Saturday, July 8, 2017

White Plumage Friends in Organic Farming

Organic Farming is a method of crop production which involves an integration of different farming systems like crop, cattle, fish, poultry etc.  The bio-network forms a cycle of effective utilization of resources which often results in sustainability through the enhancement of soil fertility and biological diversity.
I happen to observe one such organic field loaded with well decomposed cattle waste (Farm Yard manure). The field was very thirsty, thanks to the vagaries of monsoon. On receipt of a good rainfall after a very long time, the dumped farmyard manure became slurry and the nutrient rich solution penetrated in the soil. During land preparation, the puddling (tillage of field in flooded condition) is the first farm operation of Paddy cultivation I could see hundreds of visitors – White Plumage friends.
Being a nature lover, I admired seeing the White Plumage Friends. Yes, they are here for the first time. I had seen Mynahs, King Crow, sparrows, Kingfishers. Fleets of Egrets – Little Egrets, Giant Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets were busy picking the insects and grubs. Egrets are new to this area.
Puddling the paddy field with tractor accompanied with a fleet of White Plumage Friends was an evidence of biodiversity. The fleets comprising of Egrets and Herons with a large number of Cattle Egrets were literally cleaning the field. I saw similar situation of white Plumage friends voraciously feeding on grubs and insects during summer ploughing of the fields too. Summer Ploughing (Ploughing the field during summer to recharge soil profile) helps to kill weeds, hibernating insects and disease-causing organisms by exposing them to the summer. Activity of White Plumage friends were seen during summer ploughing of organic Farm too. They were actively feeding on the grubs and insects which were hidden in the field brought up due to the tillage. This activity of Plumage Friends would reduce the cost of Plant Protection to the farmer. When the grubs and insects are controlled at the initial stage of crop cultivation the crops grow with low pest load. Hence the need for pesticide usage is greatly reduced. The presence of Plumage Friends for the entire crop duration would keep the insect population in control. This condition favors the biodiversity and ensures food security for the people.

It is obvious that role of plumage friends are vital and pave a way to healthy living. They are present right from the land preparation activity in the field. They are active in action to keep the pests in control throughout the cropping period. They also save the crop from rodent damage at the final stage (Pre - harvesting) of the crop. Organic Farming is the way of cultivating crops including many organisms in a network. All interlinked in such a way the ecological balance is maintained. On contrary, if pesticides are sprayed to protect the crop, the Plumage friends’ lose their feed. On feeding the insects with pesticide load result in thin shelled eggs hence the population reduction results in INCREASED PEST LOAD due to absence of Plumage friends to keep it in control. Then it is a vicious cycle to use even more pesticides. Ultimately the entire biodiversity is disturbed. Let us encourage and educate of farmers to turn to Organic farming and feed the world naturally. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


For a mankind to survive, FOOD is pre-requisite. Indians are proud about our good proportion of Intelligence at forefront. Even if we fly high, do a space walk and make an expedition to Antarctica, we should not forget about the fact of sitting down to EAT. Hunger is the most serious problem than corruption and poverty. When people are fed properly, the ethics and morale of the society increases and standard of living is in good trend. The policy makers are more concern on the industries and IT sectors for its economic development, forgetting that ignoring farming and development of agricultural livelihood would end up in dependence on the FOOD PRODUCING countries. If agrarian community is least bothered, the day of dependence on alien land for all its inputs will force INDIA to days of SLAVERY. The solution for the situation is encouraging farmers in an Organic Way, a low cost, eco-friendly, easy and convenient practices, in a long run helps more than 70 percent of the population to live with DIGNITY and in tune with NATURE.  

Organic Farming: First Profession of Mankind
Organic Farming is a method of cultivation done in line with nature. Food, fodder and livestock are raised in an integrated way. Natural balance remains undisturbed even after many years of Organic Farming. In other words, the web of life is integrated which results in conservation of Biodiversity. Indian farmers were cultivating and “Farm Husbanding” using natural way of cultivation for generations, which are evident from the remains of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa. A typical Indian farmer had a minimum of 50 pairs of livestock. Some of them used to help with the farm activities like ploughing, pulling carts, water lifting and so on. Some of them supplied milk and meat. The farm wastes were converted to farmyard manure. The goats and sheep were their mobile banks (could sell whenever they need instant money). The value of a farmer was estimated with the herd they possessed. The hens gave egg and meat. Vegetable were grown in their backyard. People ate farm-fresh food so remained hale and healthy. There was a network of LIVES.

