Biodynamic Farming in India

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Biodynamic Farming in India

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Biodynamic Farming in India

Biodynamic farming: acreage, geographies, and cultivation details

Impact of biodynamic farming

This section considers the economic, social, and environmental impacts of biodynamic agriculture.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

1. Yields

A few studies comparing organic management with and without biodynamic preparations in India showed increased yields for the crops studied. Most of these are field experiments conducted by scientists at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). Due to the short-term nature of the results for yield, and the lack of a longitudinal assessment through crop-cutting experiments, definitive conclusions about the comparative agronomic and economic performance of BDA cannot be drawn, however.

During 2003-2006, field experiments were conducted on the impact of BDA on horticulture crops such as carrot, French bean, and potato at the horticulture research station in Ooty and some farmer's fields. ‘The study concluded that yield potentials are equal or better than conventional agriculture. The quality of products concerning nutrition, appearance, and shelf life was also better under biodynamic agriculture.8

A few challenges were also highlighted in the consultations, including the appropriation of farming and land fragmentation. Landless farmers cannot reap the full potential of biodynamic farming due to uncertainties of yields in the shorter term. Weather fluctuations and lack of marketing support were some other challenges mentioned.

2. Income

A critical component of BDA is reducing input costs, as most fertilizers, manures and sprays are produced using on-farm resources. The stakeholder consultations stated that many farmers in India practice biodynamic farming because they receive premium prices for their products, such as certified tea and coffee. However, this was also highlighted as a challenge for small, landless, and uncertified farmers, as the certification process is expensive and cumbersome. Still, without it, they are not able to benefit from the premium prices.

While we could not find any long-term study that evaluates the cost of cultivation and income implications for farmers, a few scientific papers look at the economic efficiency under different BDA preparations in conjunction with other organic manures. The Department of Agronomy at Kerala University looked at the impact of biodynamic cultivation on the net return from chilies. Returns were reportedly lower than with the recommended nutrient management practices (application of 20 Mg per hectare of farmyard manure +75:40:25 N: P2O5:K2O kgs per hectare) but higher than organic manure treatment alone. The study highlighted the need for long-term experimentation to elucidate the beneficial effect of BDA.

SOCIAL IMPACT

1. Human Health

While there are studies outside India that have looked into the quality of biodynamically grown food, Indian studies are limited. In general, biodynamically grown foods are nutritionally superior as they contain higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.9

Biodynamic researchers use different image-forming methods to analyze the quality of food. Some of these methods include sensitive crystallization, circular chromatography, capillary dynamo lysis, and the drop-picture method. A case study on biodynamic vegetable cultivation used biodynamic circular paper chromatographic techniques to compare the quality of carrots, ladies' fingers, and onions grown biodynamically with commercially grown vegetables. The analysis reported a clear difference in the colour, pattern, and shape of the spikes in each zone of the chromatograms of the carrot, which reflects the presence of minerals, starch, and proteins. A biodynamically grown carrot showed a central inner zone of 3.5 cm diameter compared to a 2cm zone for the commercial carrot, indicating qualitative differences in the availability of minerals.10

While such studies indicate improvement in food quality and human health, extensive large-scale field trials in different agro-climatic zones are missing from the literature and need to be conducted.

2. Gender

No literature is available.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS

Soil

‘The basic principles of biodynamic farming are to restore organic matter in the soil in humus, increase the microbial population, and treat manure/compost in a biodynamic way. The skillful application of these factors contributes to soil life and health. A few studies are based on field experiments that indicate improved soil conditions using BD-500, BD-501, and cow pat pit. However, details of all soil types are missing from the literature.

BD-500, one of the most commonly used preparations, requires a fermentation process within a cow horn. ‘This creates a very fine humus-like material that is said to improve the soil structure and porosity, increase humus-forming bacteria's activity, promote upright plant growth, nodulations, root penetration, and boost the soil microbial population and earthworm activity.11

Similarly, cow pat pit (CPP), also called “soil shampoo,” acts as a soil conditioner and improves texture, provides resistance against pests and diseases, replenishes, and rectifies trace element deficiency. The ingredients used in preparing biodynamic fertilizers — like cow manure, quartz, and herbs, in compost or liquid form - are said to increase biological activity in the soil. Biodynamically managed soil shows better physical, chemical, and biological properties like texture, porosity, organic matter. A case study using chromatographic images of the soil indicated improved soil health under BD.12

Cover crops and crop rotation are both practiced under biodynamic agriculture. Using cover crops, BDA advocates the dynamic accumulation of soil nutrients, soil loosening, soil building, and nitrogen fixation.