Natural farming is holistic and bio-diverse organic farming in harmony with nature. It is low-intervention, ecological and sustainable. In its purest advanced form, it is a ‘do-nothing’ way of farming, where nature does everything, or almost everything, and little needs to be done by the farmer. This can best be achieved in a progressive manner with tree crops. As Bhaskar Save explains, “When a tree sapling planted by a farmer is still young and tender, it needs some attention. But as it matures, it can look after itself, and then it looks after the farmer.”
With annual or seasonal field crops, more continuing attention and work by the farmer are needed, but even here, the work and input needed progressively diminishes as the soil regains its health and symbiotic biodiversity is re-integrated.
“Who planted the great, ancient forests?” asks Bhaskar Save. “Who tilled the land? Who provided seed, manure, irrigation, or protection from pests? … In our forests, untended by man, the (human)food trees – like ber, jambul, mahua, mango, wild fig, wild sapota, tamarind, etc. – yield so abundantly in their season, that the branches sag with the weight of the fruit. The annual yield per tree is commonly over a tonne, year after year, carried away by forest dwellers, including man. But the earth around each tree remains whole and undiminished. There is no gaping hole in the ground! If anything, the soil is richer.
“From where do these forest trees – including those on rocky mountains – get their water, their nitrogen, phosphorous, potash? Though stationary, Nature provides their needs right where they stand. But arrogant modern technology, with its blinkered, meddling itch, is blind to this.
“Our ancient sages understood Nature’s ways far better than most modern day technologists,” says Bhaskar Save. He quotes the Upanishads:
This creation is whole and complete. From the whole emerge creations, each whole and complete. Take the whole from the whole (respectfully, as many times as you need) the whole yet remains, undiminished, complete!”
Not so long ago,” adds Bhaskar Save, “the poet and writer, Bankim Chandra, paid lyrical tribute to our sujalam, sufalam land. Ours indeed was a remarkably fertile and prosperous country – with rich soils, abundant sunshine and water, thick forests, wondrous bio-diversity; and gentle, peace-loving people with a vast store of farming know-how and wisdom. For generations beyond count, this land sustained one of the highest densities of population on earth -- without chemical ‘fertilizers’, pesticides, exotic dwarf varieties of grain, or any of the new, expensive ‘bio-tech’ inputs now being promoted.“Gandhi believed in gram swaraj (or village self-governance),” says Save. “Central to his vision was complete self-reliance at the village level in all the basics needed for a healthy life. He had confidence in the strength of organic farming in this country... but we have strayed far from this path. Vinoba Bhave too pointed out that industries merely transform ‘raw materials’ sourced from Nature. They cannot create anew. Only Nature is truly creative and self-regenerating – through synergy with the fresh daily inflow of the sun’s energy. “There is on earth, a constant inter-play of the six paribals (key factors) of Nature, interacting with sunlight. Three are: air, water and soil. Working in tandem with these, are the three orders of life: vanaspati srushti, the world of plants; jeev srushti, the realm of insects and micro-organisms; and prani srushti, the animal kingdom. These six paribals maintain a dynamic balance, harmonising Nature’s grand symphony!
“Man has no right to disrupt any of the paribals of Nature. But modern technology, wedded to commerce – rather than compassion – has proved disastrous at all levels. We have despoiled and polluted the soil, water and air. We have wiped out our forests and killed its creatures. And relentlessly, modern farmers spray deadly poisons on their fields, massacring Nature’s jeev srushti, or micro-organisms and insects – the unpretentious, but tireless little fertility workers that maintain the vital, ventilated quality of the soil, recycling all life-ebbed biomass into nourishment for plants. The noxious chemicals also inevitably poison the water, and Nature’s prani srushti or animal kingdom, including humans.
“Gandhi declared, ‘Where there is soshan, or oppression, there can be no poshan, or nurture!’ Vinoba Bhave added, ‘Science wedded to compassion can bring about a paradise on earth. But divorced from ahimsa, or non-violence, it can only cause a massive conflagration that swallows us in its flames.’
“Trying to increase Nature’s ‘productivity,’ is the fundamental blunder that highlights the arrogant ignorance of agricultural scientists. Nature, unspoiled by man, is already most abundant in her yield. When a grain of rice can reproduce a thousand-fold within months, where is the need to increase its productivity! What is required at most is to help ensure the necessary natural conditions for optimal, wholesome yield.
