Going the natural way

Last Updated 31 August 2015, 18:32 IST

Organic food in India has slowly made its way into more households over the last decade. More and more people are embracing the concept of safe food, having realised the benefits that come along with it. So, with the demand seeing a steady rise, how does the supply scene fare comparatively? Well, in keeping with the changing times and needs of consumers, farming too is seeing a shift towards the organic side in certain parts of the country.

Take for instance, a small village called Mayasandra in Anekal taluk on the outskirts of Bengaluru. Close to 70 farmers in this village have made a switch to organic farming. Some a few years ago and some recently. This change in agricultural method has taken place, courtesy the efforts of an organisation called Sahaja Samrudha.

Sahaja Samrudha began as an informal structure about 14 years ago. It comprised individuals from the IT sector, academia, science and banking. But they all had a common vision — to venture into organic farming and encourage farmers to do so as well. A few of them even gave up their professions to pursue organic farming full time. However, at that point in time, their awareness about organic farming was in the elementary stages.

So, their initial focus was to gather information from experts and come together with their mission. Following which, they began encouraging farmers to foray into organic farming. The first step was to provide them with quality seeds, for good seeds mean good harvest. Their subsequent step was to convince farmers to give up chemical methods for more natural ways. This is generally the hardest step because farmers are normally reluctant to embrace organic farming.

The primary reason for this resistance is that the return on their investment is delayed. Once the shift is made, it takes about three years for a good yield to set in. Thus, they can reap profits only in the long run. Also, it is quite labour intensive, which serves as a strong deterrent to espousing it. Nagaraj M, who has been an organic farmer for the last decade, grows mostly vegetables and greens on his farm. “This kind of agriculture requires a lot of manual labour. Our biggest problem is to find the right kind of workers. People are quite unwilling to come and work in farms. Even when we hire people on contract basis, chances are, they don’t turn up to work or leave halfway, dumping the work on us,” he says.

Benefits galore
At present, even with such difficulties, there are thousands of farmers in Karnataka who are involved with organic farming. Of course, this is not to discount the fact the method does come with its built-in set of benefits. Nandish, a farmer in Shikaripura, who grows legumes, has not had any need for de-weeding his farm for the last one decade. He has found that the nitrogen-fixing ability of legumes helps improve the soil fertility. So, how exactly are crops maintained without the addition of chemicals or synthetic supplements? There are certain natural substitutes that farmers make use of, which can be made in their own fields, like:

n Panchagavya, a concoction prepared by mixing substances like urine, cow dung, is used to increase the resistance power of plants.
n Jeevamrutha, a concoction of certain herbs and products of cow, is used for seven days as a growth promoter.
n Egg concoction and lemon are used as insecticides.
n Neem oil is used as a pesticide.
n Poochi marandu, a herbal concoction, is used as a growth developer.

The principal aim of Sahaja Samrudha is to educate farmers about organic farming, create awareness and help them market their produce. They help them grow any kind of produce, right from paddy and millets to fruits and vegetables. In addition to this, they organise produce melas all over Karnataka, which aid in the sales of the produce. They have set up certain produce collection points where they procure harvests on a weekly basis from farmers and take them over to larger markets. Their clients mostly include wholesale organic food supermarkets and a part of the urban population.

Kantharaj, who turned to organic farming about three years ago, grows flowers and fruits on his 10-acre farm. “One drawback, if we can call it that, of organic fruits, is the variation in their sizes — some are too big, while some can take unconventional shapes and colours. It loses market value as people tend to look at it as an aberration rather than as something grown differently,” he says.

A good way of ensuring organic farming giving you sufficient yield is to stick to crop rotation. Growing multiple crops on the same plot ensures good nutrient distribution. Ramaiah, a farmer who switched to organic farming about three months ago, vouches by the method and is happy with his decision: “I mostly grow vegetables on my farm. Now that there is a community market, it is easier for me to sell the produce. It is also time saving and simpler for me to get my commission. There is no question of looking back at chemical methods now.”

For more information, log on to  www.sahajasamrudha.org.

(Published 31 August 2015, 17:30 IST)

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