Sunday, October 21, 2012

Indian farmers cotton on to sustainable farming

Mariette le Roux in AFP: When Indian icon Mahatma Gandhi took up the baton for home-grown cotton a century ago, he may not have realised the devastating impact its cultivation would have on the land he so loved. Cotton is a thirsty plant and parts of India drought-prone. But the intensive farming process for cotton leaches the soil and requires high pesticide and fertiliser use that pollutes further downstream.

Now in the southeastern district of Warangal, dotted with statues to the independence leader in his trademark cotton dhoti, a project to grow the fibre in a way that causes less harm to the land is taking root.

An initiative of green group WWF, the project in an area covering 103 villages seeks to help struggling farmers reduce input costs, improve yields, and lessen their environmental footprint by cutting the use of chemicals and water. ...The India Sustainable Cotton Initiative started in the region in 2006 with just 16 hectares and 37 farmers, and now covers more than 21,000 hectares and nearly 12,000 farmers. Some estimates say the project has brought a three percent increase in yield and a 25 percent reduction in costs.

Local NGO Mari (Modern Architects for Rural India), which runs the initiative alongside the WWF, said farmers involved in the project used 61 percent and 51 percent less water than normal in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Last year, they used 93 percent less pesticides and 25 percent less chemical fertiliser than farmers who had not adopted the better management practices.

Project farmers now use drip irrigation and dig watering funnels near the roots of their plants rather than sucking dry boreholes and losing scarce water to evaporation through sprinkling. Instead of chemical fertiliser, many use plant and garlic extracts as pest repellents. And the farmers sign a code of conduct, undertaking not to use pregnant women and children as cotton-pickers -- a common practice in a labour-intensive industry....

A woman picking cotton in a field near Nagarjuna Sagar — Andhra Pradesh, India. Shot by Claude Renault, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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