A farmer showing his plants grown from the waste water treated by Sewage Treatment Plant in Nawalgarh, Rajasthan. Credit: Jyotika Sood
Organic farming has received attention, in recent decades, due to its benefits for soil health and the lower cost of cultivation when compared to chemical-intensive agriculture. The central government is promoting organic farming through the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY), and a few civil society organisations are also working on providing relevant training and capacity building. However, the area under organic cultivation, at 1 per cent of the net sown area, paints a different story. It indicates that the majority of farmers still prefer chemical over organic farming.
One major constraint to the spread of organic farming is argued to be the drudgery involved in preparing the organic inputs, the time and labour commitment, as compared to the chemical inputs which are readily available. This article highlights a possible solution to overcome this constraint from the grassroots in Madhya Pradesh. It also explores the feasibility of the solution for replication.
A case for input-based enterprises
Kalabati, Anita, Parmila Bai, Radha Bai and Gulai Bai are members of a women’s self-help group in Jhirmiti village. Jhirmiti falls in the Khaknar block of Burhanpur district. Ninety-eight per cent of its population are members of the Scheduled Korku Tribe. These women have been using organic fertilisers and pesticides in their cotton fields for the last two years. They share that it started with an exposure visit and an orientation meeting two years ago. Today, they prepare cowdung-based compost, soybean extract-based plant growth stimulant, five-leaf-based pesticide and chilli-ginger-garlic-based pesticide among other products. Preparing organic solutions and applying them on one’s fields may seem ordinary. However, what sets these women apart is their creating an enterprise in the process.
Radha Bai explains the process their self-help group adopts to prepare and sell organic products. Cotton is the dominant crop of the region and they have sold their products to 60 farmer households in their village, during the current cotton crop cycle. “We sell the soybean tonic for Rs 50 per kg under the name Bio-booster”, says an enthusiastic Radha Bai. These women sell their products outside the village also, through a farmer-producer company in Dedtalai village, as part of an organic farming initiative by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme India (AKRSPI). Their self-help group has recently registered itself as a producer company to scale up their production and make it an important livelihood opportunity.
Coming back to the argument of drudgery involved in preparing organic inputs, women from Jhirmiti have a different opinion. According to them, this enterprise has provided them with a livelihood opportunity in place of none available locally. Sandeep Saxena from AKRSPI, Khandwa shares a similar opinion.
The women of Jhirmiti are not the only case; there are others too. A group of eight male farmers from different villages of Nivali block in nearby Barwani district is also preparing similar organic products and selling them. They have been making these products for close to three years now and their products are available for sale in attractive packets and bottles at the FPC (Farmer Producer Company) office in Nivali. These products are priced competitively with the chemical alternatives, and with the right kind of support to promote their application; they present a strong case.
While efforts are being made to persuade farmers to switch over from chemical-intensive to organic farming, with Sikkim leading the way as the first organic state, promoting Jhirmiti-like enterprises can be crucial in the process. It can facilitate not only a faster spread of organic agricultural practices through easy input availability but also has the potential to generate an alternate livelihood for the likes of women from Jhirmiti. Another factor advocating the case of organic-input enterprise promotion is the user innovation it can promote locally. There can be other local alternatives to a soybean-based plant stimulant in some other geographical area. While there are multiple constraints to overcome, organic input enterprise promotion around locally available options can be one of the sustainable solutions.
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