Empowered by knowledge through training and capacity building workshops, the women of Himachal Pradesh are becoming a leader of change in natural farming – an unprecedented transformation towards sustainable agriculture and the kind of change for climate, biodiversity and food security.
Field trips indicate that they are scripting success stories of low-cost, non-chemical, climate-resilient natural agriculture.
Not only do they make up more than half of the total number of farmers who have adopted the natural farming technique, but women farmers have made it their mission to compel their community to adopt a farming practice that is revolutionizing small-scale farming.
Agriculture is encouraged by the state Prakritik Krishi Khushhal Kisan Yojana launched in 2018. The technique was named Subhash Palekar Natural Farming (SPNF) after Padma Shri Laureate Subhash Palekar, who discovered that the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides decreased soil fertility and a decline in yield.
According to the official figure, 1.68 lakh farmers have adopted the technique over 9,388 hectares, of which 90,000 are women farmers.
Our story follows Anita Negi, a young woman from the Kullu Valley. “Natural farming has brought positive change to our lives and livelihoods,” was his first reaction.
“Our expenses have gone down because we have nothing to buy at the market. We make all the inputs on the farm itself using the urine and dung of the desi cow. More importantly, the training under PK3Y and exposure visits also gave us a lot of knowledge and confidence,” she added.
Negi first practiced natural agriculture in his vegetable garden. Later she adopted it on three bighas, an apple orchard with planting of beans and mash. “I got into natural farming after two family members died of cancer. I know the pain of losing loved ones that could have been avoided with sustainable farming by avoiding all kinds of fertilizers and pesticides, or any other foreign matter.” explained Disha, a farmer from Bhanotu village in Mandi district.
“Now, not only am I growing healthy produce, but I am also educating my community to adopt natural agriculture to maintain the best health of farmers and consumers,” she said.
The executive director of Prakritik Kheti Kisan Khushal Yojana (named PK3Y), Rajeshwar Singh Chandel, told IANS that the focus is now on training and capacity building for women farmers, given their important role in the agriculture and in society. “We are getting a huge response from women farmers. We are benefiting from it mutually. It gives women knowledge and they are now helping natural farming to evolve further with their dynamic participation,” he said.
Under the PK3Y, training is provided to farmers in all blocks of the state and they are taken to other farms for exposure visits. Many groups of women farmers have also formed to adopt it collectively.
A three-day workshop for women farmers was organized to mark International Women’s Day last week at Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry in Nauni in Solan district, where 750 women farmers shared their experiences and their challenges.
They said many people laughed at them when they decided to avoid decades of conventional farming that left them in debt traps due to loans to meet the high cost of fertilizers and pesticides. However, most of them were silenced when they saw that natural farming not only alleviates farmers’ debt, but also increases yields while mitigating the impacts of climate change and land degradation. .
Farmers are also trained to market their products through agricultural producer organizations after certification.
Pali Smith, the Block Technology Manager (BTM) of the Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA), a key player company, in Pangi Tribal Area in Chamba District, said there was a risk of switch to sustainable agriculture for a reason, namely the area is snow-covered and has one agricultural season per year.
“I started natural farming with my mother at home. We moved from mono-cropping to intercropping in the pea fields. When the villagers heard about our success, they also adopted it on many small farms like one or two bighas which has led to the increase in income,” a delighted Pali told IANS.
She said three villages in Pangi, mostly women farmers, are now practicing natural farming and their aim is to convert the whole block in a natural way.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, in his budget speech for 2022-2023, announced that 50,000 acres would be put under natural farming. Farmers will be registered and they will be certified as natural farmers during this fiscal year, he added.
In Himachal Pradesh, where 10.84% of land holdings are owned by semi-middle and medium farmers and only 0.30% by large farmers, vegetable production generates an income of Rs 3,500 to 4,000 crore per year and has become an alternative economic activity in the horticultural sector.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the total cost of conventional farming is nearly Rs 2.30 lakh per hectare, while natural farming costs around Rs 1 lakh per hectare.
The above article was published by a news agency with minimal changes to the title and text.