A mathematician’s  foray into organic farming

Sant Kumar Panariya, 32, is always inquisitive about scientific know-how of agriculture. In 2017, he became the first one in his village -Khuksar, almost 20 km from Mandla headquarter in Madhya Pradesh-to initiate the process of organic farming through vermicompost. Today, Panariya not only trains other villagers in learning the technique but also sells the manure to generate additional income.

“Agriculture is our heritage and our only source of livelihood,” says Panariya, who took a plunge into farming after completing his graduation in mathematics. Though studies were left far behind after he started assisting his father on the field, Panariya kept on acquiring new information on sustainable agro-practices.

In all these years, government-run television channels focusing on methods to improve agricultural productivity came as a handy tool. Panariya was introduced to the concept of vermicompost and was looking for ways to start it. It was until the Gram Prayavaran Samiti, under the gram sabha, was formed in his village in 2015, he had a tough time learning the right methodology and getting raw material to start the process.

“There was nobody in and around my village using this method of producing organic manure,” he says.

Vermicompost is a quality organic manure produced by earthworm feeding on biological waste material like plant residue. The recycled biological product does not require any chemicals and is non-toxic. Vermicompost contains adequate quantities of nitrogen, potassium, and other micro-nutrients as are necessary for plant growth and good soil.

Panariya, during the meetings, expressed his willingness to opt for the eco-friendly method of vermicomposting. He wanted to add value to the unused organic matter generated from agricultural activities and animal shelters.

The Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) working closely with the Samiti helped Panariya in this journey. Local team workers trained villagers and assisted Samiti to sanction money for required necessary raw material.

“Members of the committee had doubts on the success of this method. One has to follow some precautionary methods and do constant monitoring till the time compost gets ready in a month,” says Panariya who along with few others in the village started the process of producing organic manure after members agreed to it.

Panariya’s family owns 20 cows and buffaloes which produced enough dung required for the procedure. With his effort, he built the brick and mortar compost tank. With the financial aid of the Samiti, Panariya received five kilos (almost 2500) earthworm. The real challenge, however, was to protect worms and the organic waste from black ants. Black ants destroy the compost.

“Although we all were trained to monitor the compost tank, many couldn’t protect the compost from ants,” says Panariya, who came across a fascinating natural phenomenon that saved him from failure.

He says, “I constructed the tank under the tree shade. Red ants generally move around the trees and build their nest on trees. I came across an interesting event one day where I saw red ants fighting with the black ones for entering in their territory. Red ants did not allow them to enter.” Interestingly, ants release a chemical called pheromones which worked in favor of Panariya in protecting the compost tank.

With all his efforts he could manufacture two quintals of vermicompost last year. He used some portion of it on his homestead to grow vegetables, some on his agricultural land and some amount for selling. “The vegetable production was high last year. I was able to generate an additional income of Rs 3000-400 by selling vegetables alone,” he says.

Besides, he sold the vermicompost at a reasonable price of Rs Five per kg.

Panariya did business out of 50 kgs and generated a supplemental income of Rs 250. Many of the farmers who purchased the organic manure from him were from nearby villages like Mocha, Tatri, and Khuksar. He gave some portion of the organic fertilizer for free to nearly 30 farmers to create awareness on minimising the use of urea

Farmers accept that the quality of agricultural soil has degraded due to constant use of chemicals for all these years. Panariya, when used the organic manure on his agricultural land in the last sowing season, received low production. “It was because for the first time we did not use chemicals for better produce. It will take few years to make the soil fertile with organic manure,” he says. This year he plans to use vermicompost on the field again.

“I will produce more vermicompost this year for selling and for my use,” says Panariya.

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