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Procedure for biodynamic farming
A growing number of cultivators opt for biodynamic techniques to give farming a zodiac twist
The BD cultivation calendar is based on the moon’s movement through each zodiac every two-and-a-half days covering all 12 signs every month.
An unofficial estimate by the Biodynamic Association of India (BDAI) says about one lakh farmers in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand practise biodynamic farming. However, most of the produce is sold under the generic ‘organic’ label as few consumers understand the difference. Besides following astrological signs for cultivation, BD also relies on natural composts.
Research and manufacturing institute, bioRe, India has been conducting long-term comparison trials of four farming systems — organic, biodynamic, conventional and GMO (genetically modified crops) — under same soil and weather conditions since 2007. Firstphase results have been encouraging, says Vivek Rawal, bioRe CEO. Research has found that BD farming provides better quality of foodgrains and more stable yields compared to other systems. Soil quality also improves. “We have observed 0.5% growth in organic carbon content and an increase in soil microorganisms,’’ Rawal says.
Vivek Cariappa from Krac-a-Dawna farms in Kodaikanal attests to this. A biodynamic farmer for the last 15 years, his yield has remained stable while others using conventional methods have seen declines. Cariappa, who grows seasonal vegetables, pulses, cotton and indigo, says that conventional agriculture has taken away too much from nature. ‘’Consumers should make the effort to find the source of what they eat, or use,’’ he says.
Corporate trainer and dance instructor Aamir Ahmed is a new convert. It bothered him that the people he met in the course of his work were affluent but unhealthy. Ahmed and his partner have put aside 1.5 acres of their Noida farm, Rewild, to develop biodynamic methods of agriculture. The plan is to rent it out to city-dwellers who would want to grow their own vegetables free of chemicals.
Besides following the moon cycle, a BD farmer is advised to use natural composts such as BD 500, which is cow manure packed inside a female cow horn and buried in the ground 40-60cm deep in autumn. In spring the fermented compost is dug up, diluted with water and sprayed just before dawn on the farm. BD 501 is powdered quartz packed inside a female cow horn and buried for six months through spring and summer. This is supposed to harness the cosmic forces of nature.
Many farmers have their own hacks. Like planting a row of onions next to cauliflower puts off pests from attacking the crop while growing hemp improves nitrogen in the soil.
Among the biggest success stories of BD farming has been Araku coffee grown in the Araku Valley of Andhra. Run by the AP Girijan Cooperative Corporation and supported by the Naandi Foundation, Araku is now the largest coffee plantation in the world to be certified organic and biodynamic. The arabica coffee plantation that supports 100,000 adivasis sells online and even debuted in France in February this year. Farmers grow arabica coffee organically using bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides and encouraging natural predators such as spiders to get rid of pests.
BD farming has its pitfalls too. It is a very specialised form of agriculture that requires material and skills that small and marginal farmers may find difficult to acquire and adapt to. Also, certification is an expensive and cumbersome process. Some have even dismissed it as pseudoscience. But farmers like Patel and Cariappa continue to teach others around them and spread the word.
BD methods are based on concepts devised by Austrian philosopher and scientist Dr Rudolf Steiner in 1924. BD farmers believe this is similar to Vaidikbased agriculture traditionally practised by Indian cultivators. BD products are certified by international agencies like Demeter International and are available widely in Europe and US.