Modern farming promotes the growth of crops in isolation, with the use of hybrid seeds & excessive chemical fertilizers, giving rise to monoculture. This has resulted in soil erosion & decreased soil fertility.
The dangers of Conventional fertilizers as human health hazards & their pollution of the environment has encouraged the search & application of alternative methods to increase soil fertility. The answer to these problems is Natural Farming (NF) – a suitable alternative to modern farming.
NF an age old process was replaced by chemical monoculture process which resulted in depletion of indigenous varieties of crops, fruits, vegetables, flowers & other parts, depletion of underground water-table & excessive use of hazardous chemicals at the risk of normal life.
Reapplication of the age-old system of NF is an old alternative to this new problem, which has risen due to the so-called scientific chemical farming.
On a NF fruit trees, vegetables, grains & other crops are planted & grow in an organic & mutually favourable arrangement as a harmonious whole. Crop rotation is employed to make use of land while maintaining soil fertility.
Goa has vast natural resources but their overuse could lead to ecological imbalance & environmental problems causing irreparable damage. The aim of the PS is to work towards creating more balanced ecology by undertaking various socio economic measures in agriculture, thereby presenting the Gandhian model of ideal life & environment for the people.
In order to be in time with nature & create a stable environment, NF was undertaken by the society. NF denotes a return to nature. It essentially means the natural cultivation of crops without chemical fertilizers in a soil & environment under totally natural conditions.
Status of the farm in the year 1990
The farm area of around 2 hectares was purchased in Jan.1989, at Madkai, a small scenic interior village, 15km from Ponda town & 25 km from Panjim. It was at that time highly eroded. The soil was composed of compact laterite.
It was decided not to resort to modern farming which needs a lot of investment & care besides use of pesticides & fertilizers. Results of such farming depend on investment of manpower, money, water etc. Mr. Mani, the Executive Secretary of Peaceful Society was aware of experiment in NF in Japan & Madhya Pradesh. PS being one of the active environmental NGO in Goa & India, the prime need was to adopt some of the best processes that tradition had to offer.
The land had mango, cashew & coconut trees but most of them yielded little or no fruit.
When Mr. + Mrs. Mani took charge they had no previous experience of farming or horticulture. Confused due to their lack of knowledge & propaganda of chemical fertilizers, they decided to experiment with NF.
In this chaotic state, Mr. Mike Feingold – a British expert organised training in NF in Dec.1990 & PS began work to improve the overall condition of the farm in June 1991.
|Mike Feingold demonstrating about organic Farming|
NF was therefore undertaken for the following reasons: –
o To economize & reduce minimum input costs and save labour
o To enhance land fertility by promoting use of organic fertilizers as opposed to chemical on the overall.
o To increase vegetation cover, density and plant – biomass.
o To improve and maintain campus biodiversity.
o To increase yield of harvested fruits & improve plant productivity.
o To replenish & recharge ground water table.
o To become self sufficient in soil, crop and irrigation management and organically grown food production.
PROCESSES ADOPTED IN NF
Promotion Of Ecological Farming By Use Of Organic Manure
|Developing topsoil: a mix experiment with shrubs, paper and coconut husk
The first priority was to increase the fertility of soil & thereby the overall performance of the farm.
The first two years were spent in trying to control the unprecedented growth of unwanted weeds especially Mimosa Pudica (Lajula – “Touch – me – not”)
During the first two years, the traditional method of putting fire to burn the weeds was employed in the months of February & March. This solved the problem for a few months but destroyed the quality of soil & did not help in improving the performance of the farm.
Mr. Mani then realised that the soil also has its biotic life, especially the soil micro organisms, the insects, worms & when the fire destroyed them; it gave rise to numerous unwanted weeds. Hence from the third year onwards no fire was applied.
The First experiment to use weeds as organic manure was made in a small area. A lot of dry mango & coconut leaves were put on top of the weeds to create a mulch of 15.20 cms.
In a short span of 3 to 4 months, the area became a breeding ground for earthworms, the growth of weeds was controlled & they were converted into mulch.
In the second phase, the entire farm was converted into compost of organic manure. The weeds were allowed to grow till September up to a height of more than one meter. Then they were cut & left on the surface as a green mulch. This was covered by a thick layer of coconut coir obtained from the rope industry from Kundaim – an industrial area nearby. Thus shortly the entire farm was converted into fertile land. The weeds, which posed a problem before, were now a great asset.
