We are self-sufficient in agriculture produce, thanks to the Green Revolution. But the negative environmental impacts in green revolution regions are all too visible — soil degradation, biodiversity loss, natural resources depletion, among others.

One of the sustainable agriculture practice that is now gaining momentum is natural farming (NF) which is ‘agriculture as per local ecology and hence also called as agroecology’.

Farmers who have been practising NF do not get premium prices for their products, as differentiated markets, standards and protocols don’t exist sufficiently. Many farmers confess that NF products are largely for home consumption. Developing alternative and differentiated markets are of paramount importance, if we have to transit to NF.

Also, developing awareness amongst farmers and consumers is required. Both these are not easy tasks, as food/agriculture is a powerful habit, if not a culture. Some estimates indicate that this niche market is growing at about 20-25 per cent, despite consumers not being sure, how genuine the label/product is! If we could bring in reliability, our food systems can gradually change for the better.

Certification Systems

The government launched Participatory Guarantee System (PGS-India) in 2011. This is a quality assurance initiative, that emphasises active participation of producers and consumers, and operates outside of third-party certification processes. Himachal Pradesh developed a self-certification tool (CETARA-NF) for natural farming.

Bureau of Indian Standards has recently released a draft for public comments, on the requirements for NF and labelling NF produce. This draft differentiates between NF and organic farming (compost, vermipost and minerals not allowed in the former). The aim is to foster common understanding amongst stakeholders, farmers, market players and consumers. The big task ahead is how to make these standards work at the field and market levels.

Here are some ideas on expanding alternative markets for the NF.

Public Distribution System (PDS) is a significant market for agricultural commodities.

Mid-day meal programme is another market. Instead of supplying food grown elsewhere, a decentralised, production, procurement, storage and distribution systems, based on local NF produce and that too involving FPOs can help. Local crops for local requirements must be the mantra. The existing networks of Primary Agricultural Cooperative Societies and Marketing Federations may also be included

Dedicated haats: Further, there are about 43,000 village haats (markets), chain of farmers’ markets in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu.

A few of them, can be dedicated to certified NF produce and backward integration developed. Consumer Cooperatives can also be established in urban/peri-urban areas of major cities where farmland is within 100 km radius.

The Colombian private network, Familia de la Tierra, comprising farmers’ organisations, restaurants, organic shops, financial institutions, public schools, cooking schools and urban and periurban families promote local and ecological products. The Maputo Earth Market (MEM) in Mozambique has become successful by facilitating closer ties between farmers and consumers.

At home, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) in 2022, made arrangements with 5,000 Self-Help Groups to source the pesticide-free produce for making offering to the deities (laddu prasadam and anna prasadam).

Stable markets and remunerative prices can help motivate farmers to move to natural farming. Pilot projects on a mission mode can only show and pave the path for transition.

Suryakumar is former Deputy Managing Director, NABARD. Chamola is, Advisor, GIZ, New Delhi. Views are personal