Large-scale organic farming at Ajitgarh and half-a-dozen surrounding villages in Sikar district of Rajasthan has improved the quality of fruits and vegetables, increased the yield, used lesser amount of water and strengthened biodiversity in the region, drawing the attention of agricultural experts who perceive it as a useful experiment at the grassroots.

About 80 farmers of the region have formed a group to generate awareness among the rural communities about the advantages of organic farming and develop market linkages. The members of the informal group regularly share among themselves indigenous methods to get better results and develop seeds for providing a stable crop pattern.

Distinguished agricultural economist and Member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, Prof. V. S. Vyas, interacted with the small and marginal farmers engaged in bio-farming here over the weekend to identify the difficulties confronting them and find out their preparedness for this year’s rabi crop season.

Farmer Jagdish Prasad Pareek, who initiated the organic farming movement in the backward village – situated 80 km from Jaipur – three decades ago, told Prof. Vyas that though the output in his two-hectare field had convinced other farmers, the initial high investment, slow results and lack of remunerative prices for the farm produce were acting as “inhibiting factors”.

Mr. Pareek has been growing vegetables such as cauliflower, brinjal, chillies, round-gourds, sweet-gourds and lemons as well as several fruits with impressive weight and size on his farm. Having started drip irrigation for the papaya and pomegranate plants grown this year, he plans to cultivate more vegetables in the space left between the fruit-bearing trees.

Prof. Vyas, accompanied by the Director of Jaipur-based Kumarappa Institute of Gram Swaraj, Awadh Prasad, J. S. Mishra of Rajasthan Agricultural University’s Horticulture Department and Kalyan Singh Kothari of the One World-South Asia, evinced a keen interest in the techniques applied to increase the yield and save water.

The farmers told the visiting experts that they themselves prepare the organic compost and introduce earthworms in the soil while taking care not to allow the chemical fertilisers to pollute the land. “Our productivity has increased manifold, while the agricultural produce have a high nutritive value,” said Madanlal Gujjar of Jugrajpura village.

Farmers like Mali Ram Raigar, Banwari Lal, Pooran Mal and Dhuda Ram drew Prof. Vyas’ attention to the issue of financial support to the agriculturists going in for organic farming, saying the huge amounts of subsidy on chemical fertilisers were saved following the gradual shift to bio-farming. The money saved in this manner should be paid as an incentive to the farmers, they said.

The farmers also highlighted the difficulties in purchasing seeds, high investment on water and power for irrigation and lack of infrastructure for marketing of organic farm produce. They said they had imported seeds from as far as Taiwan and Jordan and were also preparing their improved varieties.

Prof. Vyas observed that the financial condition of farmers had deteriorated over the years because of factors such as division of land, lack of remunerative prices, constant escalation in prices of agricultural resources and a fragile agricultural marketing network.

The noted economist said the organic farming initiative in Ajitgarh had shown that even one-hectare agricultural land could be self-sufficient for the small farmers and produce enough food grain for one family if the farming was done in a methodical way: “Investment at the initial stage and technical guidance to farmers for various activities hold the key to an impressive agricultural production.”

Dr. Awadh Prasad said the Kumarappa Institute would shortly provide space to farmers on its campus at Bapu Nagar opposite Rajasthan University in Jaipur to directly sell their organic fruits, vegetables and crops to the consumers. The institute will also help out the farmers in standardisation, grading, marketing and technical inputs of agricultural experts.