Bhaskar Save – The Gandhi of Natural Farming

Late Bhaskar Save – the acclaimed ‘Gandhi of Natural Farming’ – has inspired and mentored 3 generations of organic farmers. His way of farming and teachings were rooted in his deep understanding of the symbiotic relationships in nature, which he was ever happy to share freely (and still very enthusiastically!) with anyone interested. In 2010, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) – the world-wide umbrella body of organic farmers and movements – honoured Save with the ‘One World Award for Lifetime Achievement’.

Bhaskar Save’s 14 acre orchard-farm, Kalpavruksha, is located on the Coastal Highway near village Dehri, District Valsad, in southernmost coastal Gujarat. About 10 acres are under a mixed natural orchard of mainly coconut and chikoo (sapota) with fewer numbers of other species. About 2 acres are under seasonal field crops cultivated organically in traditional rotation. Another plot is for a nursery for raising coconut saplings that are in great demand. The farm yield– in all aspects of total quantity, nutritional quality, taste, biological diversity, ecological sustainability, water conservation, energy efficiency and economic profitability– is superior to any farm using chemicals, while costs (mainly labour for harvesting) are minimal, and external inputs almost zero.

 Natural abundance at Kalpavruksha

About twenty steps inside the gate of Bhaskar Save’s farm is a sign that says: “Co-operation is the fundamental Law of Nature.” – A simple and concise introduction to the philosophy and practice of natural farming! Further inside the farm are numerous other signs that attract attention with brief, thought-provoking sutras or aphorisms. These pithy sayings contain all the distilled wisdom on nature, farming, health, culture and spirituality, Bhaskarbhai has gathered over the years, apart from his extraordinary harvest of food!

Kalpavruksha compels attention for its high yield easily out-performs any modern farm using chemicals. This is readily visible at all times. The number of coconuts per tree is perhaps the highest in the country. A few of the palms yield over 400 coconuts each year, while the average is closer to 350. The crop of chikoo (sapota) – largely planted more than forty-five years ago – is similarly abundant, providing about 300 kg of delicious fruit per tree each year.

Also growing in the orchard are numerous bananas, papayas, areca-nuts, and a few trees of date-palm, drumstick, mango, jackfruit, toddy palm, custard apple, jambul, guava, pomegranate, lime, pomelo, mahua, tamarind, neem, audumber; apart from some bamboo and various under-storey shrubs like kadipatta (curry leaves), crotons, tulsi; and vines like pepper, betel leaf, passion-fruit, etc.

Nawabi Kolam, a tall, delicious and high-yielding native variety of rice, several kinds of pulses, winter wheat and some vegetables and tubers too are grown in seasonal rotation on about two acres of land. These provide enough for this self-sustained farmer’s immediate family and occasional guests. In most years, there is some surplus of rice, which is gifted to relatives or friends, who appreciate its superior flavour and quality.

The diverse plants in Bhaskar Save’s farm co-exist as a mixed, harmonious community of dense vegetation. Rarely can one spot even a small patch of bare soil exposed to the direct impact of the sun, wind or rain. The deeply shaded areas under the chikoo trees have a spongy carpet of leaf litter covering the soil, while various weeds spring up wherever some sunlight penetrates.

The thick ground cover is an excellent moderator of the soil’s micro-climate, which – Bhaskar Save emphasizes – is of utmost importance in agriculture. “On a hot summer day, the shade from the plants or the mulch (leaf litter) keeps the surface of the soil cool and slightly damp. During cold winter nights, the ground cover is like a blanket conserving the warmth gained during the day. Humidity too is higher under the canopy of dense vegetation, and evaporation is greatly reduced. Consequently, irrigation needs are very low. The many little insect friends and micro-organisms of the soil thrive under these conditions.”

Ten acres of orchard have consistently yielded an average food yield of over 15,000 kg per acre per annum! (This has declined in the past 15-20 years following pollution from progressive industrialization of the area.) In nutritional value, this is many times superior to an equivalent weight of food grown with the intensive use of toxic chemicals, as in Punjab, Haryana and many other parts of India.

Nature’s tillers and fertility builders

It is not without reason that Charles Darwin declared a century ago: it may be doubted whether there are many other creatures that have played so important a part in world history as have the earthworms. Bhaskar Save confirms, “A farmer who aids the natural regeneration of the earthworms and soil-dwelling organisms on his farm, is firmly back on the road to prosperity.” Various other soil-dwelling creatures – ants, termites, many species of micro-organisms – similarly aid in the physical conditioning of the soil and in the recycling of plant nutrients; and there are innumerable such helpful creatures in every square foot of a natural farm like Kalpavruksha.

In stark contrast, modern agricultural practices have proved disastrous to the organic life of the soil. By ruining the natural fertility of the soil, we actually create artificial ‘needs’ for more and more external inputs and unnecessary labour for ourselves, while the results are inferior and more expensive in every way. “The living soil,” stresses Bhaskar Save, “is an organic unity, and it is this entire web of life that must be protected and nurtured. Natural Farming is the Way.”

Weeds as friends

“In nature, every humble creature and plant plays its role in the functioning of the eco-system. Each is an inseparable part of the food chain.

