Fertilizer in all forms and quantities

There is a common sentiment among the professionals that we have talked to here in Delhi that farming along the Yamuna poses a threat to the river due to chemical fertilizer and pesticide runoff. We completed 35 total interviews with farmers between June 19th and 30th, and we learned a little bit about farming practices. I will say first that the farmers we spoke with represent a whole range of methods when it comes to amending soil fertility and pest control. There seems to be a few things going on: fertilizer use seems to be linked to baseline soil fertility and annual flooding frequency, as well as knowledge or how farming skills were acquired (i.e. first or second generation farm).

Our 35 farmers live across 6 areas representing the length of the Yamuna as it comes into and then exits Delhi. Although there were consistencies within areas–perhaps linked to similar soils, crops, and flooding frequency–there were some surprising variations too. For example, in one area, two farms were just a few hundred feet in distance and yet used very different practices. One farm used only 2-3 kg of chemical fertilizers per bigha (one bigha is approximately 1/6 acre and is the commonly used unit of land measurement). They sprayed for pests once every five months. The other farm used 50 kg of chemical fertilizer per bigha per year and was spraying often weekly for pests. This second farm spent 40% of its income on fertilizers and pesticides. These two farms were growing nearly identical crops, both were using crop rotation methods, and both were irrigating with water from a pipe running to the local water treatment facility. But each had drastically different approaches to improving soil fertility and preventing pests.

There was a similar situation in another area where one farm was applying 10-12 trolleys (not sure of what volume this is equivalent to) of cow dung to 20 bigha of land every six months, whereas an adjacent farm was applying 200 kg of chemical fertilizer per bigha to 15 bigha of land–that’s 3000 kg! The farm that was heavily using chemical fertilizers said that they did not have access to organic fertilizers.

It is possible–and likely–that there may be some reporting error by farmers who may be guessing at the amounts of fertilizers and pesticides that they use. However, it does seem that some farms have limited communication with adjacent farms. But many of these farms are only a few acres in size so it would seem that they would cross paths on occasion. So far this is just a snapshot of one farming practice that we have explored. But the variation in methods is amazing.

We are slowly dribbling back to UCD from Delhi–John departed two weeks ago, Kate left yesterday, and I depart in two days. We plan to keep posting our findings and thoughts as we dig into our pages upon pages of interview notes. For now, the real question is how long these farmers will be able to farm this land. Obviously this is an environmental issue, but it also has political and social complications…

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