Despite increasing awareness and discussion about sustainability and chemical-free food, organic farming is still at its infancy in India. This is evident with government records showing that only 2 per cent of the country’s agricultural land is under organic farming.
However, Yuvraj Borse, a farmer from Nandurbar district in Maharashtra, has been bearing the flag of organic and natural farming methods since the 1990s, when it was not even the trend.
“It was a period when farmers believed that only chemical farming methods would help achieve bumper harvest and enable prosperity,” the 70-year-old recalls.
Yuvraj says that like his counterparts, he also practised chemical farming over his 4-acre farm. “However, years of using toxic chemicals had turned the soil saline and hardened the earth. The productivity dipped and water requirements for the soil increased,” he adds.
Around 1990, a ray of hope came when he attended a workshop on Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF). “The concept seemed to be unreal, but it promised better soil health, and I decided to try the method. Moreover, it ensured that I could save on the expenses incurred in purchasing chemical fertilisers and pesticides,” he tells The Better India.
Yuvraj says he became the first farmer in his village, Kalambu, to practice natural farming, and paved the way for hundreds of others. Apart from helping the community pursue sustainable farming, he also made the village drought-free and created employment for the residents.
A man for many
“I knew that switching to natural farming methods would lead to a dip in production for the next few years. But I was determined to bring the positive change, and I am reaping its fruits to date,” Yuvraj says.
He adds that he makes vermicompost, green leaf manure, and bio-fertilisers at his home by using waste food from the community kitchen or in any functions held in the village. “I use cow dung, cow urine and green leaves to make the compost with the help of the bacteria and vermiculture,” he says.
He grows oilseeds, onion and high yielding crops like wheat, beyond seasonal and traditional vegetables. “I practise intercropping methods and change the crop varieties during kharif and rabi season to sell them at the weekly market, which is about 6 km away in Sarangkheda,” he says.
Yuvraj says that he has been able to earn about 30 per cent more than his fellow farmers, grow the same variety of food but do not practice organic farming. “I sell wheat at Rs 2,500 per quintal for being chemical-free, as against the price of Rs 1,100 and Rs 1,800 per quintal received for the crop using chemicals. The same goes for leafy vegetables like spinach, coriander, fenugreek and others. Organically grown onions last longer, have less infestation rates, and taste better. Customers consider freshness and aroma while buying vegetables. The difference is visible through their preference at the market,” he says.
Yuvraj says that his vegetables sell quicker than others and often receive appreciation from customers for their quality.
“After seeing the rewards of making the switch, I was motivated to start holding meetings with other farmers. I suggested they implement effective farming techniques and using drip irrigation methods, and helped them avail low-interest loans from banks,” he says, adding that he taught farmers how to prepare plots for sowing seeds and make organic fertilisers. He also helped them with marketing.
He adds that in the early 2000s, he learned that central and private cooperative banks refused to offer loans to marginal farmers. These banks did not trust that farmers would repay the loans, and it became difficult for the latter to buy equipment and other material.
“In 2007, I held multiple meetings with the managers to convince them to offer loans for the betterment of the farmers. I also told them to disburse timely loans that suited the agriculture cycle and enabled farmers to receive funds when needed. I identified a handful of farmers during the initial days who could repay the loans efficiently. As the loans were repaid on time, the banks started offering loans to all. Today, no farmer is deprived of the facility, and bank transactions with the farmers reach around Rs 1 crore per year,” he says.
Yuvraj says that he took all the efforts alone to help the village, which has a population of 4,000. “No representatives were willing to work for the cause, and I decided to make the trips alone,” he adds.
Subhan Borse is one such farmer who has benefitted from Yuvraj’s efforts. “Yuvraj helped me understand government schemes and to procure low-interest crop loans for my 12-acre farm. The advice has benefitted many in the village to progress in agriculture,” he says.
In addition, Yuvraj has prepared a collective of 22 farmers who practice organic farming covering 100 acres of land using drip irrigation. “It serves as a model for collective farming for others. I am also working closely with agriculture officers to form such groups under the government schemes to shift farmers towards organic farming,” he says.
Apart from benefiting farmers, Yuvraj has created 15 Self-Help Groups (SHGs) to empower women in agro-processing. “The women contributed capital and bought an all-grain cleaning machine, maida and rava flour mill plant and packaging machine from government subsidies. They run the units using their farm produce and sell it to nearby markets,” he says.
Ira Patil, a member of one of the SHG, says, “The women have become financially independent and receive regular income from the business. The profits are invested in the collective fund, which has now amounted to a capital of Rs 2.2 lakh. The profit share is distributed according to the contributions.”
She says that it is the first time such groups have formed to provide additional income to women.
For the betterment of the community
Over the years, Yuvraj has also planted hundreds of trees in the village and built six barrages and three farm ponds to conserve water. “The borewells have not gone dry for over four years now, which indicates that the groundwater levels have increased,” he says, adding that the tree plantation has attracted birds, which in turn has created awareness among school children about environment welfare.
Yuvraj claims that the overall initiatives have helped at least 1,000 villagers and inspired many in the neighbouring hamlets.
He says that despite bringing change at multiple levels, a lot more is needed to be done for the cause of the farmers. “It is difficult to change the mindset of farmers. The younger generation lacks confidence and motivation. A farmer should not be disheartened or accept defeat. I will continue working to better their lives in every way,” he adds.
Edited Divya Sethu