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The Mother Divine
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By Bharat Mansata
Sri Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath
Bharat Mansata (L) in conversation with Bhaskar Save

Natural farming is holistic and bio-diverse organic farming in harmony with nature. It is low-intervention, ecological, sustainable and economically rewarding. In its purest advanced form, it is a ‘do-nothing’ way of farming, where nature does everything, or almost everything, and little needs to be done by the farmer. This can best be achieved in a progressive manner with tree crops. As Bhaskar Save explains, “When a tree sapling planted by a farmer is still young and tender, it needs some attention. But as it matures, it can look after itself, and then it looks after the farmer.”
With annual or seasonal field crops, more continuing attention and work by the farmer is needed, but even here, the work and input needed progressively diminishes as the soil regains its health and symbiotic biodiversity is re-integrated.

“Who planted the great, ancient forests? Who tilled the land? Who provided seed, manure, irrigation, or protection from pests?” asks Bhaskar Save. “In our forests, untended by man, the (human )food trees – like ber (jujube), jambul (jambolan), amba (mango), umbar (wild fig), mahua (butter tree), imli (tamarind), raini (‘jungle sapota’) – yield so abundantly in their season, that the branches sag with the weight of the fruit. The annual fruit yield per tree is commonly over a tonne, year after year, carried away by forest dwellers, including man. But the earth around each tree remains whole and undiminished. There is no gaping hole in the ground! If anything, the soil is richer. From where do the trees – including those on rocky mountains – get their water, their nitrogen, phosphorous, potash? Though stationary, Nature provides their needs right where they stand. But arrogant modern technology, with its blinkered, meddling itch, is blind to this.

“Our ancient sages understood Nature’s ways far better than most modern day technologists. The Upanishads say:
‘Om Purnamadaha
Purnamidam Purnat Purnamudachyate
Purnasya Purnamadaya Purnamewa Vashishyate

This creation is whole and complete.
From the whole emerge creations, each whole and complete.
Take the whole from the whole
(respectfully, as many times as you need) the whole yet remains, undiminished, complete!”

“Not so long ago,” adds Bhaskar Save, “the poet and writer, Bankim Chandra, paid lyrical tribute to our sujalam, sufalam land. Ours indeed was a remarkably fertile and prosperous country – with rich soils, abundant sunshine and water, thick forests, wondrous bio-diversity; and gentle, peace-loving people with a vast store of farming know-how and wisdom. For generations beyond count, this land sustained one of the highest densities of population on earth -- without chemical ‘fertilizers’, pesticides, exotic dwarf varieties of grain, or any of the new, expensive ‘bio-tech’ inputs now being promoted.

“Gandhi believed in gram swaraj (or village self-governance),” says Save. “Central to his vision was complete self-reliance at the village level in all the basics needed for a healthy life. He had confidence in the strength of organic farming in this country... but we have strayed far from this path. Vinoba Bhave too pointed out that industries merely transform ‘raw materials’ sourced from Nature. They cannot create anew. Only Nature is truly creative and self-regenerating – through synergy with the fresh daily inflow of the sun’s energy.

“There is on earth, a constant inter-play of the six paribals (key factors) of Nature, interacting with sunlight. Three are: air, water and soil. Working in tandem with these, are the three orders of life:  vanaspati srushti, the world of plants; jeev srushti, the realm of insects and micro-organisms; and prani srushti, the animal kingdom. These six paribals maintain a dynamic balance. Together, they harmonise Nature’s grand symphony – mystic grace!

“Man has no right to disrupt any of the paribals of Nature. But modern technology, wedded to commerce – rather than compassion – has proved disastrous at all levels. We have despoiled and polluted the soil, water and air. We have wiped out most of our forests and killed its creatures. And relentlessly, modern farmers spray deadly poisons on their fields, massacring Nature’s jeev srushti, or micro-organisms and insects the unpretentious, but tireless little fertility workers that maintain the vital, ventilated quality of the soil, recycling all life-ebbed biomass into nourishment for plants. The noxious chemicals also inevitably poison the water, and Nature’s prani srushti or animal kingdom, including humans.

“Gandhi declared, ‘Where there is soshan, or oppression, there can be no poshan, or nurture!’ Vinoba Bhave added, ‘Science wedded to compassion can bring about a paradise on earth. But divorced from ahimsa, or non-violence, it can only cause a massive conflagration that swallows us in its flames.’

“Trying to increase Nature’s ‘productivity,’ is the fundamental blunder that highlights the arrogant ignorance of agricultural scientists.  Nature, unspoiled by man, is already most abundant in her yield. When a grain of rice can reproduce a thousand-fold within months, where is the need to increase its productivity! What is required at most is to help ensure the necessary natural conditions for optimal, wholesome yield.

“In all the years a student spends for an M. Sc. or Ph.D. in agriculture, the only goal is short-term – and narrowly perceived – economic (rather than nutritional) ‘productivity’. For this, the farmer is urged to buy and do a hundred things, greatly increasing his costs. But not a thought is spared to what a farmer must never do so that the land remains unharmed for future generations and other creatures.”

