Showcase for low rainfall areas in India By Arun K. Sharma Part 2 of 3
The ‘LIKE AND FOLLOW’ Organic System’ at CAZRI – The hub of capacity building
People or organisations present their profiles and work through the social media, and those who like them can then follow them. The same is true for organic farming, if all the possibilities are displayed and the outcomes can be seen, a famer just needs to ‘like’ it and prepare himself to ‘follow’ (adopt) it. In this second phase the farmer will need technical and to some extent, financial support.
CAZRI has developed a 2-hectare model organic farm (MOF) to show farmers organic farming technologies, how they can be integrated and their synergetic effects. This is the like phase. If a farmer decides to follow (adopt) this approach then CAZRI provides the knowledge and, to some extent, financial support (from various national schemes on agriculture, described below) so the system can be replicated successfully on the farmer’s fields. We have developed the following support facilities to research and demonstrate the organic system.
Certified Model Organic Farm
- A trench and mound was dug around the plot for in situ conservation of rainwater, to avoid run-off water loss and to avoid contamination from surface waters from neighbouring fields. Cassia angustifola (Senna or Sanai), a medicinal shrub, was planted on the mounds for round the year availability of flowers for predators and further prevention of spray drift contamination.
- Two rainwater harvesting ponds of 5000 litres capacity (each) were constructed on the model organic farm. A cemented catchment area was laid out around the ponds for maximum collection of rainwater. This catchment area is also utilized for drying and thrashing crops after the harvest period. The collected water is distributed using a gravity drip irrigation system that irrigates two low-volume high-value crops (such as cumin and psyllium).
Rain water harvesting pond
- Manual weeding is done regularly and uprooted weeds are left as mulch that later decomposes and contributes to organic matter (at about 1.5-2.0 tonnes/ha).
Boundary plantation of senna A biodiverse system with crops and trees
Bumble bees on senna
- A variety of fruit trees were planted on the farm to ensure an income from diverse sources and to increase biodiversity on the farm: Zizyphus mauritiana (Ber), Phyllanthis ambalica (Aonla), Cordia mixa (Gunda), shrubs Lawsonia alba (Mehndi) and plants for bio-pesticides Adhatoda vasica (Adusa), Vitex nigundo (Nrgundi) and Aloe vera (Guarpatha) and Cassia angustifolia (sanai). Besides the fruit tees there are about thirty naturally grown trees of 30-35 years of age of cineraria (Khejri) and two A .indica (neem) trees that can be used to make bio-pesticide. This plantation ensures also a supply of nectar and shelter for beneficial insects. More neem trees were also planted around the fields.
- Six compost pits, 4 feet deep, 6 feet wide and 10 feet long were dug at one corner of the farm for making good quality compost from crop residues, manure and cattle urine.
- Bio-pesticides are prepared in a tank in situ in the field from the leaves of neem, aak and adusa and additional neem cake (the residue from extracting oil from neem seeds).
- Pheromone traps are also used. These are a very simple technology in which the smell of female insect is put in a rubber capsule (lure) which is then put out in a trap in the field. The male insects are attracted to the female smell, are trapped and will later be destroyed. This interrupts the reproduction cycle and the pest population gradually decreases. The lure is changed every fortnight. The lure and size and shape of trap differs for each species. This technology is very cheap and effective but specific to each pest species. The cost of a plastic trap is around US$ 1.50 and available at the local market and the cost of the pheromone (lure) is US$ 0.20. At the MOF pheromone traps have been installed for the major pests in the areas, particularly white grub (a soil pest that cuts the roots of plants) and legume pod borer.
Pheromone traps for white grub
- All of the MOF’s implements and produce are kept in the store, inside the plot boundary to avoid any contamination. The MOF also keeps its own seeds for sowing and for distributing to the farmers who start adopting the organic system. The seeds are preserved with a coating of mustard and castor seed oil (mixed at a ratio of 3:1).
- Information boards are places at various places in the field so any visitor can read about and understand different aspects of the system.
- The entire farm is set-up around three main branches of sustainability: rain water; waste utilization and field education
For scientific purposes records are maintained about input use, farming practices, produce storage and auditors from the Rajasthan Organic Certification Agency (an accredited certification body based in Jaipur) visited several times to verify the records and testing of pesticide residues in the soil and produce. The model organic farm was certified organic in August 2011 after completing a 3 year conversion period.
THE OUTCOMES OF THE MOF’s EXPERIMENT
A rotation of four high-value crops, including cluster bean (Guar) and sesame (Til) in the rainy season and cumin (Zeera) and psyllium (Isabgol) in winter was selected for the study. Five years after establishing the farm there has been an overall improvement in soil health and agro-diversity that is helping to make the system more resilient to climatic extremes such as drought, long dry spells or heavy rains. The population of beneficial fauna has also increased and is controlling pest incidence. More details are given below.
Improved soil properties
The use of cattle manure has led to an observable increase in soil water retention (from 8.43% to 8.92%) that has helped in better growth and crop yields. Similarly an increase in soil organic carbon content from 0.23% to 0.31% has been observed after five years of applying compost at a rate of 5 metric tonnes/ha/year. Biological activity, measured in terms of Dehydrogenase enzyme activity, has also improved from 1.06 to 2.36 (p Kat g-1), showing that the soil is becoming more alive.
Crops are more resilient to climatic variability and provide a better yield
Crop resilience to climatic variability has been enhanced by the use of organic manure. This is observed in sustained crop growth, less incidence of pests and diseases and sustained yield during climatic extremes, compared to conventional farms where crops almost always fail in such situations. Yields increased significantly with an increase in the dose of organic manures (from 2.5 to 5 tons/ha) for all the crops. Legume cultivation in the kharif (dry) season contributed an average 25-30% increase in yield in the subsequent crops of cumin and psyllium.
There is a widely held view that organic systems give poor yields
There is a widely held view that organic systems give poor yields. However, the findings at the MOF show that, while during the initial developmental stage of an organic system there may be slightly lower yield than in a conventional one, after 2-3 years once the system is developed the yield levels are comparable to the conventional (chemical input based) system. In the fifth year (2013) yields of 917.5kg/ha for sesame, 1122.2 kg/ha for cluster bean, 830.9 kg/ha for cumin and 856.4 kg/ha for psyllium were recorded. This is comparable to the average yield of a conventional system. Since most of the inputs are being prepared on-farm the cost of production was reduced by 30-70%, depending upon the crop.
Increasing the density and diversity of farmer’s friends (beneficial insects)
Round year availability of water and nectar and no use of chemicals led to an increase in the diversity and density of beneficial fauna, which has almost tripled in five years (2008-13). Syrphid flies, wasps of different types, honey bees and geocorid bugs are major beneficial insects for Zizyphus. The henna crop attracts Chrysoperla, Apis sp., syrphid flies and Coccinellid beetles (Ladybird beetle). Major beneficial insects on pearl millet, cluster bean and weeds include Digera muricata (Lolru), Amaranthus virdis (Cholai), Chrysoperla and ladybird beetle Chilomenes sp.
Next week the last part:
IMPROVING FARMERS’ PERCEPTIONS ABOUT ORGANIC FARMING
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: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org .