Shakuntala Sharma, an apple grower from Theog in Shimla district, has a reason to rejoice. Apples produced in her orchard with natural farming technique fetched an unexpected price of over Rs 100 per kg this year. “The moment a buyer in the local market Dhamandri saw the label of ‘Natural Apples’ on my boxes, he instantly said he would purchase all at this price. I saved Rs 50,000-60,000 on the cost of cultivation also with non-chemical Subhash Palekar Natural Farming (SPNF), which is a big benefit,” she said.
The woman farmer is practising SPNF on land measuring 10 bigha, including an apple orchard on 5 bigha. The buyers of natural vegetables also come to her doorstep and give her good price. The SPNF method is based on inputs made from desi cow’s dung and urine and some locally available resources. The farm inputs for SPNF can be prepared at home.
“I was in financial stress as I faced multiple problems in my apple orchard due to ever increasing expenditure on chemical sprays. But the shift to natural farming has helped me earn good profits in the last three years,” said Ravinder Chauhan from Samoli Panchayat in Rohru block of Shimla district.
Chauhan, who grows apples on 8 bigha of land with natural farming technique, sold one apple box (25 kg each) for Rs 4,200-4,500, including the transportation cost, in states like Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Karnataka.
He said the fluctuation of price in the normal market does not affect him much as his apples are chemical free, natural and healthy. “I fix the rate in advance,” he said.
The non-chemical low-cost climate resilient SPNF technique is being promoted for agriculture and horticulture crops in Himachal Pradesh as a part of PK3Y, launched by the state government in 2018.
According to the data shared by the State Project Implementing Unit (SPIU), PK3Y in Shimla, as many as 1,33,056 farmers are practicing natural farming in Himachal Pradesh (partially or fully) so far, involving an area of 7609 hectare. This includes 12,000 apple orchardists.
While the farmers are happy with the results of natural farming in terms of zero dependence on external market, production, farm health and reduced expenditure, they have also started making efforts to build their own linkages for marketing of natural produce with better returns.
Some of them are getting good rates for the chemical-free natural produce in local mandis, others are sending them across the country and many have started getting buyers at doorstep.
Surender Mehta, a fruit grower from Lalpani Dochi village in Chopal block of Shimla district, found buyers in Jaipur and Delhi in 2019 and 2020 for naturally produced apples.
“This year, the buyer company from Jaipur lifted apple boxes from my village only. They paid me 10-15 % more than the normal price that they give for apples produced with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It saved my hassle and money involved in transporting the produce,” he said.
“I felt so good when I was offered Rs 150 more for a box of Pears (10-12 KG each) even in a local mandi Parala this year I told that my produce is chemical free and natural,” he added.
Another progressive grower from Jubbal in Shimla district, Varun Rangta sold entire apple (around 200 boxes) produced by natural farming technique in Delhi, Chennai, Nagpur and Pune at the rate of Rs 125-150 per kg. Last year, some buyers had come to his doorstep to pick natural apples.
A woman apple grower from Shillaru in Shimla district, Sushma Chauhan, who is doing SPNF on 10 bigha land out of total 50 bigha, said that the awareness about chemical free natural produce is gradually increasing and the buyers are now approaching her from outside.
“Last year I sold 20 KG box of apples for Rs 2800-2900 at my doorstep. The hail damaged the quality of my entire apple crop, which included natural as well as the other produced by chemical farming. So I had to sell the apple in local mandi only. Yet, some buyers, who purchased the natural apples (damaged by hail) from me for personal use, gave me Rs 1200 per 10 kg box,” she said.
Executive Director, PK3Y, Dr Rajeshwar Singh Chandel said, “The State Project Implementing Unit (SPIU) is looking for different farmers for local based marketing models, which they have developed on their own. This will help us to converge these successful farmer-market linkages with our programme, wherein we are looking at connecting all the farmers with the market.”
He said the farmers have not only shown their mettle on farm with SPNF, but have successfully made market linkages also.
Meanwhile, studies based on samples in state have shown that the SPNF technology has reduced the cost of cultivation in apple crop by 56.5 per cent, while the net returns in apple crop have increased by 27.4 per cent. The incidence of Scab and Marssonina Blotch in apples is also lesser in natural farming as compared to conventional practices. More so, the farmers are able to take multiple crops on the same farm by adopting SPNF.