Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Nanak Kheti: Natural Farming with passion for wellbeing of all

By Umendra Dutt

They are neither environmentalists, nor economists nor religious preachers nor trained agriculture experts nor a health professionals, but they still posses and practice the wisdom of all these. They practice Guru Nanak’s precept of
Sarbat da Bhala meaning the wellbeing of all, in their farming. They are the natural farmers of Punjab.

Their farms are laboratories of happiness for all and encompass every living creature on earth, every life form. It is farming with passion for the wellbeing of all; one can call it spiritual farming, natural farming, non-violent agriculture or simply Nanak Kheti. These farmers are even taking care of a large verity of birds, earthworms, honey bees, butterflies and fireflies and many more magnificent life forms. For these farmers all living creatures are part of a family and - it is their family.

KVM preaches to adopt famous verses of Guru Granth Sahib in farming practices: “Pavnu Guru, Panni Pita Matta Dharat Mahat”, Air is Guru, Water is father and Earth is mother. This holy guiding principal should be part of the life, practice and mission of farmers who want to do natural farming.

There is a silent and constructive revolution happening in Punjab to save the environment, regenerate ecological resources to bring back soil productivity and re-establish ecological balance in the farms. This is the natural farming movement of Kheti Virasat Mission (KVM), a civil society action group headquartered in the Jaitu town of Faridkot district. The movement is led by experienced farmers who believe in principal of Sarbat da bhala," says Amarjeet Sharma, a farmer from Chaina village, district Faridkot who heads the village level Vatavaran Panchayat. Vatavaran Panchayats are local-level community institutions working as participatory civil society initiatives.

KVM is a farmers movement dedicated to natural farming, conservation of natural resources and traditional wisdom. Most of farmers associated with KVM work through its Vatavaran Panchayats. KVM farmers are farmers with a mission, vision and action. These farmers have taken pledges to start natural farming in one go or in a phased manner. KVM currently has around a 100 formal and 800 informal members.

The natural farmers of Punjab say that the land has witnessed the destruction of the environment as a consequence of chemical farming. In particular, the soil ecology has suffered a devastating blow in the last few decades as it has lost its nutrient pool. The burning of paddy straw has further destroyed the soil's health. But during the last four to five years, the soil in several parts of Punjab has been regenerated and rejuvenated by natural farming. These natural farmers are convinced, so much so that their feet feel happy and healthy coming in contact with the soil. “You can see earthworm castings, which had completely disappeared in the fields,” says a visibly happy and proud Hartej Singh of Mehta village in Bhatinda district. "Our farmers will offer you a handful of soil which you will find soft and with all the natural aromas that are associated with the infinite life of our earth. That is the kind of work we are doing," he adds.

KVM has evolved a distinct philosophy that defines soil as the 'source of infinite lives'. "Yes, it is true and we have experienced it," avers KVM chairman and a farmer from Rai Ke Kalan village of Bathinda, Harjant Singh. If the soil is rich in microorganisms, its texture is soft, full of natural essence and ample quantities of moisture are kept intact. Then the soil gives healthy crops, and there is a lesser need for irrigation.

Harjant Singh further elaborates on the scientific premises of natural farming. All living organisms require nutrition and minerals for their growth. Plants, being stationary, receive all their nutrition from their surroundings and from natural life processes. They get carbon dioxide and water from nature and by the process of photosynthesis, the required amount of sugars is produced. Similarly nitrogen in the air is captured by rhyzobia bacteria in soil for the plants. These microorganisms perform different functions for the plants. "By using the chemical inputs, especially the pesticides, we have destroyed the delicate microbial equilibrium of soil and tilted the game in favour of external chemical inputs thus making the situation even worse," says Singh.

KVM farmers use Jeevaamrita (a cow urine based microbial preparation) to revive microbial activity in soil. With the application of Jeevaamrita and Ghan Jeevaamrita (a solid form of Jeevaamrita), the soil is gradually becoming rich in the humus, yield has increased, and other life forms are coming back in the fields, says Charanjeet Singh Punni, another KVM farmer from Chaina village and a natural farming trainer. Punni highlights another aspect of natural farming. "Although the sunlight of some of its radiation is essential for the photosynthesis, it is a threat to the soil bacteria. Mulching is the best answer to this."

Mulching is an essential part of natural farming. Natural farmers aver that when the soil is covered with various forms of mulching, the results are unimaginable. Earlier the soil had lost all soil bacteria, microbes and earthworms. But after adoption of Jeevaamrita and mulching, the farms are again becoming wealthy in soil health. Krishnan Jakhar of village Dhaba (near Dabawali), Vinod Jyani of village Katehra, near Fazilka, Swarn Singh of Karamgarh Shattran, Madan Lal of Bullowal in Hoshiarpur, Jarnail Singh in Meharu, Nakodar and other natural farmers of the KVM network are using inter crops, plant residue, fallen leaves, bushes, weeds and sometimes even the wheat straw or the paddy straw cuttings spread in the fields to cover the naked soil. “Besides protecting the bacteria and retaining the moisture, this also keeps the temperature of the soil low and it never goes beyond the 40 degrees Celsius, which is the upper limit for the survival of microbes,” tells Ajay Tripathi, associate director of KVM.

