ISIS Report 24/02/14
Bhaskar Save, the Gandhi of Natural Farming
of a minimalist farming system based on non-violence and all of nature’s
biodiversity that produces in abundance with no chemical input Bharat
note: We featured Bhaskar Save’s work in 2006  (Stem Farmers’ Suicides with
Organic Farming, SiS 32), reprinted in  (Food Futures Now *Organic
*Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free , ISIS/TWN report). Bharat
Mansata is an environmental activist and writer, and active founder member of
Vanvadi, a twenty year old collective that has regenerated 64 acres of
bio-diverse natural forest in the foothills of the Sahyadris in Maharashtra,
India. The present article is from his recent book, 'The Vision of Natural Farming'
, which shows how important Save’s work is for the survival of people and
Save, acclaimed ‘Gandhi of Natural Farming’, turned 92 on 27 January 2014,
having inspired and mentored 3 generations of organic farmers. Masanobu
Fukuoka, the legendary Japanese natural farmer, visited Save’s farm in 1996,
and described it as “the best in the world”, ahead of his own farm. In 2010,
the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) honoured
Save with the ‘One World Award for Lifetime Achievement’.
Indeed, Save’s farm is a veritable food
forest; a net supplier of water, energy and fertility to the local eco-system, instead
of a net consumer. His way of farming and teachings are rooted in a deep
understanding of the symbiotic relationships in nature, which he is ever happy
to explain in simple, down-to-earth idioms to anyone interested.
Save’s 14 acre orchard-farm Kalpavruksha is
located on the Coastal Highway near village Dehri, District Valsad, in
southernmost coastal Gujarat, a few km north of the Maharashtra-Gujarat border.
The nearest railway station is Umergam on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route.
Some 10 acres of the farm are a mixed
natural orchard of mainly coconut and chikoo (Manilkara zapota,
an evergreen fruit tree)
with fewer numbers of other tree species. About 2 acres are under seasonal field
crops cultivated organically in traditional rotation. Another 2 acres is a
nursery for raising coconut saplings that are in great demand.
The farm yield is superior to any farm
using chemicals. This is true in all aspects of total quantity, nutritional quality,
taste, biological diversity, ecological sustainability, water conservation,
energy efficiency, and economic profitability. The costs (mainly labour for
harvesting) are minimal, and external inputs almost zero.
A residential learning centre on natural
farming is about to start in a few months at the farm.
Natural farming and its fruit
farming is holistic and bio-diverse organic farming in harmony with nature. It
is low-intervention, ecological and sustainable. In its purest advanced form,
it is a ‘do-nothing’ way of farming where nature does everything, or almost
everything, so very little needs to be done by the farmer. This can best be
achieved in a progressive manner with tree crops. As Save explains, “When a
tree sapling planted by a farmer is still young and tender, it needs some attention.
But as it matures, it can look after itself, and then it looks after the
With annual or seasonal field crops, more
continuing attention is needed, but even here, the work and input needed
progressively diminishes as the soil regains its health and symbiotic biodiversity
“Who planted the great, ancient forests?” asks Save. “Who
tilled the land? Who provided seed, manure, irrigation, or protection from
pests? … In our forests, untended by humans, the food trees – like ber, jambul,
mahua, mango, wild fig, wild sapota, tamarind, etc. – yield so abundantly in
their season, that the branches sag with the weight of the fruit. The annual
yield per tree is commonly over a tonne, year after year, carried away by
forest dwellers, including humans. But the earth around each tree remains whole
and undiminished. There is no gaping hole in the ground! If anything, the soil
“From where do these forest trees –
including those on rocky mountains – get their water, their nitrogen,
phosphorous, potash? Though stationary, Nature provides their needs right where
they stand. But arrogant modern technology, with its blinkered, meddling itch, is
blind to this.
ancient sages understood Nature’s ways far better than most modern day technologists,”
He quotes the Upanishads:
Purnamadaya Purnamewa Vashishyate”
(This creation is
whole and complete.
