practices.
1.53 Lakh (16% of total farmers), 3,563 villages (98.2%), and 9192 Ha of cultivation land (0.96%) are covered under this program.
The State Project Implementation Unit is responsible for implementing this program.
The program was launched by Hon'ble Governor Acharya Devvrat in 2019.
One-day workshop for 10,000 farmers in 2019 followed by seven-day training of 21,861 Master Trainers took place.
Large scale dissemination of NF techniques and success stories through pamphlets and videos has been done.
1 Lakh farmers (3.76% of total farmers), 8,500 villages (59.6%), and 2.5 Lakh Ha of cultivation land (2.5%) are covered under this program.
A dedicated State Government Unit is responsible for implementing this program.
As per the government records , the implementation status of BPKP
Total area covered under BPKP is 4.09 lakh ha, consisting of 980 clusters of 500 ha each.
The distribution of area covered by BPKP in different states is as follows:
1. Andhra Pradesh - 1,00,000 lakh ha
2. Kerala - 84,000 ha
3. Chhattisgarh - 85,000 ha
4. Jharkhand - 3,400 ha
5. Himachal Pradesh - 12,000 ha
6. Odisha - 24,000 ha
7. Madhya Pradesh - 99,000 ha
8. Tamil Nadu - 2,000 ha
- In total, BPKP covers 4,09,400 ha of agricultural land in the above-mentioned states.
Given the crucial role agriculture plays in the economy, promoting natural farming is a prudent initiative with far-reaching benefits. The inclusion of natural farming in the core curriculum of UG and PG courses in agricultural universities is an appreciable step that bodes well for the agriculture sector's future.
You can also join our WhatsApp group to get premium and selected news of The Mooknayak on WhatsApp. Click here to join the WhatsApp group.