KVM farmers have redefined, reestablished and regenerated their mother-son relation with the soil. They feel a spiritual bond, an oneness with the soil. That is why they are against all forms of agro-chemicals and burning of fields - to them it is a form of violence against the earth.

There is a common question usually asked to KVM activists. Does natural farming economics work? This spiritual soil science is also more financially beneficial to these farmers. After adopting natural farming they are spending far less from earlier chemical farming days. Natural farming is more cost effective and input efficient says Amarjeet Dhillon a small farmer from Dabrikhana village, who owns only two acres of land. For example, farmers having sugarcane and black gram in their farms have to spend virtually nothing on inputs asserts, Dhillon. He cities several examples where farmer had spend only Rs.100-200 on inputs for one acre as against Rs.3000 by a chemical farming farmer. "Some of us had stopped cash out flow to cities any more to purchase Urea, DAP and pesticides and thousands of others have reduced this out flow of cash in a big way", he adds.

On an average in Malwa's cotton belt farmers are spending Rs.7000 on chemical inputs per acre annually in normal conditions. If there are more pest attacks, then there may be no limit to this amount. There is a rough estimate that every village is spending a large sum of money -- from Rs.40 lakhs to Rs.6 crores -- purchasing agro-chemicals, depending upon area of cultivation and cropping pattern. Natural farmers want to stop the loss of village wealth by bringing down farmers' spending on agro-chemicals. This is Kissan version of Swadeshi movement says Chamkour Singh of Dhudhike village of Moga district. Dhudhike is famous for being the birthplace of eminent freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai and other martyrs of Gadar movement. “Our farmers are no more going to serve MNCs or big agro-chemical corporations. We are evolving a framework for an agricultural Swadeshi movement in Punjab. We are going to redefine Boycott and Swadeshi in the present context and scenario that is why KVM has given a slogan to its farmers – MNCs quit our farms,” he adds.

KVM feels that there is urgent need of Swadeshi agriculture movement to decolonize Indian agriculture and to liberate Indian farmer from clutches of westernized agriculture and developmental paradigm being convinced by ICAR and State Agriculture Universities. This prototype is philosophically alien to our cultural roots and stranger to ecological ethos and believes of our society.

The KVM’s natural farming movement has also brings another significant change in mindset of farmers. Now they are not looking towards Agriculture University or departmental experts for expert advice any more. “We feel that every farmer of ours is a expert in himself, he practice this science of natural farming, he lives natural farming every day, he is totally engulfed with the philosophy of natural farming,” said Dr. Harminder Sidhu a Homeopath practitioner and a practicing natural farmer from village Jalaldiwal of Raikot in Ludhiana district. “The modern agriculture paradigm has limited all expertise to Agriculture Universities only. The chemicalised agriculture model has made farmers scientifically illiterate – who presumed to be ignorant to every aspect of science and agri technology. This is a conspiracy which has made farmers dependent on Universities, department, companies and even pesticide retailers. It is a cruel joke that those who get a three or five year degree in agriculture with a alien kind of agriculture knowledge are known as experts, who are practicing a agriculture knowledge of only 40 years old, where as the farmers who inherent the agriculture wisdom of at least 5000 years were made commoners. We are not going to accept this nonsense any more. We are working to build self-confidence of our farmers on their own agriculture heritage and wisdom. We are the nation with abundance in farm produces, agro-biodiversity and prosperity,” adds confident Dr Sidhu.

The list of natural farmers includes names from all corners of the state. The Pingalwara Charitable Society, Amritsar, a prestigious social service institute in north India, founded by Bhagat Puran Singh has supported natural farming and the movement with its resources. Pingalwara has established the Bhagat Puran Singh Natural Farming Centre in 37 acres at village Dhirakot near Jandiala Guru. More significantly, well-known religious leader and spiritual environmentalist Sant Balbir Singh Seenchewal, Sultanpur Lodhi has successfully rejuvenated rivulet Kali Bain, and has joined the natural farming movement. Now he is promoting natural farming in his spiritual mass gatherings.

Similarly many professionals such as those from the medical field, college and university lecturers and professors, advocates, journalists, even government officials and civil servants have joined this movement for rejuvenation of the soil. They are in contact with the KVM and participate in its activities.

Now KVM is concentrating few villages for change the entire village in natural farming field. Two villages in Faridkot district -Chaina and Dabrikhana were chosen for this initiative.

In the just commenced wheat season -- from now to mid-April -- KVM activists are planning to reach out to at least 60 blocks of the state. These activists are committed farmers who work in the fields, not experts who come by when they can spare time by choice. These farmers the true sons of soil are trainers, scientists and leaders of this ecological initiative, in the service of Mother Nature.