From the whole
emerge creations, each whole and complete.
Take the whole from
the wholerespectfully, as many times as you need;
the whole yet remains, undiminished, complete)
believed in gram swaraj (or village self-governance),” says Save.
“Central to his vision was complete self-reliance at the village level in all
the basics needed for a healthy life. He had confidence in the strength of organic
farming in this country. Similarly, as Vinoba Bhave (Indian teacher of
nonviolence and human rights, 1895-1982) pointed out, industries merely transform
‘raw materials’ sourced from Nature. They empty one bag to fill another, but cannot
create anew. Only Nature is truly creative and self-regenerating – through
synergy with the fresh daily inflow of the sun’s energy.
is on earth, a constant inter-play of the six paribals (key factors) of
Nature, interacting with sunlight. Three are: air, water and soil.
Working in tandem with these, are the three orders of life: vanaspati
srushti, the world of plants; jeev srushti, the realm of insects and
micro-organisms; and prani srushti, the animal kingdom. These six paribals
maintain a dynamic balance, harmonising Nature’s grand symphony!
human species has no right to disrupt any of the paribals of Nature. But
modern technology, wedded to commerce – rather than compassion – has proved
disastrous at all levels. We have despoiled and polluted the soil, water and
air. We have wiped out our forests and killed its creatures. And relentlessly,
modern farmers spray deadly poisons on their fields, massacring Nature’s jeev
srushti, or micro-organisms and insects – the unpretentious, but
tireless little fertility workers that maintain the vital, ventilated quality
of the soil, recycling all life-ebbed biomass into nourishment for plants. The
noxious chemicals also inevitably poison the water, and Nature’s prani
srushti or animal kingdom, including humans.
declared, ‘Where there is soshan, or oppression, there can be no poshan,
or nurture!’ Vinoba Bhave added, ‘Science wedded to compassion can bring about
a paradise on earth. But divorced from ahimsa, or non-violence, it can
only cause a massive conflagration that swallows us in its flames.’
to increase Nature’s ‘productivity,’ is the fundamental blunder that highlights
the arrogant ignorance of agricultural scientists. Nature, unspoiled by man,
is already most abundant in her yield. When a grain of rice can reproduce a
thousand-fold within months, where is the need to increase its productivity!
What is required at most is to help ensure the necessary natural conditions for
optimal, wholesome yield.
all the years a student spends for an M. Sc. or Ph.D. in agriculture, the only
goal is short-term – and narrowly perceived – economic (rather than
nutritional) ‘productivity’. For this, the farmer is urged to buy and do
a hundred things, greatly increasing his costs. But not a thought is spared to
what a farmer must never do so that the land remains unharmed for future
generations and other creatures.”
A quarter century ago, ‘Poison
in your Food’ – a well-researched lead feature in ‘India Today’, 15th
June, 1989 – starkly exposed that “Indians are daily eating food laced with
some of the highest amounts of toxic pesticide residues found in the world. In
the process, they are exposed to the risk of heart diseases; brain, kidney and
liver damage; and cancer”. More recently, even the Food Safety and Standards
Authority of India, Union Ministry of Agriculture, reported last year that the
toxic pesticides and chemicals contained in the foods we commonly buy are hugely
in excess of permissible limits, exposing consumers to unacceptable risk of
myriad diseases. Such poisons are even more
dangerous for pregnant women, the babies they bear, and young children, as well
as the ill and diseased.
