Lessons in times of drought

AGRICULTURE

Lessons in times of drought

beating Drought: Boregowda in his paddy field.These are difficult times for the state’s farmer. On the one hand, there is the fertiliser crisis. On the other, the spectre of drought looms large. The state government has declared 86 of the 176 taluks and 20 of the 29 districts drought hit. The worst affected is the Hyderabad-Karnataka region. Only nine districts have received good rain. The 20 drought affected districts are Bidar, Gulbarga, Mysore, Mandya, Bangalore urban, Bangalore rural, Ramanagar, Kolar, Chikballapur, Tumkur, Chitradurga, Davangere, Chamarajanagar, Bellary, Koppal, Raichur, Belgaum, Bagalkot, Bijapur and Gadag. All these districts are rainfed areas. Owing to inadequate rain, the crops are drying.

Farmer suicides
Thousands of farmers have borrowed loans to buy fertilisers and pesticides. Crop losses and the burden of loans have pushed farmers to end their lives. Take Chandre Gowda of Hunsur, Mysore district, who had borrowed heavily to grow tobacco, and consumed pesticide. Or Chandrakanta of Bellibettlu village, Tumkur district, who was unable to repay his crop loan and was found hanging from a mango tree. Shanmukayya Swami of Honnaddi village, Bidar district committed suicide by jumping into a well as he was unable to repay loans.

The instances are many. Bhimsha Madari of Afzalpur taluk in Gulbarga district ended his life because he suffered heavy losses owing to the failure of his red gram and green gram crop. The dependence of farmers on the market for inputs like seeds, fertilisers and pesticides has hit them hard this year.

Organic farming
Going organic is a solution both the farmer and the government can think of. The chemicals can be replaced, at least partially if not fully, with plant based fertilisers and pesticides. The policy of the government should be to foster a “store water and grain everywhere” movement. This will also help conserve local grain such as finger millet (ragi) and other millets that are drought resistant and thereby broaden the composition of the food basket.

Farmers need to use a cost-effective way of cultivation that greatly reduces the incentive to borrow, one of the main causes for farmer suicides in the country. With the drought looming large, farmers should think of alternative land and manure practices. Spending on external inputs is what is causing misery to farmers and leading them to suicides.

Many organisations and individual farmers across the state have demonstrated several successful models of organic farming, which could be replicated anywhere. They provide a range of specific lessons and results in terms of adaptive management, soil health and capacity building on soil biodiversity and its ecological functions. Farmer groups like Sahaja Samrudha, Organic Food Club, Krishi Prayago Parivar, and Punyaboomi to name a few, are promoting organic farming. Zero budget farming coined by Subhas Palekar has gained popularity in the state. The organic village project in all districts of the state implemented by the Karnataka government is noteworthy. The Dhondenling Tibetan settlement in Kollegal taluk is very encouraging as the whole settlement that was growing only maize a few years back with high inputs of chemicals today boasts of going organic.
 
Legume culture
“Legumes have served as the primary source of nitrogen for many cropping systems, apart from providing food for human beings and animals,” points out Nandish, a farmer of Shikaripur taluk, Shimoga district. Nandish is growing legumes in different cropping patterns and gets tonnes of nitrogen for his plants free of cost. His legume collection numbers over a 100, and includes herbs, shrubs, climbers and aquatic plants. Along with legumes, Nandish also follows the mulching method to enrich soil and retain moisture in the soil. Two months prior to the monsoon, he sows varieties of plants and makes sure that it includes oil seeds, millets, corns, weeds, tubers, beans, etc and provides sufficient water and organic manure. Nandish ensures that by the time monsoon arrives, his 20-acre land is rich and ready to be cultivated.

By following this method, he saves money on fertilisers and pesticides. He does not use any chemical fertilisers or farmyard manure. Due to mulching, most of the weeds perish and become rich fertilisers. He has managed to reap a good harvest (32 bags of grain yield per acre) at much less cost and low labour expenses.

Cultivating earthworms
Composting agricultural waste is as old as agriculture itself. Shivamma of Dummalli was a small farmer who was unable to make both ends meet. But, she has changed her farming practices by making vermicompost. She did not have to make any investment to rear earthworms. The biogas slurry pit became the breeding ground for earthworms and vermicompost production unit.  “Using compost can trigger off biological activity in the soil and restore its characteristics in a productive manner. The problem lies in the practices followed by farmers to make the compost and their inability to identify the materials that can be used for composting. They have not understood the skill of composting,” says Shivamma.  

Zero cultivation
Then, there is the example of Hoysala S Appajji of Holenarasipura. Appajji, an expert in printing technology, quit his business and ventured into agriculture. He has adopted the cost-effective zero tilling method for growing rice. He says this method not only reduces cost of cultivation but also increases grain yield. “In the traditional system of agriculture, farmers begin preparatory tilling immediately after harvesting the previous crop and continue until sowing or transplanting. Even weeding is done. Because these activities involve labour and other costs, the cost of rice cultivation goes up and the profit margin is low. But thanks to this method, once I sow the seeds I do not visit the field till the harvest of the crop. I save on labour, time and resources spent on weed management,” he says.

Bore Gowda, a farmer of Shivalli in Mandya district, believes in organic farming methods as it enables him to be self-reliant and debt-free without the need for chemical fertilisers.

He says organic methods of cultivation can maintain a farmer’s livelihood as it needs nothing to be spent on inputs - seeds, organic fertiliser and pest control are virtually free.

He has used velvet beans as a cover crop in his banana plantation. Velvet beans are being grown more widely, because banana yields can be increased considerably by intercropping with velvet beans. He has also diversified by reviving about 26 varieties of rice and grows sugarcane, pumpkin, musk melons, castor seeds and pigeon peas.

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