What is Organic Agriculture?

Organic Agriculture follows the principles and logic of a living organism, in which all elements (soil, plant, farm animals, insects, the farmers, local condition) are closely linked to each other. This is accomplished by using, where possible, agronomic, biological and mechanical methods, following the principles of these interactions of (bio-control, crop diversity, soil protection and recycling nutrients), using natural eco-syste as a model.

According to IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) 2002, the organic agriculture, practices are based on the following principles:

1. Principle of Health

2. Principle of Ecology

3. Principles of Fairness

4. Principle of Care

Our Ways of Farming-

 7 Important Practices for a Holistic Sustainable Farm

Whether you are in the process of setting up a new farm or have an existing sustainable farm, you’re doing your bit to take care of our soil – the most important element when it comes to a viable and sustainable farm.

Sustainable farming – may it be called organic farming or natural farming, has a few common practices that can help create a flourishing eco-system in sync with nature. These practices are the foundation of the farm and if done with the right guidance and patience – can minimize any of the usual issues faced by farms, making it sustainable in

the true sense.

The 7 Important Practices for a Holistic Farm that we suggest are as follows -

1. Mulching -

Mulching in simple terms means covering the soil to reduce the penetration of sunlight. Covering the soil with dead plant materials is an easy way to control the popping of weeds and protect the soil health. This practice can be implemented in most existing cropping systems while surely being implemented while creating new systems.

Materials that can be used for mulching (The idea is to use materials easily available around the farmland) -

> Harvested weeds or cover crops,

> Crop residues,

> Grass,

> Pruning material from trees,

> Cuttings from hedges,

> Waste from agricultural processing or forestry

2. Intercropping –

Intercropping means creating cropping systems where at least 2-3 crops are sown and grown together.

Growing 2-3 crops together, commonly leguminous crops like beans with maize or any other cereal crop in alternating rows or 2-3 vegetables in a single bed is one of the most important aspects of sustainable farming. This helps to achieve diverse production, maximize benefits from the land while creating an environment for natural pest control in a lot of cases.

While intercropping, special attention is required during the selection of crops. This is of utmost importance to avoid competition between the crops for light, soil nutrients and water.

3. Composting –

Composting is the creation of carbon-rich fertilizer using organic materials available on the farm.

Application of compost to a field majorly improves the nutrients in the soil and results in a positive impact on crop growth and yield. Composts are easily available in the market, but as per sustainable farming practices compost production on the farm itself is advisable and beneficial.

To start compost production, farms need enough organic matter and animal manure to be available.

In case such materials are scarce, the farm would have to start with producing organic matter on the farm by sowing fast growing leguminous plants that build a lot of biomass. Also, introducing some livestock on the farm for manure production is advisable – but this depends on the scope of the project. Proper compost production requires some knowledge, experience & labour while being a low investment option to increase soil fertility within a relatively quick time-frame.

4. Green Manuring –

The practice of growing leguminous plants for biomass production and incorporation into the soil may be new to most farms. Nevertheless, this practice can greatly contribute to the improvement of soil fertility.

Green manures can be grown as improved fallows, as seasonal green manures in rotation with other crops or in alternating strips between primary crops. Green manuring and composting can be symbiotic to each other but need proper planning and execution– especially when it comes to the timing and crop selection

5. Organic pest management -

A planned integration and association of relevant plants and animals in order to prevent pest attacks and disease outbreaks.

Initially, bio-control agents may be applied for pest management, but organic pest management is best achieved through an ecological approach. This established pest - predator balance is a must for any sustainable farm.

While the choice of resistant varieties of crops & animals is paramount, other prevention methods includes –

> Choosing an appropriate time for sowing can prevent pest outbreaks.

> Improving soil health to resist soil pathogens,

> Rotating crops

> Encouraging natural biological agents for control of disease

> Beneficial Insects and weeds

> Using physical barriers for protection from insects, birds and animals

> Modifying habitat to encourage pollinators and natural enemies

> Appropriate seeds & planting material

6. Appropriate seeds & planting material -

Use of healthy seeds, planting materials & robust and/or improved cultivators plays a major role when it comes to better utilization of farm land and time. This practice may require prior experience and market specific information on selection of seeds and planting materials. Know how about the availability of improved varieties and traditional

seed treatments can be of help when it comes to introduction of new crops of the running of new/existing farm. Generally, locally adapted seeds are preferred because of their resilience to local conditions but there is process to move towards such seed varieties.

7. Planting of Leguminous Trees –

If you have perennial crop plantations such as banana, coffee or cocoa, planting of leguminous trees such as gliricidia, calliandra & sesbania may improve the growing conditions of the fruit crops. These leguminous trees provide shade, mulching material and nitrogen through nitrogen fixation.

In addition, some leguminous trees provide good fodder for livestock. This practice requires some understanding on shade and space requirements of the tree crops and thus an ideal planting pattern for the leguminous trees.