Amarjeet Sharma, Chaina

Background: Used to be a shopkeeper but from a farmers’ family

Size of the farm: 5 acres

Average number of farm workers:  himself

Location: Chaina village, Faridkot, Punjab

Why did you switch to natural farming? And how did you do it?

“In 2006, I received my training on Natural Farming during a two-day’s workshop organized by KVM at Bhagtuana School with the participation of Manohar Bhai Pachure, a natural farmer from Maharastra. After that, I started applying NF on half an acre of my land. I grew wheat and vegetables along with fodder for the cattle. I got a very good result. Then in October 26th and 27th, I got the opportunity to attend a workshop conducted by Mr. Subash Palekar in Amritsar, at the Pingalwara Foundation. So in April 2007, I converted the totality of my 5 acres of land to NF. I sowed cotton and I got 6 quintal per acre (the average with BT cotton is 8 quintal per acre). I sold it for the normal price. It’s only after that that I started including more and more diversity in the cropping system on my farm. Since 2009, I sell my products to an institution that takes care of handicapped children, I get a premium price for them and the products are much appreciated. I’ve been told that the children are now having a better health and are therefore requiring fewer drugs for their treatment. The production on my farm is obviously also used for the self-consumption of my family.

In 2007, I also started a Seed Bank to conserve indigenous seeds and become progressively self-sufficient as well as capable of spreading the use of our traditional varieties among other farmers. So far, I am able to grow 60 different types of crop on my 5 acres of land. I am distributing the seeds to friends who are willing to start NF on a piece of their land. In theory, they get the seeds as a loan and they are supposed to return twice the quantity that they received after one year. In actual fact, the farmers never returned any seeds. So far, I gave seeds to more than 200 farmers. The fact that they don’t return the seeds after one year makes me consider the possibility of selling the seeds instead of lending them (but then, the principle of the Seed bank will be lost). Or maybe, selling the seeds will be a strategy just in the initial stage.

The reason why I switched from Chemical to Natural farming lies primarily in an economical calculation. In chemical farming, almost every year we see the cost of the inputs increasing (either because they are more expensive, or because we need to use them in larger quantity, or very often because of a combination of these two factors). So in these conditions, the farmer has to witness the ineluctable decrease of his profit margin while the production is reaching a plateau. Added to that is the fact that the fertilizers are heavily subsidized by the government, and we all know full well that the good yields under chemical farming are only the mechanical consequence of the use of pesticides and fertilizers. So then, what will happen in the future if the government stops subsidizing these chemicals? Finally, the cost of using chemicals in agriculture cannot be calculated only in monetary terms, it is now becoming more and more evident that the quality of the water we consume and eventually our very health  have also to pay the toll on the degradation of the environment induced by the use of chemicals. So, all these factors are the reasons why I gave up chemical agriculture and adopted Natural and Organic farming.

I have seen cases of people growing chemical vegetables and not eating them themselves because they know that these products are not good for their health. So when the farmers themselves do not have any trust in the food that they produce with their own hands then, you come to know that something must have gone terribly wrong in this system of chemical agriculture.

Since I started Natural Farming, I have been able to reduce the consumption of water on my farm by around 50% because I am systematically using trenches. This method is said to reduce the water consumption up to 70%, so this also means the possibility of irrigating the field less often.

Saying that, one should not believe that natural farming is an easy solution to avoid the problem caused by chemical farming. Actually, this kind of farming requires much more labour, so one has to be ready to actually spend more time on the field in order to grow natural products, because Nature has its own pace, its one rhythm. If one wants to get the finest fruits that Nature can provide us with, one has to accept to abide by its laws.

Also, it is not always easy to market Natural products at a small scale. Let us take the example of millet. It is good for health, gives you a stronger immune system, it is very tasty, its production requires less inputs (water, time, etc), it attracts friendly insects, however, nowadays in Punjab, there is no market for millet. This kind of products would enable people to reduce their reliance on medicines for taking care of their health, but the tradition of consuming millet is nowadays almost completely lost in Punjab.

Why is there no massive switch from chemical to natural nowadays in spite of the fact that there is more and more awareness about the ill-effect of chemicals both on Human health and of the Environment?

It is above all a problem of mindset. The government encourages modern type of farming, with maximum mechanization and motorization and therefore maximum chemical consumption. Consequently, skills and hard-work are not promoted anymore. This mentality of getting the maximum by doing the minimum is the root of the problem. We always want to save our time and money so that we will be able to spend them more on entertainment. And if there is something that society provides us over-abundantly and without any restraint, it is not good food, and it is not a healthy environment, but it is certainly entertainment.

What are the perspectives about the government agricultural policy in Punjab?

There is a possibility that in the future, subsidies on chemicals will be reduced or maybe, even stopped. So then, there will be only two options left, either zero-budget natural farming, or corporate farming.  I have a feeling that the government is waiting for the farmers to be ready to sell their land in order to reduce the subsidies. I don’t really assume that farmers like me will get any kind of tangible help from the government in the future. At least, I do not place too much of my hope on such a possibility.

What are the risks and dangers for NF?

Well, I think for natural farmers, right now, the government is more of a problem than a solution. Precisely because of all the incentives it gives to chemical farmers, and the almost nonexistent help provided to small natural farmers. So the risks and dangers for us are precisely coming from the government, especially given the influence that MNCs(Multi-national company) can have on it. And it also seems quite clear that the well-being of small farmer is no priority at all in these MNC’s agenda…

What are the next steps that you are going to take on your farm?

I would like to plant more trees, especially, fruit trees like jujube, peach, grape, papaya, banana, mango, orange and pear. I am planning to achieve this progressively over the next few years.”

Organic farmers of Chaina village have achieved many firsts, with the latest being the formation of a seed bank. The man behind this is Amarjit Sharma, who has dedicated a room in his house for this purpose. The seed bank has a number of traditional varieties of wheat (Bansi, Chaval Katta, Mundri and Sharbati) besides traditional seeds of cotton, jawar and bajra. Amarjit has travelled far and wide to collect the seeds, which include black corn and ‘rajmah’ varieties from Sikkim. The concept behind the bank was to ensure that farmers could have their own seeds. He had brought a few kilos of Bansi variety of seeds from Maharashtra because of its ability to withstand pests. It is available to farmers at the bank for cultivation in the state. He said the seed bank does not accept money but employs a novel concept. Farmers taking seeds from the bank have to return the original seed quantity as well as 25 per cent extra to ensure that there is enough for subsequent customers. Recently an Environment Society is also established which is presently engaged in talks with Nabard to supply them equipment worth Rs 10 lakh as a special grant. Sharma ji is the president of that society. Amarjeet Sharma is one of most known face of KVM movement. He was interviewed by several TV channels, newspapers Scientists and researchers. Here we are giving few of links of his interviews.