SHIMLA: The positive impact of the lockdown, enforced to contain the coronavirus spread, is visible in the agricultural fields and orchards of Himachal Pradesh where almost 80 per cent of rural households possess some land.
The state Agriculture Department has seen the lockdown period as an opportunity to get involved with the growers through the digital technology.
A total of 5,676 farmers have been enrolled with the communication platform WhatsApp that is being used by the department to solve their problems and issues advisories to them from time to time.
"Ninety-four WhatsApp agricultural groups have been activated at the block, district and state levels. Agriculture officials are reaching out to the farmers through video calling to resolve their issues and giving them tips too on natural farming," Prakritik Kheti Khushal Kissan Yojana Executive Director Rajeshwar Singh Chandel told IANS.
Himachal Pradesh is the only state in the country whose 89.96 per cent population, as per Census 2011, lives in rural areas. Agriculture and horticulture provide direct employment to about 69 per cent of the total workforce.
He said 5,676 farmers have been linked to these groups so far. Out of them, 80 WhatsApp groups have been formed at the block level, 12 at the district level and two at the state level.
Three officers in each block, while the Project Director and subject matter specialists at district level are in constant contact with the farmers through phone during the lockdown.
Chandel said every possible solution to the problems of the farmers during the lockdown is being provided online.
The farmers are being advised from time to time regarding crop protection by adopting natural ways through WhatsApp groups, he said.
So far 54,000 farmers in the state have joined agriculturist Subhash Palekar's zero budget natural farming technique under the Prakritik Kheti Khushal Kissan.
Under the scheme, they are growing vegetables and other crops through natural farming -- both individually and by forming self-help groups.
More than 70,000 farmers have been trained for natural farming. Currently, natural farming is being done on 2,151 hectares in the state.
With an objective to expand its scope by 2022, agro-models have been established in 2,921 Panchayats. A total of 312 resource stores have been set up to enable farmers to get ready inputs at cheap prices.
During the lockdown, the farmers who have already adopted natural farming have taken steps to enroll new farmers.
Since the mass training of the farmers is not feasible amid the lockdown, the farmers already practicing natural farming are not only motivating the new ones but have also set models of natural farming methods, Chandel said.
New farmers adopting natural farming are of the view that with this method of farming, they do not need to buy anything from the market. The necessary materials used in farming are easily available at home and around the house.
Efforts are also being made under the Prakritik Kheti Khushal Kissan Yojana to deliver the produce of the farmers to markets, so that the farmers can get a fair price for their crops.
Special literature has also been prepared in easy and simple language to enable farmers to understand the technique of natural farming.
To attract farmers, success stories of farmers, who have adopted natural farming, are also being published.
Two years ago, the Prakritik Kheti Khushal Kissan scheme was launched to popularise the Subhash Palekar natural farming system.
With an aim to bring 20,000 hectares under natural farming by 2020-21, the state government has an outlay of Rs 25 crore for this fiscal to popularise it.