Background: Msc in Geology at Chandigarh University, from a farmer's family,
Size of the farm: 8 acres
Average number of farm workers:3 (himself, his father and his brother)
Location: Sangrur district, Punjab
Why did you switch to NF?
For the last 20 years, there hasn't been any miraculous increase of the production in chemical farming. Chemical farming is reaching a plateau. There were really no miraculous achievements. Instead, we suffered from the rising cost of the inputs leading to an increasing cost of production. There isn't much scope for growth and development. So chemical farming is actually not economically viable, it rather tends to destroy the small farmers, because of the debt trap (having to take more and more loans to produce).
How did you do the transition?
Five years ago, I did it all in one go, after attending workshop and studying the books of Subash Palekar and Masanobu Fukuoka.
What are the difficulties you faced during the transition period?
Mostly, I suffered from a decrease in the yield and many attacks on the crops by pests. There was also a great deal of fear and ignorance of the new model within the family. We also faced some problems due to improper use of Jeevamrita and Bijamrita. I think a complete knowledge of the method would have led to no loss and no problem at all. But there was a lack of knowledge of the new model of natural agriculture. That was the main difficulty.
Any difficulties now?
Now, there is no problem at all. After one year, I realized where the weak points and the negligence on my part were, and year after year I am improving and refining my methods.
What do you cultivate on your farm and how do you do it?
My total land holding is 8 acres here (my brother possesses 12 acres and I am planning to create a banana orchard under natural farming on 3 acres of his land). The techniques that I use are those prescribed by Subash Palekar: Mix cropping, bijamrita, jivamrita, I try to follow a North-South orientation for my planting to optimize the reception of sunlight by my plants, and enhance the photosynthesis. I also use green-manure. I have only one desi cow that gives around 11 liters of milk per day (milked twice a day). I use a special method for sugarcane. I use a scruvar to take only the eyes of the sugarcane and not the pulp (which is much more economical). Then I treat these eyes with bijamrita and I leave it in fresh cow dung for 4 to 5 days. During this lapse of time, the eyes grow up to 2 inches, which is usually reached only after one month when sown in the soil directly. Then, I use the eyes in a densely sown nursery after one or two months. When the plants are one foot tall, I transplant them using a 8 x 2 feet pattern in order to apply mix-cropping, with vegetable, commercial crops and eventually, ginger (that likes shade).
On my farm, I practice a wheat-paddy rotation, I grow sugarcane and vegetable in intercropping, I also grow pulses. Paddling and flooding, using azola as a nitrogen fixing water plant and I practice mulching when I grow wheat.
My other sources of income are raising poultry and renting of my combine-harvester.
Where do you get the seeds from?
I am planning to keep and save some seeds. I personally keep on experimenting (changing the orientation where needed), planting fruit trees (mostly mango and citrus). I will only plant trees that have a commercial value…
How do you promote NF?
I try to organize and attend event. I rely a little bit on word of mouth. I recently held a food festival on my farm. I also encourage people to come and visit my farm, especially the youngsters. I let them compare my budget to those of chemical farmers. I also spread the message just by speaking.
How do you market your products?
For marketing, honesty is very important, because it is mostly our reputation that creates our market. And I practice direct marketing mostly with people from the neighborhood. It is becoming easier because nowadays there is a craze for healthy food among educated people, who are health and environment-conscious. The farmer’s name and fame is quite important in the marketing of the product. People are now aware of the world-crisis and of the ill-effects of chemicals for the environment, the health and the economy of a country. I sell my products at a premium price which is at least double that of conventional products market price. Because of the fear of poisonous food, well-settled families want nutritious and healthy for their children.
What do you think the government agricultural policy should be in Punjab and in India?
I think we should not have hope for or be dependent on subsidies. Natural farming is also zero-budget farming and therefore it is independent farming. Nature is the teacher to learn how to practice farming, not the agricultural department, or some universities… The farmer should consider himself as a scientist: doing experiments with new techniques and methods in the cultivation of crops. Chemical farming will be in decline in the future. Yields are stable or decreasing, so there isn’t much scope for development. On the other hand, there is much scope for development in Natural farming. Natural farming should be started in a cooperative way, the farmer should sell after consultation with the cooperative. Within the cooperative, the farmers should be helping each other without relying on labor.
Is Natural farming only caring for the needs of rich customers?
No, in the initial stage, we need higher prices, to encourage and support the farmer in his initiative. When he is well settled and he can bear the price fluctuation, then he should try to apply a fair price instead of the maximum price. Then, the natural farmer can really work for the welfare of the people (but before that, he needs to be strong enough himself). Eventually, poor people should also be allowed to buy safe food.
What are the duties of the Natural Farmer?
He should practice farming carefully and consciously. He should take the firm decision and make sure that no chemicals should enter on his farm. His food should be poison-free, safe and nutritious. To determine these characteristics, it may be helpful for them to work hand in hand with laboratories. A Natural farmer should provide pure food for the public and society. He should claim the purity of his products with confidence. He should construct a cooperative group (a team of around six members) to check each other so that there is no abuse of the public’s trust. The cooperative system would make it possible to prevent fraud and the misuse of the techniques. In this way, there is no need of a policy provided by the government. The farmers can handle their work themselves.
How to transmit this sense of duty to younger generation?
For the transmission of this ideal to the new generation, we should take revolutionary action such as: food festivals, events, workshops, we should create awareness about the disadvantages of chemical farming and the benefits of Natural farming. Media and universities should be used for this mission of the spreading of the message, by writing and publishing about natural farming and by exposing the flaws of chemical farming.
What is the ideal farm?
As far as the size is concerned, I would say between 10 to 20 acres, it should be sufficient for a family of five to six members on average. The ideal farmer should work with his own hands. The basis of the marketing should be private market because public agencies with commission agents create distortions and corruption. If the farmer is hard-working, he can be successful even on three acres of land. The farmer should have devotion and dedication, and a strong system of thinking. I am also trying to convince, to give lectures and to show practically, day and night that it is possible and that it works.
How do you promote natural farming among other farmers?
The most important factor in the promotion of this model is honesty. The society is a mirror. What we give, we shall be given back. Society reflects our way of thinking and of acting through the relation that we develop with it.