Swaran Lal, a farmer from Jammu’s RS Pura Tehsil, looked carefully, with curiosity and some awe, at some of the latest and sophisticated organic farming implements on display. He was far from home, at an agriculture fair in Uttarakhand, but what he saw planted the seeds of a dream. He wanted to take this fascinating idea of organic farming home, to the fields in his Panchayat, Suchetgarh. He was sure it would do wonders. And sure enough, he notes with satisfaction many years later, his instincts proved right.
35 kilometers from Jammu City, located at the zero line of the International border between India and Pakistan, the Suchetgarh region is popular for producing one of the finest qualities of Basmati rice in our country. However, in the last two decades, excessive use of fertilizer and pesticides to increase the rice production has also augmented the investment costs, burdening the already troubled farmers. But Lal’s single visit to Uttarakhand as a part of the ‘Agriculture Awareness Tour’ organized by the Agriculture Production Department changed the vast plains into a laboratory for organic farming. “The idea of organic farming really fascinated me during the visit; however, the biggest challenge was to make it conducive for our small farmers with weak economic backgrounds,” said Lal. During his discussions with Uttarakhand farmers, who have invested a lot in this form of natural farming, he gathered all the necessary information and resolved to switch over to organic farming. From there, he embarked on the journey of a lifetime, a journey that has changed the lives of over eighty families of District RS Pura.
In the beginning, to check the pros and cons of this new method, he experimented over a small piece of land and, to his delight, it worked out well. Today, a year and a half later, SwaranLal, under the patronage of Sarweshwar Rice Mills (a stakeholder in promoting organic farming in RS Pura region in collaboration with JK Agriculture Production department) has succeeded in encouraging82 families to shift to organic farming.Around 350 acres of total 1100 acres cultivable area of SuchetgarhPanchayat has come under organic farming.
What helped as a prime catalyst in making this initiative successful is the existing “natural” lifestyle of these people. The majority of these families rear livestock, and the dung generated is used as manure. In addition, green manure and vermicompost are also used by the farmers who expect that, by next year, nearly 300 families are likely to switch over to organic farming.
At present, promoting organic farming of varied crops in various regions of Jammu, are six private entrepreneurs who have been engaged by J&K Government’s Agriculture Production Department. Sarweshwar Rice Mills has targeted 200 hectares in RS Pura for paddy and wheat farming while Mararka Organic, a Jaipur based NGO, has been encouraging farmers of Kishtwar for saffron production in over 200 hectares, and in Bhaderwah tehsil of Doda district they havetargeted 700 hectares for famous Rajma production.Similarly Actech Agro Limited has been encouraging farmers of Pounibelt of district Reasi, Hiranagar tehsil of district Kathua,
Sudhmahadev and Cheneni area for organic vegetable farming. They have targeted around 600 hectares for vegetable production. ICCOA, a Bangalore based company has chosen farmers of Mansar and Samroli area of district Samba and Udhampur for production of pulses
on over 350 hectares. Subida, an Uttaranchal-based company has targeted 400 hectares in
Rajouri and Poonch district for cultivation of pulses, rajma and spices. Likewise, Indian Panesia Limited (IPL) has targeted 350 hectares in Sanasaranad Seri area for production of Potato and peas.
Earlier, during every sowing season, there remained an acute shortage of fertilizers like Urea, DAP and Potash. “Farmers had to waste several days during peak farming season to get fertilizers from other states like Punjab, wastinglargeamounts of time and money,” said Ramesh Lal, another local farmer, citing this as a major reason behind the acceptance of organic farming in RS Pura.
Despite the wide acceptance of organic farming in the region, there are farmers who have chosen to continue with chemical farming. “During heavy rains, water from non-organic farms enters the adjacent organic fields thus affecting the purity of crop,”rue farmers, adding that adoption of organic farming by a large majority of the villagers would help them get their crops certified by the Government, thus benefitting the entire farmer community.
According to the Director of Agriculture Production Department, Ajay Khajuria, the beginning of every good thing is difficult but once it takes off, the rest becomes easier. “We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with six companies to promote organic farming of varied crops. They will provide marketing to all organic growers of the state.The trail is for three years and the second year has begun. In three years, our organic produce will be certified and after that, our farmers will earn huge profits thanks to the high demand for organic products across the globe,” Khajuriaadded.
According to Dr. DaleepKachroo, Head of Department of Farming System Research Center and Division of Agronomy of Sher-e-Kashmir Agriculture University of Sciences and Technology, Jammu, , organic farming may not immediately increase the crop production but it will certainly encourage sustainable farming by maintaining the health of soil and water level.
“The Organic Carbon Content (OCC) in the soil of RS Pura belt has reducedto an alarming level of 0.45, 0.50, 0.52, while we need OCC in soil at 0.60, 0.80 and 1. Due to decreased OCC levels, farmers generally use excess fertilizers which pollute water and environment,” says a worried Kachroo, adding that initially, organic farming tends to reduce production but by using manure, the OCC level of soil starts increasing. In this case, the OCC level will hopefully increase in the next six years and so will the production. If the prediction proves to be accurate, SwaranLal will see his dream come true for the entire Jammu province.
(Writer is a SanjoyGhose Media Fellow)