The only sensible and lasting ‘root-cure’ to situations of weed rampancy among field crops is to adopt mixed planting and crop rotation, while discontinuing chemicals and deep tillage. Since the problematic weeds will only phase out gradually as the soil regains its health, they may still tend to over-shade the food crops in the interim period of recovery. The way to manage this is to periodically cut the weeds (before they flower), and mulch them at least 3-4 inches thick on the soil under the crops. Without any sunlight falling on the weed seeds buried in the soil, their fresh germination is effectively checked.

When farmers shift back to organic farming, their soil steadily improves in health each year. Correspondingly, crop growth gets better, while weed growth declines. In just 2-3 years, there should be no need for any weeding at all. Until then, the farmer is better advised to cut and mulch the weeds.

The principles of farming in harmony with Nature

“The four fundamental principles of natural farming are quite simple!” declares Bhaskar Save. “The first is, ‘all living creatures have an equal right to live’. To respect such right, farming must be non-violent.

The second principle recognizes that ‘everything in Nature is useful and serves a purpose in the web of life’.

The third principle is: farming is a dharma, a sacred path of serving Nature and fellow creatures; it must not degenerate into a pure dhandha or money-oriented business. Short-sighted greed to earn more – ignoring Nature’s laws – is the root of the ever-mounting problems we face.

Fourth is the principle of perennial fertility regeneration. It observes that we humans have a right to only the fruits and seeds of the crops we grow. These constitute 5% to 15% of the plants’ biomass yield. The balance 85% to 95% of the biomass, the crop residue, must go back to the soil to renew its fertility, either directly as mulch, or as the manure of farm animals. If this is religiously followed, nothing is needed from outside; the fertility of the land will not decline.”

The cutting of weed growth above the land surface – without disturbing the roots – and laying it on the earth as ‘mulch,’ benefits the soil in numerous ways. With mulching, there is less erosion of soil by wind or rain, less compaction, less evaporation, and less need for irrigation. Soil aeration is higher. So is moisture absorption, and insulation from heat and cold. The mulch also supplies food for the earthworms and micro-organisms to provide nutrient-rich compost for the crops. Moreover, since the roots of the weeds are left in the earth, these continue to bind the soil, and aid its organic life in a similar manner as the mulch on the surface. For when the dead roots get weathered, they too serve as food for the soil-dwelling creatures.

It is also important that the cutting and mulching operation should be done before the weeds have flowered and become pollinated.  If the farmer is too late, and the mulch contains pollinated weed seeds, a new generation of the same weeds will re-emerge strongly in the mulched areas.

Do nothing?

While the physical work on a natural farm is much less than in a modern farm, regular mindful attention is a must. Hence the saying: “The footsteps of a farmer are the best fertilizer to his plants!” In the case of trees, this is especially important in the first few years. Gradually, as they become self-reliant, the work of the farmer is reduced – till ultimately, nothing needs to be done, except harvesting. In the case of coconuts, Bhaskarbhai has even dispensed with harvesting. He waits for the coconuts to ripen and fall on their own, and merely collects those fallen on the ground!

For growing field crops like rice, wheat, pulses, vegetables, etc., some seasonal attention, year after year, is unavoidable. This is why Bhaskarbhai terms his method of growing field crops – organic farming, while a fairly pure form of ‘do-nothing natural farming’ is only attained in a mature, tree crop system. However, even with field crops, any intervention by the farmer should be kept to the bare minimum, respecting the superior wisdom of nature, and minimizing violence.

The five concerns of farming

Bhaskar Save summarizes the key practical aspects of his approach to natural farming with reference to the five major areas of activity that are commonly a preoccupation of farmers all over the world. These are tillage, fertility inputs, weeding, irrigation, and crop protection.


Tillage in the case of tree-crops is only permissible as a one-time intervention to loosen the soil before planting the saplings or seeds. Post planting, the work of maintaining the porosity and aeration of the soil should be left entirely to the organisms, soil-dwelling creatures and plant roots in the earth.

 Fertility Inputs

The recycling of all crop residues and biomass on the farm is an imperative for ensuring its continued fertility. Where farm-derived biomass is scarce, initial external provision of organic inputs is helpful. However, no chemical fertilizer whatsoever should be used.


Weeding too should be avoided. It is only if the weeds tend to overgrow  the crops, blocking off sunlight, that they may be controlled by cutting and mulching, rather than by uprooting for ‘clean cultivation’. Herbicides, of course, should never be used.


Irrigation should be conservative, no more than what is required for maintaining the dampness of the soil. Complete vegetative cover – preferably multi-storied – and mulching greatly reduces water needs.

Crop Protection

Crop protection may be left entirely to the natural processes of biological control by naturally occurring predators. Poly-cultures of healthy, organically grown crops in healthy soil have a high resistance to pest attack. Any damage is usually minimal, and self-limiting. At most, some non-chemical measures like the use of neem, diluted desi cow urine, etc may be resorted to. But this too is ultimately unnecessary.

By thus returning to Nature many of the tasks that were originally hers, a weighty burden slips off the back of the half-broken, modern day farmer. And the land begins to regenerate once more.

 Bhaskar Save adds: “Non-violence, the essential mark of cultural and spiritual evolution, is only possible through natural farming.”

In conclusion, says Save – “Natural farming is blessed by Annapurna, the mother goddess of abundant food for all that lives.”

This writeup is adapted from ‘The Vision of Natural Farming’ by Bharat Mansata, 277 pages, Earthcare Books,

Bharat Mansata

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