The differences between chemical farming and organic farming
lists 18 major differences between chemical farming and organic farming in
harmony with nature:
farming fragments the web of life; organic farming nurtures its wholeness.
farming depends on fossil oil; organic farming on living soil.
farmers see their land as a dead medium; organic farmers know theirs is teeming
farming pollutes the air, water and soil; organic farming purifies and renews
farming uses large quantities of water and depletes aquifers; organic farming
requires much less irrigation, and recharges groundwater.
farming is mono-cultural and destroys diversity; organic farming is
poly-cultural and nurtures diversity.
farming produces poisoned food; organic farming yields nourishing, poison-free food.
farming has a short history and threatens a dim future; organic farming has a
long history and promises a bright future.
farming is an alien, imported technology; organic farming has evolved
farming is propagated through schooled, institutional misinformation; organic
farming learns from Nature and farmers’ experience.
farming benefits traders and industrialists; organic farming benefits the
farmer, the environment and society as a whole.
farming robs the self-reliance (and self-respect) of farmers and villages;
organic farming restores and strengthens it.
farming progressively leads to bankruptcy and misery; organic farming liberates
people from debt and woe.
farming is violent and entropic; organic farming is non-violent and
farming is a hollow ‘green revolution’; organic farming is the true green
farming is crudely materialistic, with no ideological mooring; organic farming
is rooted in spirituality and abiding truth.
farming is suicidal, moving from life to death; organic farming is the road to
farming is the vehicle of commerce and oppression; organic farming is the path
of culture and co-evolution.
Save’s plea for India’s agro-ecological resurgence
July, 2006, Bhaskar Save addressed a detailed 8 page Open Letter (along with
six annexes) to M.S. Swaminathan, then chairman of the National Commission on
Farmers. This was at a time of an unrelenting wave of farmer suicides in
various parts of India, particularly Vidarbha and Andhra Pradesh, but also
Punjab, the frontline state of India’s ‘green revolution’, now turned black.
Open Letter – widely circulated and translated all over the world – presented a
devastating critique of the government’s agricultural policies favouring
chemical farming, while making an eloquent plea for urgent and fundamental
reorientation. Save states, “I say with conviction that only by mixed organic
farming in harmony with Nature, can India sustainably provide abundant
wholesome food and meet every basic need of all – to live in health, dignity
wrote back to Save, “I have long admired your work and am grateful to you for
the detailed suggestions… valuable comments and recommendations. We shall take
them into consideration in our final report.”
further independent Open Letter from Bhaskar Save, dated 1st
November, 2006, was sent to the Prime Minister. Save asks in his letter, “In
this vast nation, does any government agricultural department or university
have a single farm run on modern methods, which is a net supplier of water,
energy and fertility to the local eco-system, rather than a net consumer? But
where there is undisturbed synergy of Nature, this is a reality! By all
criteria of ecological audit, my farm has only a positive contribution to the
health of the environment. Economically too, I get a manifold higher income
than ‘modern’ farmers.”
success demonstrated by Save in decreasing and eliminating external fertility
inputs while achieving high productivity, is thus a model for promoting food
security; and his method of tree-cropping – integrating short lifespan, medium
lifespan and long lifespan species – has been hailed as potentially revolutionary
for wasteland regeneration, while also offering sustainable and rewarding
livelihoods to large numbers of people.
Natural Abundance at Kalpavruksha
twenty steps inside the gate of Save’s farm is a sign that says: “Co-operation
is the fundamental Law of Nature.” – A simple and concise introduction to the
philosophy and practice of natural farming. Further inside the farm are
numerous other signs that attract attention with brief, thought-provoking sutras
or aphorisms. These pithy sayings contain all the distilled wisdom on
nature, farming, health, culture and spirituality, that Save has gathered over
the years, apart from his extraordinary harvest of food!
If you ask this farmer where he learnt his
way of natural farming, he might tell you – quite humbly -- “my university is
my farm.” His farm has now become a sacred university for many, as every
Saturday (Visitors’ Day) brings numerous people from all over India, and
occasional travellers from distant lands.
