Background: MA in History, from a farmers’ family
Size of the farm: 130 acres
Average number of farm workers: Unknown (it depends)
Location: Village Kathera, Fazilka, Punjab
Why did you switch to natural farming? And how did you do it?
The 21st of November 2005, in one day, I gave up chemical farming of the totality of my 130 acres of land. That was after attending a meeting organized by KVM and after reading the books of Subash Palekar on Zero-budget Natural Farming. I was really fed-up with chemical farming because we really needed too much pesticides and fertilizers. When I realized that an alternative existed, I converted all of my land in one go.
Which are the difficulties that you faced in the initial stage and which problem are you still facing now?
No one was doing it in a big way, so the main difficulty in the initial stage was that I could not get guidance from anyone. I had to experiment with the techniques myself. Added to that, there were no natural boundaries around my farm, no biodiversity inside, and no predators. So I had to create all these artificially myself. These were the main difficulties. Today, there are no more difficulties, but I am a bit late in some techniques: mulching, trenching and tree planting, to recreate biodiversity and attract birds and predators. So that is my main difficulty.
Which techniques do you implement on your farm?
The techniques implemented on the farm are mix-cropping, green-manuring, preparation of jivamrita and bijamrita, now a little bit of mulching, tree planting, use of culture one and culture two to feed the soil in effective micro-organisms provided for free by the government of Punjab, some composting in the future, crop rotation, trenching, sprinkler and drip-irrigation…
Where do the seeds come from?
Initially, they were provided by other natural farmers at a nominal cost (for the first two years). Presently, most of the seeds are from the farm itself, taken from the harvested crops and conserved. I cultivate four traditional varieties of wheat and plan to increase the diversity steadily and progressively. I think that the seeds I still buy from the market only represent 10% of the totality of the seeds that we use on the farm.
How to promote natural farming?
By organizing meetings at the farm, with different important promoters of Natural Farming (Subash Palekar…); also by marketing the products at a premium, in order to show that we can earn a living decently by practicing natural farming… Also, due to our direct marketing strategy, people are constantly coming to the farm and visiting. All these are subservient to the mission of spreading the knowledge about natural farming.
Which market do you target?
The market that I target is above all the local market for the people who can afford buying my products. Now, most of my products are bought on the farm directly, so there really isn't any difficulty in selling my products anymore.
According to you, what is the main political problem in Punjab at the moment?
Problems that are affecting Punjab are the same that what we find all over India. Mostly: leadership without aim. The population is considered as a problem, a burden rather than an asset. After India’s independence, the small units started disappearing. Mahatma Gandhi’s idea was lost. Instead, we saw the rapid growth of big units, big centralized industries. Village people were displaced towards cities’ slums. Because of lack of job in the agriculture sector and no work after the harvest, life in villages underwent many changes. So that is the main drawback: too much centralization has left the local bodies without any power. Instructions are coming from above along with funds, and village people do not have a say in their future or on the projects that need to be supported, and the way the money should be used to create a positive impact on the village’s life. Two examples: village streets using brick lane: the money can only be spent for that purpose; but is that really the priority everywhere? Second example, the school system: in my village there are more classrooms than classes. So, because there is no discretion on the use of funds, the money is misused and does not serve to solve the real issues. The government is not able to guide the population in constructive work: so people tend to become idle. With no plan to provide job to the people, unemployment is become a really big issue in India. The Education system is also quite corrupted, and is not teaching positive values. After finishing high-school education the teenagers hate to do any kind of manual or physical work.
How does it affect you?
I feel affected by this situation when I see that this money cannot be used more freely and more intelligently. Also, because the poverty and weaknesses of the education system is reflected in the quality of the staff we get to work on our farm.
What do you think the government policy should be in Punjab and in India regarding agriculture?
We should not go for big industries; we should prefer small cottage industries that would provide employment at a local level. The government should help the farmers to process their production themselves.
Ill-nutrition is also due to high yielding varieties: less nutritious food. Traditional varieties of wheat contained more than 14% of protein, and HYV less than 6 %. Total soluble sugars (carbohydrate) are also less by 0,5% in HYV. Millet used to be the main diet of rural people but with modernization it disappeared from our diet… Most farmers only cultivate wheat and rice, and the rice is not even for Punjab but for South India. In Punjab, people mainly consume wheat. And nowadays there is lack of diversity in food because of monoculture. To solve this problem, the government should give direct subsidies to the organic farmers and stop importing foreign chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers. A bag of urea is sold for Rs.260 to farmer whereas its actual value on the international market is Rs.850. Similarly, a bag of DAP is sold for Rs.460 to Indian farmers, when it is bought at 2600 (the international price). That means that indirectly, chemical farmers receive Rs.10000/acre/year from the government, if that money was used to support organic farming the situation would change completely and a more sustainable paradigm would emerge.
