With help from worms
Shekhawati farmers in Rajasthan go organic
It came to them as a small business proposal. About 10,000 farmers in the semi-arid Shekhawati region on the edge of Thar desert turned it into a fortune spinner and have become major organic farmers in Rajasthan.
It was 1994, recalled Om Prakash Sharma, farmer in Korela village near Nawalgarh town. M R Morarka-GDC Rural Research Foundation, a voluntary organisation in Jaipur that promotes organic farming, was doing survey in villages around Nawalgarh for farmers who would want to produce vermicompost.
One had to just cover a corner of their field with straw, leave some earthworms provided by Morarka and dump crop or cattle waste there. Within a few weeks as the manure got ready, the organisation would buy it. Since agriculture in the region earned little profit, the proposal gave farmers a chance to supplement their income. Most agreed.
Morarka officials trained farmers to prepare vermicompost and explained to them its benefits. The training has since transformed agriculture in more than 20 villages in Jhunjhunu district. “Farmers in the area were earning a pittance because of high priced chemical fertilisers and pesticides,” said Mukesh Gupta, director of the foundation.
Since vermicompost requires little investment, some started using it. Need of pesticides also decreased as vermicompost brings equilibrium to the micro-environment of the soil, he said. “Morarka officials used to tell us that vermicompost eventually increases crop yield. I wanted to give it a try,” said Sharma. He is among the initial group of farmers around Nawalgarh who ventured into organic farming. It was tough in the beginning because the soil was dependent on fertilisers and pesticides.
But with the gradual use of vermicompost and biopesticides like datura and neem spray, the soil regained its fertility in three-four years, he added. Sharma now harvests double the produce he used to get earlier and has obtained organic certification for his produce. Organic farming has two benefits: while the farm input costs are low the produce sells at very high rates, he added. Researchers from Swami Keshwanand Rajasthan Agricultural University in Bikaner regularly visit his farm to study the soil and conduct field trials of organic crops.
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