Natural farming was perceived to be more labour intensive & regular monitoring by farmers was required, survey in three states finds
Natural farming practices alone could not yield as much as conventional farming, but supplemented with farmyard manure (FYM), crop yields were invariably higher than those from conventional or chemical farming, according to a new research study.
This was established in a field survey done in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra during February-May 2019 by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)-National Academy of Agricultural Research Management, Hyderabad. The results of this field survey were published in March 2023 in Agriculture, a scientific peer reviewed journal.
After consultation with local agricultural universities in the respective states, districts were identified where natural farming practices have been adopted by a considerable number of farmers. Those farmers (175) who used jeevamritha and did not use any chemical fertiliser and / or pesticide in the last one year were considered adopters, while others (60) were non-adopters.
The yield of major crops — paddy, sugarcane, finger millet, black gram — was worked out for the three farming practices: Natural farming with farm yard manure (FYM), natural farming without FYM, and non-natural farming.
Non-natural farming yields were superior to natural farming yields without FYM, it was found. In most crops, however, natural farming with FYM had a greater yield than that without FYM and non-natural farming farms.
“It can be deduced from the preceding discussion that natural farming practices alone could not yield as much as conventional farming, but supplemented with a small amount of FYM, crop yields were invariably higher than those from conventional/chemical farming, providing a clear picture of farmer yield sustainability,” said the research study.
Among the sampled farmers, 27 per cent of natural farming farmers in Karnataka had practiced natural farming for more than 10 years. In Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, a majority of the natural farming farmers (66 per cent and 85 per cent) had three to six years and less than three years of experience, respectively.
There has been limited yet increasing research on how natural farming adoption has fared in Indian states and the recent study will add to this growing evidence.
The study has examined the adoption pattern of different components of natural farming and estimated the crop yield and farm income under these practices as compared to existing farming practices.
The study also pointed out several challenges in natural farming adoption.
Intercropping is a major recommended practice in natural farming as it reduces soil stress by reducing the mining of only specific nutrients from the soil, as in the case of a solo / mono crop.
But despite its recommendation, only 26 per cent, 45 per cent and 17 per cent of farmers who have adopted natural farming in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, respectively, practice inter / mixed crops.
The low percentage was due to the fact that paddy is the major crop in the study area and is preferably cultivated as a single crop. Karnataka (at 45 per cent) had the highest rate of inter / mixed cropping among the study states.
Another important component of natural farming — mulching — was found to be followed by farmers, depending on the crop and availability of mulching material.
In Andhra Pradesh, non-availability of inputs due to the very low share of ownership of indigenous cows was one of the major reasons for not adopting natural farming. The expectation of poor crop yield was also one of the reasons for the non-adoption of natural farming by non-adopted farmers (more than 30 per cent in Karnataka and Maharashtra).
While a majority of the farmers surveyed in Andhra Pradesh (81 per cent) and Maharashtra (60 per cent) believed that the yield of crops increased, in Karnataka, only 22 per cent felt that the yield has increased, whereas 56 per cent felt that it decreased and 20 per cent felt that it remained the same.
Natural farming was also perceived to be more labour intensive and regular monitoring by farmers was required, according to the respondents. The farmers also expected higher prices for the natural farming produce, considering it is free from chemicals. Hence, the non-availability of designated markets for natural farming produce (as in the case of organic produce) has driven reluctance towards natural farming adoption, the research study noted.
However, a substantial reduction in input cost of natural farming as compared to non-natural farming due to non-use of expensive agro-chemicals was found. This has resulted in a significant reduction in the cost of cultivation of all the crops for better profitability natural farming practitioners, the authors added.
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