Have you ever noticed that nature is in balance? The forests were never watered nor the fertilizers sprayed. It is natural. The same natural science is applied in Natural farming.
Thus, urging farmers to get back to the forest fending type of growing crops. This practice is synonymous to Shubhash Palekar, who practices Zero-Budget farming and has helped a lot of Farmer sustain and make a profit with very low budget.
What is the Science Behind Natural Farming?
To put the concept briefly, the main activist here are the micro-organisms present in the topsoil. The first 9 inches of the soil is called the topsoil. It is here from which the plants draw the nutrients from the soil and sustain through the plant-life. These live part of the soil which consists of the micro-organisms are depleted when you follow the conventional method of farming. The chemicals in the fertilizers are killing these natural agents and the soil is depleted.
How do the micro-organisms actually help?
When the plant lives, it takes the nutrients from the soil. These micro-organisms are capable of converting the nutrients from the soil into a form which the plant can absorb.
Once it’s time, the plant yellows and withers into the soil, adding as a form of nutrient that the micro-organisms are converting into the nutrients in the soil.
Hence it’s two-way traffic. Thereby the balance is maintained. The weeds are not removed as they also contribute significantly to the soil’s health.
Earthworms are farmers friend
We spoke about the top-soil but the earthworms exist below this level helping the nutrients from the soil to the upward level of top-soil, there is a rotation of the soil. Hence, it is helping te farmer maintain the quality of the soil and fertility.
What is the difference between organic farming and natural farming?
The word organic seems to be the trend these days, right from packets that proclaim itself to be organic to everything that seems to fit into the lifestyle.
But in organic farming, which is similar to modern chemical farming except that the chemicals are replaced with organic here. the fertilizers are replaced with organic fertilizers.
The seed is replaced with organic seed.
The market can be hyped with an expensive set of these organic fertilizers and organic seeds.
Indian farmers aren’t the wealthier class of people to follow this. They are already in the cycle of debts and the urge of adding organic to prove the no-chemical theory is a stab on their back.
So, there is a better and more productive alternative. This is also a kind of organic farming except that the expenditure incurred by the farmer is only 30 -40 % of what is incurred in organic and chemical farming.
Because all the inputs are prepared in-house and not purchased from the market.
Natural farming, an ecosystem that needs a low budget to start with and sustains itself giving more produce and staying absolutely natural and chemical-free. The interference of the farmer here will be only the role of a catalyst for the trees and plants to grow.
Very recently there is an uproar about this natural farming all over the country, Sadhguru, the spiritual guru and environmentalist have been doing great work in bringing awareness of natural farming.
Natural Farming- The Subhash Palekar way
This method of farming was first established by a Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka and stressed on inculcating nature as inspiration and allowing the farms to self-sustain by providing the proper eco-system to dwell.
This was well studied and applied in India by Subhash Palekar who along with the state farmer association of Karnataka started out a revolutionary movement.
He introduced the Zero-budget natural farming techniques to the farmers to make them realize the worth of their land and to believe in nature. No external inputs are added here, this is also 100 % organic but in a natural way.
All the inputs are made in-house.
According to him, there are four stages in which this farming can be done
This is an in-house fermented microbial culture that acts as a catalytic agent increasing the activity of micro-organisms and earthworms in the soil. The fermentation process is a 48-hour long duration during which the aerobic and anaerobic bacteria present in the cow dung and urine multiply as they feed on the organic ingredients added( like pulse flour).
Also, a handful of undistributed soil is added to the mixture, which is rich in native species of micro-organisms.
This jeevambrutha helps in preventing fungal and bacterial plant diseases.
How to prepare Jeevamrutha:
Put 200 liters of water in a barrel; Add 10 Kg fresh local cow dung and 5 to 10 liters aged cow urine; Add 2 Kg of Jaggery (a local type of brown sugar), 2 Kg of pulse flour and a handful of soil from the bund of the farm. Stir the solution well and let it ferment for 48 hours in the shade.
Now, jeevamrutha is ready for application. 200 liters of jeevamruta is sufficient for one acre of land. Jeevamrutha Application Apply the jeevamrutha to the crops twice a month in the irrigation water or as a 10% foliar spray.
This is a process of treating the seeds, seedlings at a very young age. This prevents the plant from any fungal diseases.
The in-house mixture is similar to jeevambrutha.
The cow dung, cow urine, lime, and soil are added.
The seeds are dipped in this mixture, coat them in the hand, dry the seeds and then sow it to the land. The cow dung is a natural fungicide and urine is an antibacterial thus helping the crops t stay and grow healthy. it protects the crops from the soil-borne and seed-borne diseases.
3. Acchadana – Mulching
The whole concept here is to make an ecosystem where the plants and the environmental factors co-exist and support each other. The farmer’s interference must be kept minimal.
Hence there are three kinds of mulching.
a. Soil Mulch: This is done to protect the topsoil, i.e the first 9 inches of the soil where the micro-organisms is active. This top-soil must not be altered too much with deep plowing and tilling.
This step promotes aeration and water retention in the soil. The earthworms are the ones which dig holes in the layers of soil. Hence when it rains or the plants are watered there is more probability of the aeration and water retention in the soil.
b. Straw Mulch:
Straw materials is a layer of the dry compost waste like biomass materials of the previous crops of animal decompose. In this step, the material is supposed to be spread in the dry form on the soil. They later they decompose to form humus.
This humus increases soil fertility by increasing the microbial activity in the soil.
c. Live Mulch: This kind of mulching refers to as intercropping and mixed crops.
For the health of the soil and crops, there is a need for the ecosystem to provide all essential elements required for the growth and self-sustenance of the crops.
Eg: In botanical terms, monocots( seedlings with one seed leaf) like rice and wheat supply essential elements such as potash, phosphate, and sulfur.
And the dicots( seedlings with two seed leaves) such as legumes are called as nitrogen-fixing plants.
In the conventional method, all these essential elements are externally added as inputs brought from the market.
But with intercropping, all these elements are provided in the right amounts. This is to maintain the health and fertility of the soil and the crops.
This is also very beneficial in getting higher returns for the invested crops.
4. Whapasa – moisture:
Basically, the inspiration of natural farming is derived from nature as in forests. The trees are always fertile and it doesn’t need watering on a daily basis. How is that done? Plants are creatures of habit just as humans are. They get attached to habit very quickly.
You can experiment with this case.
Keep two pots of the plant of the same kind. Water the plant 1 daily water the plant 2 three days once. Then one fine day, don't water the plants two days straight. you will find that the plant 1 is withering while the plant 2 is healthy and safe.
Through this experiment, you are actually creating an environment for self-sustenance and making the plant 2 fittest for survival.
Palekar Sir tries to imbibe this idea as Whapasa, i.e plant needs water vapor rather than only water. If you create this sustainable environment, there is no need for frequent irrigation.
The crops will take care of themselves and each other as well.
HOW PRACTICAL IS NATURAL FARMING
Well, it depends on how efficiently the ground is converted into a self-sustainable area for the plants to grow and be profitable.
Let’s take that you already own a farm, and have been following the modern chemical farming methods. You are adding fertilizers and seeds are protected with chemicals as well. This is a short recipe for future disaster.
All these chemicals, along with killing the disease-causing insects, are killing the live part of the soil. All the micro-organisms are being depleted. Hence the natural cycle of sustaining is lost. It takes about two to three years to replenish the soil alone.
You can start off by converting 1/10 th of your farm or 1/4th of your farm into natural farming and gradually increase the ground area. But down the lane, the profit is really high, so is the quality of the products produced. Once the tactics of natural farming are understood, it is both effective and profitable.