To till or not to till; to plant paddy (rice) or not to plant paddy; to water by drip or by sprinkler – navigating and negotiating different methods while working in agriculture can be a challenge, to say the least. In a previous blog post, I talked about the challenges of doing agriculture in a new climate and some of the experiences I have had. Now I’ll focus on the challenges of deciding which methods and methodologies that should be used in the garden. This choice is a challenging one because it must not only focus on the scientific aspects of what might function best or be most beneficial to our goals, but also on the cultural aspects that come up when one is working on a multi-cultural team.
There are many different ways that farming can be done: commercial agricultural, mono-cropping, organic agriculture, permaculture, and zero-budget natural farming are some examples. It often feels like there are two main diverging paths in agriculture: to make money or to live in harmony with the land. Many farmer are now looking back to traditional methods, which focus on observational learning from the land with the goal of constant improvement to the environment through regenerative methods (1). Traditional agricultural method vary, but all focus on the use of heirloom, local and heritage seeds, animals, and methods (2). An important principle includes building up the long-term biodiversity in plant varieties and micro-organisms as well as conservation of water and environmental sustainability (3). Traditional and natural farming both focus on the harmony of nature and not just the profit which can be made.
In juxtaposition, commercial agriculture focuses reaping as much product from the land as possible. A major factor of this was the green revolution, which was the introduction and expansion of the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid seeds (4). It was the industrialization and institutionalization of the mechanics of agriculture. Its goal was to increase productivity and alleviate famine in a world with a growing population (5). The green revolution has had the drastic effect of depleting organic matter and the health of soil. In India, the green revolution started in 1965 with the implementation of high yielding varieties for grain crops, such as rice (6). It focused on implementing irritation infrastructure for Indian farmer and drastically increasing fertilizer and pesticide use (7). A positive from the green revolution was returned focus on food crops and not cash crops (8). While the green revolution help resolve famine, the long term environmental effects have been extremely detrimental.
In recent years, there has been a popularization of natural farming methods. Often called Zero-budget Natural Farming, these methods have branched away from the western concept of organic farming to include traditional Hindu and holistic practices (9). India is now a hot spot for experimentally sustainable agriculture. For example, the Indian state of Sikkim has been India’s first state that has gone completely organic. They have implemented organic practices on around 75,000 hectares of agricultural land and have banned the sale chemical pesticides and fertilizers (10).
One method is the Vetri method, which was started by a farmer in Tamil Nadu. This traditional method focuses on dense biodiversity and the holiness of the cow. It focuses on a circular connection to the land, where all inputs come from the land. A major factor of this are bio-dynamic mixtures called Jeevameethra, which are created from the urine and dung of the cow, dal, soil, and sugar. These are used to rejuvenate the land along with a combination of high biodiversity and intense density planting, around 30 different plants in a 30 by 30 square foot area. This method is the one that Kattaikkuttu Sangam have decided to learn from and implement on the land, because of the cultural connection and the focus on diversity.
- “What is Sustainable Agriculture?” Union of Concerned Scientists, 10 April 2017. https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/what-sustainable-agriculture
- Tim Folger. “The Next Green Revolution.” National Geographic. September 2013. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/green-revolution/
- Dr. Indira. “Organic Farming in India: Organic Farming Methods and Certification Guide”. FarmingIndia.in, 13 January 2018 https://www.farmingindia.in/organic-farming/
- Briney, Amanda. “History and Overview of the Green Revolution” ThoughtCo, 23 January 2020. https://www.thoughtco.com/green-revolution-overview-1434948
- Bouton, Marshall M. “The Paradox of India’s Green Revolution.” The Hindu Business Line, 4 June 2019. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/the-paradox-of-indias-green-revolution/article27472671.ece.
- Jebaraj, Priscilla. “What Is Zero Budget Natural Farming?” The Hindu, 28 July 2019. https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/agriculture/what-is-zero-budget-natural-farming/article28733122.ece.
- “Sikkim Awarded FAO’s Future Policy Gold Award for 100% Organic Farming.” GKTODAY- Current Affairs, 13 October 2018 https://currentaffairs.gktoday.in/tags/organic-state