The green mantra

The green mantra

For Germany-returned farmer Ganapathi Bhat and his wife Vidyalakshmi, sustainability is not just a word used in the context of development or environment, but something connected with all aspects of life. They believe that sustainability cannot be achieved in select areas of life, but should be dealt with holistically.

Spend a few hours with the couple at Kokkada, a small village near Dharmasthala in Dakshina Kannada, and you will realise that agriculture has a future in the country.
All revolutions, perhaps, begin accidentally. If not, a well-educated person with a doctoral degree from a foreign university, would not have returned to Kokkada as early as 1986 and tested his fortune in farming. After moulding life amidst greenery for over two decades, 53-year-old Ganapathi Bhat believes that there is nothing like agriculture, sustainability and India.

Armed with a BSc (Agriculture) degree from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, in 1973, Ganapathi Bhat completed his masters in dairy technology. It was in 1983 that he got a research fellowship from the Leipzig University, Germany to pursue his doctoral degree. Bhat opted for ‘milk production’.

“The extent of pollution in Germany in spite of its advances in various sectors made me think about India, dubbed as a backward country then. Organic farming was in practice in Germany, but I realised that traditional methods followed in India for centuries were superior,” he says.

It was a 20-acre plot of one of his family members that attracted Ganapathi Bhat when he returned to India in 1986. Ever since, the land has become his laboratory. However, it was from 1990 that his plans received a boost, when he married Vidyalakshmi who shares his interests.

Organic mantra

From an areca plantation to vegetable crops, Bhat’s ‘lab’ has been fully organic from the past two-and-a-half decades. The couple has a plantation of over 3,000 areca trees, which also comprises other crops such as birinda (kokum), banana, vanilla, cocoa, coffee, mango and pineapple. Except rock phosphate and dairy slurry, Bhat uses no other fertilisers. He has set up a separate pipeline and sprinkler to spray the slurry onto the entire areca plantation.

“In the early years, I would make compost that served as manure. However, I dropped the idea because of labour shortage. From the collection of raw materials to the disposal of compost, the entire process required many labourers. But now, the process is automatic,” he beams.

A 6,000-ltr-capacity tank has been set up near the dairy. A pipe links the dairy and the tank, which collects slurry. Bhat mixes two kg of rock phosphate with a tank full of slurry, which is in turn sprayed on the plantation with a sprinkler. “The weed, areca spathe, etc that are removed are left in the plantation and they become fertilisers. In fact, they play a vital role in retaining moisture in the plantation, and save water too,” Bhat says. The Bhats grow a lot of organic vegetables too. They apply bio-control measures to keep pests away from their vegetable garden. “Growing turmeric alongside your vegetable rows is the best way to prevent pests from harming your crops,” says Vidyalakshmi, Bhat’s wife.

Rainwater harvesting

Ganapathi Bhat uses rainwater harvesting on his farm too. He built temporary bunds across a rivulet next to his plantation allowing water to percolate into the soil. He even dug out a percolation pond in his cashew plantation for harvesting rain water. The results were immediate, Bhat says. He went on to install a tank on the roof of his dairy for collecting rain water.

“We need 3,000 litres of water per day for our dairy. However, with this tank on the rooftop, we do not depend on any other source during the rainy season. Because we have a long rainy season here, we directly use rainwater for about six months,” he explains. Multiply 3,000 (litres) with 180 (days); it is 5,40,000 litres. The Bhats do not pump out this huge quantum of water from the earth for half a year. That means they save energy that would otherwise have been used for pumping 5,40,000 litres of water.

At the dairy...

Dairying is another experiment taken up by the couple. They sell 40 litres of milk every day, after meeting domestic requirements. From feeding to medicating them, the cows are well-looked after by the couple.

Bhat’s high breed cattle suffered from a strange joint problem for many years, for which he could not find a solution in spite of experts’ suggestions. It was by accident that he found a solution. He stumbled upon an old book on Veterinary Sciences published in 1850, and came across a unique homeopathic antibiotic. He mixed a specific amount of the powder with the feed.

He even started preparing cattle feed on his own. He purchases about six tons of jowar at a time, enough for six months. He has machines to prepare the feed. Bhat has not only improvised the cattle feed available in the market but also made the process cost-effective.  Even the fodder required for cattle is produced domestically. The Bhats grow grass on an acre, besides which they provide areca spathes. They also have a separate machine to crush the spathes into small pieces. In spite of owning more than ten cows, the Bhats have not purchased fodder in the last five years.
They have made the best use of milking machines too.

Power from biogas

The Bhats have installed two biogas plants, one built in the floating tank method, and another an underground dome-shaped plant. After fulfilling their domestic requirements, the family uses the gas for running a generator.

“Biogas fulfills about 80 per cent of the fuel requirement of the seven kv-capacity generator. Diesel requirement is just 20 per cent,” says Ganapathi Bhat.

“If you simply dump the cow dung in the plantation, the methane released from it mixes with the environment. If you generate power from it, you are releasing only carbon dioxide into the air, which is less hazardous than methane gas. On the one hand, you are using a renewable source of energy, and on the other, you are causing less harm to the environment,” he explains.

Besides biogas, the farm also uses solar energy. Twelve solar panels  that can charge a 1.5 kv battery have been installed.

Sustainability in kitchen

A home science expert, Vidyalakshmi prepares cost-effective products for domestic use. She prepares quashes from mango, birinda (kokum) and pineapple grown in their own plantation. The Bhats have a lot more spare space in their land which can be used for commercial purposes. But their philosophy is different.

“The harm we are causing to our ecology in the name of modern agriculture is irreparable and inexcusable,” says Ganapathi Bhat. On his farm though, he is doing a huge favour to the environment.

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