Sunday, November 14, 2010

Frequently Asked Queastions on Sustainable Agriculture

1. How is Non-pesticide Management (NPM) different from Integrated Pest Management (IPM)?
Both NPM and IPM are part of the system of sustainable agriculture; however, they differ in their stance toward the use of chemical pesticides. NPM includes all the agronomical practices recommended by IPM, but strictly forbids the use of chemical pesticides. IPM promotes chemical pesticides only as a last resort; however, if the extension network is weak at the village and farmer level, the only message that often gets through is about the use of pesticides. The NPM approach is based on the logic that even one spray of chemicals will kill beneficial insects and upset the ecological balance of a farming system. 
NPM uses pest management practices that are based on local natural resources. It promotes understanding the pest life cycle as a key for pest management. Through Farmer Field Schools (FFS), local farmers take decisions on management practices and learn ecologically sound methods of pest management. The main objective is to bring sustainability to agriculture based livelihoods.
2. Is the neem currently available in the country sufficient to meet NPM requirements?
Neem’s role as a pest repellant, as a fertilizer, and a soil amendment is well recognized; however there are 100 other botanicals that are locally available and that can be used as a substitute for neem. These are well documented and in use effectively in Andhra Pradesh. Hence there is no constraint in availability of non-chemical pest repellants. Finally, when NPM is scaled up significantly, the NPM strategy will also include undertaking plantation of these 100 or more botanicals.   
3. Is the low external input Sustainable Agriculture different from Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) and organic farming?
The basic difference between INM and Sustainable Agriculture (SA) is in understanding soil, soil fertility, ploughing back crop residues, dung, and the role of earthworms. The main focus in INM /organic farming is external supply of nutrients to plants rather than releasing fixed nutrients that are available in the soil. For instance, INM recommends external vermi-compost but it ignores the role of native earthworms in the soil, so it is not focusing on reactivating local earthworms in the soil which is critical for tropical countries. In organic farming, stopping fertilizer application leads to a sudden drop in yields and the produce has to secure premium rates to compensate for yield loss. On a large scale this approach can lead to food security problems. In SA, yields do not drop as fertilizer reduction is gradual and it is coupled with the application of tank silt, ploughing back crop residues, mulching, dung based inoculants, and the application of azolla in paddy fields, etc.  The use of azolla in paddy fields can reduce by 50 percent the amount of urea now applied, in one stroke. Our experience in the field has shown that azolla can totally meet the requirements of nitrogen without any need for external urea application.
SA considers soil as a living organism and a bank for crop nutrients. The focus is on building soil microbial activity. Every crop removes substantial amount of nutrients, but the formation of the grain only takes 15 percent of those nutrients. The remaining 85 of nutrients are used to growth the entire plant. We as consumers have a right only over the grain from these plants. It is our recommendation that crop residues be returned to the soil either directly or through the animal route during the crop period.
4. Are resources, particularly dung and urine, available and are they sufficient to meet the requirements of sustainable agriculture?
As indicated above, plants remove considerable amounts of nutrients from the soil during their life cycle. Grains remove approximately 15 percent of the total nutrients and rest of the plant remove balance 85 percent. If farmers reduced the amount of grain cultivated and consumed, and return the crop residues to the soil directly—through composting, mulching, or animal fertilizers—to maintain fertility of the soil, then they only need to replenish 15 percent of nutrients, which were removed by the grains. For this 15 percent replenishment the farmers should activate soil microbes, earthworms, which will release the nutrients available in the soil. The dung and urine play this role by activating microbes, etc. This makes the soil a living body. Thus the traditional view of animal dung in terms of plant nutrients—that it only holds a fraction of the nitrogen needed—is no longer valid. Dung and urine in small quantities catalyze microbial activity in the soil. It is estimated that a cow or a buffalo can serve 15-30 acres based on the local situation.
5. If we switch over to SA what is the impact on food security? Food grain output?
Our experience of the last four years reveals that this kind of intervention does not affect food security at any level. Further, it brings diversified food and nutritional security at the household level and, more importantly, it brings food sovereignty. Small and marginal farm holdings are key to food security, and this technology is “small-holder friendly”. In fact, many small farmers who had moved out of agriculture are coming back to agriculture.
A quick study of 114 farmers from four districts in Andhra Pradesh, revealed that there is no yield reduction in paddy, even with reduced fertilizer application. This applies to dry land crops also.
Sample Crop: Paddy

Quick Study
Standardised to 100 acres
Percent reduction in fertilizers
Number of districts
No of farmers
Under NPM with Low Fertilizers
Area in acres
Urea in quintals
DAP in quintals
Others in quintals
Yield in quintals
Under NPM with Normal Dose of Fertilizers
Area in acres
Urea in quintals
DAP in quintals
Others in quintals
Yield in quintals

