Thursday, 23 April 2015

Amidst distress, there is hope for holistic farming

Amid allegations of compromising the farm sector for the sake of industrial growth, a recent decision taken by the Prime Minister points to a vision for salvaging the beleaguered sector 

M Rajaque Rahman

When dirty politics is played over the plight of farmers (and dead body included) rhetoric and symbolism rule the roots and real issues get sidestepped. Amidst allegations of compromising the farm sector for the sake of industrial growth, an inconspicuous decision taken recently by the Prime Minister in an unlikely sector raises the hope for action beyond the symbolism.

The diktat to make it mandatory for domestic fertiliser producers to ‘neem-coat’ at least 75 per cent of their urea production must not only bring cheers to the Green Brigade, but also could salvage the agriculture sector in the country.

Beyond the economic calculations of a Rs. 6,500-crore saving in subsidy outgo and checking pilferage, the move will have far-reaching ramifications for humanity. The biggest of it all being its impact on the soil health and environment. Since the Green Revolution in the 60s, India resorted to heavy use chemical-based fertilizers. This is not only ruining the soil, but also creating major health and environmental hazards.

Only 30-40 per cent of nitrogen from urea is absorbed by crops. The rest gets degraded into the environment as the soil fails to retain it because of certain bacteria. Scientific research has proved that certain constituents of neem can inhibit this premature nitrogen release. Traditionally, Indian farmers have used neem to good effect by mixing it with urea in some form or the other.

The new regime will check the excessive use as higher retention will mean that less (around 20 per cent) neem-coated is required as compared to ordinary urea. Neem-coated urea will also works as insecticide. It’s estimated that the shift will boost the yield by about 20 per cent as crop will get sufficient supply of nitrogen, which is vital for the development of plants.

It’s a win-win proposition. Interestingly, the previous governments had adopted a diametrically opposite stance. Instead of encouraging it, there was a cap of 35 per cent on the production of neem-coated urea against the wishes of the industry. No logic, apart from cartelization and vested calculations, justifies such a blinkered policy.

The new government has shown a holistic vision by not only removing the cap, but also making it mandatory to neem-coat at least 75 per cent of total production. It’s expected that by next year, the entire domestic production will be neem-coated.

More than the specifics, the move signals a vision towards organic farming, which is the need of the hour. Excessive use of chemicals is not only killing the soil and adversely affecting food security, but also slow-poisoning the population. Because of chemical farming, food production of the country has become fatally contaminated. This is responsible for the alarmingly rise in incidences of cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Food which is supposed to be the source of sustenance and promote wellness has today become the main source of illness.

This exactly is the reason behind spiritual gurus like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living putting their intense focus on chemical-free farming. The Art of Living, for example, organises innovative agricultural workshops aimed at reviving and promoting ancient agricultural techniques. “2,000,000 farmers have been trained by the Art of Living, championing the cause of Zero Budget and Chemical-free Natural Farming," tweeted Sri Sri on the occasion of the Earth Day. The concept promotes indigenous techniques that ensure higher yields with lesser investment and is central to Sri Sri’s campaign which has helped many farmers across India escape the curse of farmer suicide. It’s possible that Sri Sri’s counsel has played a part in this decision.

Like neem, there are numerous other indigenous and proven options for natural farming and chemical-free farming. The farmers who have turned to the desi (indigenous) knowledge of natural farming are not only witnessing tremendous improvement in soil fertility, but also prospering economically. Higher income is supplemented by lesser investment, thus helping them beat the debt trap of high-interest loans.

That’s why this low-profile move of the government is a powerful manure to propel the overall health of the nation!

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