Agriculture is the backbone of the Indian economy, and the primary source of livelihood for a large majority of rural Indians. Over thousands of years, farmers have used sustainable traditional practices to farm land in India. However, the ‘green revolution’ championed an indiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers, which resulted in multi nutrient deficiencies in the soil, destabilising our food production system, and the lives of all those who depend on the land. In less than 40 years, chemical-based agriculture has rendered our land unfit for farming, and has brought us to a catastrophic tipping point.
Since 2010, Greenpeace has been facilitating constructive debate around the specific challenges faced by farmers, and helped identify bottlenecks in the government schemes that are ostensibly designed to aid farmers. During the consultations organised by the Living Soils team with over 6000 farmers from 24 blocks of Bihar, there was broad agreement that the health of the farmland soil has been steadily deteriorating. Trapped in a vicious circle, farmers found themselves forced to apply higher and higher doses of costly chemical fertilisers every year, even though they were well aware that it was only causing further harm to both, soil and farmers’ health.
Solutions do exist
Today we can witness a landmark change in Kedia, located in Barhat Block of Jamui District. This model village provides the perfect example of the many positive effects of a focus on Living Soils, and Greenpeace India is showcasing their success, facilitating the process of shifting from chemical to ecological farming, and demanding that the government put in place better policies that support ecological farming.
Working in close partnership with the farming community, Greenpeace India’s Living Soils Campaign is redefining ‘progressive’ farming: with a deliberate move away from chemical inputs and a return to traditional practices. As we see in Kedia, not only does the Living Soils model provide solutions to deteriorating soil health while helping farmers reduce the overall costs of farm-inputs, it also helps mitigate against the impacts of climate change. Yet another benefit is the co-creation of knowledge through farmers coming together in a collective.
The Kedia Model
The model has been developed in consultation with farmers, government officials and other key stakeholders including the civil society groups, utilising the existing schemes and subsidy programmes currently being run by the state and central government.
In little over 20 months, farmers in Kedia have constructed more than 282 vermi-composting units, where they convert ‘waste’ into nutrient-rich, organic fertilisers. The pits also receive slurry from the 11 biogas plants that have been installed alongside, providing a safer, healthier alternative to the burning of biomass as cooking fuel.
They have also built five pucka cattle-sheds, to capture both cow dung and urine ‘at source’.
While the dung goes into the biogas plants, the cattle urine is used for many purposes, including the preparation of products like Amritpani, one of several plant nutrition and pest management solutions made with cattle urine. That’s not all: the farmers have also built ecological toilets that provide safe, clean sanitation while making it possible to convert human excreta into ecological fertiliser.
Using different ecological pest management practices, farmers in Kedia have now completely stopped using chemical pesticides, without facing any reduction in the yield from their farms. The farmers, and their families, celebrate how their comprehensive ecological farming model has helped them find solutions to a wide set of issues like soil health, biomass availability, safe food, rural sanitation, cooking fuel, causes and impacts of climate change, rural livelihood generation and economic sustainability of agriculture for farmers. Greenpeace has only provided training and consultation to the farmers, and kept the model financially independent. This makes the model both, financially viable and easily replicable in other villages, using only basic government subsidies and some amount of training.
The Living Soils campaign envisions a thriving agricultural system, supported by government policies that enable a shift from chemical fertilisers and pesticides to ecological farming practices.
Crowdfunding for Ecological Solutions to Water Shortage and Market Access
Food safety is an ongoing consideration in India, and while the farmers in Kedia have more than adequate spirit, they do need a little more support to help scale up their model, and see it make an even bigger contribution to changing the agriculture system for good.
Urban Indians have an important role to play in delivering this vision for India’s agricultural future: Greenpeace is mobilising consumers to engage more deeply with ecological agriculture, help with bringing change on the grassroots level as well as being advocates demanding better policies. There are two immediate requirements in Kedia: water harvesting structures to combat drought conditions, and a cold storage system that would improve farmers’ market access; by collecting and storing their produce, they are able to consolidate their harvests and access better rates at the market at opportune times.
This is where urban consumers come in: we are crowdfunding the creation of water harvesting structures and a solar-powered cold storage system in Kedia.
With a storage capacity of over 5 tonnes, the solar-powered cold storage facility will significantly help farmers in that region. As most of them are small-holdings, marginal farmers, they do not have any infrastructure for storage of their produce and the cost of creating water harvesting structures, even with subsidies, is too high for them.
Although the primary responsibility for providing such infrastructure rests with the government, we want to use this opportunity to show how people power can help create lasting change. This will also help demonstrate to the government how ecological agriculture, sustainable water, and storage solutions can uplift the conditions of our farmers.
Greenpeace will continue to showcase this model, asking the government to incorporate it into a complete ecological agriculture package; one that is more coherent, holistic and affordable to farmers.