India Interior

Natural farming works by all accounts, says banker-turned farmer

Sarita Brara | Updated on August 24, 2019

After retirement, Hem Chand Verma is experimenting with zero-budget farming

Imagine the general manager of a bank carrying over 45 kg of vegetables on his back, covering a distance of 14 km along the hilly footpath terrain from his village to the main vegetable market in Shimla.

There was no road at that time between his village, Nayaser, in Pahal gram panchayat, and Shimla town, recalls Hem Chand Verma, who retired in 2006 from the post of Managing Director of the Himachal Pradesh State Cooperative Agriculture and Rural Development Bank. “It was usually on Monday that I would undertake the journey. I would pack my formal coat or tie along with the load of vegetables and change after selling the produce, before I went to work.”

Verma may have risen to the post of MD, but he was, and still remains, a hard-working farmer at heart. After his retirement, he decided to get back to farming. Today, even at 72, Verma works 18 hours a day and is ready to experiment with the latest techniques and methodology to improve the quality and yield of his crops.

Last year, after a training programme organised by the HP Directorate of Agriculture, Verma started his experiment with natural farming. To begin with, he started growing tomato, ginger, cucumber and beans in half an acre of his five acres of cultivated land. “Production has been less and the crop is still prone to diseases. But I am sure after two to three years, production will increase and it will become disease-free.” Having read a lot about natural farming, Verma is convinced that it is good in the long run.

The banker-turned-farmer is also growing cherry fodder through natural farming on over an acre of land developed under MNREGA. “Once I am able to protect this land from monkeys and wild boars, I will start growing cash crops as well.” He has already bought poles and meshed wire and is getting the fencing done.

Verma plans to experiment with five to six acres of barren land in the village and start natural farming there. “I want to showcase how natural farming can turn barren land fertile where one can grow vegetables and other crops.” This, he says, will incentivise other villagers to go in for natural farming.

“Natural farming not only helps improve soil quality but also requires less water for irrigation,” explains Verma as he shows us his preparation of jeevamrut, made of cow urine, cow dung and other natural ingredients. Jeevamrut is said to increase the count of micro-organisms in the soil, increasing its fertility and, in turn, crop productivity.

In fact, his son-in-law, Narender Kashyap from Halot village of Gehni gram panchayat, has begun to follow in his footsteps and taken to natural farming in around an acre of his land. “Although the income from the cash crops he grows has come down by 20-30 per cent, he is not going to give up natural farming. He too is convinced that the soil will turn for the better in 2-3 years.”

All in the family

Besides attending seminars on agriculture, Verma spends his free time online, learning new trends and techniques in cultivation. “I watched a demonstration on YouTube on how a process of nipping could increase production of green gourd from just one plant, now I am experimenting with it.”

So enamoured by farming is Verma that he has been able to convince his son, an MBA, and daughter-in-law to quit their jobs and take to farming. Today, the couple is happy they took such a decision.

In Himachal Pradesh, the State government launched Prakratik Kheti-Khushal Kisan Scheme last year to enourage zero-budget natural farming pioneered by Dr Suhash Palekar. According to Desraj Sharma, Director, Directorate of Agriculture, HP, 7,300 farmers have taken to natural farming in the first quarter of the current fiscal.

The State has set an ambitious target of getting all its 9,60,000 farmers to adopt natural farming by 2022, says Sharma. The farmers are being provided with demonstrations and a six-day training for which ₹25 crore has been earmarked in the current financial year. Farmers will be given all kinds of assistance, including bio-pesticides and bio-insecticides.

Marketing the crops grown through natural farming will be a challenge, says Desraj Sharma. For this, the department plans to open at least one shop for selling naturally grown produce in every market yard of every district of the State.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

Published on August 24, 2019

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