Kalpavruksha compels attention for its high yield, easily out-performing any
modern farm using chemicals. This is readily visible at all times. The number
of coconuts per tree is perhaps the highest in the country. A few of the palms
yield over 400 coconuts each year, while the average is closer to 350. The crop
of chikoo (sapota) – largely planted more than forty-five years ago – is
similarly abundant, providing about 300 kg of delicious fruit per tree each
growing in the orchard are numerous bananas, papayas, areca-nuts, and a few
trees of date-palm, drumstick, mango, jackfruit, toddy palm, custard apple, jambul,
guava, pomegranate, lime, pomelo, mahua, tamarind, neem, audumber;
apart from some bamboo and various under-storey shrubs like kadipatta
(curry leaves), crotons, tulsi, and vines like pepper, betel leaf,
Nawabi Kolam, a tall, delicious and high-yielding native variety of rice, several kinds of
pulses, winter wheat and some vegetables and tubers too are grown in seasonal
rotation on about two acres of land. These provide enough for this
self-sustained farmer’s immediate family and occasional guests. In most years,
there is some surplus of rice, which is gifted to relatives or friends, who
appreciate its superior flavour and quality.
another two acres under coconut nursery, the remaining ten acres of orchard
have consistently produced an average food yield of over 15 000 kg per acre per
annum. (This has declined somewhat in the past 15-20 years following pollution
from progressive industrialization of the area.) In nutritional value, this is
many times superior to an equivalent weight of food grown with intensive use of
toxic chemicals, as in Punjab, Haryana and many other parts of India.
diverse plants in Save’s farm co-exist as a mixed, harmonious community of
dense vegetation. Rarely can one spot even a small patch of bare soil exposed
to the direct impact of the sun, wind or rain. The deeply shaded areas under
the chikoo trees have a spongy carpet of leaf litter covering the soil,
while various weeds spring up wherever some sunlight penetrates.
thick ground cover is an excellent moderator of the soil’s micro-climate, which
–Save emphasizes – is of utmost importance in agriculture. “On a hot summer
day, the shade from the plants or the mulch (leaf litter) keeps the surface of
the soil cool and slightly damp. During cold winter nights, the ground cover is
like a blanket conserving the warmth gained during the day. Humidity too is
higher under the canopy of dense vegetation, and evaporation is greatly
reduced. Consequently, irrigation needs are very low. The many little insect
friends and micro-organisms of the soil thrive under these conditions.
Nature’s Tillers and Fertility Builders
states, “A farmer who aids the natural regeneration of the earthworms and
soil-dwelling organisms on his farm, is firmly back on the road to prosperity.”
flourish in a dark, moist, aerated soil-habitat, protected from extremes of
heat and cold, and having an abundance of biomass. These tireless workers
digest organic matter like crumbling leaf litter along with the soil, while
churning out in every cycle of 24 hours, one and a half times their weight of
rich compost, high in all plant nutrients, and with a bacterial population that
is nearly a hundred times more than in the surrounding soil.
earthworm’s burrowing action efficiently tills the land, imparting a porous
structure to the soil. This increases its capacity to hold air and moisture,
the most important requirements of plant roots. The worm castings too are well
aerated and absorbent, while allowing excess water to drain away. They form
stable aggregates, whose soil particles hold firmly together, resisting
other soil-dwelling creatures – ants, termites, many species of micro-organisms
– similarly aid in the physical conditioning of the soil and in recycling plant
nutrients; and there are innumerable such helpful creatures in every square foot
of a natural farm like Kalpavruksha.
stark contrast, modern agricultural practices have proved disastrous to the
organic life of the soil. Many of the burrowing creatures are killed by the
toxic chemicals used, or crushed under the weight of heavy tractors. The
consequent soil compaction, resulting from their death, has reduced soil
aeration and the earth's capacity to absorb moisture.
ruining the natural fertility of the soil, we actually create artificial
‘needs’ for more and more external inputs, more expenses, and unnecessary
labour, while the results are inferior in every way. “The living soil,”
stresses Save, “is an organic unity, and it is this entire web of life that
must be protected and nurtured. Natural Farming is the Way.”
Weeds as friends
nature, every humble creature and plant plays its role in the functioning of
the eco-system. Each is an inseparable part of the food chain. The excrement of
one species is nutrition for another. In death too, every organism, withered
leaf, or dry blade of grass leaves behind its contribution of fertility for
bringing forth new life.” Consequently, pleads Save, if we truly seek to regain
ecological harmony, the very first principle we must learn to follow is, ‘Live
and let live’.
