Aashish Ahuja

Background: Masters in Chemical Engineering, not from a farmers’ family,

Size of the farm: 300 acres, 25 acres under natural farming

Average number of farm workers: Unknown (it depends)

Location: Abohar, Punjab

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

When I came to farming, I always wanted to farm organically. But since I was new, and it was easier to do chemical, I decided to start with chemical. But the germ was here. When I realized that my father was diagnosed with cancer, it increased my determination to start. Earlier, I noticed that organic inputs were more expensive. Then, I met Vinod Jyani and after that I attended a workshop with Subash Palekar. I felt a boost because, he was preaching simple techniques and his enthusiasm got transmitted very easily. He made us believe that it could be done easily. I seriously started in early 2006. Even though I did not meet the success I was expecting, I still consider it sufficiently successful not to pull out of it. I know that my unsatisfactory results are due to my lack of rigor in applying the techniques the way they were taught. I started with 30 acres and now I do 25 acres. For the first 2 years, I was following Subash Palekar. Then, I started applying a mix of methods.

Which are the difficulties that you faced in the initial stage and which problem are you still facing now?

Productivity is a problem, because I don’t want to sell it at a premium. The quantity of mulching material is not available to practice it properly on my fields. And the second problem is weeding. It creates a management problem and a problem of monitoring. If, it is done at the right time, then it is ok. But because of external issues, I am not spending enough time on the farm. This is my biggest problem. Moreover, I don’t produce jaggery or organic cow urine. I don’t have purely organic diet for my cattle.

What do you think of your responsibilities are as a farmer?

My primary responsibility is to provide safe and healthy food to myself and my family, and to my people (farm workers). It is also important to earn money so that I can live comfortably. The corollary is to sell as local as possible and to make my soil as fertile as it is possible in this area. The organic content will never reach 3%, as it is advised to the organic farmer, because the weather won’t allow it. Right now, it is 0.3 %. My duty is also simply to be a steward to the land.

How do you think that this sense of duty can be transmitted to new generations of farmers?

It’s not in farmers’ hands. You can just set an example. I am talking about my children. I will try to act nonchalantly; I want to make the environment enjoyable. People can come and realize that staying on the farm is meaningful. There should be a lot of exchange in knowledge. The only thing you can do is set an example. But the people who will be inspired are most likely urban people. They are probably also the ones who will be most successful because they are more driven. Grass always looks greener on the other side.

What is your vision of the “ideal farmer” and how far do they think you stand from this ideal?

Ideal farmer would be like an ideal person: open minded and hard-working. It is overlapping.

Which step do they plan to take in the coming years to get closer to their ideal?

I want to live on the farm. I have to be there. Within two years, hopefully, this issue will be solved

How does the practice of natural farming influence your life, lifestyle, personal goal in life?

I think it’s the other way round. I was exposed to different cultures; I had access to more knowledge. That’s why I started Natural Farming. “My lifestyle influenced by NF”, really speaking, does not apply to me. It has been a little failure, you know...

As a natural farmer, how do you now view Nature, and where do you see it in its purest form?

We are part of nature. It is something you have to work with instead of fighting with. Trees are for me the purest forms in which Nature can be seen; but not any kind of trees, the big trees; something that has been given space to grow.

What is your opinion about the role of women on the farm; in society; in your personal life?

I would like my wife to be involved. I can’t stay on my farm unless my family stays with me. Her training and inclination are not really related to agriculture. If I was a bachelor, I wouldn’t have realized that we have to have women involved, so that you can stay on your farm. Even if it is not in farm production, they should be involved in something that has some connection with agriculture. But, they have maybe a greater role in marketing. Women were never involved in the management. I would like to involve my family so that I can get meaningful inputs from which we could create things, so that we can do value addition (Instead of selling raw cotton, selling processed products.)

How do you deal with the social pressure to adopt consumerist’s behaviors (maximizing your leisure time, minimizing you labor time, that is to say, spending less time on your work and more time on entertainment )?

It’s not so true in the Indian context. The pressure here is not to have more leisure. My family wants me to dress better. The pressure is to conform to social standards. I don’t have unjust requirements. There is no real pressure. Especially in a well-educated family, this is very easily handled. They understand.

According to you, what is the main political problem in Punjab at the moment?

No one is doing his job sincerely in the government.

How does it affect you?

The things that are supposed to reach me by way of the government (infrastructure or service at the knowledge level) are not. The effort level is inadequate, we find mostly bookish practices. In organic farming, they don’t provide much guidance; they teach mostly how to use chemical, because there are vested interests. In the procurement policies, environmental questions are left out of the equation. The system is full of self-contradiction. So, more sincerity is the major requirement. I would like the government to be less involved: so much food wasted, improper cropping only because of the centralized management of the PDS (Public Distribution System).

What do you think the government policy should be in Punjab and in India regarding agriculture?

There should be a policy to promote organic farming, made by successful organic farmers.

They should set-up government unit to produce bio-predators. What they have to do is precisely taking more into account the environment in the equation. Just a few ideas: support structure should be broader; more work on non-cereal crop; improving varieties for pulses.

And regarding other problems like poverty, ill-nutrition, inequalities, and unemployment?

No one is sincere. With so many brilliant people, how come these problems are still there? Sincerity and empathy are required.

Which techniques do you implement on your farm?

A lot of Palekar’s methods: Mulching, jivamrit, bijamrit, rotation, more tree crops, agro-forestry or fruit.

Which kind of crop do you grow?

Desi cotton, wheat, pulses: moong, dal, pigeon pea, gram, mustard, rape seed, kinnow, cow pea, pear, peaches, juar.

Where do you get you seeds from?

Some I conserve, like wheat, gram (but I may have to change because I don’t have a proper seed storage), cotton, (60% is my own seed) moong, some from the seed-shop or from other farmers.

What is the main utilization of your production (for self-consumption or for sale)?

Self consumption at the moment