Turning over a new leaf

AGRICULTURE

Turning over a new leaf

During the heady days of the Green Revolution, Harohalli farmer Ramaiah was trapped in the loop of ‘grow more, earn more’, with a good measure of chemical fertilisers thrown in. It was sheer serendipity that introduced his son Babu to organic farming. There has been no looking back ever since, writes Anitha Pailoor.

“In the past, our farm was a regular demonstration plot for the Agriculture Department to experiment with newly introduced high-yielding varieties with prescribed doses of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Now the Department brings visitors to substantiate that such varieties can also be grown without chemicals.

A decade has passed since,” Ramaiah remarks, and recalls how the family’s prospects have changed in the first decade of this millennium.

Ramaiah, a farmer who was at his best during the peak of the Green Revolution, not only followed the recommendations of various departments on crop intensification and protection, but far exceeded the advised quantity, to increase the yield.

The zeal to grow more and earn well successfully pushed recurrent health problems and crop losses on to the backburner. Ramaiah belongs to Harohalli, a village in Kanakapura taluk, 39 km away from Bangalore. The proximity to the City left him with no choice but to keep pace with the rat-race of the State capital.

Under such circumstances, the family was introduced to the organic way of cultivation by sheer chance. Ramaiah’s son, Babu, who had completed his ITI diploma had returned to farming after working in a factory in Bangalore for two years.

Through a friend, he happened to hear about a day-long workshop on chemical-free farming. Babu, who was in his early 20s, wanted to experiment with new methods in farming and decided to participate. His mother, Lakshmidevamma, who always wanted to get back to the days when she preserved seeds for the next sowing season, joined him. In the workshop, both mother and son were surprised to listen to the experiences of renowned organic farmer Bannur Krishnappa. It was a revelation for Babu.

The organic way

On returning home, he discussed the concept of bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides with his parents and they gave him all support. In the following season, Babu used ‘jeevamruta’ on a small plot and reaped good results.

 Ever since then, there has been no looking back. With each passing year, he has managed to transform his four-and-a-half-acre plot to an organic one. He set up a bio-digester plant using a subsidy from the Agriculture Department.

During the transition period, when there was a fall in the quantity of the yield, the family got a lot of advice from neighbours and friends asking them to return to the earlier system. Babu, who is a regular reader of farm supplements in newspapers, learnt that this tendency is common in such changeovers. Such examples helped him to convince his parents.

They started rearing sheep as a complementary activity to organic farming. It brings them considerable income and also provides nutritious fertiliser for their crops. Ramaiah takes care of the herd. Dairy is another activity that he is interested in.

Cow urine and dung are the major ingredients of ‘jeevamruta’, which is used for nourishing and protecting the crop.

They sell excess milk to the local dairy. Babu grows finger millet on his one-and-a-half acre dry land. Sorghum and pulses are intercropped while greens grow naturally. Banana (one acre) and vegetables (two acres) occupy the irrigated land.

Vegetable basket

Crop rotation and seasonal crops add much to Babu’s farming success. Farmer and freelance journalist Ganapathi Bhat who lives in Harohalli appreciates Babu’s keen sense of climatic conditions and his judgment of land-crop equation. He keeps on rotating the vegetable varieties among tomato, brinjal, ladies-finger, maize and ash gourd. He makes sure that he has at least two vegetable varieties to sell at a time.

When he first harvested a crop of ladies-finger, Babu had a 20-kg excess after distributing the vegetable among friends. He brought it to the Banashankari vegetable market in Bangalore. He was offered Rs 30 for a 10-kg bag. Babu was shocked that this wouldn’t even fetch him his bus charges. He brought the vegetable back and sold the same in his village. It fetched him Rs 20 per kg.

Then he decided to sell vegetables and other produce locally and now has a set of regular customers. “Many people opt for this because vegetables are fresh and chemical-free.” He is only the second farmer in his neighbourhood to have raised crops with a chemical-free tag.

Jayaram is another vegetable grower who gave up chemical farming even before Babu did. “All my friends appreciate my efforts. But they say that they can’t afford low yield during the transition period.” He also points out that they try and influence him to apply chemicals to banana to obtain a bright colour, which he always refused.

Babu started growing the traditional variety of banana (elakki) three years back. By opting for an innovative cultivation method which doesn’t require deep pits for placing a banana sucker, he has reduced initial investment. Of course, chemical-free farming has cut down most of the cultivation expenses for the family.

Babu depends on nurseries for vegetable saplings. He feels that native vegetable varieties, particularly tomato, are fragile and become difficult to harvest, store and sell. He adds that the buyer always looks for fresh vegetables.

And what’s more, Lakshmidevamma is happy that she can store seeds of grain and pulses for the next sowing. Self-reliance in terms of crops and food is another reason that makes her content.
 

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