In a country like India, a variety of weeds
rapidly cover bare ground with the first showers of the rainy season. When
torrential downpours follow as the monsoon progresses, the weeds buffer the
hammering force of the raindrops, while their roots bind the soil against
erosion. Such soil erosion could otherwise be severe in our tropical
conditions, particularly on sloping terrain. Save thus observes: it is our
foolish ignorance that we fail to understand how great a blessing the weeds are.
roots of the weeds also improve aeration in the passages they make in the soil.
Moisture absorption and retention are higher. By shading the ground, the weeds
moderate the temperature of the earth, reducing evaporation and maintaining
suitable conditions for soil organisms. And when the weeds die, the earthworms,
ants and decomposer-bacteria that feed on their dead leaves and roots, return
their mineral nutrients to the soil to help the next generation of plants, and
the long life-span trees.
may additionally perform a variety of specialised functions. As soil conditions
change, there is a natural progression of different kinds of weeds that inhabit
the earth. Some are excellent pioneers that steadily work to improve the soil
where little else yet grows. Some are leguminous, and provide nitrogen. Yet
others may function as reproduction inhibitors of the little insects that sit
on them, thereby checking the plant damage that some of these creatures might
When weed control is needed and how
weeds, in general, are friends of a farmer, in certain unnatural conditions, some
species may become stubbornly rampant. Such weeds may then be a nuisance if
they rapidly overgrow the crops planted by the farmer, blocking off sunlight.
However, here too, the weeds help check and heal a more fundamental problem –
that of soil erosion or impoverishment. They persistently signal to the farmer
that s/he is planting a wrong crop in the given circumstances, or growing it in
a wrong way, hurting the earth and her creatures.
only sensible and lasting ‘root-cure’ to weed rampancy among field crops is to
adopt mixed planting and crop rotation, while discontinuing chemicals and deep
tillage. The problematic weeds will only phase out gradually as the soil
regains its health, so they may still tend to over-shade the food crops in the
interim. The way to manage this is to periodically cut the weeds (before they
flower), and mulch them at least 3-4 inches thick on the soil under the crops.
Without any sunlight falling on the weed seeds buried in the soil, their fresh
germination is effectively checked.
may thus be some competition between crops and weeds for sunlight, though not
for soil nutrients. If the crops emerge taller, says Save, their shade will
suppress the weeds, which will then be unable to cause any problem. This
happens naturally in healthy, living, non-acidic soils. Our ancestors have been
farming for many generations. But because their soil was healthy, they never
faced any serious problem from weeds, even as recently as a few decades ago.
is thus a rule of thumb for seed spacing while planting your crops. If your
soil is poor/weak, increase the quantum of seeds you plant. In other words,
plant closer. The crops thereby cast shade on the ground more rapidly,
retarding the weeds. If your soil is fairly healthy, plant fewer seeds, that
is, keep a larger gap between them.
farmers shift back to organic farming, their soil steadily improves in health
each year. Correspondingly, crop growth gets better, while weed growth
declines. In just 2-3 years, there should be no need for any weeding at all.
Until then, the farmer is better advised to cut and mulch the weeds.
Mulching with cut weed
cutting of weed growth above the land surface – without disturbing the roots –
and laying it on the earth as ‘mulch,’ benefits the soil in numerous ways. With
mulching, there is less erosion of soil by wind or rain, less compaction, less
evaporation, and less need for irrigation. Soil aeration is higher. So is
moisture absorption, and insulation from heat and cold. The mulch also supplies
food for the earthworms and micro-organisms to provide nutrient-rich compost
for the crops. Moreover, as the roots of the weeds are left in the earth, these
continue to bind the soil, and aid its organic life in a similar manner as the
mulch on the surface. And when the dead roots
get weathered, they too serve as food for the soil-dwelling creatures.
