Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture

Green manuring is the key

Though I belong to a farming family, I did not know much about farming when I started it. I had 15 acres of paddy and wanted to do very well. Therefore contacted departments and used more inputs – there was almost 50% loss in yield. I used to have too much tension. Chemical farming itself, I felt, as a nuisance. Then I came into contact with publications of Fukoka, LEISA India etc.

In the same year 2000, I got a huge yield loss in paddy due to Brown Plant Hopper attack. I spent 40% of inputs in the form of fertilizers and pesticides. I went in search of information especially on rare indeginous knowledge. By that time I met Mr. Krishan Prasad of Green Foundation who suggested some information sources on alternative agriculture. LEISA India was one among them.

My first step was towards low external inputs for sustainable agriculture. The word LEISA inspired me a lot and I went in search of alternatives. I found green manuring is the answer and substitute for those inputs. I have got success. I am getting above average price for all my crops.

‘Growing paddy on permanent rice beds’, a success story of South East Asian farmers an article in LEISA India inspired me to adopt the method with 50% lesser cost. I started cultivating basmati paddy on one acre. A saving of 50% is equal to making profit.

In the year 2000, I had very less water to feed my arecanut garden. So stopped cultivation to conserve moisture and started growing more leguminous cover crops. Today we have lost diversity in weeds also due to tillage, use of weedicides and inappropriate practices. In nature we can see dicot and monocot weeds in 3:1 ratio where there is no human interfenrece. There soil works for itself and regenerate naturally. Soil microbes need host plants, moisture, aeration shade and micro climate to bring back weed diversity. The logic behind zero tillage – no weeding is to grow legumuinous species along with crops. Soil works for itself, all it needs is a live soil cover.

Following is my experience of using green manuring in paddy. Two types of green manuring can be followed in paddy cultivation.
a) Pre rice green manuring – Plowing the green manure crops just before flowering. Plants would have reached a height of about 8 feet. As the plants are tender at this stage they get easily decomposed into the soil. After these plants are ploughed, paddy cultivation could be taken up.

b) Post rice green manuring – Soon after the paddy is harvested in Nov-Dec, I broadcast the green manure seeds (for eg. green gram)  without cultivating the soil while the straw and residues of paddy is still there on the field. The seeds germinate making the straw as a base. By April, I harvest the greengram seeds. I leave the crop, which is about 2 ft, on the field itself. Crops like Daincha, keep growing and reach a height of about 14 ft, after monsoon commences. These are again incorporated into the soil using cage-wheel tractor.

I have been doing “post rice green manuring” for the last seven years. In two years it is possible to improve any type of degraded soil into healthy soil. It is also the cheapest and fastest way of reclaiming degraded soils. In one year of green manuring this way, we can add 4 inches of organic matter to the soil.

I have been growing paddy on 15 acres without fertilizers and pesticides. Not even organic manures. But only by incorporating green manure crops. I transplant 14-18 day old seedlings and carry out weeding twice. Weeding is done mainly to aerate the soil. I do not flood the field. Presently, I get about 25 quintals of paddy per acre from traditional varieties. Water management and biological nitrogen fixation are the key factors in improving productivity and maintaining soil health.  I have conserved around 25 rare indigenous varieties of paddy. In my view, the source of profits lie in minimising the inputs and LEISA is the key to sustainable agriculture.

I am thankful to LEISA team. Information should speak for itself so that farmers never get confused and move away from sustainable agriculture.

Source:Mr. Nandish B N, Farmer

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