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What differentiates natural farming



Nowadays the term ‘natural farming’ is being coined liberally and is becoming quite popular. While on one side it is being used as an umbrella concept that includes a lot of different streams of farming without use of chemicals, on the other it is also being used in a very narrow dogmatic way to connote only particular such practice by the followers of one or other Guru of natural farming. I feel somewhere the real significance of natural farming is being lost.

I have tried explaining below our understanding of natural farming at a slightly broader conceptual level rather than at the level of a set of practices.

The guiding worldview

At the outset let me put forth the guiding worldview of natural farming which is the foundation of our understanding of natural farming.

In modern chemical-industrial farming where the fundamental approach stems from the worldview of conquering-subjugating nature and seeing nature as a static linear reality that can be moulded to our convenience by human intervention.

In natural farming we start with a fundamental humble premise that nature is supreme, that it’s a living, dynamic, intricately interconnected, constantly changing, evolving reality. As such human understanding of nature is always imperfect and always a snapshot of a changing reality and hence never perfect and full.

Our endeavour is not to improve nature or perfect it (because natural systems are already perfect and complete unless messed up by human intervention), but to learn from and live in sync / harmony with nature, its cycles and its eco-systems. To observe nature, learn from it and to keep learning and to act in harmony with its laws.

Now based on this understanding let us explore some of the core principles of natural farming

1. Grow what is appropriate

Traditionally this was always the case. Farmers without exception grew crops that were suitable for the climate, soil and water availability in each area. So, for example while crops like millets, ragi, etc were cultivated in dry regions with low rainfall, paddy and sugarcane were cultivated in wet regions with high rainfall.

However, the emergence of dam irrigation and borewells changed all of this. Overnight we had farmers in dry arid regions switching over to high water intensive crops like sugarcane, coconut, areca nut based on either dam water or borewell water. Because technology made it easy to extract underground water, all traditional wisdom accumulated over thousands of years was thrown to the wind and all wonderful techniques and practices of water conservation and recharge developed and perfected over time were jettisoned and forgotten.

The fact that water gushes out at the touch of a button and that too mostly free (with free electricity and no water charges), makes rampant wastage of water a norm. We forget that what is being extracted from underground aquifers is what has been accumulated over thousands and even millions of years. We forget that water underground is a finite resource and at the pace at which its being extracted it’s a question of time before it runs out. We are behaving like a guy whose parents have left behind a FD with an ATM card without specifying the amount in the FD. The guy happily keeps withdrawing with the card and spending but has no clue when the FD will run out. I know a framer in a very dry arid region of Karnataka who has stuck excellent water in his borewell. He grows areca nut and pepper and proudly says that that he has never switched off the borewell pump since it was commissioned around 4 years back. His lush green farm stands out amid dried up areca nut plantations all around. How long will this continue?

The results are already there to see. Rivers and dams are running dry, borewells are running dry and we are going ever deeper with borewells already reaching a depth of 1,500+ ft in many areas. Surface wells which were the norm almost everywhere just 30-40 years back have all but disappeared.

So, if one wants to practice natural farming the first thing is to select (in case of a new farm) or make a transition to (in case of an existing farm) crops which are appropriate and sustainable to the soil, water and climate of area. This is a key requirement of natural farming.


2. Maintain Bio-diversity

Nature is all about diversity of plant life and if we want to practice natural farming we need to understand and apply this as a foundational principle. Monoculture is totally alien to nature. Thus, practices like bio-diverse planting, crop rotation, multi crop farming, etc are a MUST. Multi crop multi-tier system (what we call as trying to create a forest like eco-system in a farm) is best suited in case of horticultural-spice-medicinal crops and crop rotation, planting native trees along bunds and trenches, and even keeping a part of the farm as a virgin forest (like Dr. Khader advocates) is best suited In case of farms growing cereals, pulses, oil seeds, vegetables etc.


3. Water usage optimisation, conservation and recharge

Once the first principle of planting appropriate crops is adhered to this becomes much simpler. In addition, any natural farmer would look at measures like creating bunds, trenches and ponds, recharge wells, surface well rejuvenation, etc. The goal is ideally zero or atleast minimal usage of borewell water.

4. Increase the water absorption and retention capacity of the soil

This is essential to ensure water usage optimisation. The key here is to ensure that the soil is not exposed to the Sun. Green or dry mulching is a Must. As the organic carbon and humus increases in the soil, it will automatically become a sponge which absorbs and retains water.


5. Nati seeds, plants & animals

Nati seeds-plants are a result of natural selection and have been perfected by nature over thousands of years to best suit the local conditions. They are resistant to pests and can survive harsh local conditions. So natural farming must go hand in hand with nati seeds-plants.

Here I want to clarify that the stress is on local seeds and not necessarily desi seeds. It’s not a nationalistic issue but one of respecting bio-diversity of nature which is not related to geographic boundaries of nation states but is a product of natural evolution best suited to the climatic-soil-water-pest context of each region or area. So, seeds/plant from the Himalayas in India may be as unsuited to a farmer in coastal regions of India as foreign seeds. The same principle applies to farm animals like cows or sheep or chicken. Nati-Local is the best way forward.

6. No chemicals pledge

Finally, a natural farmer has to make a pledge not to use any kind of chemicals – fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides, fungicides, etc while growing or artificial colours, polish, ripening agents, preservatives, additives, etc. while processing the produce. There cannot be any compromise on this front whatever the challenges and circumstances.


Conclusion:

To conclude natural farming is a much wider and deeper concept than organic farming. What differentiates it is not whether a farmer uses Jevamrutha or Amrit Jal or Kadu Mannu Dravana. These are all different paths to the same goal like different paths to Moksha. There is no one dogmatic path in terms of practices but there certainly are a set of core principles that need to be adhered to if one wants to practice natural farming. Beyond that you need to really keep observing and let nature be the teacher. Like Fukuoka the original guru of Natural Farming says, each farm is different. A farmer has to constantly be in communion with his plants, soil and eco-system, be receptive and alert to signs of nature and keep learning, adapting and improving the practices as we go along.








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