is effective in checking the rapid re-emergence of the cut weeds, only if the
mulch layer is thick enough to block off sunlight. For example, the weeds cut
from a plot of 100 sq. feet will never provide a thick enough layer to fully
cover the entire 100 sq. feet. It may be adequate for 25 sq. ft., or perhaps
just 10 sq. ft., depending on the density of weed growth. If sunlight
penetrates through a layer of mulch that is too thin (less than 3 inches), the
weeds may grow back vigorously again.
if 10 sq. feet is the area that can be adequately mulched, at least 3 to 4
inches thick, with the weeds cut from 100 sq. ft., that is what the farmer
should stick to, unless additional biomass can be obtained from an external
source. The fresh weed growth from the unmulched land would again need to be cut
and mulched in the selected area. In this manner, the mulch method of shading
out weeds can be successful in 4 or 5 stages. The decomposition of the weeds
may take several months, but the compost formed will be very helpful to the
crop. What was viewed as an enemy, will now serve as friend.
It is also important that the cutting and
mulching operation should be done before the weeds have flowered and become
pollinated, otherwise a new generation of the same weeds will re-emerge
strongly in the mulched areas.
Shading out weeds with tall plants
Dabhro weed is considered a menace by most farmers. To control it, one
needs to plant crops that thickly shade the ground, says Save. No matter how
often you remove it, the dabhro comes up again from its deep reaching
roots. You should plant an over-shading crop like banana at 4 ft by 4 ft, or 5
ft by 5 ft. When these have grown a little, provide them a good quantity of
dung manure. The leaves that emerge will span out such that the canopies of
adjacent plants will touch, thickly shading the ground and thereby suppressing
the dabhdo, and gradually destroying it.
multi-function weed control
the ground cover of weeds that constitute the lowest storey of vegetation in
the orchard area (where any sunlight penetrates to the ground), there are
numerous shrubs like the ‘kadipatta’ (or curry leaf, Murraya koenigii)
and the homely croton that line the pathways through the orchard. The latter
plant, of various spotted and striped varieties, is relatively shallow rooted.
It serves as a ‘water meter’, indicating by the drooping of its leaves that the
moisture level of the soil is falling.
shrubs of curry leaf contribute to moderating the population of several species
of crop-feeding insects, while also providing an important edible herb widely
used in Indian cooking. From this minor crop alone, Save earns an income of at
least Rs 2 500/ month, at zero cost. (Even the harvesting and bundling is done
by the purchaser.)
and there, one might see climbers like the pepper vine or betel leaf in a
spiral garland around a supari (arecanut) palm, or perhaps a passion
fruit vine arching across a clearing. These provide additional bonus yield.
The Principles of Farming in Harmony with Nature
four fundamental principles of natural farming are quite simple!” declares
Bhaskar Save. “The first is, ‘all living creatures have an equal right to
live’. To respect such right, farming must be non-violent. The second principle
recognizes that ‘everything in Nature is useful and serves a purpose in the web
third principle is: farming is a dharma, a sacred path of serving Nature
and fellow creatures; it must not degenerate into a pure dhandha or
money-oriented business. Short-sighted greed to earn more – ignoring Nature’s
laws – is the root of the ever-mounting problems we face.
is the principle of perennial fertility regeneration. It observes that we
humans have a right only to the fruits and seeds of the crops we grow. These
constitute 5 to 15 % of the plants’ biomass yield. The balance 85 to 95 % of
the biomass, the crop residue, must go back to the soil to renew its fertility,
either directly as mulch, or as the manure of farm animals. If this is
religiously followed, nothing is needed from outside; the fertility of the land
will not decline.”
