BOON OR BANE OF FARMERS
Applied agricultural science in its quest to market more products to the farmer is now into the biofertiliser business. In the wake of this quest comes the cry for subsidies and thus the roadmap to genuine self-sustainability is further compromised. We must understand very clearly that it is not off-farm products that we need for farm productivity but rather on-farm methodologies. At most the farmer can source raw materials like rock phosphate, lime, oil cakes etc. but it is critical that the farmer do the value addition for productivity on the farm. All our research and development should be channeled to this end so that we get our agricultural scientists more on to the field and less in the laboratory. Let our aim at the advisory level be “to teach how to fish and not dole out fish”…for a price. Let the value addition be with the farm products in our secondary industry and not at the primary productivity level. Then truly we will be helping our farmers to practice their core competence, namely farming.
I began to seriously question the usefulness of biofertilisers several years ago when I accompanied an octogenarian soil scientist, Dr Vaidyanathan, to the UPASI conference at Coonoor. Dr Vaidyanathan, having spent his entire professional career as a hardnosed chemical soil scientist, nevertheless spent his twilight years advising on the conversion of coco-coir waste into a useful soil conditioner. His experience had taught him that many, even most of the serious soil diseases like nematodes for example, cannot be treated effectively through chemical means. The problem lay in the level of organic matter and the soil immune system that is regulated through the health of the micro-life in the soil. At the UPASI conference Dr Vaidyanathan was revered for his still acknowledged ground-breaking research in the 1950s on micronutrient deficiencies in coffee. Dr Vaidyanathan questioned the young soil scientists at the conference about their chosen area of research. At least 80% of them replied they were concentrating on biofertilisers. To my astonishment Dr Vaidyanathan launched into a virulent, even violent criticism of this line of research and declared in a thunderously authoritative tone that laboratory cultivated microorganisms were next to useless when applied to the soil. He made the forceful argument that the beneficial bacteria and fungi we seek for our soils are not like chemicals that can be conjured up in factories then dispersed like NPK as the magical bullet for all our farmer’s woes. We are dealing with life principles here, he declared, and such an approach will fail to benefit the farmer, in fact it will only fleece him! Now such strong views were not at all welcomed by the posse of scientists who gathered around him but having had a background in Biodynamic agriculture I fully endorsed his viewpoint – indeed here at last was one point in our approach to agriculture on which we saw eye to eye!
All organisms from humans to the tiniest viruses evolve. It is an evolving universe of incessant motion. Evolutionary adaptation at the microbial level gives us a clue to our approach. By developing appropriate technology for producing farm-based biofertilisers we will be doing the best service to the farmer. For the organisms produced will be best adapted for the conditions and needs of the farm. But the primary aim must always be to ensure basic good health and structure of our soil. In doing this we will allow our soils to evolve their own auto-immune system just as a human being, properly nourished will enjoy natural good health and not need all the vacuous palliatives available to him in our ubiquitous allopathic pharmacies. Thus a sound practice of returning all farm wastes to the soil through composting and mulching provides the base on which all on-farm biofertilisers can be effectively used. A dead soil cannot sustain the necessary soil life to support long-term, healthy plant productivity.
The Biodynamic agri-system has this holistic outlook. It first looks to a probiotic input of fermented cow dung made on the farm, namely Foundation 500. This is applied to the soil in homeopathic doses throughout the year along with scientifically prepared compost. The soil thus evolves its own health regulatory system as the living organism that it becomes. To assist this evolution Biodynamics has a biofertiliser called CPP (Cow Pat Pit) which is produced on the farm using as its base cow dung from the farm itself. The appropriate local microorganisms are derived from this cow dung and enhanced by natural silica and calcium inputs. This medium is then inoculated with fermented herbal products that stimulate all the microorganisms needed as “regulators” by the soil. It is not gross physical inputs we are aiming at but judicious and timely intervention with growth and health regulators. Indeed it is more a regulation of forces and energies than the manipulation of gross material substance.
This is the essence of the approach in the Vedic Krishi system.