India Interior

It took just one acre to grow faith in organic farming

Nitin Jugran Bahuguna | Updated on April 19, 2019

Blooming with health Farmer Dasrath Patil (above) says going organic helped him save on costly pesticides Nitin Jugran Bahuguna   -  Nitin Jugran Bahuguna

Farmer Deepa relaxing at home with her 90-year-old mother-in-law

Cotton farmers in M.P. are getting higher yields at lower input costs

An innovative project aimed at promoting cotton cultivation the organic way, by replacing chemical pesticides and fertilisers with environment-friendly manures and sprays, is bringing rich dividends for cotton farmers of Madhya Pradesh.

Dasrath Patil, 50, like most inhabitants of Jobni village, comes of farming stock. The 700-plus population of this village in Sausar Tehsil, 63 km away from district headquarters Chhindwara, have been tilling their land for generations. Dasrath grows fruits like mango, pomegranate and papaya but the major kharif crop on his 16 acres is cotton, which he has been cultivating for years.

When he heard of a new method of growing cotton three years back, the hardy farmer was immediately curious but at the same time sceptical, unwilling to ditch the tried and tested practices followed through generations in his family.

However, he was persuaded to experiment on a sole acre and faithfully followed the instructions given to him, right from how to prepare the land for sowing the new seeds (which were also provided and differed from the hybrid seeds he would purchase from stores) to preparing home-made, bio-friendly, manure and pesticides.

“As advised, I prepared one acre of land by applying chemical-free fertilisers,” says Dasrath. “I have learned how to make organic manure and pesticides using locally available material.” He was taught how to make vermicompost by mixing cow dung, along with earthworms, in the soil and vegetable waste. He also learned how to make bio-friendly manure. He applied the manure evenly on his land a day before sowing his cotton saplings, and again, 30 days after the sowing. “Earlier, I used harmful chemical pesticides for spraying. I would indiscriminately use the sprays, not realising that frequent spraying was not good for the plants.” Using this new method, the farmer was able to save considerably on costly chemical pesticides and sprays and his profits — though small — were one hundred per cent as his input costs were negligible. “I harvested three quintals of cotton using the organic method and sold the same for ₹5,000 per quintal,” he claims.

The Organic Cotton Project, launched by the Worldwide Fund for Nature India (WWF India) in collaboration with C & A Foundation, a Swiss-based corporate foundation, took off in 2015-16 in Chhindwara district, home to the famous Pench Tiger Reserve. When Dasrath compares this to the traditional way in which he cultivated his cotton crops, he realises the significance of going organic. “I harvested 45 quintals of cotton on my remaining 15 acres and sold the entire crop for ₹1.8 lakh. However, my input costs, including purchasing of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and hiring of labour, came to ₹1.20 lakh. So, my profit was actually just ₹60,000!”

A total of 72 villages involving over 4,000 farmers have been covered under the project which focusses on adopting improved agronomic practices, soil and water conservation techniques and inter-cropping, besides pest and disease management.

Deepa, 40, and her husband Dilip Sheshrao Bansod, also of Jobni village, are fourth-generation farmers. When this resilient couple first experimented with growing cotton organically three years back, they reaped a paltry 70 kg.

“But this year, we were more meticulous and planted the seeds carefully as we were instructed to. We also learned to remove the waste after the rains. The grass growing near the cotton saplings must be removed or else the cotton plant will not grow,” explains Deepa. “We also used more gobar (cowdung manure) and, so far, we have got four quintals,” she says proudly.

Benefits of intercropping

Dasrath has learnt several valuable lessons experimenting with cotton the organic way. “Earlier, my spacing of the cotton saplings was not precise and I would just place them all over my land. Now I know the importance of spacing the saplings at a distance of three-by-three feet, which is called ‘space marking’ and to grow another crop along with the cotton plant in order to make the plant stronger as well as to give myself an additional crop in the same area.” The economic returns have proved rich for him. “I grew red gram alongside the cotton saplings and reaped about 11 quintals. I sold each quintal of red gram for ₹4,000.” Planting another crop alongside the cotton, or inter-cropping, is one of the salient features of the Organic Cotton Project.

Being part of the tiger corridor, Chhindwara is ecologically sensitive and is home to some small and marginal tribal farming communities, observes Anita Chester, Head of Sustainable Raw Materials, C&A Foundation.

“Our vision for this partnership with WWF is to maintain the ecology of the Satpuda-Pench Corridor while enhancing the livelihoods of cotton farmers by encouraging them to adopt low-input organic farming,” she says. “This results in minimising the degradation of soil and water quality that affects wildlife habitats, while benefiting farmers through lower costs and increased yields. The 2017-18 data shared by our partner points to an income increase of 36 per cent for programme farmers as compared to conventional farmers in the same areas, thanks to a 63 per cent decrease in cost of cultivation.”

Market challenges

The objective of setting up the project at the fringe of the forest is to provide premium market access to farmers complying with global practices such as organic certification, states Murli Dhar, Director of WWF’s Sustainable Agriculture Programme, which is implementing the project. “This will help minimise, for farmers, the risk from market volatility, which we are witnessing often in India,” he notes.

Farmers like Dasrath and Deepa are selling their organic cotton through the Chhindwara Organic Farmers Enterprise (COFE), a cooperative created under the project to help farmers get a premium price for their cotton through private suppliers and exporters. According to Sandip Bhujel, CEO of COFE, the objective is to link the farmers with the market. “We collect the farmers’ cotton from village-level collection centres (VLCCs), about 20 of which have been set up in some of the target villages. We then sell the cotton to private companies, which give a premium of ₹7 per kg more than the market price and they accept raw cotton,” he says, adding that from an initial 46 farmers, COFE today has links with nearly 400 cotton farmers.

The writer is a freelancer based in New Delhi

Published on April 19, 2019

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