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Natural Farming: The Indian Story

Editor's desk | Nov 20, 2020 04:19 PM IST

India has been the global powerhouse when it comes to agriculture. Not only today but for centuries together the agriculture has been practiced and worshiped as a religion in India by many. Working in-tandem with the nature has been one of the primary goals of agriculture practice in India.

Practices forgotten for a while is now coming back with recognition and demand. The changing climate, environmental hazards and the pollution caused to primary nature elements: water, earth (soil) and air has forced the farmers to go back to age old perfected farming techniques.

“Nature has its own course”. A quote, being well acknowledged in farming practice, today. Ways to grow the crops as a means by natural farming has gained popularity in the last decade. The retaliation of nature in its own way is being accepted and understood by all.

Present since centuries, natural farming has been the most promising method of farming. Natural farming gained recognition way back in 1940s, by means of book “The One-Straw Revolution), written by Japanese farmer and philosopher, Masanobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka in his both has described natural farming sustainable solution as ‘Do-nothing farming’ or ‘No-tillage farming’.

The nature has solutions to all the problems. It knows what is best and how to achieve the height of perfection. Revolving around such ideologies, the book elaborates the approach to natural farming by simple practices and yielding ample produce.

Natural Farming in India

Geography plays a very big role in ascertaining the nuances of natural farming practice. The topography and environmental biodiversity of the country makes natural farming to be adopted far and wide practiced in many forms. Gaining a strong foothold, natural farming is being recognised as a prominent practice of farming is in various parts of the country.

Natural Farming in India primarily, gained popularity due to rapid deterioration of soil. In order to have a healthy and fertile soil for increased yield of crop growth, various practices were initiated.

International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) :
“Organic Farming relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved..."

Indian agriculture practitioners, following the main theme as practiced by Masanobu Fukuoka, have diversified the practice to natural farming in accordance to the biodiversity. Some of the popular practices formulated and followed:

  • Rishi Kheti :The concept “rishi kheti” (agriculture of the sages) was pioneered by Pratap C Aggarwal in 1980’s. Pratap, an agriculture practitioner, living in Rasulia, Madhya Pradesh borrowed the principle of no-tilling of land, similar to “Fukuoka method”.

    Depleting nourishment of the soil and its poor quality, led the community to devise a plan to save the fertility of their land. To prevent the soil turning into sand ploughing was strictly banned. Ploughing their lands was now considered a sin by these small farmers.

    To return the fertility of the soil, nature was accepted as a teacher. This enabled these set of farmers to learn understand the needs of the land and plants and its working methodology. Nature has its means to suffice itself and eliminate the unwanted factors. To speedy the positive results, the farmers stopped using chemical fertilisers and added organic manure to their crops.

    The chemical fertilisers usage that generally reduces the moisture of land, drastically reduced. This resulted in the soil turning soft, airy and moist creating an adaptive surrounding for earthworms to rejuvenate. Earthworms are natural tillers of the land that help maintain the nourishment of the top soil. Their compost is natural manure for soil to provide the necessary nourishment. The land became fertile and plants such clover enabled check on unwanted weed growth.

    An initial experiment by a small set of farmers soon became a practice seeing its success rate. The farmers through regular experimentation learnt the variety of crops that could be grown on their land.

  • Zero Budget Natural Farming : Promoted by agriculture scientist, Subhash Palekar, the method is a way of conducting chemical-free agriculture. Decorated by Padma Shri, Palekar’s concept draws inspiration from traditional Indian practices and existing forest ecosystem.

    Applying the forest principles as a part of his research projects, Palekar developed the basis of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF). The farming method promoted application of “jeevamrutha” (a mixture of fresh desi cow dung and aged desi cow urine, jaggery, pulse flour, water and soil) on land. The fermented mixture high in microbes enables addition of necessary nutrients to the soil, preparing an atmosphere for activity of microorganisms and earthworms.

    Discouraging intensive irrigation and deep ploughing, the method promotes farming techniques such as intercropping and topsoil mulching resulting in soil aeration and minimum need of water.

    Practice of the technique during the Green Revolution wave, Palekar became confident that the method promotes self-sustenance, a need highlighted by the plight of farmers in debt across the country since the mid-1990s.

    The method aims reducing the cost of input and farming with nature to break the vicious cycle of debt of farmers.