Plant needs – what, and how much
a common misunderstanding, Save clarifies that the organic matter we add to the
soil is not the ‘food’ of a plant, at least in any direct sense. Rather, it is
food for the innumerable soil-dwelling creatures and micro-organisms, which work
ceaselessly to maintain the fertility of the land. And there are more
micro-organisms in half a cup of good soil than there are humans on earth.
the digestive processes of the soil dwelling creatures, including earthworms,
the organic matter added to the soil gets decomposed into a progressively more
inorganic or mineral form. The mineral rich excreta of these creatures must
then dissolve in moisture before being absorbed by the roots of plants.
serious yet is the misconception about how much of the minerals or water
is needed. Save never tires to stress that plants are actually mitahari,
or very small consumers of the nutrients in the soil. Sunlight and air are what
they need in abundance, while the moisture requirement of most plants – barring
aquatic and semi-aquatic species like mangroves and rice – is best met when the
soil is just damp rather than soaked. As India has no lack of sunlight, it is the
porous, humus-covered soils that absorb and hold more air and moisture, and are the most
productive in giving a sustained, high yield of biomass. This is ancient
knowledge, though less understood these days.
analysis confirms that approximately 88 % of the weight of a plant – or any
organic matter – consists of just carbon and oxygen, with roughly equal
contributions of about 44 % each. Much of these two elements is drawn by the
plant from atmospheric carbon dioxide, absorbed through minute pores or stomata
in the underside of leaves.
drawn from moisture, is third in the list and contributes about 6 % of the
plant's weight. The moisture also provides some of the oxygen, as does the air
contained in the pores of the soil.
with the list of the ‘building-blocks’ required by a plant, nitrogen comes a
distant fourth, contributing between 1 to 2 per cent of its weight. This
element, abundant in the air, is made available in the soil through the action
of billions of rhizobia -- the micro-organisms that dwell in the root nodules
of leguminous plants. Nitrogen is also supplied when dead organic matter is
broken down in the soil, under the action of even larger numbers of decomposer
Less than 5 % of the
weight of a plant originates in the various other mineral nutrients provided by
the soil itself. These are elements like phosphorous, potassium, calcium,
silicon, magnesium; and a number of trace elements or micronutrients required
in very minute quantities, such as iron, copper, zinc, boron, cobalt,
The earthworm castings in
a mixed natural farm or forest provide an abundant supply of these minerals and
trace elements. Myriad other animals, birds, insects and micro-organisms
(bacteria, fungi, molds etc.) add their contribution in recycling nutrients to
the soil. In fact, every creature – in excretion and in death – is an integral
part of the continuous fertility cycle of nature.
addition, deep-rooted trees draw up fresh supplies of minerals dissolved over
time from the underlying parent rock or sub-soil. Thus a farmer, who is mindful
of the natural, biological processes of fertility regeneration, scarcely needs
to bother about the chemical analysis of his soil. The important thing is to
religiously return all crop residues and bio-wastes to the earth. Any
pronounced ‘nutrient deficiency’ in the topsoil – often caused by cash-cropping
monocultures – then becomes largely corrected in a few years by reverting to
mixed cropping. Of course, checking soil erosion and shunning agro-chemicals is
the physical work on a natural farm is much less than in a modern farm, regular
mindful attention is a must. Hence the saying: “The footsteps of a farmer are
the best fertilizer to his plants!” In the case of trees, this is especially
important in the first few years. Gradually, as they become self-reliant, the
work of the farmer is reduced – till ultimately, nothing needs to be done,
except harvesting. In the case of coconuts, Save has even dispensed with
harvesting. He waits for the coconuts to ripen and fall on their own, and
merely collects those fallen on the ground.
growing field crops like rice, wheat, pulses, vegetables, etc., some seasonal
attention, year after year, is unavoidable. This is why Save calls his method
organic farming, while a fairly pure form of ‘do-nothing natural farming’ is
only attained in a mature, tree crop system. However, even with field crops,
any intervention by the farmer should be kept to the bare minimum, respecting
the superior wisdom of nature, and minimizing violence.
The five concerns of farming
summarizes the key practical aspects of his approach to natural farming in five
major areas of activity shared by farmers all over the world: tillage,
fertility inputs, weeding, irrigation, and crop protection.