Digging of land was also avoided. That work is done either by the earthworms or soil – borrowing fauna during the monsoons.
Promotions Of The Growth Of Local Population Of Earthworms
Taking care of Indigenous Earthworms
As the earthworms help in the conversion of organic waste into manure, their local
population was increased by providing the right environmental conditions for their growth – for e.g. the mulch.
Dr. Nandakumar Kamat, a Mycologist of Goa University & Mr Kenneth Rodrigues – a postgraduate student in Biotechnology, conducted a study of the local population of earthworms. It showed that earthworm biomass is sizeable within the campus where cashew litter is not spread.
Well & rainwater is used for irrigation. All attempts are made to conserve rainwater, which increase the ground water table. The mulch reduced the evaporation of and therefore its consumption. Hence plants need to be watered from February till onset of monsoons.
Improve Of Existing Plants, Trees And New Additions
New plantations are less because the aim was to improve the existing plant yield. This was achieved mainly by improving the soil fertility. Vegetable & flowering plants are planted season wise.
Eco-Restoration By Conversion Of Coir – Pith Into Fertilizer Using Mushroom Culture Pleurets Ostreatus
Mushroom in the campus
The mother spawn of the mushrooms was prepared under the guidance of Dr. Nandkumar Kamat & was used to inoculate coir – pith beds of appx 100 kgs. The fertilizer was then used for the trees. Mushroom mycelia threads degrade the coir fibres and increase the Nitrogen Content. The fermented coir – pith is also a good soil- conditioner, as it retains 6 times its weight of water.
Results of NF
Within a short span of 6 year the farm has become a model of NF in Goa with the following achievements.
In the first two years there was a problem of pest attack. But weeds were allowed to grow & vegetables were cultivated with mixed crop system & indegenous & exotic flowering plants were grown, it resulted in depletion of the pest attack. It was realised that the burning process employed had killed the ants, bugs & flies, which in turn fed on the pests.
From the third year onwards no fire was employed, there was increase in weeds & shrubs, many more flowering plants were allowed to grow, more bugs & ants were noticed.
The weeds were used as mulch. This acted as a protective covering of the soil surface. Mulch moderates the soil temperature & protects soil from the damaging effects of wind, rain & sun thus preventing soil erosion.
It further acts as weed barried.
The weeds also increase the water infilteration by trapping the water on the surface & holding it, till it has time to be absorbed. Thus it has helped to increase the water table. Till the year 1993, the tank & well would overflow after 1 month of rains. But now after the first 1 – 2 rain showers, the tank gets filled up.
A survey conducted by Dr. Nandkumar Kamat showed that there is a tremendous increase in the diversity of fungi and mushrooms. Upto the year 1991-92 mushrooms were seen only after July-August. Now they grow soon after the first rainfall in June. This is a clear indication of the increased soil fertility in terms of rich organic matter.
The survey of earthworms showed that an open space with direct sunlight in which only dry grass composed the humus layer did not support the growth of the worms. Shaded area with mainly Mimosa Pudica plants & grass & where the humus layer composed of dry little supported earthworm growth in the upper 10 cm of soil.
The best earthworm rich habitat was a site with partial shade in which the original vegetation was cleaned & mulch in the form of dry grass was spread over the soil. Large earthworms of 5-10 cms length were found just below the humus layer of dry grass, twigs & dry leaves.
Hence the mulching process did help in enriching the soil.
Table No. I – indicates the increase in the yield of fruit bearing trees.
Some of the coconut trees were mal-nourished & did not yield any nuts. When an officer of the Agriculture department was contacted, he advised to cut the existing trees & plant new ones for both yield, but instead of cutting the trees the farm people utilized the method of organic fertilizers. In three years time the trunk of the coconut trees not only showed increase in growth but also showed an increase in yield. Trees which didn’t bear fruit earlier also started giving f r u i t of the apex 116 coconut
Trees, around 70-75 give a good yield. The rest have started fruiting. Earlier only half a day was enough to harvest the coconuts, now around seven days are required.
The first crop of cashews yielded 45 kg. (appx) In 1200, it has increased to around 300 kg.
The different mango varieties grown on the farm are mankurad, Masurad, Fernand, Kulaso, Alfanso, Maldesh, Saccharina, etc.
