50-year-old Satya Devi practised her traditional farm operations using chemicals, sprays, fertilizers and pesticides. But despite using the best marketing practices. She wasn’t able to make much money or save due to high farm input costs.
In 2018, Satya Devi switched over to Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF)—a drive launched by the Himachal Pradesh state government to bring an end to the use of harmful chemicals in growing cash crops and fruits including apples.
A resident of a small mountain village in Lafughati, 44 km from Shimla, Satya Devi who grows apples, cash crops like peas, tomatoes, potatoes and cereals, has scripted her own success story as one of the pioneers of the ZBNF in the state.
“I haven’t used any chemicals since 2018. My apples are 100 per cent organic, highly nutritious and healthy. I may not be getting the highest price tag because some buyers just go by the colours and artificial shine and are less driven by nutritious value or taste. Still, I make profits because the input cost on chemical sprays is down from Rs 15,000 -18,000 to bare Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000. I also rear a desi cow which is a basic requirement in the ZBNF,” the 50-year-old boasts.
Jaswinder Kaur, 49 ,of village Kanshipur near Paonta Sahib, who has motivated 150 other women farmers (now part of cooperative farming), says her income has shot-up from Rs 40,000 – 45,000 to Rs one lakh from growing crops like rice and sugarcane. She also owns a small orchard.
“The cost of the input is zero and income is more than double. There are health benefits too. We eat and sell our produce which is totally free from poisons chemicals and pesticides,” Kaur said, adding that the ‘basmati’ rice produced by them sold at Rs 100-plus per kg as compared to Rs 40-50 for others
At the high altitude village of Spiti, women like Yashe Dolma are setting an example of their own sorts by replacing the use of chemicals with “goumutra” or cow-urine.
“We don’t use any medical sprays. A ‘gomutra’ (cow –urine )-based product has instead been recommended by the agriculture department. It’s a magic homemade product highly useful for growing healthy and safe vegetables in the environment free from any pollution and fertilizers usage,” she said.
Dolma and others like her have expanded cultivation to at least five to six crops like broccoli, peas, spinach and radish which have high demand in the market since they are free from the chemicals.
There is Som Kishan in Karsog who had pioneered organic farming since 2002 but now has switched over to ZBNF at 30 bighas of his land growing garlic and crops like peas and tomatoes .
“There is no input cost. We have three desi cows at home and we don’t buy any seeds or inputs. Thus, whatever we earn from the sales is our net profit. This is the beauty of ZBNF” he maintained.
The zero budget farming strategy has attracted a lot of attention and now even foreigners are turning to Himachal Pradesh to get the tips from the farmers.
Carole Durand, 28, from Averon, France, is in Himachal Pradesh with her friend, Shahzad Parbhoo, 36, to get firsthand knowledge of the low-cost climate-resilient natural farming techniques being promoted by the state government.
Devised by Subhash Palekar (Padma Shree awardee) the technique is named the ‘Subhash Palekar Natural Farming’ (SPNF) in HP. As many as 1,33,056 farmers on 7609 hectares have already adopted it partially or fully after a training organized by the State Project Implementing Unit (SPIU) of the agriculture department.
Carole is a nurse and came to India five years back as she was interested in Yoga. Together for the last three years, she, along with Parbhoo, a management professional, has been exploring the possibilities of non-chemical agriculture as a livelihood option.
“My grandfather, who was a strawberry farmer in Correze in France, died of brain cancer supposedly because strawberries required frequent chemical sprays. The chemical farming has done much damage to the health of farmers in that area,” said Carole Durand. She said there is awareness among people about organic farming in France, but natural farming is amazing.
Parbhoo said he had incidentally met Dr Rajeshwar Singh Chandel, Executive Director, PK3Y, last year while he was pursuing a one-year apprenticeship at an agriculture farm (based on bio-dynamics) near Anand in Gujarat. “Dr Chandel told me about the natural farming initiatives in Himachal Pradesh, wherein the farmers are not using any chemical fertilizer or pesticide,” he added.
Parbhoo and Carole visited a number of farmers in Himachal earlier this month who are practising natural farming of vegetables, cereals, pulses and fruits, on parts of their land in Kangra, Mandi, Shimla and Solan districts. Both of them found themselves enriched with knowledge on the concept.
“In Maharashtra, the development has eaten up the agriculture fields near urban areas in a big way. In Himachal, we saw agricultural farms everywhere. Most of them are taking multiple crops from the same field after they switched to natural farming,” observed Parbhoo.
Parbhoo was impressed with the zeal of hill women farmers to take up natural farming initiatives. “We met some women farmers who are collectively doing natural farming in Rathi village in Shimla district. The women do contribute to agriculture in Maharashtra, but they are not so organised in Maharashtra as in Himachal,” he said.
First published by Outlook India on 3 Oct. 2021