Tillage in the case of
tree-crops is only permissible as a one-time intervention to loosen the soil
before planting the saplings or seeds. Post planting, the work of maintaining
the porosity and aeration of the soil should be left entirely to the organisms,
soil-dwelling creatures and plant roots in the earth.
regard to fertility inputs, the recycling of all crop residues and
biomass on the farm is an imperative for ensuring its continued fertility.
Where farm-derived biomass is scarce, initial external provision of organic
inputs is helpful. However, no chemical fertilizer whatsoever should be used.
should be avoided. It is only if the weeds tend to overgrow the crops, blocking
off sunlight, that they may be controlled by cutting and mulching, rather than
by uprooting for ‘clean cultivation’. Herbicides, of course, should never be
should be conservative, no more than is required for maintaining the dampness
of the soil. Complete vegetative cover – preferably multi-storied – and
mulching greatly reduce water needs.
protection may be left entirely to the natural processes of biological
control by naturally occurring predators. Poly-cultures of healthy, organically
grown crops in healthy soil have a high resistance to pest attack. Any damage
is usually minimal, and self-limiting. At most, some non-chemical measures like
the use of neem, diluted desi cow urine, etc. may be resorted to. But
this too is ultimately unnecessary.
thus returning to Nature many of the tasks that were originally hers, a weighty
burden slips off the back of the half-broken, modern day farmer. And the land
begins to regenerate once more.
Wendell Berry, a perceptive thinker,
organic farmer and writer states: “When we change the way we grow our food, we
change our food, our values, our society. … Natural farming is about healing
Bhaskar Save says, “Children have a
birth-right to suckle the sweet wholesome milk from their mother’s bosom. But
tragically, our modern rapacious way of farming, rampant industrialism and
consumerist culture draw on Mother Earth’s life-blood and flesh. How then can
we hope to receive her continuing nourishment?”
“Non-violence, the essential mark of
cultural and spiritual evolution, is only possible through natural farming.”
1. Burcher S. Stem farmers’
suicides with organic farming. Science in Society 32,
2. Ho MW, Burchers S,
Lim LC et al. Food Futures Now *Organic*Sustainable*Fossil-Fuel Free,
ISIS/TWN, London/Penang, 2008. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/foodFutures.php
3. Mansata B. Vision
of Natural Farming, Earthcare Books, Kolkata, India, 2012. http://thankindia.org/knowledge/vision-of-natural-farming/
There are 5 comments on this article so far. Add your comment
|James Cooley Comment left 24th February 2014 17:05:10|
Very inspirational post. I have instituted some of these practices on my farm intuitively, but now have a better understanding of the rational and plan to redouble my efforts to implement more of them.
|Linda Tanner Comment left 25th February 2014 08:08:03|
Excellent information. For years I have been moving in this direction but it is so slow when one is working on depleted, degraded soil, and without machinery other than hand tools such as hoe, shovel and rake.
However it is all enjoyable, particularly the harvest of 100% pure foods grown with the idea of living within Nature and not trying to control it with noxious poisons.
|Don Ross Comment left 26th February 2014 13:01:52|
|Kees Stigter Comment left 25th February 2014 08:08:40|
Splendid examples of how the agroclimatology of "non-forest trees" works and how much such "natural farmers" empirically know about this.
I will refer to it in a Chapter "Agroforestry
and (Micro)Climate Change" I am presently writing for the Second Edition pf "Tree-Crop Interfaces" (CABI, 2014).
Thanks, Kees Stigter
|Pat Kozowyk Comment left 26th February 2014 15:03:45|
Thank you. Different growing conditions and plants - same results, insights and observations on our farm. Nature is constantly teaching me - as long as I take the time to observe - take the time to listen - stay close to the ground and off big machines.
Thank you for the affirmation that I have been on the right track. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to take wonderful quotes of great wisdom to carry with me whenever I feel fatigued and discouraged in the face of contrary values.