With help from worms

By: Jyotika Sood

Shekhawati farmers in Rajasthan go organic

It came to them as a small business proposal. About 10,000 farmers in the semi-arid Shekhawati region on the edge of Thar desert turned it into a fortune spinner and have become major organic farmers in Rajasthan.

It was 1994, recalled Om Prakash Sharma, farmer in Korela village near Nawalgarh town. M R Morarka-GDC Rural Research Foundation, a voluntary organisation in Jaipur that promotes organic farming, was doing survey in villages around Nawalgarh for farmers who would want to produce vermicompost.

One had to just cover a corner of their field with straw, leave some earthworms provided by Morarka and dump crop or cattle waste there. Within a few weeks as the manure got ready, the organisation would buy it. Since agriculture in the region earned little profit, the proposal gave farmers a chance to supplement their income. Most agreed.

Since vermicompost requires little investment, some started using it. Need of pesticides also decreased as vermicompost brings equilibrium to the micro-environment of the soil, he said. “Morarka officials used to tell us that vermicompost eventually increases crop yield. I wanted to give it a try,” said Sharma. He is among the initial group of farmers around Nawalgarh who ventured into organic farming.

With the gradual use of vermicompost and biopesticides like datura and neem spray, the soil regained its fertility in three-four years, he added. Sharma now harvests double the produce he used to get earlier and has obtained organic certification for his produce. Researchers from Swami Keshwanand Rajasthan Agricultural University in Bikaner regularly visit his farm to study the soil and conduct field trials of organic crops.

Success of farmers like Sharma has prompted thousands of other farmers in the region to take up organic farming. It has also encouraged the youth, who had quit farming considering it loss-making, to embrace agriculture. “I took up the job of tourist guide because the yield from our seven-hectare farm was not sufficient,” said Manoj Kumar. “But when I learnt that use of urea goes down from 1 kg per bigha (0.06 ha) to 400 grammes by using vermicompost, I persuaded my father to turn to organic farming. Last year we incurred loss, which we were expecting. It’s bonanza time from next year,” said Manoj who now helps his father in the farm.

The advantage for Nawalgarh farmers is they need not worry for the market. Morarka foundation buys most of their produce from doorsteps to sell in its retail store Down To Earth. “This offers an assured market and we save on the transportation cost,” said Manoj.

About 250,000 farmers in 15 states prepare vermicompost for the foundation, making it the largest producer in the country. Wherever farmers have tried it, Gupta said, they have embraced organic farming.