Switching over to organic farming has resulted in less input expenditure and better yields for a large section of Jammu farmers

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.

Thirty-five km 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 the region. However, in the last two decades, excessive use of fertiliser and pesticides to increase production has also augmented the investment costs, burdening the already troubled farmers. But Swaran Lal’s single visit to Uttarakhand as a part of the ‘Agriculture Awareness Tour’ organised by the State’s 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,” he said. 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 that has changed the lives of over 80 families of RS Pura district.

In the beginning, to check the pros and cons of this new method, he experimented over a small piece of land and it worked out well. Today, a year and a half later, Swaran Lal, under the patronage of Sarweshwar Rice Mills (a stakeholder in promoting organic farming in RS Pura region in collaboration with Jammu & Kashmir Agriculture Production department) has succeeded in encouraging 82 families to shift to organic farming. Around 350 acres of total 1,100 acres cultivable area of Suchetgarh panchayat has come under organic farming.

What helped as a prime catalyst in making this initiative successful is the existing “natural” lifestyle of the local 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 the 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 have targeted 700 hectares for kidney bean production. Similarly Actech Agro Limited has been encouraging farmers of Pouni belt of Reasi district, Hiranagar tehsil of Kathua district, Sudhmahadev and Cheneni area for organic vegetable farming. They have targeted around 600 hectares.

ICCOA, a Bangalore-based company has chosen farmers of Mansar and Samroli area of Samba and Udhampur districts for production of pulses on over 350 hectares. Subida, an Uttarakhand-based company has targeted 400 hectares in Rajouri and Poonch districts for cultivation of pulses, kidney bean and spices. Likewise, Indian Panesia Limited (IPL) has targeted 350 hectares in Sanasar anad Seri area for production of potato and peas.

Earlier, during every sowing season, there remained an acute shortage of fertilisers like urea, diammonium phosphate and potash. “Farmers had to waste several days during peak farming season to get fertilisers from other States like Punjab, wasting large amounts 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 though. “During heavy rains, water from non-organic farms enter the adjacent organic fields thus affecting the purity of crop,” rued organic 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 community.

Director of Agriculture Production Department, Ajay Khajuria, said: “We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with six companies to promote organic farming of varied crops. They will provide marketing assistance 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.”

According to Daleep Kachroo, 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 reduced to 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 fertilisers which pollute water and environment,” says a worried Mr. 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 rights, Swaran Lal will see his dream come true for the entire Jammu province. (Charkha Features)