Andhra Pradesh Community-managed Natural Farming programme
Training farmers in regenerative food production in India
Part of a series of case studies that exemplify elements of the Universal Circular Economy Policy Goals (2021) in practice.
Andhra Pradesh is a heavily agriculture-dependent state in the southeast of India whose farmers have among the highest rates of indebtedness, fertiliser use, and electricity consumption for agriculture, in the country.
To address these challenges, since 2016 the Government of Andhra Pradesh has provided training for farmers in a system of agroecological principles known as Natural Farming. Using practices like replacing harmful pesticides with biological alternatives, covering the ground with crops all year round and integrating livestock, Natural Farming aims to restore degraded soils, support biodiversity, and in turn build resilience to weather and climate related shocks. For farming communities, the practices can reduce costs, improve health and create better livelihoods.
The government aims to train all six million farmers in the state by 2031 and has already reached over 630,000 farmers.
Since the mid-1990s, a grassroots movement of farmers has adopted a set of agroecological approaches in response to farmer debt, soil degradation, and biodiversity loss. Building on the 'zero-budget natural farming' system developed by Indian agriculturalist Subhash Palekar, Natural Farming is today defined by the Government of Andhra Pradesh as having nine universal principles that can work in different contexts:
Soil to be covered with crops for all 365 days in a year
Minimal disturbance of soil
Biostimulants as necessary catalysts
Use of indigenous seed
Diverse crops and trees (15-20 crops)
Integrate animals into farming
Increase organic residues on the soil
Pest and disease management through botanical extracts
No synthetic fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides.
Andhra Pradesh Community-managed Natural Farming (APCNF) is a government-led training programme in Natural Farming approaches that aims to reach all 6m farmers in the state, over an area of 8m hectares, by 2031. APCNF seeks to embed Natural Farming approaches in farming communities in the long term, in contrast to short-term fiscal policies that came before, such as subsidies and cast transfers. APCNF builds the capacity of farmers by disseminating training and knowledge on Natural Farming, working with local women’s groups, and fostering leadership among best-practising farmers, so that farming communities can sustain the practices in the long term. APCNF is financed by a blend of public, private and philanthropic funding sources.
A non-governmental entity, RySS (‘Farmers’ Empowerment Organisation’), recruits trainers and deploys them to villages throughout the state. These trainers use a combination of farmer field schools, demonstration plots and video case studies, to train farmers in Natural Farming methods.
Best-practising farmers within villages also train other farmers and take on leadership roles.
Women's self-help groups deal with financial aspects and programme management.
A fellowship scheme brings in agriculture graduates to carry out such roles as data collection, environmental assessments, and marketing.
Civil society organisations are also involved, providing expertise in areas such as marketing and certification, integrated farming systems, and tribal areas.
Natural Farming approaches can save farmers in Andhra Pradesh up to USD 2,000 per season. In some cases, farmer income has increased by 197%.
Promoting Natural Farming methods through APCNF has already brought about many social, economic and environmental benefits in Andhra Pradesh:
Higher incomes and better yields. In 2020, yields of crops cultivated using Natural Farming methods increased in five of the top six crops in Andhra Pradesh. Meanwhile, farmers avoid high costs of seeds, fertilisers and other inputs, thereby reducing debt, and also use less irrigation and electricity than conventional farming.
Growing demand for Natural Farming produce. In 2022 RySS facilitated an agreement to supply thirteen Hindu temples with Natural Farming ingredients. The Tirumala temple alone ordered 22,000 tonnes of 12 types of Natural Farming produce from 25,000 farmers.
Improved biodiversity and climate resilience. Natural Farming can increase bird and earthworm populations and encourage many beneficial insects. Crops can have longer roots that provide better stability, while continuous ground cover helps to keep moisture in the soil, improving resilience to drought.
Human health benefits. Natural Farming approaches reduce exposure to harmful chemicals that can damage human health. APCNF also engages with villages to diversify diets and ensure access to public health and nutrition services.
Natural Farming beyond Andhra Pradesh. The Andhra Pradesh Government is sharing knowledge on the APCNF training programme with several different states in India and internationally, including with the Alliance of Food Sovereignty in Africa. The Government of India has indicated plans to roll out Natural Farming on a national level.
Over 100,000 women's self-help groups are involved in implementing and monitoring the APCNF programme. Working with these well-established and trusted institutions that understand local contexts can ease the roll-out of farming policies, and help to access harder-to-reach communities.
APCNF has undergone a considerable evolution since it first launched in 2016. Being responsive to feedback and revisiting assumptions has been crucial to its effectiveness, as it allows farmers to experiment and find the best solutions for their specific context.
The Government of Andhra Pradesh is working with several universities and has established a dedicated academy to build scientific evidence on the impacts of Natural Farming - looking at soil health, crop yields, farmer incomes, biodiversity, and nutrition. Working with credible academic institutions is important to build confidence and buy-in among stakeholders.
By providing training and long-term support to farmers, and brokering retail partnerships that grow the market for Natural Farming produce, APCNF is stimulating the design and production of food that regenerates nature.
Through the APCNF programme, national and regional level public funds are helping to give farmers the skills and expertise to move towards regenerative food production.
The move to a circular economyA systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. It is based on three principles, driven by design: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials (at their highest value), and regenerate nature. involves all actors from across the public, private and civic sectors. APCNF works across government departments and internationally, and the training is rolled out with the involvement of women’s self-help groups and many civil society organisations.
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