Disha India

Projects Community Supported Natural Farming

Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for almost ½ of the Indian workforce. The current system of agriculture in India that has dominated most of Indian farming is that of monocropping using hybrid seeds with intensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in order to drive up yields and reduce losses due to pests. This system became widespread after the advent of the Green Revolution and for a few decades resulted in growth of yields as well as increase of farm incomes. In the last decade or so, however, we have seen incomes stagnate and even shrink, accompanied with a large rural-urban migration as farming becomes unviable for many households.

In this case study we explore the problems afflicting the agriculture sector, we propose an alternative model of farming called Community Supported Natural Farming, and present some of the early results of the CSNF model as implemented by farmers in Jhajhar district Haryana with the support of the Heritage Experiential Learning School and Disha India Education Foundation, and a small group of volunteers.

The CSNF model - Community Supported Natural Farming

Core principles

  • Farmers commit to practice natural farming and demonstrate commitment through certification - such as the PGS certification in Haryana for ZBNF (Zero Budget Natural Farming) farmers.
  • We work with small farmers that are representative of typical agricultural households in India.
  • We focus on local and seasonal produce using native seeds.
    • Growing local produce that is well suited to the ecology of the area makes it easier to grow in harmony with nature, requiring less external inputs.
    • Growing crops that are in season allows for maximum growth as the crops are well suited to the local climate.
    • Native seeds have natural resistance against seasonal and local pests and diseases.
  • Transparent process with all proceeds of sales going to the farmers.
    • Transparent process with all proceeds of sales going to the farmers.
  • Build community support for farmers to encourage them to move away from chemical farming
    • CSNF provides a supportive community, a market for their goods and an alternative model for success.

Main challenges for the CSNF model

  • Access to markets for natural farmers
  • Low yields of naturally grown produce
  • Availability of high quality seeds
  • Education and awareness for consumers to understand the importance of natural produce and buying from local farmers
RECOMMENDATIONS
  • 1.Create a market for local, seasonal farm produce
  • 2.Support farmers in upskilling and technology investments
  • 3.Use of indigenous varieties better suited to the climate
  • 4.Encourage multi-cropping, crop rotation and diversification
IMPLEMENTATION

1.Farmers Market

  • a.There is a weekly mandi held at the HXLS campus open to the public and promoted to all the Heritage families.
  • b.At the beginning of the month, orders are collected through a web form through Whatsapp groups created for CSNF members and supporters and sent to the farmers. Farmers prepare and package the orders which are delivered at home throughout Gurgaon on the first Saturday of the month.
  • c.We tap into the wider natural farming community and bring in other products - mango, sweet lime, pomegranate which have seasonal demand and generates interest and enthusiasm

2.Farm Visits

  • a.Regular farm visits are organized - CSNF community is encouraged to participate and see the practices in action. We suggest improvements in planning, hygiene, multi cropping and other practices.
  • b.We try to understand the farmers problems and work with them to remove blockers

3.Investments through soft loans

  • a.We collect Rs6000 from each CSNF member as a deposit. This creates a pool of funds which can be used to provide soft loans to the farmers.
  • b.This helps to improve access to technology
  • c.We approve farmers loan requests when we are convinced that the investment will make farmers more productive and self sufficient

4.With the help of the CSNF community, we started a Seed bank to provide seeds to farmers

  • a.Local and indigenous varieties
  • b.Better yields
  • c.Better suited to climate and ecology
  • d.Better pest resistance
RESULTS

1.Monthly Sales

We now have 31 CSNF members and about 175 supporters who order from the farmers. Through the weekly mandi, event stalls and home delivery efforts, the combined sales are about Rs75,000 per month.

Availability of Credit

  • The deposit of Rs6,000 per member has provided a corpus of Rs1.86lakh. Of this Rs1.30 lakh was extended as soft loans to the farmers which were used for
  • Storage containers
  • Digging a borewell.
  • Purchased a “jharna” which allows for quick separation of wheat from chaff.

1.Seed Bank

We crowdfunded a seed bank initiative to provide high quality indigenous seeds to the farmers through the CSNF community. We raised Rs33,000 with which seeds were purchased and provided to farmers for the season’s produce.

Summer planting of vegetables

Farmers were encouraged to plant. However, due to the extreme heat and relative inexperience, the farmers did not have much success with this endeavour and could not bring much produce to the market.

CONCLUSIONS

1.Encouraging to see community support and involvement

It is heartening to see the support in the CSNF community. We have heard from multiple members is that they trust that the produce they are getting is local and natural and are happy that the benefits are going directly to farmers. Our members provide us feedback regarding taste, hygiene, quality and packaging.

2.More work is needed on farm practices, hygiene, packaging, upskilling

In CSNF, the farmer has to take on a larger role, and must work on improving their packaging, hygiene and farm planning based on direct feedback from families on what is working/not working for them. The CSNF core team needs to have regular farm visits and ensure that the farmers are improving their farms continuously.

3.Focus should be on producers, not suppliers or traders

CSNF needs to increase the diversity of products we offer our members and supporters. As far as possible, products should be sourced locally from farmers directly.

4.Seasonal variations and climate shock

The first summer planting of vegetables failed due to extreme heat. How do the farmers cope with something like that? How will they cope with climate shock as climate change grips the subcontinent over the next decade? Crop diversification is a key aspect of this, and is also a foundational practice of natural farming. Different farmers are at different stages in their understanding and planning of crop diversification. We hope through the CSNF venture to partner with them on this journey and help upskill them, as well as equip them with the technology needed to make the transition.

Our farmers are from Jhajjar District of Haryana...

Bhim Singh Dagar Bhim Singh Dagar
Ram Kishan Ram Kishan
Anil Kumar Anil Kumar
Parveen Parveen
Rahul Rahul
suman Suman
CSNF