One of the major objectives of N.F is self-reliance with minimum expenses. The disadvantages of chemical farming is recognised the world over because it is capital incentive & the return is not very satisfactory.
India is spending more than 12,000 crores per annum from the central budget on subsidy of food & fertilizers.
N.F. is more labour insentive than capital insentive. The expense of maintaining the farm was appx Rs.45, 000 in 1993. In 1995-96 it was reduced to around Rs.12, 000. Most of the fruits are sold; vegetables are used for consumption in the campus. The Mango trees are leased out for harvesting every year when the fruits attain appx half the size, with the condition that no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used. The total income of the mango trees was Rs.15, 000 in 1993. In 1996, it went upto Rs. 23000/- and Rs 62000/= in 2003.
NF is an environmentally friendly process. The raw materials used for organic manure are free & cheap. It is pollution free, which is otherwise caused by the use of chemical fertilizers. It preserves genetic diversity & maintains life-sustaining processes like clean air & water.
The farm has provided an enriched atmosphere for birds, insects etc. The birds help transfer seeds which help support neighbouring biology. New birds are seen every year. Water Conserved at the farm could be recharging the other wells & tanks in the surrounding area. Whatever soil nutrients are generated is transformed to neighbouring area, thus increasing the overall fertility of the soil. Biodiversity on the campus is well maintained and includes shrubs, herbs, epiphytes, macro fungi, beneficial insects, earthworms’ etc. which form a local area food – chain.
Problems encountered during NF experiment
One of the major problems faced was that of manpower. Earlier people depended on agriculture, but with the expansion of industrial estates in nearby areas, the labour has been diverted. Local labourers go to places like Chandor, Chodan, Neura & Dongri, where they get higher wages. In average the farm employes 3 labourers, but even their attendance is not regular. Thus, although there were plans of an integrated approach of having a dairy, poultry, sheep rearing biogas and 3 layers of mixed cropping system, it could not be practiced.
The labourers were eager to burn the weeds, they also felt that the farm was not kept clean & was not managed properly.
Monkeys (Common Indian Languor) are common in the entire region. They could cause destruction of the fruits & trees but a strategy has been adopted at the farm in which the monkeys are restricted to the fence area. Still, they are the biggest hurdles in developing the farm. They have lost their habitat in the hand of fathers of industrial development and our farm has become their new habitat and source of survival.
At present there is no local outlet for the farm products. Moreover the local people depend on a staple diet of fish & eat vegetables only during the “ Shravan” month. People hesitate to buy a little expensive but eco-friendly products.
Right now the vegetables are used on the farm itself or sold to interested visitors. Many find the difference in taste but find the farm too far away to be regular buyers, so they are encouraged to practice the use of organic fertilizers & follow same methods.
According to Mr. Mani, the farm should be inspiring for everyone in whichever integrated approach is practiced. He admits that personally he has no experience of farming & although some of his colleagues expressed doubts about NF, he was not discouraged. Based on experiences he read in books & documents he knew that NF stimulates basic improvement of soil fertility & biotransformation. The campus today is living example of growth in yield and diversities of the trees and various plants. In a short span he realised that NF is much more profitable interms of money invested, manpower involved & other bio-support than the so-called modern farming.
Due to manpower constraints his dream of an integrated farm has remained a dream. He is saddened that he cannot devote his entire time to the development of the farm.
Mr. Mani has some reservations regarding vermiculture. He says it is not the job of the urban elite to decide what farmers require. The earthworms are an integral part of the soil. They are destroyed only when the integrity of the soil is destroyed. So instead of thinking of vermiculture one must concentrate on maintaining the ecology of the soil.
Earlier the village people were sceptical of the natural methods used. They have this set idea that chemical farming is the most useful due to government propaganda. They use manure in addition to chemical fertilizers so they don’t really know if the yield is due to organic or chemical fertilizers. They have a mental constraint to completely give up chemical fertilizer. But seeing the viability of the farm, they have realised that NF is one of the best system of farming.
In Mr. Mani’s own words – “ I feel a sort of intimate relation with every plant and get a deep satisfaction while working with plants. Frustrated or depressed. I move around the farm and get a great sense of relief and peace. Farming is not only a commercial activity but also a life supporting activity. Those who want a better life should think of sustainability of their life and farm. Whatever money you may have be lost, but if you have a small farm it is a shelter in your worst moment. Destruction of this activity is the destruction of the very principle of life”