Technological Advancement and its Adversity:
In the post World War era, the use of fertilizers and plant protection chemicals were introduced. With modernization and mechanization we lost our treasure. With the entry of tractors, the farmers preferred to lose cattle. The microbial load of beneficial microorganisms was not fed to the fields. The minimum microbial load present in the Indian soil was killed with the fresh supply of chemical fertilizers which was introduced in the name of Green revolution. Chemical fertilizers and plant protection chemicals first pollute the environment (air, soil and water) then it enters the human system and creates health hazards, yielding to ailments, prolonged sickness and even death. Presence of elemental residues causes various diseases ranging from nausea to neurological toxicity, Alzheimer to cancer. Over years of advanced agriculture, we lost our traditional varieties which were pest resistant, disease resistant, salinity resistant and which could withstand water stagnation and all possible natural vagaries. Yes, OUR rich and varied collection of gene pool was lost as farmers are forced to cultivate short duration varieties and high yielding varieties.

Overcoming the Adversity – Organic Way:
Microbial load can be brought back by Organic Farming techniques (Below ground changes) like Crop Rotation, Organic Fertilizers, Seed Treatment / Bio Priming (Treating with Pseudomonas and Trichoderma), Biofertilizers including VAM & AM – Biofertilizers (induces Phosphatic utilization – Fungus & root symbiosis) encourages the multiplication of beneficial organism and they naturally control the growth of harmful organisms. Multi Crop Concept (Above ground changes) involves many corps to grow in and around the field to get maximum biological activity. Growing right Border Crops according to the selected farm activity acts like an army to save the crop. Example is growing Bhendi (Okra / Lady’s Finger) in the border of Paddy fields acts as yellow sticky trap. As the bright yellow flowers attract harmful insects provided them food (pollen and nectar) and shelter and protect the food crops from the harmful pests. Some of the attractant flowering plants are Marigold, Gingelly (Sesame), and Sunflower. Some trap crops are Mustard and Castor. Occimum spp plants are repellent crops including Tulsi (Hence it is known as mosquito repellent plant).

When habitat manipulation is done so as to encourage naturally farm friendly organisms, the beneficial organisms live in the flowers and protect the main crop from intensive sunshine and cold winds as it acts as barriers. When such crop situation prevails, it is found that the populations of farm friendly organisms like Bracon and Trichogramma (Parasitoids), Spiders and Reduviid Bug (Predators), Pseudomons spp and Trichoderma spp (Bio pesticides). Entomopathogenic fungicontacts the cuticle, forms appresoria, penetrates into the insect, proliferates, produces toxins and ultimately kills the insect. The proper selection of strains kills specific host range without disturbing non-target insects.  Entomopathogenic nematodes (EPNs) are lethal pathogens of wide variety of insects. Biological control with the help of EPN is a very efficient organic insect control method. EPN are viable alternative to chemical pesticides. EPNs have a single freeliving stage, the infective juvenile (IJ), carries bacteria in its gut. EPN and bacteria are harmless to humans and other organisms. EPN are also used as a foliar spray to control sucking pests and other foliar insects.

Such organic farming practices when done is a systemic manner we are ensuring the uninterrupted WEB of LIFE (Food Web). Inter-dependency of one organism feeding on the other and the balance results in conserving the BIODIVERSITY. As a result of the lives conserved at micro level (from microbes, insects) and macro level (rodents, birds, trees) the mankind get the economic benefits. The same principle may be applied to the forest ecosystems. When the small animals and birds are provided opportunity to live and multiply, the wild life will be conserves. Mere killing of rodents may result in the fall of the hawk population (which fed on rodents). Spraying of pesticides reflect in the fertility of men and immunity of mankind (as mother’s mild is found to have pesticide residue). A typical field has a good number of insects. There is a mix of beneficial and harmful insects. Beneficial insects include natural enemies, which kills harmful insects. A natural enemy is organisms which kill, harm and cause disease in other living organisms. There are three types - predators, parasites and pathogens. Predators kill other organisms. Parasites enter or attach to the bodies of their victims and feed on their tissues and fluids ultimately kill them. Pathogens are microorganisms which cause diseases. On application of pesticides to the field the farmers’ friend “beneficial insects” are the first where as the harmful insects get resistance to the pesticide and gains resurgence which require higher dose of insecticides to kill them. The pest management was wisely done by encouraging the natural enemies. Cow’s urine was used to manage various crop diseases. Herbal extracts like neem oil and neem based products were used to control pests and diseases. The use of Panchakavya dates back to Vedic era. These methods also helped in multiplication of the microbial load of the soil and made them fertile.

In an organic field, the role of earthworms is obvious. They are small tube like organisms who tirelessly work to turn the earth from lowest strata of earth to top. Worms tunnel deeply in the soil and bring subsoil closer to the surface mixing it with the topsoil. This makes the formation of multitude of linear tunnels minute in diameter but deeper below the subsurface. These tunnels lasts long even after the worms are dead. These tunnels facilitates infiltration of water into subsurface, reduces runoff, helps in harvesting rainwater. Such stored moisture is slowly released to crop at summer season. In this process of tunneling it also maintains the soil structure and enables the processes of aeration. Earthworm, the Farmers’ friend toils day long tillage in the fields. In the fields of organic cultivation we could see the reserve moisture throughout the year. The latent hard work of a large number of worms helps the crop survive when the other areas are parched.

