For quite sometime now there has been a silent resurgence in sustainable farming practices across the country. After the environmental destruction wrought by the chemical-based external input driven agriculture for almost four decades now, I find a large percentage of farmers trying whatever they can to salvage the situation. While on the one hand I can count a sizable number of progressive farmers in different parts of the country who discarded chemical-based farming system (and some of them were even awarded and honoured for achieving record yields) and opted for more sustainable farming practices, there is quite a significant proportion of the farming community which has moved away from the Green Revolution approach to farming.
Call it organic agriculture or natural farming or holistic farming or whatever variation you can think of, the fact remains that Low External Input-based Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) is now being increasingly adopted. Innovative farmers are trying all kinds of permutations and combinations, and I am really amazed at the extent of wisdom our farmers carry. I am not going to list here the innovations being applied, but all I can say is that the mainline agricultural research system would certainly be the gainer if they were to move out of the 'lab-to-land' approach and follow the reverse mode of 'land-to-lab'.
For quite sometime I had wondered if I could ever bring some of these innovative leaders together on a platform and chart out a strategy to put this all together and spread it across the country in a mission mode. I am aware of the reluctance on the part of the agriculture universities as well as the policy makers to extend a helping hand. At the same time, I was also aware of the limitations that the civil society has. Although several groups/individuals are spearheading the silent movement in their own way, but given the monumental constraints that prevail, it isn't moving ahead at a pace I would have expected.
At my own level I had discussed the possibility of forming a consortium with like-minded groups/farmer organisations to spread sustainable farming practices far and wide and to even the remote corners but somehow it didn't work out. It was then that I met the Yoga Guru Swami Ramdev who is better known for the monumental role he has played in promoting healthy living through yoga. Healthy living is directly related to healthy food, which in turn is directly proportionate to cultivation of healthy crops. Over the period, we discussed the possibility of laying out sustainable farming models, where soil, water and food is not poisoned, and then preparing an outreach programme through regular training and learning exercises.
The New Year provided an opportunity. 14 well-known practitioners in sustainable farming methods assembled at Haridwar (at the foothills of the Himalayas) for deliberations which continued non-stop for 4 days. We would sit from 9 in the morning and the discussions would go on till 8.30 in the evening. Such was the intensity of deliberations and the commitment to the cause that even after dinner the participants would once again assemble for an informal round of discussions. Well, to cut the long story short, it has now been decided to layout three models of chemical-free farming, each catering to the requirement of farmers who farm in one acre, two acres and five acres. Once the farming system comes up in Haridwar, we would throw it open to farmers to adopt and improve upon depending upon their local conditions and requirements. This would simultaneously be followed with preparations for a nationwide training programme, which too would depend upon the need and the requirement of different regions.
The plots were selected, earmarked and soil preparations began the day the deliberations ended. Soil samples have been drawn, and we are now getting ready for the next step. Meanwhile, a week-by-week action plan has been laid out, and the package of practices to be immediately followed is also being worked out, and improved with each passing day. Soon after Swami Ramdev made public the initiative on Aastha TV channel, I have been deluged with requests and support from hundreds of people from across the country. Let us hope that this small initiative galvanises the country to move away from 'business as usual' in agriculture, and ends up promoting healthy farming. I am looking for the day when agriculture does not lead to suicides, does not push farmers into distress, and above all does not usurp the natural resources. The Haridwar initiative is a small step, and I am aware we have a long journey ahead. #