Shimla: The low-cost climate-resilient agriculture - a type of farming involving eco-friendly processes in the face of climate change with the optimum use of cow dung and cow urine to make the degraded soil nutrients healthy again - is not only gaining ground in the mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh but also attracting researchers.
One such researcher Carole Durand, 28, from France is currently in the state to understand how the unregulated use of fertilizers and pesticides has degraded the soil, deteriorated the groundwater causing health hazards. Now natural farming, involving chemical-free sustainable agriculture, has been scaled up.
"If we want to sustain ourselves in a more natural way, non-chemical farming is a great option," Carole Durand from Aveyron told IANS.
Durand is in the state with her friend, Shahzad Parbhoo from Maharashtra to gain first-hand knowledge of the low-cost climate-resilient natural farming technique being promoted by the state government under Prakritik Kheti Khushhal Kisan Yojana.
The state has been advocating Subash Palekar's zero budget natural farming, a technique promoted by Padma Shri recipient Subhash Palekar in the mid-1990s with no use of fertilisers and pesticides, resulting in high profits.
As per official records, 133,056 farmers have switched over to natural farming in the state where 10.84 per cent of land holdings are owned by semi-medium and medium farmers and just 0.30 per cent by large farmers.
The farmers are doing the natural way farming on 7,609 hectares after training organized by the State Project Implementing Unit.
A nurse by profession, Durand came to India five years ago. For the last three years, she along with Parbhoo, a management professional, has been exploring the possibilities of non-chemical agriculture as a livelihood option.
"My grandfather, who was a strawberry farmer in France, died of brain cancer, maybe because strawberries need frequent chemical sprays. The chemical farming has done much damage to the health of farmers in that area," she explained.
There is awareness among people about organic farming in France, but natural farming is amazing, she told the media.
"I had met Rajeshwar Singh Chandel (Prakritik Kheti Khushhal Kisan Yojana Executive Director) last year while I was doing a one-year apprenticeship at an agriculture farm (based on bio-dynamics) near Anand in Gujarat. He told me about the natural farming initiatives in Himachal Pradesh, wherein the farmers are not using any chemical fertilizer or pesticide," she said.
Durand and Parbhoo travelled to several farms earlier this month in Kangra, Mandi, Shimla and Solan districts where the natural farming of vegetables, cereals, pulses and fruits is being carried out.
"In Maharashtra infrastructure development has gobbled up agriculture fields near urban areas in a big way. In Himachal, we saw agriculture farms everywhere. Most of them are taking multiple crops from the same field after they switched to natural farming," said Parbhoo.
He said the farmers in the hill state were quite aware of the advantages of non-chemical natural farming in the long run. "A number of them said they were fed up with the overuse of chemicals which was increasing their expenditure, while crop production was either stagnant or declining."
Parbhoo said the farmers, who have already tested natural farming on some portion of the land, are ready to do it despite challenges in the switch-over.
"They are quite confident and progressive. They know it is climate-resilient, sustainable and healthy. Most of them have found the soil health improving on the farm with natural farming technique. The fruits, including apples, are better in taste and their keeping quality is better than those grown with chemical farming," he said.
The duo was all praise for the Agriculture Technology Management Agency staff, working under the State Project Implementing Unit, for establishing a connect with the farmers on emerging issues.
"It has been a great learning," they said, while sharing their experience with Prakritik Kheti Khushhal Kisan Yojana Executive Director Rajeshwar Singh Chandel, State Project Director Rakesh Kanwar and Secretary (Agriculture) Ajay Sharma in Shimla.
Durand said the farmers were so warm. "We stayed with apple grower Rajpal Gejta, a progressive farmer from Rohru, who is doing natural farming on 5.5 bigha of land. He talks highly about it."
She said even in France, the entire family works in a field.
Durand and Parbhoo were impressed with the zeal of hill women farmers to take up natural farming initiatives.
"We met some women farmers who are collectively doing natural farming in Rathi village in Shimla district. The women do contribute to agriculture in Maharashtra, but they are not so organised in Maharashtra as in Himachal," said Parbhoo.
He said a good thing was that the farmers are using natural farming technique with their need-based innovations with the state-led programme of training and extension.
Zero budget natural farming is a form of agricultural practice that dramatically helps reduce farmers' direct costs while boosting yields and farm health through the use of non-synthetic inputs sourced locally.
The Agriculture Department says the total cost for conventional farming is nearly Rs 2.30 lakh per hectare, while natural farming costs around Rs 1 lakh per hectare.