Being concerned for the environment and actually reducing your pollution footprint are two very different things. Lalita Mukati, a 51-year-old farmer from Borlai village of Barwani district in Madhya Pradesh, decided to embrace organic farming practices when she realized the damage caused to the environment by chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
Since 2013, Lalita and her husband Suresh Chandra Mukati has been employing organic farming methods on the family’s 105 acre farm. They grow a wide variety of crops including Indian gooseberry, okra, custard apple, banana, lemon, maize, cotton, wheat, soybean, chickpea, sapota, etc.
Lalita says, “Before we took the organic route, we were heavily dependent on chemical fertilisers. However, over the years, the soil quality worsened. It reached a stage where we would keep on adding fertilisers but to no avail. Consequently, a significant chunk of our earnings would be spent on fertilisers and we would barely be left with any money after paying for the children’s education and our household expenses.”
She adds that there was also growing awareness about the health effects of chemical fertilisers. “We would see articles in newspapers about chemical fertilisers being linked to increase in incidents of Cancer. All this led to us eliminating chemical fertilisers and adopting natural farming methods.”
Lalita’s income has significantly improved after the transition; she now earns more than Rs 1 lakh in a month. She affirms that crop yields have also improved significantly.
From the domestic front to the farm
Lalita was married off at the age of 19. With the support of her father-in-law, she continued her education and enrolled herself in an open university where she pursued a bachelor’s degree in arts.
As time passed, she got engrossed in marital responsibilities and looking after her children. “After my children grew up, I started accompanying my husband to the farm and that is how I forayed into agriculture. Today all my children are settled and doing well in their chosen fields,” she says proudly.
Lalita has three daughters and two sons. Her eldest daughter is a dentist, another daughter is an IT officer at a reputed bank, and her youngest daughter is pursuing a master’s degree in architecture. One of her sons is attempting CA examinations and the other son works in the family’s farm and has a B.Sc degree in agriculture.
Initially, her husband and her brother-in-law would manage the farm. But the latter had to move way for work and Lalita’s husband took up the responsibility of managing the farm.
The switch to organic methods
It has been seven years since Lalita and her husband started deploying organic farming methods. She says it takes 3-4 years to transition completely into organic farming. In 2016, the Madhya Pradesh State Organic Certification Agency registered her land as organic, allowing her to sell her produce in other states. The board examines the farm and the produce every six months.
In addition to selling her produce at home, Lalita also gets outstation orders via phone, including from Pune and Mumbai. “We transport it via buses through Indore,” she says. She also conducts training sessions for farmers and students of agriculture, free of cost.
Lalita recalls making organic fertilisers and pesticides at home using natural products like cow urine and cow dung during the in initial days.
She also talks about the advantages of vermicomposting: “Earthworms fertilise the soil naturally by turning wastes into compost. When chemical fertilisers are used, it kills the earthworms in the soil. Vermicomposting helps maintain soil fertility and breeding earthworms can be an additional source of income.”
She uses natural pesticides and sprays made of neem oil, neem cakes, and sour buttermilk. (Neem oil acts as an insecticide, fungicide, and also helps reduce nitrogen loss from the soil.) She has also employed the hydroponic method of farming in which plants are grown without soil in a water solvent containing mineral nutrient solutions.
Keeping in tandem with the eco-friendly way of life, she uses solar pumps for farming and has also installed solar panels for electrification.
Awards and Accolades
Lalita has bagged a couple of awards for pioneering organic farming. In 2019, she bagged the Haldhar Organic Farmer Award and the Innovative Farmer Award. In 2018, the Krishi Vigyan Kendra felicitated her with the Best District Farmer Award and the Best Farm Woman Award.
She was one of the 113 women who were felicitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for her contribution towards agriculture.
Lalita and her husband also travelled to Germany and Italy to learn about hi-tech organic farming in 2014 under the Mukhyamantri Kisan Videsh Adhyan Yojana.
The road ahead
On being asked about the challenges in organic farming, Lalita says, “The government should fox minimum support prices for organic products and also aid in the establishment of niche markets for organic produce. Currently, there are no provisions for minimum support prices for organic products.”
Lalita believes that the introduction of minimum support prices will encourage more farmers to take up organic farming. “There is little awareness about organic farming practices and it has the potential to double farmers’ incomes. Farmers should have a say in fixing minimum support prices,” she opines.
She praised the efforts of the Madhya Pradesh government to push organic farming and said she is positive about farmers across the country switching to organic farming in the near future. “This will also improve the condition of the environment and cut down pollution significantly,” she adds.
(Edited by Athira Nair)