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Revival of soil fertility in Vidarbha region

Vidarbha, the region known for farmer suicides, fortunately has few farmers who have been successful in reviving their soil fertility through organic means. Subhash Sharma is one such farmer.

Sharma in his green farm

Sharma in his green farm

Strangely, in spite of being the source of all life and all food, the soil remains a medium that is poorly understood. In Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, many farmers have experienced repeated failures in agriculture with loss of soil fertility due to excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Vidarbha, the region known for farmer suicides, fortunately has few farmers who have been successful in reviving their soil fertility through organic means. Subhash Sharma is one such farmer.

Subhash Sharma, an organic farmer from Yavatmal district of Vidarbha started farming in 1975 using chemical methods. Though he got good yields initially, after 1986, the land productivity declined rapidly and he suffered great loss. In 1996, he started natural farming focusing on seeds, soil, water, cropping systems and labour management. He strongly believes that cows, trees, birds and vegetation are four important factors which make agriculture sustainable. Sharma has been using some techniques for improving soil fertility which have resulted in increasing the productivity.

Soil fertility improvement methods

For a farmer, it is extremely essential to understand the basic science of soil formation.

Fortification of FYM: Sharma says that one cow can fulfill the demand of 3 acres of soil. Sharma prepares fortified manure by mixing 3 tons of FYM manure with 800 kgs of tank silt or fertile soil under the tree.

The soil under the tree is preferred as it is very rich in micro flora and nutrients due to decomposition of leaf litter and bird droppings. To this mixture, a mixture of 100 kgs of pigeonpea, straw (waste generated in pulse processing factory), and two liters of groundnut oil are added and mixed thoroughly. To this, a solution made with 25 kgs of jaggery is mixed. This mixture is well soaked in water and piled into a heap for 2 months. The heap is turned upside down and again well soaked with water after a month.

Fully mature compost is ready after one month. Handful of compost can be applied in the root zone of each plant as local application or can be sown through seed drill along with the seeds. It enriches the soil with organic matter, rich microflora, a mixture of pulse flour and jaggery provides protein and sugar to accelerate microbial activity.

His second fertilization technique is preparation of Go-Sanjeevak, which is a liquid manure. This can be spread in the soil in winter season along with the irrigation water. It is the mixture of 10 kg of fresh cow dung mixed with 10 litres of cow urine, 1 kg of pulse flour and 250 gms of jaggery. The mixture is fermented for 8-10 days along with 50 liters of water. The final solution is diluted to 200 litres water before applying to land, along with irrigation water. This mixture is sufficient for one acre of land. The increased microbial activity of the soil helps in rejuvenating the soil while providing essential nutrients to plants in water soluble form. From a handful of soil in Sharma’s farm, one can find hundreds of earthworms.

Green Manuring or Aurogreen: Sharma has sown pigeonpea as his first crop on the degraded land. Between the rows of pigeonpea, he had sown the mixture on Aurogreen. The combination of seeds in aurogreen is as follows.

  1. Dicot seeds like green gram/black gram (2kg), beans (2kg) pigeonpea (2kg) in equal proportion.
  2. Monocot seeds like bajra (500gms),sorghum (500gms) and maize (3kg).
  3. Oil seeds like til (sesame 100gms), soyabean or ground nut or sunflower (900 gms).

All these various types of seeds are mixed thoroughly and sown between the rows of pigeonpea in the rainy season. After 50-55 days of growth, this mixed biomass grown in the soil is cut and spread between the rows of pigeonpea as mulch. After one- two months as this green matter gets half decomposed, it is turned into the soil with the help of cultivator. It not only provides organic matter to soil, but also protects the land from weed growth and helps in retention of moisture in soil for a long time.

Sharma adopts crop rotation with legumes to enrich the soil fertility. He starts with a legume crop (like chavali-blackeyed bean) as his first crop for the season. The leafy biomass, which fall from the plants enriches soil organic matter and root nodules enriches the soil with nitrogen content. His cropping pattern on the same patch of land is as follows.

(1) Chavali- June to September (2) Fenugreek/Spinach/Green onion- October to November (3) Wheat- November to March (4) Pumpkin –April to June.

He cultivates pigeonpea crop every year in one or two acres of his land and says that this crop provides 1-2 inches of biomass cover to the soil through leaf fall, which adds to the organic matter of the soil. He considers coriander as a crop which maintains the ecological balance of his farm. The smell of fresh green leaves of coriander is a repellent to pests. Secondly, the white luxuriant flowers of coriander invite honey bees on his farm which facilitate cross pollination and help in the process of development of good seeds.

Besides soil fertility enhancing techniques, Sharma practices many other practices which make his agriculture sustainable. For example, he follows contour method of sowing for preventing soil erosion and retaining soil moisture; has dug trenches on the field to conserve water, grows crops like marigold and coriander to keep the pests away, has planted a number of trees around the farm which act as wind breaks and prevent soil erosion.

The turnover from his 13 acres of farm is approximately 18-20 lakhs, of which he realizes about 50 percent as profits (See Table 1).

Table 1: Yield and income from various crops
Crop sown Productivity per acre Cost in Rs. Approximate total income in Rs. Expenditure
Chavali beans 30 quintals 30/kg 90,000 25%
Green Onion 150 quintals 10/kg 1.5 lakh 40%
Fenugreek(Methi) 30 quintals 10-20/kg 60,000 30%
Spinach(Palak) 30 quintals 20-30/kg 75,000 25%
Coriander green seeds 60 quintals
04 quintals
10/kg
150/kg as seeds
60,000
60,000
30%
10%
Wheat 14-15 quintals 40/kg 60,000 30%
Chick pea 10 quintals 3,500/quintal 35,000 10%
Pumpkin 10tons/acre 15/kg 1.5 lakh 20%

Conclusion

In this era of globalised agriculture, where chemical farming is widespread, farmers like Subhash Sharma are an inspiration to many. Having understood the nature of the soil, such innovative farmers are showing to the world that practices based on agro-ecology is the only way to enhance the health of the soil and farm sustainably.

Priti Joshi

Director, National Organization for Community Welfare, 2, Jajodia Layout, Shriniwas colony. Wardha, Maharashtra – 442001.
E-mail: Priti1266@gmail.com