From the Green Revolution to organic farming. In the heart of India, cotton growers have led the way in rejecting harmful chemicals and GM-seeds, working with nature, rather than against it.
Unable to cater for his family, Hariya, a cotton farmer from a village in Madhya Pradesh, in central India, decided to move to a city to look for another job. It was March 2008. Faced with poverty and a lack of opportunities to make a living from growing cotton, he quit farming, left his family and the little land he had cared for.
Hariya's story is not unique. Between 2005-2009, a total of 140 million people in India left agriculture whilst Census 2011 shows that 2300 people were quitting farming every day and migrating to cities to take up menial jobs. The Green Revolution which was once omnipresent in rural India has come to embody the opposite of what people all over the world know as "green", environmentally friendly and good for people.
Pale shade of green
Starting in 1965, India's Green Revolution aimed to transform the country's farming regions into "veritable breadbaskets", increasing significantly the country's output of wheat and rice in particular. However, the modern agricultural methods it introduced — the extensive use of modified seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides — brought about unanticipated harmful consequences. The “green” way began to play havoc on the soil, water, animals, and human beings, creating a vicious cycle for small scale farmers who became reliant on buying pricey seeds and chemicals in order to stay in business.
To address these challenges and support farmers in Madhya Pradesh, Pratibha Syntex, one of the world’s largest textiles manufacturers, in association with Fairtrade, initiated a new way: an organic revolution. They helped to set up Vasudha — a Fairtrade and organic-certified farmers cooperative. Today, Vasudha works with about 1500 cotton farmers, whilst Pratibha is associated with around 33500 organic-certified farmers across four states.
Avinash Karmarkar, VP Vasudha explains: “In the last 50 years, agriculture has led to unpredictable weather patterns, poor soil fertility and low water levels, whilst increasing pest attacks and the costs of cultivation. It has created health risks for animals and human populations. The only way to combat these challenges is to look at agriculture in a holistic way, rather than focusing on production only."
In the aftermath of the Green Revolution a debate about the future of farming opened up a new world of possibilities across the country. Today, farmers are turning their backs on chemical farming methods and are moving towards organic. They are well aware of the adverse effects of deforestation, excessive application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and improper waste recycling.
Cotton farmers at Vasudha
Organic is a process
Initially, the farmers at Vasudha were a bit apprehensive of adopting organic farming, not knowing whether or not it would guarantee sufficient yield. However, having seen the positive impacts on other farms, many decided to switch to organic.
Madhusudan Patidar, a farmer from Mandouri, says: "In the first few years, I thought that organic farming had not been giving yield equal to conventional farming, but gradually the cost of cultivation substantially decreased and the yield increased. The positive impact on soil life was unquestionable.”
To reduce cultivation costs, Vasudha Organic Solution Centre (known as VOSC) was established and together with Pratibha built three centers to produce and package low cost organic inputs, sold to farmers for a standard price. The centers have created new jobs and instilled entrepreneurship in farmers, and most importantly, have reduced their dependence on expensive market inputs – a key step for the farming community to become self-sufficient.
Vasudha has also introduced two organic agricultural inputs: Sudarshan and Bheem, now used by around 3000 farmers.
"We are proud to cultivate cotton sustainably. Sudarshan, which is a bio pesticide produced from leaf extracts, has reduced my cultivation cost by 40%. Bheem is a tonic prepared from soyabean, banana and drumstick extracts, which ensures growth of the plant," explains Kailash Patidar, a farmer from Bhudari.
With the help of Fairtrade, the centers will soon start to produce their own non-GM quality cotton hybrid seed. Vasudha has initiated this process on two acres of land this year and is planning to scale it up to 10 acres in next three years thereby ensuring non-GM seeds for all its Fairtrade farmers. Women have also been involved in the programme.
Karmarkar sums it up: "With great courage and determination, we are on the way to achieve our vision for better farming. We have raised the bar for sustainable agriculture, and won’t stop there. Abiding by the Fairtrade Standards, we have many exciting plans. Vasudha has recently established a nursery of 75000 horticulture plants to grow around farms, to create a better micro environment. They shall also provide an extra income for farmers who can sell fruits on local markets in years to come.
“After all, Vasudha in Hindi means the producer of wealth for the Earth.”
Find out more about Organic September and Fairtrade cotton, and get involved.