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Insights on Organic Farming

Our present prac­tice of chem­i­cal based farm­ing has caused great harm to the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment and to the human beings and oth­er species. Due to the appli­ca­tion of chem­i­cal fer­til­iz­ers and tox­ic pes­ti­cides, the soil has become tox­ic and not only that, the tox­ins have found their way through the food chain into our stom­ach. Var­i­ous kinds of dis­eases have afflict­ed human­i­ty, as a result of this poi­son­ing. And hence, the need for tox­in-free, chem­i­cal-free sus­tain­able meth­ods of agri­cul­ture has become more press­ing than ever before. The dif­fer­ent aspects of agri­cul­ture are: Soil man­age­ment, Water man­age­ment, Seed man­age­ment, Fer­til­iz­er man­age­ment, Pest man­age­ment, Dis­ease con­trol, Har­vest man­age­ment, Post-har­vest man­age­ment.

Nat­ur­al farm­ing and organ­ic farm­ing are two approach­es to sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture. Nat­ur­al farm­ing com­plete­ly elim­i­nates the need for human inter­ven­tion and does not dis­turb nature in any way. Rather it requires the farmer to observe close­ly the func­tion­ing and dynam­ics of the local ecosys­tem, and mim­ic­k­ing Moth­er Nature’s prin­ci­ples, so that the ecosys­tem takes care of itself. There is no need for till­ing the soil, apply­ing fer­til­iz­ers or pes­ti­cides, weed­ing or prun­ing. Organ­ic farm­ing, anoth­er approach to sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture, is a self-sus­tained, self-reliant method of farm­ing where the agri­cul­tur­al inputs of crop pro­duc­tion and pro­tec­tion are of organ­ic ori­gin, such as bovine manure, com­post, and fer­til­iz­ers and pes­ti­cides made from nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring sub­stances (eg: pan­cha­gavya and jee­vam­rutham).

The main aim of organ­ic agri­cul­ture is to grow food crops in a self-sus­tained envi­ron­ment, with min­i­mal use of exter­nal inputs of crop pro­duc­tion and pro­tec­tion, which are pro­duced by the farmer with­in his farm­land.

The gen­er­al opin­ion is that organ­ic farm­ing leads to low yields in com­par­i­son to inor­gan­ic farm­ing, and may even lead to fail­ure of crops. Let us exam­ine this close­ly. Organ­ic farm­ing is a com­plete sci­ence which has its own test­ed and proven tech­niques of crop man­age­ment, for­mu­la­tions of fer­til­iz­ers and pes­ti­cides, bio­log­i­cal pest con­trol, water man­age­ment and dis­ease con­trol. While organ­ic farm­ing will not give imme­di­ate high yields and prof­it like inor­gan­ic agri­cul­ture, its con­tin­u­ous prac­tice over 5–10 years actu­al­ly increas­es the soil organ­ic car­bon con­tent (SOC), which is the very basis of soil fer­til­i­ty. Soil, which is present­ly deplet­ed and of low fer­til­i­ty, due to inor­gan­ic farm­ing, increas­es in fer­til­i­ty over the years through the prac­tice of organ­ic farm­ing. The food pro­duced through organ­ic farm­ing is com­plete­ly free from all tox­ins, and safe for con­sump­tion.

Organ­ic farm­ing ben­e­fits all our future gen­er­a­tions and human­i­ty in the long run. As the soil becomes rich­er and more fer­tile, organ­ic farm­ing has a pos­i­tive impact on the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment. Since the fer­til­iz­ers and pes­ti­cides are pre­pared from with­in the farm­land, it is a self-reliant and self-sus­tain­ing sys­tem, that requires no pur­chase of any fer­til­iz­ers or pes­ti­cides from exter­nal agents.

Also, since organ­ic farm­ing is a method of sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture, it’s yield is also “sus­tained” in the long run. In inor­gan­ic farm­ing, the yield keeps increas­ing with time, while deplet­ing and dam­ag­ing the soil, until a point when the soil becomes unfit for grow­ing plants. While in organ­ic farm­ing, the yield ini­tial­ly increas­es with time, and then sta­bi­lizes to a con­stant lev­el of crop yield, all the time increas­ing the soil organ­ic car­bon con­tent.


The most impor­tant aspect of organ­ic agri­cul­ture is the man­age­ment of soil. Soil is gen­er­al­ly per­ceived as inan­i­mate mat­ter. But no! It is very much alive; it is a liv­ing organ­ism in its own right. In 1 gram of soil there are 1 bil­lion bac­te­ria and 1 mil­lion fun­gi.