A quarter century ago, ‘Poison in your Food’ – a well-researched, lead feature in ‘India Today’, 15th June, 1989 – starkly exposed that “Indians are daily eating food laced with some of the highest amounts of toxic pesticide residues found in the world. In the process, they are exposed to the risk of heart diseases; brain, kidney and liver damage; and cancer”. More recently, even the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, Union Ministry of Agriculture, reported last year that the toxic pesticides and chemicals contained in the foods we commonly buy are hugely in excess of permissible limits, exposing consumers to unacceptable risk of myriad diseases. Such poisons are even more dangerous for pregnant women, the babies they bear, and young children, as well as the ill and diseased.

The differences between chemical farming and organic farming
Bhaskar Save lists 18 major points of difference between chemical farming and organic farming in harmony with nature:

  1. Chemical farming fragments the web of life; organic farming nurtures its wholeness.
  2. Chemical farming depends on fossil oil; organic farming on living soil.
  3. Chemical farmers see their land as a dead medium; organic farmers know theirs is teeming with life.
  4. Chemical farming pollutes the air, water and soil; organic farming purifies and renews them.
  5. Chemical farming uses large quantities of water and depletes aquifers; organic farming requires much less irrigation, and recharges groundwater.
  6. Chemical farming is mono-cultural and destroys diversity; organic farming is poly-cultural and nurtures diversity.
  7. Chemical farming produces poisoned food; organic farming yields nourishing, poison-free food.
  8. Chemical farming has a short history and threatens a dim future; organic farming has a long history and promises a bright future.
  9. Chemical farming is an alien, imported technology; organic farming has evolved indigenously.
  10. Chemical farming is propagated through schooled, institutional misinformation; organic farming learns from Nature and farmers’ experience.
  11.  Chemical farming benefits traders and industrialists; organic farming benefits the farmer, the environment and society as a whole.
  12.  Chemical farming robs the self-reliance (and self-respect) of farmers and villages; organic farming restores and strengthens it.
  13.  Chemical farming progressively leads to bankruptcy and misery; organic farming liberates from debt and woe.
  14.  Chemical farming is violent and entropic; organic farming is non-violent and synergistic.
  15.  Chemical farming is a hollow ‘green revolution’; organic farming is the true green revolution.
  16. Chemical farming is suicidal, moving from life to death; organic farming is the road to regeneration.
  17.  Chemical farming is the vehicle of commerce and oppression; organic farming is the path of culture and co-evolution.
  18. Chemical farming is crudely materialistic, with no ideological mooring; organic farming is rooted in spirituality and abiding truth.

Bhaskar Save’s plea for India’s agro-ecological resurgence
On 29th July, 2006, Bhaskar Save addressed a detailed 8 page Open Letter (along with six annexures) to M.S. Swaminathan, then chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. This was at a time of an unrelenting wave of farmer suicides in various parts of India, particularly Vidarbha and Andhra Pradesh, and Punjab, the frontline state of India’s ‘green revolution’, now turned black.

Bhaskar Save’s Open Letter – widely circulated and translated all over the world (just google and check) – presented a devastating critique of the government’s agricultural policies favouring chemical farming, while making an eloquent plea for urgent and fundamental reorientation. Save states, “I say with conviction that only by mixed organic farming in harmony with Nature, can India sustainably provide abundant wholesome food and meet every basic need of all – to live in health, dignity and peace.” 

Swaminathan wrote back to Save, “I have long admired your work and am grateful to you for the detailed suggestions… valuable comments and recommendations. We shall take them into consideration in our final report.”

A further independent Open Letter from Bhaskar Save, dated 1st November, 2006, was sent to the Prime Minister. Save asks in his letter, “In this vast nation, does any government agricultural department or university have a single farm run on modern methods, which is a net supplier of water, energy and fertility to the local eco-system, rather than a net consumer? But where there is undisturbed synergy of Nature, this is a reality! By all criteria of ecological audit, my farm has only a positive contribution to the health of the environment. Economically too, I get a manifold higher income than ‘modern’ farmers.”

The success demonstrated by Bhaskar Save in decreasing and eliminating external fertility inputs while achieving high productivity, is thus a model for promoting food security; and his method of tree-cropping – integrating short lifespan, medium lifespan and long lifespan species – has been hailed as potentially revolutionary for wasteland regeneration, while also offering sustainable and rewarding livelihoods to large numbers of people.

Natural Abundance at Kalpavruksha
About twenty steps inside the gate of Bhaskar Save’s farm is a sign that says: “Co-operation is the fundamental Law of Nature.” – A simple and concise introduction to the philosophy and practice of natural farming! Further inside the farm are numerous other signs that attract attention with brief, thought-provoking sutras or aphorisms. These pithy sayings contain all the distilled wisdom on nature, farming, health, culture and spirituality, Bhaskarbhai has gathered over the years, apart from his extraordinary harvest of food!

