Natural Farming in the wake of climate change – a case of Bhaskar Save’s farm

India is the third largest Greenhouse Gas (GHG)IMG_20171215_101144 emitter in the world due to its high population. The per-capita GHG emission is only 1.12 tons / person / year as compared to that of US 19.78 tons / person / year.  (theguardian, n.d.) However India has committed to reduce emissions intensity by 33-35% by 2030 in the Paris climate summit held in 2015. While Agriculture is the 2nd biggest contributor of GHG in India consisting of 18% of overall emissions employing 50% of workforce. Thus in order to bring down carbon emissions due to agriculture sector there needs to be a change in which we do agriculture.

India is also one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change and agriculture is one of the worst affected sectors due to climatic changes. India has about 60.5% of the geographical land area used for agriculture which is predominantly chemical farming. With advent of modern agriculture which is dependent on mono-cropping and Chemical based farming has many fold disadvantages. Not only are the chemical fertilizers and pesticides made from excessive fossil fuel use but also are detrimental to the beneficial micro-organisms present in soil as it kills them. So not only it is costing heavy on the microorganisms which work for free but it is also heavy on pocket to the farmers. Due to vagaries of nature and increasing climatic changes along with other reasons like unable to pay loans taken for crops / fertilizers / pesticides  (Wikipedia , 2018) has led to this sector contributing to over 12000 suicides every year since 2013 (Mahapatra, 2017). Excessive application of chemical fertilizer and pesticide has caused severe health concerns like cancer in farmers as well as consumers.

So then what is the alternative and can we learn from it? Will it work with increasing climatic changes? Exploring this further through an interesting case study  of visit to Mr Bhaskar Save’s farm at Dehri Village, Umergam.

An interesting question came in Mr Save’s mind as to how do forests self sustain and yet give high yielding produces when chemical farming in 1950s in his farm started giving him diminishing returns. Can we not adopt that system he pondered? Forests are densely covered with trees, with its soil covered with mulch thus allowing beneficial micro-organism to thrive, is self sustaining system which also is a source of river origination. Then where is the need for external inputs?

Traditionally every requirement that a farmer wanted was available within his/her own means or within their village. But due to mechanized modern agriculture bought under green revolution, there was an increasing dependence on external sources even to that extent seeds which each farmer used to traditionally save. Farmers were told to opt for Hybrid or BT seeds for more produce. They were told to use tractors for faster operation, use ground water irrigation pumped through electricity and thus their debt started. However traditional natural farming method needed none of these external inputs. The philosophy of natural farming as spread by Mr Bhaskar Save.

Mr Bhaskar Save was also known as “Gandhi of Natural Farming”. This tag was given to him by the pioneer of Natural farming Mr Masanobu Fukuoka from Japan. Mr Save pioneered  the platform and trench system to provide water to his tree crops storing moisture in the soil year round. More over in order to sustain his farm until the long-life fruit trees mature and yield value they integrated short, medium and long-life plant species into early scheme to rapidly establish complete ground cover and optimize yield. Mr Bhaskar Save’s techniques and farm are now being propagated and managed respectively by his son Mr Naresh Save, Suresh Save.

Mr Save mentions that all the nutrients needed for plant growth are available in soil and in the atmosphere. While only 2% of micro-nutrients is drawn from soil about remaining 98% comes from air, water and solar energy. The mulch layer around the farm doesn’t let the water evaporate easily to the atmosphere and thus provides cooler environment for micro-organisms to thrive in the soil thus covered by mulch.   These micro-organisms decompose the dried biomass on the soil and get available the nutrients to the plants from deep below. Moreover they provide biological tillage which makes soil porous to allow water and air to go in easily thus making healthy roots, plants and the fruits it bears. The dung and urine of the various animals, birds, insects and earthworms provides self-nourishing system. Cow-dung and cow-urine as manure for the soil is used. It has been found that 1 gram cow dung has as much as 30-50 million beneficial microbes and thus its use would make soil richer. Thus there is no need for any form of mechanized tillage which is dependent on burning fossil fuel and thus reduced GHG. And also the labour requirement would be minimal in such soil as we are allowing nature to take care of itself. He suggested that the more the land is left open with no vegetation , weeds would start growing and thus also importance of mulch as it would not leave space for weeds to start growing. However he also indicates that weeds are not bad and acts as live mulch till it overgrows the crop/plant of which we are looking for produce which is when you would need deweeding and making green mulch cover of the same.  While the pests are controlled biologically  in his farm as he says nature would take care of itself. With 1% vegetarian insects coming to eat on plant crops there would be 99% predatory insects coming to eat those vegetarian insects. Bio- fertilizer and pesticide made from locally available plants like neem leaves, tobocco, various other anti fungal tree leaves , cow dung, cow urine etc are used for pest control.

Save used mixed cropping method. The long life span trees like coconut and chickoo were inter -cropped with vegetables (short life-span plants) for over a year so that vegetable produce start giving returns. Later the vegetables are replaced with medium-life span plants like bananas and papayas which again would start yielding produce in 2-3 years time span. This method is used to optimize available sunlight until the long life span trees start to mature in over 5 years time.  Moreover Save’s method of platform and trench system provides water to the tree/crop along with mulching to store moisture in the soil  and thus there would be reduced water needs. This method ensure maximum fruits. Each coconut trees in their farm bears over 200 coconuts  at a time and so also the other tree produce like mango, chickoo etc. Today, 90% of Save’s family income is earned from chikoo and coconut production.

Thus techniques of natural farming which uses minimum tilling, minimum watering which would also save on the energy consumed for irrigation while mulching techniques also helps in better water retention and reduced water needs thus helps in reduced carbon emission while giving better yields, improved efficiency and an opportunity to start giving some financial returns from 1st year itself.

We visited five farms done by Mr Save using his natural farming techniques, from low lying one where paddy was grown initially to fully degraded barren land over 30 years ago to  soil laden with chemical fertilizers till few years ago. This natural farming method has survived each of these cases and have surpassed by showing good produces with almost zero budget inputs. Nature heals and retreats without great human interventions!! Who says agriculture was / is not smart?!

With changing climate , increasing irregularity and intensity of rain, increasing temperature such farming techniques like natural farming give the best result and would act as climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies

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