Discovering nature's wisdom

Discovering nature's wisdom

While many people from villages dream of coming to metros for employment, Anitha Pailoor discovers how a family in Ranebennur is self-sustained and satisfied with their unconventional, rustic lives.

The yield of pearl millet touched one quintal this time. But the harvest did not cross ten kilos. Birds and wild animals eat away a good share of our produce,” Sunitha and Shankara Gouda, state casually as we walk towards their farm in Mudenur village of Ranebennur taluk in Haveri district. River Tungabhadra and River Kumudvathi which flow through the village, are the major sources of irrigation.

The couple’s farm, with its diverse crops stands unique amidst long stretches of monocrops. “If everyone follows mixed cropping, birds wouldn’t visit or dwell in our farm,” reflects Gouda. The farm has become the family’s food basket. Their’s is a story of transformation from market driven agriculture to life-centered farming.

Gouda began cultivation in his ancestral land in the eighties. Monocropping and heavy chemical inputs were the order of the day. He was no different. Lifestyle was in line with the farming methods. But income did not match the expenditure. Expense was on a daily basis while harvest was done once or twice a year.

In distress, Shankara Gouda left agriculture and took up business. Though life looked settled, there was a dearth of satisfaction. In the quest for happiness, the couple came across a Kannada copy of Masanobu Fukuoka’s One-Straw Revolution. They got curious about chemical-free farming practices, visited farmers, read books and attended workshops. “It is a makeover from contessa car to barefoot. The latter is healthy and sustainable,” claims Shankara Gouda.

A natural transformation

After trying and experimenting various agricultural practices – including the Fukuokan method, they have conceived their own farming system which is close to natural. While diverse crops complement each other, crop rotation enhances soil fertility. Each crop contributes in its own way to the soil’s health. “We have to observe and realise the
significance of each plant,” says Sunitha. After passing through initial hiccups, the family decided to make their farm completely free from external inputs.

They own 13 acres of land. They have developed every inch of it, giving in-depth thought to the entire process of developing a farm. Areca nut with a multitude of other crops is spread over three acres. Areca is planted with a gap of 12x7 feet. Lime and jackfruit are major inter-crops. Fruits including 15 varieties of mango, spices, vegetables, flowering plants, tubers and other agriculturally important plants make the farm a natural habitat for many birds and insects.

Subabul, along with jackfruit and guava is grown on six acres. Subabul has good demand in paper mills. Coconut is planted across two acres. Though it looks a bit huddled, Gouda is confident that the plants will complement each other: “Agriculture involves a lot of experiments. We have to observe and understand the pulse of nature. This makes the work of agriculture easier.”

They used to grow field crops in this plot, until monkeys destroyed the entire lot in a single day, a few years ago. Since their land is close to the river, it is easily accessible to monkeys. Later, they decided to take land on lease to grow grains and pulses.
Conceptualisation of agricultural activities is in tune with nature and thus execution has become simple.

“Look at this lemon plant – it yields about 5,000 fruits every year. Big in size, sometimes it gets sold at Rs 5 a fruit. Every plant, even a weed, contributes to the farm and to our lives. Among four types of guava in our farm, only one has been planted by us. Birds have brought the rest thus contributing to the diversity,” Gouda explains. 

The crops are planned in such a way that three-four crops are ready for harvest every month for 10 months a year. After harvest, remains are left in the field to become natural compost for the next season. Mulching retains moisture for long and surprisingly, external input has not gone into the field for the last eight years.

Each plant’s biomass, along with foliage of trees like gliricidia and subabul becomes its manure. Sweet potato and betel leaf are used extensively as mulching plants. Thick layer of mulching retains rainwater and facilitates percolation.

Water is sourced from Tungabhadra river through a pipeline. Though water is in abundance, they ensure that it is used judiciously. Plants are irrigated only for two months in summer. “We do not have the right to exploit natural resources,” says Gouda, who feels that farmers should grow crops that are suitable for their region.

Family farming

The couple, along with their elder son Sachidanand, do agricultural chores from six till ten every morning. They plan a week’s work ahead and execute accordingly. Each one shares equal responsibility. A brief visit in the evening helps them understand the farm better. Since last five years, they have not hired outside help for the agricultural work.

To give more exposure, the couple have entrusted their son with the responsibility of a part of the land where he has planted banana. Another son, Sadanand is
pursuing studies. Influenced by the conviction of their parents, both want to take up farming. 

“I have realised that agriculture can be joyful. A few hours of dedicated work in the morning and you are done with it. I get a lot of free time for my hobbies. Since we follow natural farming, there is no recurring expense. Even seeds for the next season are taken from the field. We get good income and are happy with it,” says Sachidanand.

Shankara Gouda wants to restart food crop cultivation in this land in another two years. He is planning a combination of horticulture plants and food crops to strike a balance. “A seed sown generates hundreds of seeds. Can you think os a business that multiplies your assets like this, with zero infrastructure and investment,” Gouda questions, as he glances through the five-acre leased land which consists of more than two dozen crops, including grains, millets, pulses, oil seeds and vegetables.

The family’s thought process, food habit and lifestyle are in coherence with the farming they practice. During summers, they live in the farmhouse constructed by them. During monsoon, they move to their house in the village, one kilometre away. “These two farms make us self-sustainable. We barely spend Rs 500 every month for our essentials,” says Sunitha.

Marketing has not posed any problem for them yet. In fact, most of the crops they grow are for home use. Other produces are sold after sufficient quantity is stored for home consumption. Sunitha sells their produce and value-added products in the Ranebennur market.

“Our items are always in good demand. Be it papaya, turmeric powder, lime pickle or any vegetable, once they taste our product, they will definitely come back for it,” says Sunitha with conviction.

There are a few hitches, though. They are yet to figure out a feasible way to process millets. “Whenever there is a problem, there is always a solution. I wouldn’t mind utilising farmer-friendly technologies if they are in tune with nature. I want to convince my fellow farmers that farming can be enjoyable,” says Shankara.

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