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Unique organic cotton project for MP farmers

Mar 02, 2019

Cotton farmers in Chhindwara district are reaping benefits from new cultivation practices.

Chhindwara: Like most farmers, Laxmi Salami is resistant to change, unwilling to give up the practices followed by generations in her family. But when the 26-year-old cotton farmer hailing from Gajandoh village, situated about 100 km from Nagpur, reluctantly agreed to try something new on her field, the results were astonishing and welcome.

“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.”

Laxmi explains how she prepared vermicompost by mixing cow dung, earthworms in the soil and vegetable waste and applied this to her one-acre devoted to organic cotton. “For the first time, I also used spray made from cow urine. I also learnt about the importance of spacing one’s saplings at a distance of three-by-three feet, which is called ‘space marking’ and to grow another crop in between which would not only protect my cotton plant but also give me an additional crop.”

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, the first of its kind to be launched by Worldwide Fund for Nature India (WWF India) in collaboration with C & A Foundation, a Swiss- based corporate Foundation in Chhindwara district of Madhya Pradesh in 2015-16.

A total of 72 villages have been covered under the project so far, of which 60 per cent of the total farmers are involved. 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.

The operative word being ‘organic’, the project emphasizes the need to replace such destructive chemical pesticides and fertilizers with environmentally-friendly manures and sprays. As more and more farmers adopt these new techniques, the results have been dramatic and instant. “The programme has opened my eyes. I am saving so much money by growing cotton the organic way.”

Laxmi has also noticed a perceptible change in the quality of her soil ever since she replaced chemicals with organic products and now plans to grow more organic cotton next year using this method. “ I am confident that my yields will be much better next time as I have been told that the quality of the land improves every time you till it organically. I have the evidence of my own eyes to know that this is true,” she adds.

Farmers like ParashuramPandhram, 35, of Mehlaari village are setting an example of income enhancement through multiple cropping in a scenario of water scarcity and marginal landholdings. He planted organic cotton on his fields for the first time in 2016. From just half an acre that was cultivated, he earned Rs.11, 520. This success motivated him to permanently take up cotton farming on his fields.

Currently, 4000 farmers are registered under the programme as organic cotton farmers. Of these, intensive training has been given to 1000 farmers on the organic package of practices of cultivating cotton and other inter-crops, states Taslim Raza, Project Executive of SRIJAN, an NGO which is WWF India’s implementing partner in the district.

“We have been imparting mass awareness training programmes to the farmers on preparation of manure and soil conservation techniques which has already seen a marked improvement in the soil,” he claims. “Last year, about 20,000 quintals of organic cotton were produced which contributed to the incremental income of cotton farmers’ families.”

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