Natural Farming has been adopted by individuals to form organisations that promote organic produce through the country. Aiming towards improvement of soil deterioration, water quality and health of people natural farming is now a trend on rise among rural farmers.

Features of Natural Farming

Fukuoka stressed on the practice as a “the natural way of farming”. He describes the development of the system with its natural biodiversity, unique to the practiced area.

Natural farming provides the ecosystem thriving conditions to living organisms, both plant and animal. A means not only to produce food, Fukuoka believed farming to be an approach to human life and means of perfecting it.

Plowing the regularly leads to deterioration of the quality of soil. It leads to disturbance in the environment for the soil to recuperate.

Man-made intervention in tilling of the land results in earthworms digging deeper into the ground or moving away to undisturbed patches of land. Earthworms are natural tillers of land which enable the regular enrichment of topsoil. With the process (natural tilling) fading away or completely dying out, it leads to erosion of top soil.

Nature to control the aspect takes its own course giving room for weeds to grow. Weeds those are hard to get rid of and absorb the nutrients of the soil, resulting in weak or no growth of healthy plantation. In order to enrich the growth the chemical or synthetic bases fertilisers provide short term relief of good crop but a negative effect on the soil balance and its inability to recuperate.

This further leads to soil deprivation. The ability of the soil to stay hydrated gradually decreases, causing the soil to turn sand. With no ability to hold plants due to lack of plantation growth, the groundwater level depletes.

The disturbance causes a vicious cycle disrupting the balance of nature. With the thought he distilled the practice into five principles:

Fukuoka stresses the nature has the ability to overcome its shortcomings if, not disturbed by man and create a balanced environment. For survival of biodiversity, balance is essential and nature acclimates to it.

Benefits of Natural Farming

Natural farming has a way of benefitting both the humans and the environment.

  • Cutbacks : with natural farming based on principles to move in harmony with nature, lot of financial inputs get laid. The farming practice stresses on nature moving its course and enabling to use natural resources to fix the problems. Right from a stage of adding fertilisers to adding pesticides or insecticides, the financial credit taken to fulfil the requirement is totally removed. This further enables to cut back on extra cost required for installation of water pumps or installation of irrigation system. All in all the natural way of farming enables the zero budget farming.

  • Decreased Debts : as the natural way of farming promotes zero budgeting, it enables farmers to start with little they have. With no recurring costs, the farmers are saved from the regular credit seeking facility from the bank. The farmers are not forced into debts to keep their land alive to be able to grow crop.

  • Sustainable : with decreased recurring cost required for land maintenance, the natural farming is a more sustainable practice for a low income farmer or first-time farmer. With minimum inputs required, natural farming becomes a more self-reliant and sustainable means of farming.

  • Quality Food Product : natural farming is based on the ideology of no unnecessary intervention by man. This means the crop grows in its natural form. With no chemical based fertilisers or insecticides present in the soil or water environment, the crop is packed with nutrients. The final product not only nutritious but is also healthy for the human body, which is saved from the harmful intake of chemicals.

  • Water Quality : with no chemicals being on used on land, the groundwater remains pure. The soil being soil promotes the growth of plants cutting back the need of synthesisers for their growth. With no chemical being present in the soil, which generally mixes with groundwater, the water quality remains intact. Further, this reduces the need of artificial water resources on the land. This helps in water management, a crisis we all are facing currently.

  • Mitigate Climate Change : with the nutrient cycle being maintained (a basic necessity for good crop), need for additional synthetic nutrients completely fades away. This helps in maintaining the immediate ecosystem. With no disturbance in the ecosystem, the system becomes self-sufficient and self-reliant. The basic cycles being maintained helps gradually break the vicious circle enabling to overcome the big problems.

    With a balanced eco-system being present, the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are maintained, resulting in temperature control (raging major climate change issues).


Natural Farming might seem difficult at an initial stage yielding minimum results, but it does leave a long time benefit. With nature taking its course, it enables us to be patient.

A damage that has been done is being shown in the form of drastic climatic changes worldwide. Though natural farming may not be the only way to correct the mistake, it is definitely a way forward. Small changes have big impacts, a policy that strictly needs to be adhered in order to break the vicious cycles present at each stage.

With the only way of returning back to nature for it provides us, adopting natural farming is one of the best ways to return the favour. Besides additional financial benefits, natural farming adds benefits to humans and human life for ages to come.

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