“In all the years a student spends for an M. Sc. or Ph.D. in agriculture, the only goal is short-term – and narrowly perceived – economic (rather than nutritional) ‘productivity’. For this, the farmer is urged to buy and do a hundred things, greatly increasing his costs. But not a thought is spared to what a farmer must never do so that the land remains unharmed for future generations and other creatures.”
A quarter century ago, ‘Poison in your Food’ – a well-researched, lead feature in ‘India Today’, 15th June, 1989 – starkly exposed that “Indians are daily eating food laced with some of the highest amounts of toxic pesticide residues found in the world. In the process, they are exposed to the risk of heart diseases; brain, kidney and liver damage; and cancer”. More recently, even the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, Union Ministry of Agriculture, reported last year that the toxic pesticides and chemicals contained in the foods we commonly buy are hugely in excess of permissible limits, exposing consumers to unacceptable risk of myriad diseases. Such poisons are even more dangerous for pregnant women, the babies they bear, and young children, as well as the ill and diseased.
Natural Abundance at Kalpavruksha
About twenty steps inside the gate of Bhaskar Save’s farm is a sign that says: “Co-operation is the fundamental Law of Nature.” – A simple and concise introduction to the philosophy and practice of natural farming! Further inside the farm are numerous other signs that attract attention with brief, thought-provoking sutras or aphorisms. These pithy sayings contain all the distilled wisdom on nature, farming, health, culture and spirituality, Bhaskarbhai has gathered over the years, apart from his extraordinary harvest of food!
If you ask this farmer where he learnt his way of natural farming, he might tell you – quite humbly -- “my university is my farm.” His farm has now become a sacred university for many, as every Saturday (Visitors’ Day) brings numerous people from all over India, and occasional travellers from distant lands.
Kalpavruksha compels attention for its high yield easily out-performs any modern farm using chemicals. This is readily visible at all times. The number of coconuts per tree is perhaps the highest in the country. A few of the palms yield over 400 coconuts each year, while the average is closer to 350. The crop of chikoo (sapota) – largely planted more than forty-five years ago – is similarly abundant, providing about 300 kg of delicious fruit per tree each year.
Also growing in the orchard are numerous bananas, papayas, areca-nuts, and a few trees of date-palm, drumstick, mango, jackfruit, toddy palm, custard apple, jambul, guava, pomegranate, lime, pomelo, mahua, tamarind, neem, audumber; apart from some bamboo and various under-storey shrubs like kadipatta (curry leaves), crotons, tulsi; and vines like pepper, betel leaf, passion-fruit, etc.
Nawabi Kolam, a tall, delicious and high-yielding native variety of rice, several kinds of pulses, winter wheat and some vegetables and tubers too are grown in seasonal rotation on about two acres of land. These provide enough for this self-sustained farmer’s immediate family and occasional guests. In most years, there is some surplus of rice, which is gifted to relatives or friends, who appreciate its superior flavour and quality.
Excluding the two acres under coconut nursery, and another three acres of paddy field, the remaining ten acres of orchard have consistently yielded an average food yield of over 15,000 kg per acre per annum! (This has declined in the past 15-20 years following pollution from progressive industrialization of the area.) In nutritional value, this is many times superior to an equivalent weight of food grown with the intensive use of toxic chemicals, as in Punjab, Haryana and many other parts of India.
The diverse plants in Bhaskar Save’s farm co-exist as a mixed, harmonious community of dense vegetation. Rarely can one spot even a small patch of bare soil exposed to the direct impact of the sun, wind or rain. The deeply shaded areas under the chikoo trees have a spongy carpet of leaf litter covering the soil, while various weeds spring up wherever some sunlight penetrates.
The thick ground cover is an excellent moderator of the soil’s micro-climate, which – Bhaskar Save emphasizes – is of utmost importance in agriculture. “On a hot summer day, the shade from the plants or the mulch (leaf litter) keeps the surface of the soil cool and slightly damp. During cold winter nights, the ground cover is like a blanket conserving the warmth gained during the day. Humidity too is higher under the canopy of dense vegetation, and evaporation is greatly reduced. Consequently, irrigation needs are very low. The many little insect friends and micro-organisms of the soil thrive under these conditions.
Today we crave for healthy food, but how will we get that? Farmers are comiting suisides, how to stop them? Likewise we are facing number of problems related to farming and food. Do we have solutions?? Yes, we do. We call it Natural farming. It's not a hypothetical statement. We are practitioner of the same for more than a half century.
It is said that the knowledge must be shared and we believe, it's our duty to do so. That's why we have started training programs at ‘Kalpavruksha’.