Down to good earth
As the day dawns at Nisarga Prem, a four-acre farm off the Dhule Road, 14 km from the town of Malegaon, activity begins with the chanting of mantras and offering of rice grains to a ceremonial fire. The same routine is followed as the sun begins to set – the four-line mantra being chanted: Agnaye Swahah. Agnaye Idam Namah. Prajapataye Swahah. Prajaptaye Idam namah.
“We begin the day with homa because the ozone in the atmosphere is at its peak and pray that our farm benefits from it,” says Jitendra Kutmutia, a follower of the Natueco farming technique which follows the principles of eco-system networking of nature.
Introduced by Prof Shripad A. Dabholkar in the 1980s, the Natueco technique revolutionised the cultivation of grapes, bananas, sugarcane, maize, bamboo, root crops and vegetables. It encourages farmers to experiment and look around their environment for resources and find their own solutions to problems. Deepak Suchde of Bajwada in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh is a major practitioner of this technique.
An alternative to the commercial and chemical techniques of modern farming, it emphasises harvesting the sun and developing a thorough understanding of plant physiology, the geometry of growth, fertility, and biochemistry.
Jitubhai’s experiment on his 10 guntha (10,000 sq. ft.) patch of land in his farm has demonstrated successfully that the soil’s organic carbon can be increased in 120 days through this process. Interestingly, lab results have shown that organic carbon at Jitubhai’s farm plot is around 3.5, a remarkable achievement which NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) has taken notice of and sponsored farmers’ visits to Nisarga Prem. In short, the former automobile dealer has perfected the recipe for making an organic carbon-rich soil and has taken it up as a mission to teach it to willing farmers, just like his mother did for the Bhoodan Movement initiated by Vinoba Bhave.
“Our model has shown that cultivation of fruits, vegetables, food grains, and such in an area of 10,000 sq. ft. can provide a decent living for a family of five,” says Jitubhai. Sourcing the biomass to prepare his plot was a major cost, but if one has access to biomass such as bagasse and corn stalks then the costs can come down drastically.
So far some 238 farmers from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have attended the three-day long residential workshops at Nisarga Prem and Malpani Trust Farm at Bajwada village in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh. The workshop familiarises the participants with the technique known as ‘Amrut Mitti’ which increases the soil’s organic carbon (SOC).
Responsible for the quantity of nutrients in vegetables and fruits, organic carbon is one of soil’s most important constituents due to its capacity to affect plant growth both as a source of energy and a trigger for nutrient availability through mineralisation.
Soils rich in organic matter produce more nutritious food with higher levels of antioxidants, flavonoids, vitamins and minerals. An increase in soil organic matter, and therefore total carbon, leads to greater biological diversity in the soil, thus controlling the spread of plant diseases and pests.
“Considering its adoptability for small land holdings, we have launched a pilot project with the primary objective of demonstrating the models for their feasibility and viability at ground level before they are scaled up for wider adoption,” says a NABARD spokesperson.
Before adopting the pilot projects NABARD organised visits for its 49 officials. Implemented through NGOs of repute, the pilot project was initially introduced in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.
The Natueco method is a form of nutritional kitchen garden developed around the dwellings where a combination of fruits, vegetables, spices and herbal plants are grown for home consumption. The 10-guntha plot at Jitubhai’s Nisarga Prem holds 90 plants each of plantain and papaya besides brinjal and tomato growing in the undergrowth. The patch is ringed by other plants such as gliricidia, lemon grass, curry leaf, drumstick, guava, chikoo, ramphal (kitaferi), custard apple and adulsa (Justicia adhatoda) creating a micro-climate of sorts which prevents the ingress of pests.
“I see to it that the plants on the borders do not grow beyond 10 ft,” says Jitubhai, taking a handful of the soil which smells good, is black in colour and is lighter, like coco peat.
While the sale of produce such as curry leaves, lemon grass and drumsticks generates additional income, leaves of gliricidia are used as green manure.
“I hope to generate 100 kg of fruit per year from each papaya tree,” informs Jitubhai. In another three years when the microbial count in the soil increases, thanks to the process of mulching, the plot will no longer need irrigation though it is now fed through drip.
Among the many beneficiaries of the Natueco workshop is Vikram Kadam of Malgaon village in Satara district of Maharashtra.
“I have adopted the Natueco technique in my one-acre plot and have greatly benefited from it. Earlier I used to get between 20 and 25 quintals of turmeric using commercial methods but now I have got 29 quintals and the quality of the crop is good too,” says 42-year-old Kadam who plans to extend the Natuceo method to his entire seven-acre holding.
Courtesy The Hindu Business Line, May 11,2012