By Vikas Prakash Joshi
Organic agriculture is generally considered a more sustainable and eco- friendly approach to agriculture than conventional chemical-based farming practices. Organic practices generally do not rely on chemical fertilizers and pesticides which leach the soil of nutrients, and are less expensive. At the national and state level, there have been a number of initiatives to promote organic agriculture in states like Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Sikkim.
Despite all these initiatives, there are practical constraints to organic agriculture as well, which discourage farmers from adopting it on a larger scale. These include lower yields, lack of marketing facilities and shortage of organic inputs. As a result, only 1.2 of India’s total agricultural land area is under organic agriculture in 2018. 
In this context, it is interesting to have a closer look at life in Ghagari, a village in the Murhu block of Jharkhand’s Khunti district, as all the agriculture here is totally organic.
Ghagari is a project village under the WOTR Wasundhara Livelihoods Development Project, funded by the Germany based non-governmental organization Andheri Hilfe Bonn.
The village, which consists of around 350 people, lies about 20 km from the Murhu town. Agriculture is the primary occupation of the people. This main crop in this village is rice, which is rain-fed and mainly done in the kharif season.
Sushil Bodhra, gram pradhan of Ghagari village for 22 years, said that the village had gone through three phases. “In the first phase till the 1970s and 80s, they were only using organic methods. From the 1990s till the early 2000s, some farmers switched over to using chemical based farming. But in the 10 years, especially since WOTR started its work, even those farmers have switched back to mostly using organic methods of agriculture,” he says.
Indernath Singh (64), a farmer with 13 acres of land, gives us a historical perspective on the agriculture practices followed in the past.
“In the past, roughly in the 1960s and 70s, the entire village followed traditional methods like using manure. The entire village cultivated only rice in kharif season. But in the 1970s, government officials who visited the village told us about the higher yields that chemical based farming could give us. So some farmers slowly shifted to these methods and saw a rise in their yields. They also started growing other crops like tomatoes and brinjal,” he says.
Due to extensive use of chemicals, from the 1990s and 2000s the land started becoming acidic and hard, according to Singh. This was validated by studying the losses in soil moisture and declining yields of farmers who had taken up chemical based farming when compared with those who had done organic farming.”
Farmers applying amrut khad to their fields in Ghagari village, Jharkhand. Photo: Sujaya Dangwar
Indernath Singh, next to the drip irrigation system installed on his plot. Photo: Vikas Prakash Joshi
“Going in for organic methods reduces expenditure as well”, explains Indernath Singh. He says “Frankly speaking, the output under organic agriculture reduces in the beginning but the expenditure also goes down. On one acre of land, using traditional methods of chemical fertilisers, one can get around 14 to 15 quintals of rice per acre during the kharif season, but using organic methods this reduces to 12 quintals. The expenditure though reduces from about Rs. 5,000 per acre to around Rs. 2,000. So there are significant savings. Plus, I have also installed a drip irrigation system on the land which saves water.”
However, there are other challenges that farmers in this totally organic village face. Phulmani Dhanu, says “To do organic farming, we need an average of 600 kg of manure for one acre of land. In a village like ours, where livestock is quite limited this is very difficult to get. So we compromise on the amount of manure or the area under cropping, which in turn affects our output and income. Besides, to make formulations like dashaparni ark (an organic pest control spray) one needs neem and neem trees are not common in this part of Jharkhand. This makes maintaining organic methods quite challenging.”
Vipin Kumar Singh, agronomist and project manager points out that while pesticides and fertilisers are easily available, organic farming methods like vermicomposting are not easily accessible, which further discourages farmers from adopting organic farming.
“It is easy to switch to organic farming but difficult to maintain it, as it takes more time and effort. Procuring worms for vermi composting, for example, means going to the Krishi Vigyan Kendra in Ranchi; the farmer loses the whole day in the process. Organic farming does not fetch a premium as the nearby areas do not have customers who would pay more for an organically grown crop. There is a transition period in which the yield from the land actually drops when you switch to organic farming. Hence, the focus now should be on making components of organic farming more easily available and boosting the marketing and supply of organic products. Ultimately farmers need economic incentives to make organic farming sustainable,” concludes Vipin.
 Down to Earth, February 21, 2018