Since 1997, India’s drought prone area has increased by 57%, as reported by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

India’s Bundelkhand region is known to be severely drought-impacted. The scarcity of water has affected rainfed agricultural yields and agriculture-based livelihoods, increased migration, and reduced income in the region. More than 500 farmer suicides every year are reported in the region due to the increasing financial, water and food security stresses. As such, there is a need to support farmers to practice natural farming and increase their resilience to cope with extreme weather conditions.

In November 2023, Commonwealth Alumnus Meesha Tandon delivered a workshop and training programme for farmers to promote natural farming using indigenous methods and raise awareness on climate resilient agriculture practices in Bundlekhand.

Meesha is an Architect Planner and independent consultant with specialisation in water resource management. She is also the Vice President of Sustainability and Adaptation Planning Foundation (SuAP), an organisation committed to work towards sustainable development, climate adaptation, and community centric planning.

The activity promoted the 2023/24 ACEF theme: Preserving and Promoting Indigenous Knowledge.

Spreading awareness on indigenous farming practices

Meesha Tandon with Mr Vijay and farmers participating in the training

Meesha Tandon with Mr Vijay and farmers participating in the training

On 24 November, Meesha partnered with the Agriculture Science Centre (ASC), Deendayal Research Institute, Ganeeva farm, Chitrakoot to deliver a multi-sectoral workshop and natural farming site visit. Together, the activities introduced farmers to different indigenous practices related to natural farming, benefits of natural farming, the importance in climate resilience, and practical demonstrations.

The workshop was the first activity and brought together 44 stakeholders including independent farmers, and female students from the Agriculture Science centre in addition to district level agriculture officials. Attendees represented Banda, Karvi, Pahadi and other parts of Chitrakoot and Banda district.

Promoting the benefits of natural farming

To deliver the workshop, Meesha was joined by seven expert speakers who each presented on different areas of natural farming. This included special guests Mr Pamod Jha, Sub District Magistrate (SDM), Rajapur

For the opening discussion, Mr Chandramani Tripathi, Head of ASC, spoke about the adverse effects of harmful fertilisers, such as reducing soil and crop productivity. He discussed government schemes to support the adoption of cattle which are essential for natural farming practices.

Mr Ramapati Shukla, District Agricultural Officer, Chitrakoot, further highlighted government initiatives towards natural farming and spoke about the benefits in improving human and environmental health.

Mr Vijay facilitating a session on natural farming

Mr Vijay facilitating a session on natural farming

Mr Jha is a nature-based farming practitioner himself and shared his personal insights on the benefits of traditional agricultural practices and importance of maintaining traditional knowledge.

Meesha delivered a presentation on the impact of climate change in India and the need for climate preparedness, especially in the agricultural sector. She highlighted how the adoption of natural farming can help build agricultural climate resilience.

She then shared the virtual message from Mr Rajkumar Arya, a practitioner farmer using Subhash Palekar Natural Farming. He explained that he adopted natural farming practices on realising the harmful effects of chemicals and pesticides and has seen the difference in the quality of agriculture produce.

Picking up on discussions around climate resilience, Ms Mamta Tripathi, an expert on Millets from ASC, spoke about the benefits of millets over grains. She shared that millets are a climate resilient crop which help in reduction of water consumption for farming. She also explained how farmers can improve their earnings by preparing household edible products from millets.

Following this, Mr Vijay Gautam, Master trainer in natural farming, ASC, introduced the basics of natural farming and informed attendees about the ongoing government awareness programme, Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra.

Mr Gautam and his team concluded the workshop with a demonstration on preparing natural farming mixes using cattle waste and locally available ingredients. He also shared indigenous farming practices such as preparing jeevamrut, a natural liquid fertiliser, beejamrut, a treatment for seeds, ghabeejamrut, for enhancing crop productivity, and neemastra and brahmastra, natural pest protection methods.

Avartansheel Kheti: a sustainable farming concept

Farmers attending a natural compost making session

Farmers attending a natural compost making session

On 25 November, nine farmer attendees joined a field visit and training on Avartansheel farming at the Humane Agrarian Centre (HAC), Banda, led by Mr Asheesh Singh, Associate Project at Manjari foundation (partner, HAC Banda). He encouraged farmers to adopt natural fertilisers and shared the importance of cattle, water bodies on farms, fruit trees, and nature-based construction on agricultural land to maintain good soil health and productivity.

He also introduced attendees to the concept, Avartansheel Kheti, a social practice which helps farmers contribute towards environmental conservation, social development, equity and solve global food crises. Attendees were lucky to be joined by Mr Prem Singh, an award-winning farmer and creator of the concept. He explained the principles of his sustainable farming concept in preserving nature and how the model has helped him generate income, sustain environmental resources, and work towards social equity.

During the site visit, farmers received training on preparing organic compost using natural elements and witnessed demonstrations on biogas production.

Ripple-effect of the workshop

As a first step towards natural farming, Meesha provided the nine farmers with composting bags to make their own natural compost.

Although not all were first-time composters, making natural compost on their farms using piles of cow dung or pits in the farm, this was the first time they had used compost bags. The advantages of the bags include hygiene, management of the compost, and protection against adverse weather. These factors lead to better quality compost.

Post-activities, Meesha visited the farmers and found that many were practising natural farming, including making different types of compost. Of these farmers, many reported an improvement in the soil character and crop produce, and had observed a decline in crop diseases due to natural farming practices. They are now promoting these methods to other farmers.

Meesha wishes to continue supporting famers in Bandlekhand region and plans to organise similar workshops on natural farming through her NGO, SuAP. She plans to deliver a tree plantation activity in August along Mandakini river to further promote awareness on indigenous practices in farming.

Meesha Tandon is a 2006 Shared Scholar from India. She completed an MSc in Catchment Dynamics and Management at the University of Leeds.