It is the soil microor­gan­isms that are respon­si­ble for decom­pos­ing and break­ing down the manure we add into the soil, into nutri­ents that are need­ed for the plants. These bio­log­i­cal process­es in the soil is the dis­tin­guish­ing fac­tor in organ­ic farm­ing, where­as in inor­gan­ic farm­ing, plant nutri­ents are sup­plied as salts in the form of chem­i­cals.

Organ­ic car­bon is the “blood of the soil”. Why is car­bon impor­tant? Because it is the very basis of soil fer­til­i­ty. Soil Organ­ic Car­bon (SOC) is the main source of ener­gy and nutri­ents for soil microor­gan­isms. The organ­ic mat­ter in the soil, such as plant and ani­mal residues, under the right con­di­tions of soil tem­per­a­ture and mois­ture, under­go a process of degra­da­tion to form humus. It is this humus that is impor­tant for nutri­ent and water hold­ing capac­i­ty of the soil. Humus does not build up in the soil in a short peri­od of time. How­ev­er, once it builds up, nei­ther does it leave the soil quick­ly.

Only after 5 years of con­tin­u­ous organ­ic farm­ing, does the organ­ic car­bon con­tent in the soil increase by as much as 0. 05 %. Hence liv­ing soil is com­posed of 25% air, 25% water, 45% min­er­als, clay, sand or silt and 5% dead and liv­ing plants and ani­mals. Ide­al­ly the Car­bon: Nitro­gen ratio in the soil should be 10:1

The rich­ness of soil is mea­sured in terms of :

Den­si­ty of micro-organ­isms present (Nun Uyir­gal)

Organ­ic car­bon con­tent (Kari­mai chathu)

Macronu­tri­ents- Nitrogen(thalai chathu), Phosphorus(mani chathu) and Potas­si­um (Saam­bal chathu)

Micronu­tri­ents – Boron, Zinc, Man­ganese, Iron, Cobalt, Cop­per, Molyb­de­num and Chlo­rine

Manure and Compost

Now, to start an organ­ic farm, a farmer must have his own source of water for irri­ga­tion and a con­tin­u­ous source of manure. The manure takes care of soil microbes that in turn pro­vide nutri­tion for the plants. One cow is need­ed for one acre of land. Cow dung is an excel­lent source of manure. The prod­ucts from cows are used for the prepa­ra­tion of pan­cha­gavya and jee­vam­rutham, which will be dis­cussed lat­er in the arti­cle. We also learnt how agri­cul­tur­al wastes such as plant and live­stock wastes could be turned into valu­able com­post, which is a rich organ­ic fer­til­iz­er for plants.

Gen­er­al­ly, farm­ers dump all their farm wastes and manure into a large pit in the farm called, ’ Eru Kuzhi’ and leave it there untreat­ed for a whole year. Even after a year, the decom­po­si­tion process may not be com­plete and may only be par­tial­ly decom­posed. The sci­en­tists explained that instead of dump­ing wastes in a pit and leav­ing it to nat­ur­al decom­po­si­tion, the wastes and manure could be made to under­go a process of active and faster decom­po­si­tion, through the sci­ence of com­post­ing, and turned into rich com­post. Com­post­ing is a tech­nol­o­gy in itself! They explained the elab­o­rate process of com­post­ing and the do’s and don’ts of it. The sci­ence behind ver­mi­com­post, using earth­worms was dis­cussed, and we learnt that it was supe­ri­or to the nor­mal method of com­post­ing. The fin­ished ver­mi­com­post is rich­er in nutri­tion­al con­tent. The farm­ers were encour­aged to invest in rear­ing earth­worms for ver­mi­com­post­ing.

The ful­ly decom­posed, fin­ished com­post is rich in Car­bon, Nitro­gen, Phos­pho­rus, Potas­si­um and most impor­tant­ly, microor­gan­isms. The com­post needs to be added in appro­pri­ate amounts dur­ing the var­i­ous stages in the life cycle of crops. We were warned that if, fol­low­ing the nor­mal ten­den­cy of our minds, we added it in excess amounts hop­ing for huge yields, we would be in for huge dis­ap­point­ment!


One may ask, ‘The atmos­phere con­tains 78% Nitro­gen, why can’t the crops absorb it direct­ly from the air?” The rea­son is that the crops can take in Nitro­gen only in the form of nitrates, and not in the ele­men­tal form. Sim­i­lar­ly, Phos­pho­rus and Potas­si­um are absorbed only in the phos­phate and potas­si­um oxide forms respec­tive­ly. The fix­a­tion of Nitro­gen from the atmos­phere to the root of the plants in the form of nitrates is done by Nitro­gen-fix­ing bac­te­ria such as Rhi­zo­bi­um and Azospir­il­lum. Phos­pho­rus sol­u­bi­liz­ing bac­te­ria such as Phos­pho­bac­te­ria and Pseudomonas, using their enzymes, release Phos­pho­rus from insol­u­ble com­pounds and make it avail­able for uptake by plants. Potas­si­um Sol­u­bi­liz­ers like Bacil­lus mucilagi­nosus release Potas­si­um for the plants’ uptake through a sim­i­lar process. These ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria called biofer­til­iz­ers, are pre­pared as pure cul­tures in the lab­o­ra­to­ry in con­trolled con­di­tions and can be pur­chased by organ­ic farm­ers.

