The agroecological grassroots movement revolutionising Indian farms

Nature can offer new farming solutions

A grassroots, natural farming movement is spreading across communities in India – helping improve the livelihoods, incomes and soil health. ©FAO/Francisco Martinez


In India, a grassroots movement focused on agroecological farming is spreading fast. Beginning in the southern state of Karnataka, the natural farming methods were adopted first by tens, then hundreds and now hundreds of thousands of farmers across India. So, what’s so special about it?

The natural methods have spread with support from the Andhra Pradesh Community Natural Farming (APCNF) programme, a farming initiative launched by the state government with FAO’s technical expertise. The programme encourages farming without chemicals, instead using locally-made, botanical pesticides and innovative cultivation methods that naturally prevent pest and diseases outbreaks. These methods have enabled farmers to drastically cut production costs and help end the debt cycle that they often get stuck in when relying on expensive chemical pesticides and fertilisers. 

Kakani’s story 

Kakani Sivannarayana used to only farm bananas on his plot of land. Prioritizing the most profitable crop was the only way he could afford the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. 

Ironically, however, these expensive chemical products were harming the land and depleting the soil of nutrients and microbiological diversity, like useful bacteria and fungi. Over time, this makes the land less productive, meaning declining yields for Kakani. 

When he heard about agroecological farming from neighbouring farmers, he believed that transitioning to a more natural farming system was worth a shot.

“Using seven to eight bags of fertilisers was expensive. Now that I use natural farming methods, they simply involve drava jiwamrut and ghana jiwamrut [two natural biostimulants prepared from locally available ingredients such as cow dung and urine, sugar cane, pulse flour and a handful of soil] which are very cheap. That’s why I am practicing natural farming: low costs and better income,” says Kakani.

Kakani has seen the benefits that natural farming methods bring – and is encouraging his neighbours to implement the methods on their farms too. ©FAO/Francisco Martinez

“When we were using chemical fertilisers, our soils were compact like a cement road. The soils wouldn’t absorb water, and the expenses kept adding up. However, after adopting natural farming practices, the soils are softer, and the banana fruits are tastier. The produce stays fresh longer too,” says Kakani.

Natural farming not only reduced his costs but also increased his revenues and the health of his soils through inter-cropping, a method that involves growing several compatible crops on the same land. The aim is to use the plants’ natural synergies efficiently to improve the yield. For example, one crop may naturally provide nutrients to the soil that the other crop needs to grow or perhaps repel or trap pests affecting the other crop.

“With chemical farming, we could cultivate only a single crop. In natural farming, four or five intercrops are also cultivated, such as tomato, Brinjal, Chilli and pulses, providing additional income and nutrition.” 

The success of agroecological farming on Kakani’s farm motivated him to encourage others in his village. 

“I invited them to dig into my soils to find out how many earthworms there were compared to fields where chemical fertilizers are used,” Kakani says. 

Earthworms thrive in healthy soils and in turn make the soil even healthier, increasing nutrient availability, encouraging better drainage and creating a more stable soil structure, all of which help improve farm productivity. Unsurprisingly, Kakani says, “We found that there were many more earthworms in natural farming fields.”

With the help of FAO, Kakani has set up his own Farmer Field School to help pass on the chemical-free techniques. ©FAO/Francisco Martinez

Natural methods for a better future

Kakani has since gained recognition for his success with the natural farming methods and was supported by FAO and the state government to become a trainer, setting up a Farmer Field School in his village to support other farmers in using the methods and learning for themselves. Now, Kakani also runs a Non-Pesticide Management shop, helping to supply local farmers with natural, locally-sourced pest and soil management solutions.

Many common agricultural practices used around the world today, such as mono-cropping or over reliance on chemicals, are not sustainable. They degrade soils, cause tremendous stress on water resources and affect the profits, health and livelihoods of farmers. Natural farming methods show that there is an alternative. 

Thanks to Kakani and other pioneers like him spreading this natural solution, smallholder farmers spend less in input costs, get higher yields and more sustainable farming conditions, not to mention chemical-free food for consumers. Promoting the use of these simple, natural practices is paving the way for a more sustainable agricultural sector, changing our planet for the better.

Behind all of our food, there is always someone who produced, planted, harvested, fished or transported it. This World Food Day on October 16, we take the opportunity to thank these #FoodHeroes who, no matter the circumstances, continue to provide food for their communities and beyond - helping to grow, nourish and sustain our world.

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2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 15. Life on land