If you ask this farmer where he learnt his way of natural farming, he might tell you – quite humbly -- “my university is my farm.” His farm has now become a sacred university for many, as every Saturday (Visitors’ Day) brings numerous people. These have included farmers from all over India, as also agricultural scientists, students, senior government officials, city folks and occasional travellers from distant lands, who have read or heard of Bhaskar Save’s work. 

Nature’s Tillers and Fertility Builders
It is not without reason that Charles Darwin declared a century ago: it may be doubted whether there are many other creatures that have played so important a part in world history as have the earthworms. Bhaskar Save confirms, “A farmer who aids the natural regeneration of the earthworms and soil-dwelling organisms on his farm, is firmly back on the road to prosperity.”

Earthworms flourish in a dark, moist, aerated soil-habitat, protected from extremes of heat and cold, and having an abundance of biomass. These tireless workers digest organic matter like crumbling leaf litter along with the soil, while churning out in every cycle of 24 hours, one and a half times their weight of rich compost, high in all plant nutrients.

Weeds as friends
“In nature, every humble creature and plant plays its role in the functioning of the eco-system. Each is an inseparable part of the food chain. The excrement of one species is nutrition for another. In death too, every organism, withered leaf, or dry blade of grass leaves behind its contribution of fertility for bringing forth new life.” Consequently, pleads Bhaskar Save -- if we truly seek to regain ecological harmony, the very first principle we must learn to follow is, ‘Live and let live’.

Multi-storey, Multi-function
Above the ground cover of weeds that constitute the lowest storey of vegetation in the orchard area (where any sunlight penetrates to the ground), there are numerous shrubs like the ‘kadipatta’ (or curry leaf, Murraya koenigii) and the homely croton that line the pathways through the orchard. The latter plant, of various spotted and striped varieties, is relatively shallow rooted. It serves as a ‘water meter’, indicating by the drooping of its leaves that the moisture level of the soil is falling!

The shrubs of curry leaf contribute to moderating the population of several species of crop-feeding insects, while also providing an important edible herb widely used in Indian cooking. From this minor crop alone, Bhaskar Save earns an income of at least Rs 2,500/- each month, at zero cost. (Even the harvesting and bundling is done by the purchaser.)

Here and there, one might see climbers like the pepper vine or betel leaf in a spiral garland around a supari (arecanut) palm, or perhaps a passion fruit vine arching across a clearing. These provide additional bonus yield.

The Principles of Farming in Harmony with Nature
“The four fundamental principles of natural farming are quite simple!” declares Bhaskar Save. “The first is, ‘all living creatures have an equal right to live’. To respect such right, farming must be non-violent. The second principle recognizes that ‘everything in Nature is useful and serves a purpose in the web of life’.

“The third principle is: farming is a dharma, a sacred path of serving Nature and fellow creatures; it must not degenerate into a pure dhandha or money-oriented business. Short-sighted greed to earn more – ignoring Nature’s laws – is the root of the ever-mounting problems we face. “Fourth is the principle of perennial fertility regeneration. It observes that we humans have a right to only the fruits and seeds of the crops we grow. These constitute 5% to 15% of the plants’ biomass yield. The balance 85% to 95% of the biomass, the crop residue, must go back to the soil to renew its fertility, either directly as mulch, or as the manure of farm animals. If this is religiously followed, nothing is needed from outside; the fertility of the land will not decline.”

Do Nothing?
While the physical work on a natural farm is much less than in a modern farm, regular mindful attention is a must. Hence the saying: “The footsteps of a farmer are the best fertilizer to his plants!” In the case of trees, this is especially important in the first few years. Gradually, as they become self-reliant, the work of the farmer is reduced – till ultimately, nothing needs to be done, except harvesting. In the case of coconuts, Bhaskarbhai has even dispensed with harvesting. He waits for the coconuts to ripen and fall on their own, and merely collects those fallen on the ground!
For growing field crops like rice, wheat, pulses, vegetables, etc., some seasonal attention, year after year, is unavoidable. This is why Bhaskarbhai terms his method of growing field crops – organic farming, while a fairly pure form of ‘do-nothing natural farming’ is only attained in a mature, tree crop system. However, even with field crops, any intervention by the farmer should be kept to the bare minimum, respecting the superior wisdom of nature, and minimizing violence.
By thus returning to Nature many of the tasks that were originally hers, a weighty burden slips off the back of the half-broken, modern day farmer. And the land begins to regenerate once more.

Bharat Mansata (bharatmansata@yahoo.com)
(adapted from ‘The Vision of Natural Farming’ by Bharat Mansata,  Earthcare Books, www.earthcarebooks.com)

Bharat Mansata is a natural activist. He writes in many newspapers like TOI and has authored many books. He has also developed a food forest named Vanvaadi near Mumbai.