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Organic Farming

Of late, concerns like climate change, environmental degradation, lifestyle-related ailments, etc., have made the words organic food, natural farming, integrated farming, zero-budget farming, etc., quite fashionable. Many people who weren’t associated with agriculture or farming earlier are interested in getting into natural farming and are keen to acquaint themselves with the basic principles of organic agriculture before they wade into farming as either a secondary occupation or for recreation purposes.

An integrated farm is absolutely essential to produce organic food, especially if the organic food has to be economically viable. Organic food production can be made financially viable only by producing the inputs necessary for the farm within the farm itself. With this understanding in place, you might ask, how do I draw the architectural framework for carrying out natural farming? The answer is, the architectural framework for organic food production has already been drawn up by nature through a process of evolution and is working wonderfully well. A farmer just has to follow it.
Let us now try to understand the two keywords, namely, Integrated farm and Organic food that is critical to natural farming and zero budget farming: –

An Integrated farm is where different components of natural food production are available right on the farm itself. Agriculture, horticulture, livestock, poultry, fisheries, bees, etc. will coexist, supplement and complement one another with an inevitable interdependence to survive, grow and flourish. The design of an integrated farm should be such that the waste generated by one component of a farm will become the input for another component on the same farm. This considerably brings down the input costs of farming.

By definition, organic farming is the absence of human intervention in the natural food production process. However, in organized agriculture, organic farming has come to mean zero tolerance for chemical-based fertilizers and pesticides and the use of organic waste as nutrients and natural fertilizers. 

There are three virtues that one has to strictly abide by to successfully carry out natural farming and organic food production.

  1. Be patient,
  2. Have reasonable expectations, and
  3. Kill your ego

Be patient: You may be in a hurry, but nature never is. A traditional variety paddy crop may need 180 days to reach the harvesting stage from the time it was sown. To try and reduce the duration of the crop lifecycle from 180 to 120 days will involve intensive cultivation methods, which go against natural processes. Similarly, from the time it is hatched, a chick will take about 8 months to reach a weight of 1 Kg through free grazing. Intensive chemical-based processed feed is needed to make a chick attain a weight of 1 Kg in 45 days which is what most broiler chicken farmers do. If you want to succeed in organic farming, learn to be patient by taking comfort from the adage, ‘All good things come to those who wait.’

Have reasonable expectations:

Keep your expectations reasonable if you want nature to supply you safe and healthy food. Greed is the biggest enemy of nature. Just like nature can’t be hurried, it can’t be forced to do your bidding either. Most crops absorb their nutrient requirements from the soil, and soil has its own processing and supply chain mechanism to deliver the goods to the crops. To try and increase the crop output is to meddle with the soil’s capabilities to increase its output, and that eventually will lead to an imbalance, and the entire architectural framework of nature will crash.
To retake the example of paddy, if the natural tendency of Ponni variety paddy is to yield 25 bags per acre with typical organic fertilizers, you need to supplement the crop with additional chemical-based nutrients to obtain 40 bags out of it. This process of supplementing crops with chemical-based fertilizers and nutrients is called intensive farming. It would be pertinent to bear in mind always that there is no such thing as intensive farming in nature’s scheme of things.
Kill your ego: Humans tend to think that they are at the top of the food chain and also at the center of the food production universe. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Sometimes, I think that nature cultivates human beings as a crop to feed and enrich its soil, and that actually renders us at the bottom of the food chain.
If you wish to obtain safe and healthy food, move away from the center to the periphery of the food production universe. Regard hay, husk, oil cakes, crop residues, pulse skins, nut shells, vegetable plant leaves and stems, cow dung, goat pellets, etc., as the primary products of the farm. When you do that, rice, cereals, pulses, edible oils, vegetables, greens, milk, eggs, etc., become the byproducts of the farm, and these byproducts will be safe and healthy for you to consume. Come to think of it, are you still at the center of the food production environment?
Bring cattle in the form of cows and buffaloes, livestock comprising of goats and sheep, poultry birds like chicken, ducks, turkeys, and guinea fowls into and farm and make them live there. Make your farm attractive to insects and bees so that they come and stay on your farm. Start farming to feed the non-human residents of the farm, give the primary produce of the farm to the residents and take the byproducts for yourself.
The cows will enrich the soil through their dung and urine, the goats and sheep will keep the grass, weeds, and shrubs under control on the farm and also offer their pellets to the soil for it to enhance itself. The poultry birds will help you keep the insects under control on the farm as they can seek and search out the insects and pests hiding on the leaves, beneath the leaves, inside curved leaves, and in the subsoil. With this diversity on the farm, earthworms will, on their own, invite themselves to the organic farm and convert the farm waste into micronutrients and make the soil what it should ideally be.
Insects and bees are essential on the farm for the trees, plants, and crops to pollinate and reproduce. Not all insects are harmful to crops. There are two types of insects, vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Vegetarian insects raid crops, and non-vegetarian insects feed on the vegetarian insects. You will be tempted to eliminate vegetarian insects from the farm entirely since they cause damage to the crops. Suppose if there are no vegetarian insects on the farm, there is no incentive for the non-vegetarian insects to visit your organic farm, and when they don’t pay a visit to your farm, your yield will go down since there are no cross-pollination agents on your farm. Therefore, have food for vegetarian insects also on the farm, and this you can do by planting marigolds and other yellow colour flower plants on the farm.
After reading through this lengthy sermon, I am sure you have come to the conclusion that, when it comes to organic food, biodiversity is the only mantra. Everything else is mumbo jumbo.

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