Farming goes organic in Nalanda, to grow big-time

Introduced in 2010-11, organic farming has changed the way of cultivation in the district, raising yield to record levels and leaving farmers happier and richer

pankaj

Pankaj Kumar | February 28, 2013


Top officials, including district agriculture officer Sudama Mahto and district horticulture officer DN Mahto inspect an organic zone in Sohdih village of Biharsharif.
Top officials, including district agriculture officer Sudama Mahto and district horticulture officer DN Mahto inspect an organic zone in Sohdih village of Biharsharif.

On Sunday, Rakesh Kumar, a farmer from Sohdih village in Biharsharif block of Nalanda district, was on seventh heaven. Scientists from Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Harnaut and Horticulture College of Noorsarai, who supervised the harvest of potato on his field, assessed the yield at 1,088 quintals per hectare — a new world record.

In fact, Rakesh broke the record of a fellow Nalanda resident, Nitish Kumar of Darveshpura village, who held the previous highest per-hectare potato yield of 729 quintals last year. Not only that, Rakesh also reportedly holds the world record of onion output — the yield on his fields last year was 660 quintals per hectare.

Thrilling news no doubt for Nalanda but record productions are no more breaking news for the district, which, in 2011-12, broke the national record in wheat harvest, by producing 126 quintals in one hectare.

So what’s the reason behind Nalanda’s happy story that is getting it prominence for reasons other than the ancient seat of learning? All these plots, where several national and world records have been created, are demonstration plots with 100 per cent organic farming to gain maximum yield.

Introduced in 2010, the popularity of organic farming has skyrocketed in villages of Nalanda, where farmers are depending on it to sustain the health of soil, ecosystem and people. Eighteen villages in the district have adopted complete organic farming, while others are in line to follow suit. As a result, use of vermin-compost (a mixture of gasless cow dung and earthworm to compost organic residues) and bio-fertilisers is on the rise, while those of chemical-based urea and DAP are decreasing.

According to district officials, use of chemicals like DAP, urea, insecticides and pesticides like diethane, monochrotophos and fumigants have decreased markedly. They said use of insecticide is down 50 per cent, while use of eco-friendly variants like dhaincha (a green manure crop that is a rich source of nitrogen) has increased significantly.

In simple words, organic farming is a method of agriculture that avoids use of chemical fertiliser, pesticide, fungicide and weedicide, among others, and, instead, stresses on use of organic fertilisers like organic manure, bio-fertiliser, green manure and bio-pesticide, depending on crop rotation. Organic farming has proven to have improved soil fertility, increase productivity without harmful effects on human and animal health, environment and biodiversity.

Since fungicide and pesticide directly affect the human body, their use is minimal, if not zero, in organic farming.

Going green on farm: The beginning
While the agriculture department started a major initiative to introduce organic farming in Nalanda district in 2010-11, the farmers initially were hesitant, as often happens with introduction of newer technology and a move away from age-old practices. Agriculture officials said initially only 20 farmers came forward with 10 hectares of land. However, as input costs declined and bumper yields went up, many more farmers adopted the new technique.

As of now, approximately 2,500 hectares of land is under organic farming, all growing different vegetables.

After successful experimentation on growing cauliflowers, farmers have now employed organic farming to grow onions, potatoes and many other vegetables.

Sohdih, Asha Nagar, Preman Bigha, Nagarnausa, Ganga Bigha and Andhana are some of the villages where productivity of all crops is considered completely organic.

Officials said three villages are in the last stage of certification by reputed international French organisation ECOCERT. While Sohdih village in Biharsharif block is in the last stage of certification, having already crossed the C2 stage by standard norms, Asha Nagar, Preman Bigha and Ganga Bigha have crossed C1, the first stage of certification.

A reputed French organisation, ECOCERT does soil-testing to certify whether the soil is organic by finding out the level of chemicals. The third stage, or C3, can be attained only when there is complete organic farming and use of chemicals has been totally done away with.

Listing the advantages of organic farming, district agriculture officer Sudama Mahto said, “Organic fields are disease-free and production increases by one-and-a-half times over fields using pesticides and insecticides. Since Nalanda has traditionally been a big production hub for vegetables, use of insecticides and pesticides was at its peak barely three years ago. But with our efforts and under the guidance of the district magistrate, their use has decreased nearly 50 per cent in Nalanda as organic farming is gaining popularity.”

Purushottam Singh, a technical assistant with the agriculture department, concurred: “Use of and dependence on toxic chemical fertilisers has decreased by up to 50 per cent and use of vermin-compost has increased manifold under SRI methodology . That's why wheat, pulses and paddy crops are available in abundance, with little input of chemical fertilisers.”

The System of Rice Intensification method, or commonly known in its abbreviated form as SRI methodology or Srividhi locally, also promotes organic farming, helping Nalanda increase its yield. Officials said SRI methodology has been used to cultivate paddy on 36,000 hectares, while 5,000 hectares were used for wheat production in 2011-12.

As part of the SRI method, treated seeds are planted in rows, thus decreasing the use of insecticides, and vermin-compost is used as fertiliser. According to officials from the agriculture department, cereal crops also use organic manures to a large extent. However, they are not fully organic because of the usage of urea, thus making them “nearly organic”.

Singh said the fact that Nalanda primarily has small and marginal farmers who do not have more than one or two hectares of land also helped make organic farming popular, as also important.

"Productivity has increased and cost input has decreased,” Rakesh Kumar of Sohdih village, the record-holder for potato yield, said. “The investment required earlier was Rs 800 per katha (piece of land measuring 1,000 to 1,300 square feet, varying from region to region) with the help of chemical fertilisers. But after we adopted organic farming, it has come down to Rs 300 per katha,” he added.

...And the happy ending
Two years after having adopted the eco-friendly version of farming, villages like Sohdih, Andhana and Saril Chak of Nalanda are bustling with activity with merchants from other cities going there directly to buy farm-fresh products. Now the farm products, which were earlier sold in the local wholesale market, or mandis, now have ready markets in other parts of eastern India.

Thus, while potato is sent to Kolkata, Bokaro and Jamshedpur, among other places, after marketing links were developed, the local cauliflower goes to Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Jharia, Bokaro and Patna.

Locals said people from south India, and even abroad, visit these villages to buy organic products, fetching a good return for farmers. “We sell groundnuts to visitors coming to Rajgir. They come to Saril Chak village specifically to buy such organic products,” said Manjula Devi, a villager who has benefitted from organic farming.

Both officials and locals agreed that organic farming has “truly changed the lives of farmers” in Nalanda and reduced toxicity to a huge extent. It has also encouraged farmers to buy more cattle so that cow dung is available in abundance.

The move has also prompted the local administration to give subsidies to farmers to buy biogas tank to produce cooking fuel in the villages themselves, while the slurry (gasless cow dung) is used to manufacture vermin-compost.

"With organic farming, we are becoming more self-dependent. Our income has also increased several notches," said Biranchi Yadav, the mukhiya (head) of Chandasi village in Noorsarai block.

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