Natural farming transitions - mainstreaming beyond govt

From a very limited view of the space, this year has seen a few big shifts in govt’s stance towards natural farming (= lower ask for commercial inputs subsidy).

  • One of the largest annual budget items has been fertiliser subsidy at 2.5 lakh crores against the national budget of 32 lakh crores. This can become substantial in coming years if left unchecked, affecting national food sovereignty & can spiral inflation how cost of energy does.

  • From an energy economics point of view, industries become unfeasible once EROI (energy returns on energy invested) falls below the 3:1 ratio. For fertiliser industry it has come down from 25:1 to 6:1 in the past few years and it is showing up in economics around the world.

Recently on a call with a partner org we learnt about PM-PRANAM scheme to incentivise states to reduce their fertiliser subsidy requests and move towards bio inputs.

Mr. Mandaviya said if a State was using 10 lakh tonnes of conventional fertilizers and reduces its consumption by three lakh tonnes, then the subsidy saving would be ₹3,000 crore. “Out of that subsidy savings, the Centre will give 50% of it — ₹1,500 crore to the State for promoting the use of alternative fertilizer and other development works,” the Minister added.

Along these lines, there has been a push for state led natural farming programmes and skeletal efforts are showing up in may states:

And yet, there are a lot of challenges and gaps in how this will realistically scale up without income loss for farmers. By many estimates, NF today is largest at Andhra and it covers less than 6% of cultivable land. Other large states are further and far behind. Unless every state has a critical mass and clear pathways to scale adoption, they might not risk touching fertiliser subsidy given its strong perception linkage with traditional farming.

For the sector to be able to move rapidly towards this transition, many players will have to come together at village clusters in parallel across the country, in an ecosystem of activities:

  • It might be that the progressive farmers are by Akash Chourasiya and they act as proofs of the model for the govt programme. The local CSO partners might lead farmers to such demonstration sites to build confidence via seeing.
  • Green foundation might have operationally viable bio resource centres in the district and spent the one two years of bioregional r&d required to get the ingredients, crops : recipes pairs, economics right.
  • Consumer awareness might be led by influencers with millions of views in the local language to scale local demand.
  • Other ecosystems parts like agri inputs providers, knowhow conveners, aggregators and sellers at the last mile cluster level.

A big challenge has been the coordination and cross pollination of local players within such ecosystems of common intents:

  • My limited understanding of why the Internet could scale so rapidly has been because of common language that web servers and clients started speaking(protocols like HTTP that everyone started aligning to, irrespective of the specifics of content served). Shifts towards APIs, XML/JSON helped Internet citizens standardise communication between each other, allowing specialisation can come together as useful end products for people.

  • Like how an Uber app can use an android OS, Google maps SDKs, twilio SMS APIs to deliver an end product to consumers. Or how a payment gateway brings together few banks, switches, fintechs into a single transaction where value is created and also shared between partners within seconds. Sameer has spoken of climate action APIs that can help us collaborate better, and it keeps coming back as a necessary and unavoidable bit to make the larger work of bytes work.

  • Perhaps this comes from my technology bias(that we must be so careful of in this sector)… but sometimes on calls with partners, a part of me wishes to go past the “english language of long prose” and ask - how many farmers do you have that have seed banks, demo farms, input products others could reuse, where would you like what kind of help, could you send a detailed list we could send to others in specific ways.

  • I cannot help noticing that “a disproportionately high cost of having detailed conversations” comes in the way of ecosystem level collaboration which is of low value vs high cost of coordination via people. Often tens of such conversations can lead to a successful outcome, which again be worth only Rs 5 in value and perhaps not even be monetizable immediately in many cases. Often such small cross connection efforts are honestly not worth any person’s while, but this service might be necessary till we reach critical mass and natural momentum.

  • If there was some easy way for an org with 900 dairy farms or 5000 farmers network to carefully extend their social trust, available resources to the rest of the ecosystem, it would make the rest of the work so much easier for someone trying to build over this. Of course there must be layers of approved verification that make sure acquired trust isn’t misused, economic benefits are shared as due.

  • Could there be a grammar, vocabulary and automata around Natural Farming that helps us speak a consistent language that makes collaboration easier between samaaj, sarkaar and bazaar? Could it later expand to the climate action where if certain minimums of intent, people, place, govt, market connects, resources, .. show up in a district, they are cross connected automatically, algorithmically?

Success of this transition seems like worth a lot of value in healthcare spends and could be a great way of employing one of the largest young populations to heal the planet. Beyond local markets, this workforce could perhaps also be exported internationally like service providers(APCNF’s trainers earn few thousand/day and there is a few months of waiting time already).

While most tribal cultures once upon a time did have the knowhow, few countries have extensive knowledge systems remaining that teach them how to work within the subsistence economics of a developing country. That way there is resilience in our frugality.

Seeking forgiveness for jumping the guns, oversimplifying the complexity at play and wishful thinking. :hibiscus: :speak_no_evil: