Showcase for low rainfall areas in India    

Author Arun K Sharma   part 3 of 3


A two hectares Model Organic Farm (MOF) plot was established in 2008, as part of the research farm at the Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI), Jodhpur. The plot was certified as organic in 2011.

Quote: Some farmers believe that organic farming is only possible at government-supported farms. In response to this we provide them with the addresses of successful private organic farms and suggest that they pay them a visit.

Farmers groups (a total of 1500-2000 farmers /year) frequently come to visit this farm and get hands-on training. Many of them have adopted these technologies because using local resources makes it into a cost effective and affordable system for drought prone marginal farmers. Yet they often have questions and doubts about the organic approach, which we listen to carefully

The questions farmers most frequently ask

  1. The very first question that farmers ask is why, from 1960 to 2000, all government agencies tried to convince them to use chemicals for higher yield whereas these agencies are now switching to encourage more use of organic inputs. Trainers at the MOF need to spend some time and effort in convincing farmers about this new policy by giving an overview of the broad range of benefits in terms of the soil, environment, market and other aspects.
  2. Farmers are apprehensive about low yields and the availability of organic inputs. These doubts are cleared up when farmers see the standing crops and learn how to make proper compost.
  3. In this low rainfall region every farmer knows the value of applying manure but adverse conditions (family, social, financial etc.) mean, farmers often do make good compost. When dry raw cow dung is applied this creates problems with termites and weeds and farmers can easily fall under the influence of peers to go for chemical fertilizers. A farmer visiting the MOF who wants to follow this approach can receive a customized nutrition management system according to his conditions and resource availability.
  4. In higher rainfall areas and good quality water irrigated areas, vermi-compost (rain-worm processed compost) is being widely promoted by almost all governmental agencies and NGOs. This system has been tried in this region where water is limited, the temperature ranges from 2-48o C and 80 % of the area only has a four month farming season. The adverse conditions mean vermi-composting technology almost always fails in this region. This decreases the faith of farmers in extension agencies. At the MOF we suggest methods of composting that best fits with farmers’ conditions.
  5. Many of the farmers already know about and use traditional methods of pest control such as using neem and other bio-pesticides and we, at the MOF, just refine these methods to enhance their efficacy.
  6. Some farmers believe that organic farming is only possible at government-supported farms. In response to this we provide them with the addresses of successful private organic farms and suggest that they pay them a visit. This increases farmers’ confidence and their faith in the organic approach.
  7. A question that is asked by almost all farmers is where to sell organic produce and whether they will get a premium. At the MOF we suggest they go for group certification and once the farm group is certified it can approach any of the organic buyers or develop its own brand. We provide facts and figures to demonstrate the shortage of organic produce as well as examples of farmers who have successfully developed their own brand and get a premium price -in order to encourage farmers to follow this approach.
  8. It is harder to convince groups of farmers who are exploiting ground water reserves or using water from the Indira Gandhi Canal about the benefits of the organic approach. They use agro-chemicals heavily and admit that their soil become addicted to chemicals. Yet they are afraid to shift to organic methods because they anticipate a drastic reduction in yields. We suggest a more gradual shift to organic to them: i.e. first follow an integrated use of chemicals and organic methods and then gradually replace the chemicals with organic inputs over 3-4 years. In this way there will be no yield loss. Some of them have been convinced and have started to move towards an organic approach.

In a nutshell farmer are gradually realising benefit of organic farming in this highly climatically variably area and are ready to adopt organic methods. But they need knowledge and marketing backup.

Schermafbeelding 2015-04-01 om 16.43.19

Author standing on the roof of rainwater harvesting tank and farmers sitting on cemented catchment and getting information about organic farming

Supportive government schemes

Some governmental schemes are providing support for organic farming. These schemes include the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, The Watershed Mission, The National Agriculture Development Scheme (Popularly known as RKVY) and The Rain-fed Area Development Programme. These schemes provide capacity building on eco-friendly technologies and subsidies for compost preparation, rainwater harvesting, the purchase of bio-pesticides, and certification. The National Bank for Rural Development (NABARD) is also providing soft loans to self-help groups who work in agribusiness, and favour those working with organic farming. 

The future of farming in arid regions

Water scarcity and light soils in India’s arid regions mean that an organic approach is highly suitable and applicable in these low rainfall areas. These regions have a near monopoly on high value crops, such as spices, which are in great demand internationally, especially if produced organically. In this way, organic production in low rainfall areas can not only boost the economy but also sustain the productivity of natural resources. The management system developed at the MOF may also be useful for low rainfall areas in other parts of the world. Further research is needed to economically and ecologically quantify the contribution that this system makes and a team of devoted trainers is required in order to up-scale (extend) this system to more interested farmers.

About the author: Arun K Sharma is a Senior Scientist at the Central Arid Zone Research Institute CAZRI and has been working on eco-friendly farming systems for low rainfall areas since 1992. E mail: arun.k_sharma@yahoo.co.in / aksharma@cazri.res.in .

Web: www.cazri.res.in/org_farm.php

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This was the last article in the serie of 3

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