Earthworms live on what we call WASTE. Yes, the feed on the vegetable wastes we throw leaves shed from trees and any form of organic matter available in soil, and living organisms such as nematodes, protozoans, rotifers, bacteria, fungi which are harmful to plant growth. Their intake per day is one third of their body weight. The organic matter it consumes gets digested in its body and it excretes in the form of casts, a type of soil aggregate rich in nutrition. Thus Earthworm facilitates improving soil fertility and deposits on the surface. Their role gains significance because they convert larger organic matter into simple accessible form. This is also Nutrition cycle. Slime, a secretion of earthworms, contains nitrogen. Nitrogen is an important nutrient for plants. The sticky slime helps to hold clusters of soil particles together in formations called aggregates. These have greater role in porosity which helps in aeration and physical property of soil. The micro-tunnels provide good root growth as they are lined with readily available nutrients and make it easier for roots to penetrate deep into the soil.

Due to fertilizer scarcity farmers were ready to pay twice or thrice to purchase a bag of UREA and DAP which increased the cost of cultivation and toxicity to both soil and environment. They were running between pillars in search of the availability of fertilizers. Some innovative organic growers were in peace, not worrying about the fertilizer scarcity. They just scooped the vermicompost produced in their backyard and just spread (broadcasted) in the fields. Compared to the fields with chemical fertilizers organic fields were outstanding and the yield was comparatively higher. Vermicompost supplied many minerals need for the complete crop growth. The pest load was very less due to available farmers’ friends (natural predators and parasites) which took care of the pest control. The farmer had no need to go for any pesticide spray as the pests were below Economic Threshold Level. These were the visible advantages. Beyond this there were more advantages like the vegetables had longer shelf life, tasted better, and many more…In an organic field, earthworm multiplication becomes natural and nutrition cycle is in full swing and the field is not limited with any nutrition. The web of life is perfect in Organic Farming and Earthworm has a great role to play in. It recycles nutrients and supports micro-flora and fauna population. It also becomes a prey to birds and it goes on. The load of earthworm in a field is directly proportionate to the nature friendly living (ORGANIC).

Due to the chemical farming methods, the earth worm population is greatly reduced. As a trend to turn back to nature and regain the earthworm population farmers are rearing the valuable worms in Vermicompost pits, either with permanent structures or temporary structures made of Silpauline sheets. When vermicompost (the casts collected from the pit), a rich source of nutrition is applied to fields, the crop stand is very good due to supply of multiple nutrients. Often the field itself becomes a vermicompost units and the applied vermicompost contains inoculums of cocoons, from which earthworms’ population increases. Sometimes segments of earthworm reach the field with vermicompost as earthworms have the ability to regenerate lost segments, the population increases. After prolonged use of vermicompost the lost microbial load in regained and so the quality of food we get from fields.

Sustainable Development:
India is proud of its astronomical feat of launching 104 satellites is a single go. On the other side, many millions die of hunger, live in poverty and fight to meet their minimal basic needs. The gap between haves and have-nots are getting wider. Hence the livelihood of farming community is least bothered. White collared jobs are considered superior but the irony is the mean attitude people have towards the one who puddles with mud to feed the world. Ignoring the pain and cost of production of FOOD, the farmer could not fix price for his farming produced. The cost of all inputs, seeds, fertilizers, pesticides are alarming whereas the cost of farming produce is highly seasonal and not economical.

Organic Farming paves a way towards a sustainable development. When a farmer decides to turn down all the chemicals and mechanization the input cost gets drastically reduced. The net return is reduced harvest but of superior quality without polluting nature and harming the biodiversity. Hence it is time to seek old wine in new bottle - The traditional agriculture in the name of Organic Farming. Organic farming uses crop rotations and cover crops which help in balance of nutrient supply. Cover crops and composted manure are used to maintain soil organic matter and fertility. Balanced host/predator relationships were encouraged for pest and disease management without any external factor. Organic residues and nutrients produced on the farm are recycled back to the soil with the active participation of Earthworms and soil microbes. Organic farming protects the environment, minimize soil degradation and erosion, decrease pollution, and optimize biological productivity.

Organic Farming is gaining importance to gain back what we lost - A healthy life, a sustainable economy and integrated development. In this age of globalization, an organic certification helps to reach the global market. The developed countries consume organic foods but sells to developing countries like India, genetically modified seeds, fertilizers and pesticides which they produce. It is time to get up and make use of this marketing game.

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