Organ­ic farm­ing is all about “man­age­ment”. There is no need to erad­i­cate any organ­ism in the envi­ron­ment. Each organ­ism has its role to play. There is some­thing called the ‘Eco­nom­ic Thresh­old Lev­el’’; below this lev­el of pest pop­u­la­tion, nature will con­trol it and there is no need for human inter­ven­tion. The preda­tors, their nat­ur­al ene­mies will keep them in check. Mon­i­tor­ing the lev­el of pests on a day-to-day basis is very impor­tant. It is also impor­tant to know the var­i­ous species of pests, their life­cy­cles and the stages of the crop’s life­cy­cle dur­ing which they attack the crop. If the thresh­old lev­el is crossed, the pests can be kept in check using traps such as light traps and pheromone traps or spray­ing pes­ti­cides pre­pared using nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring sub­stances, avail­able local­ly, such as Neem Seed Ker­nel Extract and 3G (Gin­ger, Green Chilly and Gar­lic). The farmer must plant the trees and plants, whose parts are used for pes­ti­cide prepa­ra­tion, and which are nat­ur­al pest repellers, such as Cycas, Gold­en Show­er and Neem, sur­round­ing the farm.

Seed Management

The farmer must select strong and healthy seeds for plan­ta­tion, and dis­pose of wrin­kled seeds, which have been affect­ed by bac­te­ria and fun­gi. Var­i­ous meth­ods of seed treat­ment, such as soak­ing the seeds in pan­cha­gavya and coat­ing the seeds with bio-fer­til­iz­ers were dis­cussed. Self-reliance is pri­ma­ry; year after year, the seeds from the pre­vi­ous year’s har­vest must be sowed dur­ing the cur­rent sea­son, and must not be pur­chased from exter­nal agents.

Panchagavya And Jeevamrutham

The process of prepar­ing pan­cha­gavya, an organ­ic fer­til­iz­er and potent immu­ni­ty boost­er, was dis­cussed. It is pre­pared using five prod­ucts of a cow: cow dung, cow urine, milk, ghee and curd, along with jag­gery, coconut water, ripe bananas and water. It is used for foliar appli­ca­tion. Jee­vam­rutham is pre­pared using cow dung, cow urine, jag­gery, gram flour and soil. It is used for appli­ca­tion to the root sys­tem.

Organic Certification

There are strin­gent rules that must be observed by a farmer in order to receive organ­ic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for his farm. He must have his own source of irri­ga­tion on his farm, and not from exter­nal sources and canals. He needs to prac­tice organ­ic farm­ing for a min­i­mum of 3 years to be eli­gi­ble for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. After the first year of organ­ic farm­ing, the seeds from the first year’s har­vest must be sowed for the sec­ond year. Var­i­ous records of what inputs were used for farm­ing must be main­tained, and data logged reg­u­lar­ly.

Roof Gardening

Apply­ing the above tech­niques of organ­ic farm­ing on a small­er scale, such as in a home roof gar­den was also explained by the sci­en­tists. The roof of a medi­um sized house could serve as a “ter­race farm” to grow and har­vest fruits and veg­eta­bles used by the fam­i­ly for their every­day cook­ing. Thus even a fam­i­ly liv­ing in cities can grow their own food in the gar­den or on the ter­race, and achieve self-reliance in food.

The dri­ve home point was that organ­ic farm­ing is a sci­ence, and it requires the farmer to under­stand the func­tion­ing of the nat­ur­al ecosys­tem and apply the agri­cul­tur­al inputs of crop pro­duc­tion and pro­tec­tion in appro­pri­ate quan­ti­ties, when need­ed and not in excess. The organ­ic farm must be self-reliant, self-sus­tain­ing, with all inputs pro­duced from with­in the farm. Organ­ic farm­ing is a sus­tain­able method of agri­cul­ture, which in the long run, pos­i­tive­ly impacts human health and the envi­ron­ment.

All in all, it was an excit­ing, infor­ma­tion packed work­shop, giv­ing a detailed overview of the tech­niques of organ­ic agri­cul­ture.

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