“Natural farming can double income”

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After playing a key role in the implementation of natural agriculture in Himachal Pradesh, Prof. Rajeshwar Singh Chandel, a renowned entomologist with over 25 years of teaching and research experience, has been appointed Vice Chancellor of Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry (UHF), Nauni in Solan District. Chandel faces the challenge of reducing the reluctance of institutes of higher learning to embrace natural agriculture in addition to better university management with a role in spreading better horticultural and forestry practices in the state.

He is actively engaged in policy making with NITI Aayog to start natural farming nationally and his initiative on Sustainable Food Systems for Natural Farming (SuSP-NF) for Himachal Pradesh has won international acclaim . In addition, he is a member of the Indian government committee formed to develop a curriculum based on natural agriculture in the universities of agriculture and forestry in the country.

Chandel spoke with Sanjeev Kumar about various challenges in spreading natural farming that could help the government achieve the goal of doubling farmers’ incomes and better practices in horticulture and forestry.

Q. What are the main challenges you face as UHF Vice-Chancellor?

A: My first challenge is to bring visiting students, farmers and other professionals outside the four walls of the university into the field, as the course curriculum is only sufficient for their degree requirements. We need to reduce extra or redundant work of staff or divide them up so that they can focus on their main job, which is teaching. Another priority is how agriculture is taken and there is more focus on increasing production only as there are reports that land degradation has reached a high level in India, the Himachal being one of the most affected states by the problem. There is also the issue of water scarcity for agricultural activities. As we have moved from traditional cultivation to monoculture and hybrid, the area devoted to traditional crops has decreased considerably, which has affected vegetation patterns. Although this benefited the farmers in terms of money, which led to wealth, not prosperity, it also led to various health problems and an increase in the cost of cultivation. We need research-driven targets to address these issues and natural farming can be an alternative, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pointed out. And the promotion of natural agriculture is my priority and I will try to make UHF the first university in the country to justify the success of the method on the basis of scientific data. At UHF, we will try to adopt learning-by-doing techniques for students, experts and all other universities and a model of natural agriculture will be introduced in the eight surrounding villages in association with the Department of Agriculture. state agriculture.

Q. During recent visits to UHF, Governor RV Arlekar and Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur stressed that research and innovations are not reaching farmers. How would you like to change the current scenario?

A: Sometimes we are not able to show our good work and moreover, it is a perception that universities are also responsible for extension work while it is the duty of the relevant departments. My first priority is to train the best students who will become messengers in spreading new innovations among farmers. There should be no gap between preaching and doing and to narrow it, as mentioned earlier, we will adopt the surrounding eight villages to develop a natural farming model so that everyone can see the results to mitigate various factors. My three-year goal will be to develop UHF as a knowledge center for Himalayan states and countries on natural agriculture for which we are in the process of generating scientific data. Also, the UHF has a glorious past with many alumni working in top positions in the country and it was also called the nursery of Indian Forest Service officers. The university will connect with all to take an interest in its activities and bridge the gap.

Q. Is the UHF helping to develop policy for reforestation campaigns in the state as there are reports that it is not benefiting the the local population as well as the environment?

A: There have been gaps in this area and besides it is the domain of the Forestry Department. But we can develop the best reforestation models that we can work on with the ministry. There have been forest fires due to pine trees and other issues including shortage of fodder. Our field includes research and we can work jointly with the forest department on the possibilities of carrying out plant propagation work to reduce the incidence of forest fires and also meet the needs of the local population as well as ecology.

Q. There has been talk of certifying farmers for natural farming. How does the department plan to do this?

A: There have been discussions about certifying natural farmers and after much discussion a decision was made to develop an application which is in the final stages of completion. The app will allow farmers to fill in crop information for inputs used and natural farming areas which will be available in the public domain. The information must be verified by five locals, including a local official. We opt for a social audit method because the locals can object to any misinformation, and in addition, the state government will also carry out random checks. Based on the information, the farmer will be rated as one star, two stars, etc.

Q. Can natural farming help the government achieve the goal of doubling farmers’ income?

A: According to our initial data, the cost of natural farming inputs was reduced by 57%, while farmers experienced a 27% growth in income. The components used in natural and chemical farming are quite different as the common farming methods require pesticides and fertilizers while the former uses homemade components from cow urine and dung. In addition, the incentives given to farmers by the government help fill the gaps to double the income of farmers. In fact, the United Nations appreciated this method and said that it would be able to support agriculture and farmers’ incomes. Also, there have been several changes in the patterns of cultivation and vegetation in the state as well as the country, which have led to a decrease in the area devoted to staple crops. Farmers have now turned to growing vegetables and apples in Himachal, which has led to increased incomes. But the intensive use of chemicals has led to the disappearance of several species of birds with negative effects on the soil and the environment, which has been reported in various studies and intellectual groups. We can change this scenario with natural farming.

Q. Is the UHF planning to introduce traditional crops in Himachal.

A: Yes, we will work on this because multi-cropping is an important component of natural farming but there is a lack of seed banks. Previously, we had over 180 varieties of rice in the state, whether it was red rice or brown rice grown in certain pockets of Himachal; now only 80 varieties are grown in the state. We try to follow the groups of farmers who grow these crops and increase the number of farmers under traditional crops.

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