- Fearing floods and intermittent rains, farmers in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district are increasing the use of chemical fertilisers in the hope of a quicker harvest.
- Indiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers, however, has led to a rapid increase in soil salinity. Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that globally there are more than 8.33 million square kilometres of salt-affected soil, which makes up 8.7 percent of the planet.
- Farmers Narayan and Kusum Gaikwad from Kolhapur’s Jambhali village are addressing the ill-effects of chemical farming by cultivating sugarcane organically.
Narayan Gaikwad, 74, never thought he would have to rethink farming — an occupation he has been practicing for over six decades. But, the rise in the price of chemical fertilisers along with depleting soil nutrients nudged Gaikwad to shift to organic farming, for the June 2020 farming cycle.
Gaikwad knew how to cultivate over 30 crops without chemical fertilisers. However, he had never experimented with cultivating sugarcane without chemical fertilisers – considered a risky proposition for the crop. His lack of experimentation also had to do with the changing environment and with intermittent spells of rain, followed by rising heat and cold.
“I’ve experienced this only in the last four years,” says Gaikwad, a resident of Jambhali village in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district, about the changing weather patterns.
Since 2019, Kolhapur has been witnessing intermittent spells of rain. Then, suddenly, there was a rise in the temperature between these spells, which affected the crops. In the winter season, the temperature dropped rapidly, an uncommon phenomenon in Kolhapur’s Shirol taluka.
Farmers assumed that using more chemical fertilisers would lead to better yields and help the sugarcane crop cope with the changing weather patterns.
However, with the increased use of chemical fertilisers, Gaikwad observed the soil turning saline in neighbouring farms. He was worried. And an existing debt meant he had to save every rupee. “For an acre of land, we require chemical fertilisers worth Rs. 20,000, and I didn’t have any rupee,” he says.
It was his grandson, Varad, 9, who helped him find a solution. One day, Varad, who loves watching tractor videos on YouTube, used the voice command feature to search for “shendriya khat (organic fertiliser).” Immediately, several videos on organic farming and fertilisers popped up. Gaikwad spent a week browsing them.
Making mental notes, Gaikwad first collected 190 litres of water in a discarded barrel. He then added ten kilograms of desi (indigenous) cow’s dung, 10 litres of cow urine, a kilogram of chickpea (gram) flour, and jaggery. Next, he shielded this concoction from sunlight for the next five days and would stir this every day for five minutes. On the sixth day, he released this organic concoction with the water supply in the field.
Over 2020-21, he repeated this process every 20 days, roughly 18 times in a year on his 1.5-acre field. In the end, he harvested 77 tonnes of the Co 86032 and Co 8021 sugarcane varieties through this method. “Had I used chemicals, the produce would have been close to 100 tonnes,” he says, talking of the trade-off. However, Gaikwad is still proud of his efforts.
Photos by Sanket Jain/Mongabay.