And regarding other problems like poverty, ill-nutrition, inequalities, and unemployment?
The problem of poverty is not taken seriously enough. There is a lack of availability of job and the infrastructures are not developed enough to keep pace with the growing population. The system of identification of the poor is not efficient, and the benefits are misused by the officials and politicians and therefore do not reach the poor and needy people. The government should have a list of poor people provided by the village… Public distribution system is one of the most corrupted in the world. The card system for benefit is inefficient and does not encourage physical work.
Regarding inequalities: how to cope with it? I think the level of inequalities in India is the same as in developed countries. According to me, it is more a problem of management than a problem of distribution.
What do you think your responsibilities are as a farmer? My duty as a farmer is to provide good and nutritious food to human beings. Secondly, as a farmer, I should try to have all the diversity of the food that I need on the farm itself. If all farmers were fulfilling these natural responsibilities, diversification would be recreated. And self-sufficiency of the people in their requirements and biodiversity in the field would flourish again.
How do you think that this sense of duty can be transmitted to new generations of farmers?
To transmit this sense of responsibility, we need to show the farmers who are happy in their fields and self-sufficient on their farm. The problem is that very often Indians are not duty-conscious and after education they tend to disregard manual/physical work. The corruption is actually already present in their diet. Indeed, we can all see that lots of Indian people are not physically well-built up and present a weak structure both because of a low protein diet and no physical work. The problem in the transmission of the sense of duty is that people are sometime aware, but they are also attracted by money so they don’t do what they know to be right and good. So this is the well-known greed problem that we find all over India and all over the world and that makes it difficult to transmit a sense of responsibility. Another problem is that farmers tend to lose interest in their activity, so when they have enough land they give it on contract for Rs.25 000/acre/year. But to be able to pay the rent, the farmer who is renting needs a bumper yield, and therefore uses more fertilizers and pesticides in spite of his awareness of the negative effects of these chemicals.
What is your vision of the “ideal farmer” and how far do they think they stand from this ideal?
I try to become an ideal farmer so that others can follow my example. I grow 40 types of food crops and more than eight different kinds of fruit. My ideal is self-consumption and self-marketing. I hope that after two years I can reach this ideal. Further steps will be identifying biodiversity and forestry as well as using non-conventional sources of energy.
Which steps can they take in the coming years to get closer to your ideal?
I use solar panels, I use biogas and I intend to develop the use of the bullock in order to stop using tractors on my farm. I plan to introduce more diversity over here and to be more self-dependent on building material. The motto of my farm is “Traditional wisdom with modern technologies.” As a Natural farmer, I consider that I am in a continuous learning-process. I will always be a student, experimenting on the ground, and trying to decipher Nature’s response to my different attempts to cultivate in the best possible way.
How does the practice of natural farming influence your life, lifestyle, personal goal in life?
My lifestyle has changed since I switched to organic farming. I started loving all living beings, birds and insects as well as all plants. I strongly approve the statement that says:
“God created insects, man made them pest. God created plants, man made them weed.” I now enjoy seeing harmony on the farm. I became pure vegetarian, and this is now a rule on the farm, for every person who shares our food with us, whether it is the workers or whether it is the guests. I am now a Nature lover. Before my farming, I had no goal, it was just about making money. Now, I have a goal. My farming has become a goal in itself. It is a bound created between all living being on the farm.
What is your opinion about the role of women on the farm; in society; in your personal life?
The role of women is very important in Indian society. In my personal life, my mother and my wife have always been very supportive to me, in my mission of becoming a natural farmer. They have a great role in the task of processing and marketing the product. In Punjab, earlier, the women were fully part of the agricultural work, but after the Green Revolution, they were displaced outside of the farm, confined in the house. For the last 30 years, the traditional structure has been breaking down. As a result, women are now out of farming. They have the fundamental role of actually feeding the family. Nowadays, the biodiversity does not exist in Punjab , and has to be recreated artificially, but in the Past, when it was naturally there. The lady use to collect wild fruits and vegetable on their way back after bringing chapattis to their husband on the field, so they were really involved in farm. Unfortunately, it is not the case anymore.
How do you deal with the social pressure to adopt consumerist’s behaviors?
I don’t think I get any pressure from my family or friends to adopt consumerist behaviors. Once you get in harmony with Nature, working itself becomes leisure and a real pleasure. Now, I take everything as leisure.
Bt cotton farmers are under constant tension and pressure because they invested a lot in seeds, fertilizers and pesticides and now they need to see the return. In my case, I am practicing zero-budget Natural farming. There is much less investment than under Chemical farming, so there is no pressure and no tension in my farming.