India, tribal women are leading the conversion to organic agriculture

Experts urge a shift from conventional to organic farming to combat food shortages due to global warming. Tribal women in India are leading the way.

The future scenario of the global food system is a matter of worry for experts and the scientific community because of the vulnerability of agriculture to the impacts of global warming. It is estimated that agricultural productivity will decline 15 to 30 per cent by 2080 in the developing regions most subject to climate change – Africa, South Asia and Central America. For some countries in these areas total agricultural production could decline by up to half according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report Wake Up Before It Is Too Late.

To avoid this situation, the world needs a paradigm shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high external input dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems, urges the report.

Indian tribes set an example of sustainable agriculture

Unaware of such reports and expert views, tribal women of the Sundargarh district of eastern India’s Odisha state have chosen to produce safe and nutritious food, achieving food security and a better livelihood through organic farming.

This is in respect of their age-old agrarian tradition. Thousands of hectares of farmland in the district have never consumed any fertiliser that is either synthetic or inorganic in nature. “All we use is organic. Even the seeds are of indigenous varieties produced in our own farms,” says Nirmala Barla, a passionate farmer from Brahmanmara village.

Read more: India, how indigenous farmers are developing climate resilient agriculture

tribal women india
Farmers working in a cow-pea field during the end of summer © Basudev Mahapatra

The course of change

Such traditions have changed the lives of thousands such farmers. They only require some modifications for better production, says Nata Kishore Mishra, chief functionary of the Centre for Integrated Rural and Tribal Development (CIRTD), a local non-profit working to popularise organic farming and promote indigenous seed banks created by farmers. Earlier, we used to apply raw cow dung or compost to the soil and sow the seeds in the fields. The production was too little to fulfil our family needs,” says 35-year-old woman farmer Soharmati Topno.  

While suggesting the farmers go for multi-cropping instead of traditional monoculture, we facilitate convergence between the farmers and experts like Subhash Palekar, the agricultural scientist famous for his idea of zero budget natural farming,” Mishra says.

The model of zero budget natural farming entails producing crops at zero or near zero cost. Palekar has trained the farmers on how to prepare organic fertilisers using cow dung, cow urine, jaggery (a type of brown sugar made in India) and lentil powder, as well as organic pesticides using the leaves of neem (Azadirachta indica), karanja (Pongamia pinnata) and calotropis along with garlic, jaggery, cow dung and cow urine in different compositionsThe farmers, however, use molasses rich mahua (a tropical tree) instead of jaggery as the former is available in the vicinity and nearby forest.

Read more: Sikkim, the Indian state becomes the first to farm 100% organic

organic vegetable farm
Kalyani Minz’s vegetable farm in Budajharan village, Sundargarh, India © Basudev Mahapatra

The benefits

Multi-cropping and organic fertilisers have transformed the practice of traditional subsistence agriculture into a dependable livelihood option for more than 2000 tribal farmers applying natural farming on more than 1200 hectares of land. “My small piece of agricultural land is sufficient now to feed my family year-round while meeting expenses for the education of my two children,” says Golapi Sa, 40, of Patkijore village who farms a little less than a hectare of land.

The best part of the story is that the tribal women prefer growing food crops rather than cash crops because their priority is to meet their family’s nutritional requirements. They’ve formed groups bringing together landholders and the landless poor on the basis of equal sharing: patches of land are leased out for organic farming.

organic agriculture india
Farmers of Nalapad harvest ground nut from their multi-crop field © Basudev Mahapatra

Members of the Oliva Women Farmers Collective have received several accolades for growing about 12 crops – brinjal, chilly, onion, tomato, cow pea, watermelon, beans, bitter gourd, ladies finger, sunflower, pumpkin and leafy vegetables – in a single season by dedicating a row to each crop.

In order to promote traditional organic farming, the government of India has created the Paramparik Krishi Vikash Yojana programme. Under the scheme, over 600 extra hectares of land will be farmed organically by 1370 farmers from 30 clusters of tribal hamlets starting from this monsoon crop season, which usually spans from June to October. In this way, tribal farmers have set another example justifying the urge to shift from intensive to organic agriculture.

Licenza Creative Commons
Quest'opera è distribuita con Licenza Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 4.0 Internazionale.

Related articles
For a sustainable diet, diversify your basket

In an increasingly uncertain world, we need food production systems that can cope with dramatic climatic variations, provide nutritious diets, and build the resilience of communities and landscapes.

Galatea’s mission, making artisanal ice cream chemical free

We’re talking about Galatea, a company that produces semi-finished products for artisanal ice creams using high quality ingredients, natural colouring, excluding thickeners and hydrogenated fats, respecting the environment and supporting the less fortunate.

Quality ice cream is a matter of labels

Like with all foods, the quality of an ice cream can be discerned by reading its label. An expert explains how to do this, and tells us how their company steers clear of chemicals, using only natural ingredients to produce an excellent and “free” ice cream.