Women farmers in the hill State of Himachal Pradesh are gradually turning to non-chemical, low cost “natural farming”, which has not only provided them with a sustainable livelihood but also empowered them better.
Launched in 2018, the State’s Prakritik Kheti Khushhal Yojana (PK3Y) is promoting the climate resilient Subhash Palekar Natural Farming (SPNF), also called ‘Zero Budget Natural Farming’. Over 1.5 lakh farmers have been trained in natural farming in the State so far, with substantial numbers of women participants.
Moreover, the coming together of women from the hill regions for natural farming, regardless of their level of education, has helped them gain confidence in matters beyond agriculture. Practical training in natural farming is helping rural women in Himachal Pradesh gain confidence by supplementing family incomes.
“It is a different kind of empowerment. Since I shifted to the natural farming technique, the government’s Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) staff is regularly in touch with me. They motivate me and help me stay connected with the latest happenings in the field on a regular basis personally, and on WhatsApp groups, which is happening for the first time,” said Ganga Sarni Bisht, 54, from Kilba in the tribal Kinnaur district. Ms. Bisht, a post graduate in Hindi and a former teacher, has been farming independently since 2013.
“I shifted to this non-chemical farming technique three years back, after attending a training workshop on the SPNF technique in Kufri. I am growing vegetables like beans, radish, carrot, spinach and beetroot with natural farming on one bigha land, along with apples. I am happy with the results. I have sown hing (asafoetida) now,” she said. Ready to replicate natural farming on another five bigha s of land gradually, Ms. Bisht inspires women farmers in the village and shares the latest information with them in a group.
Natural farming gave Charna Devi, 49, a tribal woman from Chagaon village in uphill Tapri in Kinnaur, the opportunity to go outside the State for the first time in her life. She had not ventured beyond State capital Shimla before. “The travel taught me so many things,” she said.
Ms. Devi is now a member of an SPNF women farmers’ group formed in 2019. Its members cultivate apples, garlic, maize and other traditional crops in their own farms. The group has over 20 women farmers and it functions like a family. They help each other with not only farm inputs and agricultural work, but also in finding solutions for personal and social issues.
Executive Director of PK3Y, Dr. Rajeshwar Singh Chandel, said that women have always had an important role in agriculture in India. “Their inclusion in natural farming for training and exposure will not only build their capacity but will help women farmers gain confidence for overall betterment in society,” he said.
At many other places in the State, women farmers who have shifted to natural farming collectively plan to increase their income by processing fruits and creating marketing networks on their own.
Another group of more than 20 young women in Khaushshah village near Rampur Bushahr in Shimla district had been contributing in agriculture and horticulture at home but, “We were just silent workers with no say in deciding things in the field. The income from apple orchards was falling due to over-use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Since we were provided training in the natural farming project, we could move out of the four walls of the house and are now actively involved in changing the course of farming for overall betterment in returns and nutrition,” said Sujata, a graduate farmer.
Their group, the Prakritik Kheti Mahila Khushhal Kisan Samiti, Khaushshah, was formed two years back, and registered in 2021. The women farmers’ group is doing natural farming individually on land measuring around 12.5 bigha s, and the SPNF technique has helped them grow multiple crops like pulses and vegetables, alongside apples, for regular income from the same field. “Besides, it has helped us in connecting socially, and break mindset barriers on issues other than farming also,” said the group’s members.