Going organic brings rich harvest for MP cotton

By Nitin Jugran Bahuguna

April 13, 2020

Chhindwara(Madhya Pradesh): Dasrath Patil, 50, like most inhabitants of Jobni village, comes of farming stock. The 700-plus population of this village located in Sausar Tehsil, some 63 km away from the district headquarter town of Chhindwara, have been tilling their lands for generations.

Dasrath grows fruits like mangoes, pomegranates and papayas on his fields, but the major kharif crop on his 16 acres is cotton which he has been cultivating for years.

When he heard of a new method of cultivating cotton three years back, the hardy farmer was immediately curious but at the same time skeptical, unwilling to ditch the tried and tested practices followed through generations in his family.
He was persuaded to experiment on a sole acre and faithfully followed the instructions given to him, right from how to prepare the land for sowing the new seeds (which were also provided and differed from the hybrid seeds he would purchase from stores) to preparing home-made, bio-friendly manure and pesticides.

“As advised, I prepared one acre of land by applying chemical-free fertilizers,” says Dasrath. “I have learned how to make organic manure and pesticides using locally available material.” He was taught how to make vermicompost by mixing cow dung, earthworms in the soil and vegetable waste. He also learned how to make bio-friendly manure.

He applied the manure evenly on his land a day before sowing his cotton saplings and again 30 days after the sowing. “Earlier, I used harmful and strong chemical pesticides for spraying. I would also indiscriminately use the sprays, not realizing that frequent spraying was not good for the plants.”

By using this new method, the farmer was able to save considerably on costly chemical pesticides and sprays and his profits – though small – were one hundred per cent as his input costs were negligible. “I harvested three quintals of cotton using the organic method and sold the same for Rs 5,000 per quintal,” he claims.

When he compares this to the traditional way in which he cultivated his cotton crops, Dasrath realizes the significance of going organic. “I harvested 45 quintals of cotton on my remaining 15 acres and sold the entire crop for Rs 1 lakh and eighty thousand. However, my input costs including purchasing of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and hiring of labour came to Rs 1 lakh and twenty thousand. So, my profit was actually just Rs 60,000!”

Similarly, Laxmi Salami, 26, was unwilling to dabble in something new but when the young cotton farmer, hailing from Gajandoh village, reluctantly agreed to try something new on her field, the results were a welcome surprise. “I harvested 12 and a half quintals of traditional cotton in seven acres last year. I sold it all for Rs 62,500, but my costs towards pesticides, fertilizers and labour came to almost Rs 40,000, so my net profit was not much!” she says. But on her remaining one acre of land which she agreed to experiment with trying organic cotton, her production costs were nil and her profit 100 per cent.

She learnt how to make organic manure, insecticides and pesticides using locally available material, thus avoiding huge expenditure on costly chemical fertilizers and pesticides. “Earlier, I used harmful and strong chemical pesticides for spraying which affected my health. I would also indiscriminately use the sprays, not realizing that frequent spraying was not good for the plants.”

Dasrath has learnt several valuable lessons experimenting with cotton the organic way. “Earlier, my spacing of the cotton saplings was not precise and I would just sprinkle them all over my land. Now I know the importance of spacing the saplings at a distance of three-by-three feet which is called ‘space marking’ and to grow another crop along with the cotton plant in order to make the plant stronger as well as to give myself an additional crop in the same area.”

The economic returns have proved rich for him. “I grew red gram alongside the cotton saplings and reaped about eleven quintals. I sold each quintal of red gram for Rs 4,000.”

This practice of planting another crop alongside the cotton sapling is called inter-cropping and is one of the salient features of the Organic Cotton Project which was launched in 2015-16 jointly by Worldwide Fund for Nature – India (WWF-India) with support from C & A Foundation, a corporate foundation, and SRIJAN, a national NGO. A total of 128 villages have been covered under the project so far and 6000 farmers are registered. Trainings and demonstrations on adopting improved agronomic practices, soil and water conservation techniques, inter-cropping, pest and disease management and cotton quality and marketing are regularly held for the farmers at meetings conducted in their respective villages.

Situated in central India, Chhindwara district is home to two of the country’s oldest nature reserves – the Pench Tiger Reserve and Satpuda Tiger Reserve ( Pench-Satpuda Corridor), famous for their untouched biodiversity and the habitat of the iconic Bengal tiger. In between the two reserves live thousands of small cotton farmers like Dasrath and Laxmi who are playing a key role in preserving the fauna and flora of the area by taking up organic cotton farming.

Being part of the tiger Corridor, Chhindwara is an ecologically sensitive area and also home to some very small and marginal tribal farming communities, observes Anita Chester, Head of Sustainable Raw Materials, C & A Foundation.
“Our vision for this partnership with WWF is to maintain the ecology of the Satpuda-Pench Corridor while enhancing the livelihoods of cotton farmers by encouraging them to adopt low input organic farming,” she says. “This results in minimizing the degradation of soil and water quality that adversely affects wildlife habitats and, at the same time, benefitting farmers by way of reduced costs and increased yields. The 2017-18 data shared by our partner points to an income increase of 36 per cent for programme farmers as compared to conventional farmers in the same areas, thanks to a 63 per cent decrease in cost of cultivation.”

The objective of setting up the project at the fringe of the forest is to provide access of premium market to the farmers who are complying with global practices such as organic certification, states Murlidhar of WWF India. “This will help to minimize the risk of farmers from market volatility which often we are witnessing in India,” he notes.
Farmers like Dasrath are selling their organic cotton through the Chhindwara Organic Farmers Enterprise (COFE), a cooperative created under the project to help farmers get a premium price for their cotton through private suppliers and exporters.

COFE was formed in 2013 and got registered in November 2015. “However, in 2017 we decided to change our strategy by instilling ownership in the women and making them realize that COFE is their own company,’ states Pritam of SRIJAN. “We involved representatives from 107 women’s self- help groups (SHGs) created under the project to maintain data, set up targets on a daily basis and also work on the grading of cotton seeds for sowing. Currently, we have 710 new shareholders from Chhindwara, Mohkhed and Sausar Block and have collected a share capital of Rs 198800,” he adds.

According to Mr Sandip Bhujel of SRIJAN and CEO of COFE, the objective is to link the farmers with the market. “We collect the farmers’ cotton from village-level collection centres (VLCCs), about 20 of which have been set up in some of the target villages. We then sell the cotton to private companies who give a premium of Rs seven per kg more than the market price and they accept raw cotton.

–India News Stream