"There is a demand for sustainable agriculture"


The Andhra Pradesh agriculture department has decided to join hands with the rural development ministry's Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) to take the Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA)  programme forward. This ushers in good news as it indicates the acceptance of chemical free agriculture by the agriculture department, which is usually known to back chemicals in the name of productivity. DV Raidu, Director, Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) in an interview with Savvy Soumya Misra talks about the success of the programme and its future  with the agriculture ministry.       

 How do you see the partnership with agriculture department panning out in promoting sustainable agriculture in the state? 
With this partnership, we will be looking to build on each other’s strengths. The community based character of the program through decentralized extension model will converge with technical strength of Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) and take Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) to its logical conclusion. We start working at farm (household) economy comprehensively in addition to production and productivity. Further SERP’s efforts in trying to find out “end to end” solution by integrating dairy, poultry and small ruminants will be a big strength. Already we are working in convergence with the animal husbandry department in a small way; this will further strengthen our programme.   

What do you envisage will be the role of the agriculture ministry in the scheme of things?
The ministry of agriculture will bring in the latest technology that will help farmers’ to reduce dependency on external inputs and help them revisit their own traditional wisdom. They will help communities to better implements like neem pulverizer, power weeder, small transplanters, small harvesters to reduce drudgery and improve efficiency of workforce. The ministry of agriculture would facilitate work on empowering farmers by mobilizing them into ‘joint liability groups’ (JLG) or ‘producer companies’. These farmers’ organizations will play critical role in accessing credit, improving marketing facilities and deciding markets for better prices. 

How has CMSA changed agriculture in Andhra Pradesh since 2004? 
Currently the programme is being implemented in 8033 villages of 503 mandals across 22 districts with 10.47 lakh farmers and 27.05 lakh acres. The emphasis of CMSA has been on reducing the cost of cultivation through non pesticide management (NPM) methods, restoring ecological balance, promoting green manure and dung based inoculants. The emphasis is on reduced dependency on external inputs and using locally available resources and this has improved the profitability of farmers. By preserving beneficial insects we are able to withdraw chemical pesticides. A survey followed by a third party assessment in 2008 showed a 70-80 per cent reduction in cost of pest management and 50 per cent reduction in fertilizer cost. The number of cases of hospitalization due to pesticide poisoning has also reduced. There is growing demand for this kind of agriculture. 

Talking of pesticide poisoning, pesticides are also associated with a lot of health problems. Has there been an improvement in health after shifting to NPM? 
In areas where NPM is practiced, cases of acute toxicity due to spraying of pesticides have completely gone away. It has also benefited those who weed chili fields, the leaves of which were always covered with pesticides and were prone to skin and breathing ailments. NPM has improved the quality and freshness of vegetables. In our interaction with women, we learn that their health has improved. We need to study the health impacts of the agricultural interventions. There is a plan to do such a study with organizations like IFPRI and the rural development ministry at the centre.

How difficult was it to get farmers to shift from the conventional agriculture to non pesticide management of farming? 
Initially it was difficult. They were unsure how pests that were not being killed with powerful pesticides could be killed with botanicals. But they were keen on getting rid of chemicals. They were explained how the life cycle of pest should be observed and non chemical methods like summer ploughing and other nine practices called non-negotiables would be adopted for pest control. They were told about the importance of family labour in monitoring fields and pests. Farmers were encouraged to try NPM farming on a quarter of an acre initially and compare it with the other area for the entire season. It was a slow but a steady process. 

What are the key inputs of Non Pesticide Management farming technique? 
Locally available natural resources are the inputs for NPM. The only exception is pheromone trap which can be purchased. Communities identified 108 plants from which extracts could be made for controlling pests. The thumb rule is that any leaf which is not eaten by goat or sheep can be used for preparation of botanical extracts. The most prominent inputs are plants like neem, vitex, lantana, dathura and cow dung and cow urine. Moreover, farmer’s knowledge is the basic input here. Harvesting sun light by covering land in several tiers is key to raise productivity and incomes. The technology promoted under Integrated Pest Management (IPM), is followed here also without the option of chemicals as last resort. The availability of community based platform in AP facilitates the decentralized extension in transmission of technology. 

CMSA now plans to convert to organic farming. What are the key changes you would bring in to convert to organic farming?
The key element in moving towards organic farming is to bring life back into the soil. And this can be done by using animal dung and urine which will help increase the microbial content of the soil by proliferating native earthworms. Rainwater harvesting has to be encouraged. The farmer has to be trained to shift from mono-cropping to poly-cropping with special emphasis on legumes except perhaps paddy. As leaves are integral to composting and compost is integral to NPM, so trees have become the focus of farming now. Leaves contain 85 per cent of the nutrients removed from the soil. The CMSA model has identified farmers to take this to its logical end. We are overlaying the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) with the help of the National Centre of Organic farming (NCOF). But the important point is to ensure that there is no reduction of yield and there is access to market premiums for pesticide free produce. It has happened in case of chillies in Guntur, where farmers have produced pesticide free chillies and exported to European markets with a premium of Rs.1800/- per quintal. Some farmers are migrating to organic farming. 

Organic cultivation or Non Pesticide Management (NPM) method both are very labour intensive. With more and more people moving out of agriculture, especially the younger generation, do you think that a labour intensive farming method like organic cultivation or NPM is something farmers that would go for? 
Organic or CMSA methods are most relevant to small and marginal farmers who are 80 per cent in number and area. Most of the times they are underemployed. With the popularization of ½ acre model under irrigated conditions the farmer's family is gainfully engaged for 365 days. We have also noticed that a good number of farmers, especially women farmers, are young and they feel excited that they have control on the inputs and processes. These young women bring to the field traditional wisdom. So more and more people are getting attracted towards farming.  

CMSA works on the concept of Self Help Groups. Is there a chance that there could be a certain section of the society (class or caste) that could be excluded due to any reason? 
It’s an inclusive model. Self Help Groups comprise of four categories of rural house holds- poorest of the poor, poor, not so poor, Above Poverty Line. Further special efforts are made to rope in poorest of the poor women i.e Scheduled Caste /Scheduled Tribes and others who don’t have enough money for monthly savings. Government is supporting –initially to help contributing to their savings. Big farmers in the village are also included in the program. The groups work on two broad categories- one with farmers from SHG's and the others outside of the SHG's which also includes poor outside the fold of the self help groups. Thus there are no chances for exclusion of certain sections of farmers. 

Have other states approached CMSA for promotion in their states?
They are now approaching us through the ministry of rural development at the centre. For some time we couldn’t take the offer in view of our own heavy engagement in the state; now we are willing to offer services of two to three experts for five days a month basis. 

How much can one profit by converting to NPM?
At present, our experience shows, that farmers earn a profit of about Rs 2000- Rs 4000 per acre. There is substantial scope for further enhancement of profits if the farmer implements Rain Fed Sustainable Agriculture model and half acre model in mission mode.

It is always contested by agriculture department that organic cultivation and chemical free agriculture cannot be the solution to the country's food security problem. Do you agree with this notion that our policy makers have at the centre?
No, we don't agree. What we are practicing is basically Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Integrated Nutrition Management (INM) approved by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Regarding IPM, we are clear about withdrawing pesticides immediately. About INM, it is a gradual reduction of chemical fertilizer, simultaneously replacing with leaf based organic manure with dung as inoculant. For example, urea will be replaced gradually with azolla in paddy. Subsoil nutrients are recycled through tree based farming and leaves going back to soil. We should not get bogged down by calling it organic farming; this is 'sustainable agriculture'. Chemicals will get reduced gradually; maintaining or improving the present yield levels, hence food security is not compromised.