A great deal is being talked about so-called zero budget farming these days. In a way, it is good that what our open source database on farmers’ cost-reducing innovations could not achieve during the last thirty years, at a large scale, it is beginning to happen. But less chemical inputs mean, more time and labour by the farmer and his family. Not less. This labour is not free and thus there is nothing which can really be called as Zero Budget farming. The Honey Bee Newsletter has published thousands of natural farming practices developed by the farmers in water conservation, diversified farming, herbal and agronomic ways of pest control, making growth promoters etc.
The entire database was handed over to the ministry of agriculture several years ago with a request to share it widely through kisan call centres to farmers. It is accessible with a link to sristi.org/hbnew at https://farmer.gov.in/innovation/agricultureinnovation.aspx. Unless we share it widely through KVKs, have on-farm trials, invite some of these farmers for discussion with other farmers, how will farmers reduce their cost and improve income. In a large country like ours, we should use pluralistic, multi-pronged approach rather than going by fads of the day. The Vriksh Ayurveda and many other texts are a testimony to the fact that the tradition of experimenting with natural or non-synesthetic chemical farming is thousands of years old. With changes in cropping patterns, climatic condition, land use practices, pest population dynamics, resistance due to excessive chemical input use, excessive water use etc., farmers will have to develop a habit of location-specific experiments to develop, refine and diffuse proven practices.
Anything to the contrary is unlikely to sustain. Nature doesn’t accept uniformity for long. The intercropping trials will need to evolve different ratios of crops in different regions. At some places, the probability of early rain is high while in some other, late rain may be more probable. The ratio of different crops cannot be constant. I am extremely happy that mixed and inter-crop are being revised.
That was a very viable way of breaking pest resistance and resurgence. But by not growing refugia (four rows of non-bt cotton varieties around Bt-cotton) in almost all the fields, we are inviting disaster. It is man-made disaster abetted by the policymakers and the private sector.
Some of the steps that are warranted urgently are: in situ water conservation through not just fam ponds but also various check dams is a must. The success of agricultural revival in Andhra is in so small measure due to its ambitious target of 250,000 farm ponds followed by Jharkhand and Karnataka both having more than 100, 000 farm ponds (https://community.data.gov.in/top-10-states-in-farm-ponds-construction-target-under-mgnrega-during-2016-17/. The role of integrated Pest management (IPM ) in agriculture is well known and yet state after state have grossly neglected this time tested practice under the pressure of chemical pesticide lobby. The practices given at public platform also neglect the low-cost farming practices ( https://farmer.gov.in/ipmpackageofpractices.aspx ) though the same platform has Honey Bee Network practices shared by SRISTI.
We need to take a hard look at the current policy mix and reduce farmers distress by engaging with them to reduce excessive water use, follow IPM and in due course avoid chemical pesticides altogether, promote mixed and inter-cropping evolved through location-specific experiments and trials. To claim that this is a new discovery is not very audacious but also not very respectful to the decades of farmers experiments and innovations shared by the Network without any government support. Let every KVK use this database, improve upon it, critique it, reject what doesn’t work and contribute what they have improved. That kind of partnership between scientists and the creative and innovative farmer is the need of the hour. It is this partnership that we will celebrate at fourth International Conference on Creativity and Innovation at Grassroots, Jan 28-30, 2019 organised by the Honey Bee Network at IIMA in collaboration with CMA, RJMCEI, IIMA, UNESCAP, UNICEF, TASS