National Natural Agriculture Mission Guidelines 2022: Is Meghalaya Prepared?

In recent years, the Union government has paid increasing attention to nature-friendly farming practices. The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, himself, during his 2022 Independence Day speech, highlighted the potential of organic and natural agriculture as an important pathway to make India Atma Nirbhar (self-reliant) in reducing the costs of expensive fertilizer imports. In fact, one of the tipping points of the Sri Lankan political crisis was the decision to ban the import of chemical fertilizers in an attempt to remedy the depletion of foreign exchange reserves. However, the sudden ban led to a severe shortage of food grains and panic among farmers. Ultimately, the crisis culminated in the fall of the Rajapaksa government.

Despite the failure of the approach, there is an urgent need to transform the food system based on an industrial agriculture model which is responsible for more than a third of global GHG emissions. Nature-friendly farming practices are the need of the hour. The Indian government has understood this very well and has announced policies aimed at strengthening the natural agriculture sector in the country. It is against this backdrop that on August 25, 2022, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Government of India released the National Mission Guidelines on Natural Farming. Although there are many good things in the guidelines, farmers in Meghalaya are unlikely to reap the benefits described.

The guidelines make a clear distinction between organic and natural farming, the main point being that the off-farm purchase of organic and organic inputs is allowed in the former case, while the latter emphasizes the use of on-farm resources such as biomass mulch, all year round. green cover, indigenous formulations of cow dung and urine. The Reserve Bank of India Report on Fertilizer Consumption per Hectare by State (N+P+K) indicated that fertilizer consumption in Meghalaya fell from 14 kg per hectare in 2011-2012 to zero in 2018-2019. The corresponding figures for India during the same period were 142 kg per hectare to 133 kg per hectare.

With the lifting of the ban on chemical fertilizers by the government of Meghalaya, the numbers will increase (they will no longer be zero) but will most likely still be below the national average. As this particular decision was made with next year’s assembly elections in mind, we hope it will be reversed thereafter. After all, we don’t want to go back when everyone is moving in the right direction for a change. Due to low fertilizer consumption, according to the guidelines, farmers in Meghalaya are eligible to be included in the category of natural farming systems.

The Guidelines actually consider hilly states like Meghalaya to be important for the success of the Mission. Two types of areas were given the highest priority, namely, areas falling within a 5 km corridor either side of the Ganga River and fed by rain and traditionally little or no fertilizer using areas such as hilly, tribal, high forest and remote districts. districts. Meghalaya and the other northeastern states belong to the second category.

But while the intention is very laudable, the guidelines listed in the document reveal a lack of understanding of the farming systems prevalent in Meghalaya. This oversight (I believe it is unintentional) will lead to the exclusion of the majority of Mission farmers, which will be a blow to the momentum towards the natural farming movement in the country. An understanding of the agricultural systems practiced by the indigenous peoples of Meghalaya is therefore very crucial.

Traditionally, the local food system of Meghalaya is made up of four different agricultural systems. These are jhum/shifting cultivation, roll/terrace cultivation, wet paddy cultivation and home gardening. Jhum is an agricultural rotation system that involves moving from one place to another every year. After a year of cultivation on a plot, it is abandoned to allow it to recover, only returning after more than 7 to 10 years. Bun is a relatively more sedentary form of cultivation but also involves leaving the land fallow for five to six years after cultivating for two to three seasons.

The remaining two systems, i.e. home gardening and wet rice cultivation, are sedentary forms of farming systems where the farmer works on the same piece of land year after year. But while home gardening is practiced on small plots around the house, wet paddy is limited by the availability of flat arable land. The jhum and the bun are therefore very important agricultural systems for the agricultural community of Meghalaya. Implementing the National Mission guidelines on natural farming in the state will completely ignore farmers who practice these systems. A glance at certain sections of the Guidelines shows this very clearly.

Section 10.2(d) states that “States, in consultation with the local Gram Panchayat, shall identify natural farming practitioners who are successful full-time natural farmers whose entire land is under agriculture natural for the past 2-3 years. Again, section 10.4 (m) mentions that “in addition to the daily management by CFs and CRPs, 12 training programs will be conducted during the crop growth period in the first two years to assess progress, organize interaction with experts and decide on farming strategies. ”

Assessing whether a system follows natural farming principles will involve soil testing and monitoring of soil health over a period of more than three to four years. In the jhum and bun system, these guidelines become redundant because land is abandoned after one year in the first and after two or three years in the second, which prevents practitioners of both systems, a large majority of farmers, from enter the system. competence of the mission. The exclusion of farmers will also cause them to lose the benefits of the certification system envisaged under the Mission.

As stated in section 6.1, one of the objectives of the mission is to “create standards, a certification procedure and a brand image for natural agriculture products destined for national and international markets”. This certification system according to section 10.4.5 will start from the second year. Farmers who obtain this certificate (in the future) will be able to demand higher prices which will help to increase their household income and give them more incentive to continue the system. Since a large majority of farmers in Meghalaya fall under the definition of natural farming, this will boost rural incomes and drive demand in the economy, leading to higher overall growth. But for that to happen, the guidelines will need to be changed so that farmers in Meghalaya and the state at large do not lose out on the benefits the scheme will bring.

Recently, NESFAS (North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society) participated in an online consultation organized by the National Coalition for Farming System to discuss the guidelines. Similar questions were raised by other participants in light of their experience working with farming communities across the country. There has been no information that the Meghalaya government has informed the Union Government’s Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare about the distinctiveness of Meghalaya’s farming systems and how the guidelines will cause the majority of farmers practicing these systems to miss out on mission benefits. This will be a great loss not only for farmers, but also for the state.

Therefore, it is essential that the state government discuss the guidelines with all stakeholders before deciding to deploy the National Natural Agriculture Mission in the state. The farming community in Meghalaya can play an important role in transforming the food system and helping the state achieve the various Sustainable Development Goals. However, this will not happen if they are left behind or if the state acts in the opposite direction.

About the authors:

Bhogtoram Mawroh is Senior Associate, Research and Knowledge Management at NESFAS and can be contacted at [email protected]

Janak Preet Singh is Senior Associate, Livelihood at NESFAS and can be contacted at [email protected]

About Keneth T. Graves

Check Also

Agriculture as a Service Market Analysis, Growth Rate, Demand, Size

Market Overview: The global agriculture as a service market size is expected to grow at …