Drifting with nature

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"if we continue to plough our fields with tractors and keep on using chemical fertilisers, the natural productivity of the soil will be killed,' says Raju Titus, a 53-year-old farmer from Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh, who has been practising natural farming for the last 12 years. He sees the Green Revolution as a bane in disguise and is convinced that natural farming is the only hope in sight. Initially, Titus too was blinkered by scientific farming but gradually he has come to terms with the truth.

Hailing from a family of agriculturists, Titus spent his childhood in the green environs of Hoshangabad. After graduating in B Sc, he got a job as a chemist. But, soon enough, he realised it was something else he wanted in life. With a desire to do something for the downtrodden farmers, Titus thought of agriculture. Though he did not give up his job, he started giving more time to farming.

To begin with, Titus installed an electric pump, a biogas plant and other new gadgets in his farm. With the use of fertilisers, he maximised the yield but "in spite of a quantitative return, the profits were not constant with expectations.' He applied modern farming techniques more vigorously. As a result, each year the output decreased, the soil was rendered infertile and his fields were completely destroyed.

Unable to make ends meet, in 1985, Titus even decided to sell off his land and start something more lucrative. This upset his mother who immediately went to an organisation of Quakers to seek help. There she met Pratap Agarwal who gave her Japanese research farmer Masanobu Fukuoka's book One Straw Revolution .

Titus initially dismissed the book but something in it attracted him. He read the book stealthily and soon wisdom dawned upon him. Titus understood his faults and decided to undo the destruction he had wrought on the soil by following the so called progressive farming system.

First of all, he discarded the scientific equipment he had installed in his blinkered state. Thereafter, he sprinkled a variety of seeds on his farm and nurtured dosi babul , rimjha , pawar , gokru and other grass varieties.

After the first rains, the chana (gram) harvest turned out to be excellent. The soil was still alive and there was hope for it to recuperate. Two years later, Fukuoka visited his farm and was impressed. With little guidance and support, Titus continued natural farming. He started growing every type of crop. His soyabean yield was 22-23 quintals per hectare. Through his observation, Titus found that legumes grow better in doob grass than wheat or rice. He also learned that weeds like kaans help in preserving the land.

Says Titus, "If man does not interfere with nature's balance, he can prevent the land from becoming infertile. Even insects and pests have a role to play.'

Despite moderate returns, Titus was not satisfied with the way things were going. His innovations were not exactly working. He started keeping buffaloes not only to increase his income and provide milk for the household but, more importantly, to relate livestock to natural farming. To his dismay, he found that the cattle, by grazing, were exerting pressure on the land. Consequently, the results from direct seeding were not forthcoming. Just then, the confused Titus met Fukuoka again who listened to him patiently and gave him the mantra: make pellets of soil and stop monoculture.

Titus followed Fukuoka's advice and started making pellets, the size of a table tennis ball. One part of the pellets is a mixture of seeds and seven parts is soil (either collected from the burrow of termites or soil available with potters). Each pellet had to be thrown at a distance of one foot. The seeds get nutrients from the soil mixed in these pellets at the time of germination. As the seeds remain on the surface, they also get sunlight. With the help of family members, pellets required for one hectare of land was made in a day. Says Titus, " After throwing these pellets, the next winter, soyabean crop was good, both quantitatively and qualitatively.'

The arhar crop in the monsoons gave tremendous yield. Using the mulch of anaj, he also practised mixed cropping. Titus does not use any compost, nor does he weed. Moreover, the need to water his fields does not arise because he does not till the land. The rainwater is enough.

Today, Titus earns Rs. 1.5 lakh annually from his 13.5 acre land. His contention is that organic farming may be debatable, but there is no gainsaying the benefit of natural farming.

However, Titus does admit that he has a lot more to learn. "Twelve years of natural farming is nothing, Fukuoka has been doing it for the last 65 years. So, I need more time to understand many things. Right now, I am drifting with nature.'