Grin News Feb 4
A Padma Shri-winning farmer talks about his almost magical formula to save the Indian farmer
‘A Padma Shri for a farmer? Can you believe it? Who would have ever thought this?’ says 65-year-old Subhas Palekar. But why not? After all, people from all professions have been known to win one of India’s highest civilian awards. ‘Because,’ answers Palekar emphatically, ‘in our country people think farmer’s are from another planet, farmers are aliens, the way farmers are discussed, as if farmers are not like other human beings.’
‘For example,’ says Palekar who won the Padma Shri in 2016 for promoting organic farming using only indigenous ingredients, and without chemical fertilisers and pesticides, ‘prices increase for everything and everyone accepts price rise for everything from toys to petrol but somehow the moment prices increase for food, there is a furore. Why? Don’t farmers have costs? Aren’t those costs from labour to petrol increasing?’
Since the 80s, Palekar who has a 36 acre farm in Vidharbha, the region in the western state of Maharashtra which is infamous for its droughts and farmer suicides, has shown the way to around 4 million farmers on how to grow better, healthier crops, make more money without getting trapped in a debt cycle of more pesticides, more chemicals, more loans, and more suicides. Most of the farmers who use Palekar’s all-natural methods are in Western and Southern India. At a time when reports suggest that India is moving to large scale food imports in everything from corn and oilmeals to lentils and wheat, Palekar is arguing that it is impossible to argue that the country will feed its vast population using imported food.
That Palekar has a point is easy to see. You only have to look at Punjab, the ‘bread basket’ of India, which was once held up as an example of the success of the Green Revolution, the dream that India will be food sufficient and will be able to grow all the food its growing population needs. But such has been the overuse of chemicals and fertilisers that large swathes of Punjab’s soil has been poisoned. A test on water from village wells in Faridkot in Punjab at the University of Exeter in 2009 by the environment advocacy group Greenpeace found very high levels of nitrates in the water. These nitrates flow in from synthetic nitrate fertilisers in the farm land. Punjab has one of the highest rate of cancer cases in the country and a train that carries patients to a hospital in Bikaner has been dubbed ‘Cancer Express’.
All of this, says Palekar, can be stopped. He advocates something called ‘zero budget spiritual farming’ where the argument is that nature, if treated well, gives farmers all the nutrients for farming and that there is no need to pour chemicals into the soil. Palekar is also a major advocate of the use of indigenous cattle breeds in India and says his research shows that manure and urine from ‘desi’ cows — usually with a trademark hump on the back — add far more valuable nutrients to the soil than hybrid cattle. He gives detailed instructions on how to make simple pesticides and fertilisers using cow urine and manure — formulas that had been used in India for centuries before chemical fertilisers and pesticides arrived. Shunning hybrid seeds, Palekar encourages the use of natural seeds.
An anti-gene modification (GM) of food activist, Palekar has thrown a challenge to India’s agrarian policy makers: ‘Show me one farmer who has used my methodology and has committed suicide. You can’t.’ He says if no one can show him a farmer who has used his methods and has still killed himself, why isn’t the government taking up his ways on a war footing to solve India’s agrarian crisis? This is a powerful argument in a country where between 2001 and 2011, one farmer has killed himself every half an hour.
Call to Action: To know more about zero budget farming, do check out the publications listed here or review information on Subhash Palekar’s website.