In the case of dry lands, diversified and poly-crop models ensure food security. It increases yield frequency and provides regular income to farmers. At any time of the year, some crop is ready for harvest and therefore supplies food to the kitchen. Crop diversity provides a range of crops, which provides nutritional security to families.
6. What are the existing institutions available to implement this kind of intervention? 
In Andhra Pradesh, women’s Self Help Groups (SHGs) provide the best platform for these interventions. In addition, farmer groups and commodity interest groups also can be explored, and S.E.R.P began facilitating the evolution of farmers groups in 2008/09– with both men and women. At the village level there will be a village level farmer federation (VLFF), which will be closely linked to the village woman S.H.G. federation. Each VLFF consists of all practising SA farmers. Each household will be represented by 2 members – a man and a woman farmer. The VLFF will federate into the Mandal level farmer federation (MLFF) and at the district (Zilla) Level as the District level farmer federation (DLFF). At each level, the farmer federation will work closely with the corresponding SHG federation.

7. What kinds of partnerships are needed?  
Partnerships amongst women SHGs, farmer groups, government agencies, and NGOs are needed.
8. What kind of human resources required? 
The shortage of quality human resources at the local rural level is an acute problem. Existing agriculture science graduates can be given orientation/immersion on this approach at the community level and used as facilitators. Our experience has show, however, that the best way to transfer technology and scale up is through best practicing farmers (Community Resource Persons).
9. What are the financial requirements to implement this kind of interventions?
The first investment is on institution building—grassroots organizations and their federations.  If a platform is available, then financial support is only needed for capacity  building. There are no input subsidies. Based on our experience, on an average Rs.1800/ha/yr is required over a period of five years. In comparison, we spend Rs.10,000/ha on fertilizer subsidies alone at present. For instance in a typical village with 400 ha of cropped area, estimated savings on pesticides and fertilisers to farmers can be seen in the table below.
10. What are the returns to farmers using SA? It is a viable approach?
In SA (using NPM), all of the inputs are internalized, so the cost of cultivation comes down drastically. The range of savings on pesticides is from Rs. 2,000/ha to 37,500/ha, depending on the crop. The total savings for 270,000 ha is Rs. 150.4 crores. The savings on fertilizers ranges from Rs. 3,750/ha to Rs. 5,100/ha. The savings on the cost of cultivation to farmers and on subsidies to the Government of India can be seen in the table below. Our experience shows that SA is more viable, especially for small-holder farmers than chemical/organic agriculture.

Area in ha under CMSA
Savings on pesticides @Rs.5400/ha
Area under fertiliser savings
Savings on fertilisers
Savings to farmers in Rs.
Savings to GOI on fertiliser subsidy
Year 1
Year 2
Year 3
Year 4
Year 5
Total Savings


11. What kind of market linkages are required for SA?
All inputs are available locally hence there is no need for external linkages to input markets. The fundamental objective of SA is to provide healthy food, healthy crops, healthy soil, and healthy life. The bulk of the production is meant first to ensure food security locally, so elaborate output marketing linkages are generally not required. The existing market linkages for non-NPM produce are, in any case, available for NPM produce. If a farmer group or federation decides to fetch a premium price in larger markets from its marketable surplus, then it will need special links to certify it as pesticide free and to ensure proper post harvest practices. This is being done for chilies and paddy, already, so the lessons can applied to other crops. Our experience has shown that even if no premium is given, SA is still profitable and sustainable. 
12. How can SA be scaled up?
Scaling up of this kind of initiative essentially requires strong grassroots institutions of farmers, including women farmers. It also requires a strong sensitive support network like SERP and the NGOs supporting CMSA in Andhra Pradesh. All the essential elements—such as extension and program management—should be lead by the communities. The critical factors for successfully scaling-up are the institutional structure and capacity building. These are more important than the supply of inputs on a subsidized basis to individuals.
13. What are the components of capacity building for SA?   
Capacity building for SA should include both technical and program management. Technical aspects of the capacity building should include life cycles of pests, and enabling climatic condition for disease prevalence, farming systems, sustainable usage of resources, maximizing output from a unit land area. Program management largely includes management of the extension system (e.g., farmer field schools) and how to manage the finance of the farmer SHGs and federation.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jayram...I have small organic farm about 80kms from Bangalore. I want to consult with you regarding some of my farm activities. Please let me know your contact details or write to me at pakka dot narasinga at gmail dot com

    Narasinga Rao