How Indian Farm Women United Against Chemicals
When a group of women farmers in India were faced with mounting debt and decreasing crop yields, all due to expensive agrochemicals, they decided to do something about it. They turned to eco-farming, but it was a slow start.
Here’s what happened.
Flash back to the 1990s. In the Indian state of Telangana, yields of cotton, rice and lentils had begun to fall, primarily because of the overuse of agrochemicals. Despite being recommended by “the experts” (usually salespeople from the fertilizer and pesticide companies), the overuse of these chemicals had the additional unfortunate results of depleting nutrients in the soil and promoting pesticide resistance among insects. Even worse, these expensive chemicals were contributing to pollution as well as illness among farmers.
It was not a good situation, and by 2005, 82% of the state’s farmers found themselves in debt, especially the operators of smaller, rural farms, mostly women.
It Was Time for Action
Starting in a remote village, some of the women began to experiment with eco-farming by ditching their costly pesticides. Their goals were to make farming profitable and to remove chemicals from the food chain.
By replacing chemical pesticides with their own bio-pesticides made from local resources, the farmers eventually reported not only financial savings, but better yields too. In fact, the women experienced such success that they were then tapped to help train self-help groups to share their practices with others.
Keys to Success
Today, the techniques of more than a million of these self-help groups are being increasingly adopted. Natural pesticides are substituted for chemically based ones. Compost and nitrogen-fixing plants are grown to help improve soil fertility. Rainwater is harvested and seeds are saved. All of this has helped cut the use of fertilizers by 50%.
And there’s more good news. By reducing the use of chemicals, farmers are saving money and crop yields are on the rise—an average of 220 to 440 pounds more food is now harvested per acre.
While the new farming techniques have yet to become the norm, several strategies have led to their adoption in a growing number of areas:
- Regular weekly meetings by individual small groups of women. Here, others are encouraged and emboldened to try the new techniques themselves.
- Ongoing support in learning the new methods. Instead of relying on the advice of outside “experts,” individuals can benefit from the wisdom of successful eco-farmers, who happily share their skills and knowledge with others.
- A sense of community among member-groups, some of which help administer the program, even making low-interest bank loans available for farmers.
In an article by The New York Times, one farmer, Lalithamma Ayidala, said, “In the beginning my neighbors laughed and didn’t believe, but now that we have good yields they are following this practice too. Economically it’s also good, we are making our own pesticides and seeds, we don’t need to use the outside dealers.”