Sowing the seeds of hope

Sowing the seeds of hope

Meena, a resident of Maddur, has a unique responsibility — procuring red rice and jaggery for her children who live in different parts of the world. “Ten days ago, I sent five kg of red rice and jaggery to my son who lives in London,” she says. The source for these products is C P Krishna’s farm in Gulur Doddi village in Maddur taluk of Mandya. The 27-acre farm is known for its crop diversity, sustainable farming methods and quality produce. While the farm stands testimony to the achievement of this innovative farmer, the range of products stored in the house for sale portrays his ingenuity.

The situation was different 15 years ago. Like many farmers of the district, Krishna firmly believed in the ‘power’ of chemical inputs. The goal was to get high yield by applying more chemicals to the farm. His outlook towards farming started changing after he visited an organic farm in Chamarajanagar district during an exposure visit organised by the Department of Agriculture in 2001. It came as an eye-opener and enlightened him on the urgency and advantages of non-chemical farming. He returned home with seeds of two traditional paddy varieties (Ratnachudi and Salem Sanna) and new insights.

A keen learner, he gathered information on organic farming through various means — publications, discussions with practitioners, training programmes and visits to organic farms. He developed his own methods based on the knowledge gained in the due course.

“I didn’t want to follow any one particular model. Every farm is unique and hence, it should be treated likewise. Thus, I have drawn lessons from different schools of thought and incorporated them here,” he explains. Soil fertility, eco-friendly farming with focus on sustainable use of resources, crop diversity and strong market linkage are the basic principles upon which he has developed the farm. If vermicompost, farm yard manure and green manure keep soil healthy, biodigester and herbal concoctions promote plant growth and control diseases. Krishna feels that proper planning and observation help prevent pests and diseases. He points at birds perching on twigs placed in the farm. These birds feed on pests and insects and control them. Such small steps have facilitated a balanced relationship of plants and other creatures in the farm.

Traditional & modern
Along with maintaining crop diversity, Krishna has also laid stress on having multiple varieties of each crop. He has observed that on-farm conservation of traditional varieties has many ecological advantages. Thus, Krishna, with the support of his wife Manjula and mother Gowramma, has maintained the on-farm biodiversity by growing different varieties of paddy (70), sugarcane (seven), finger millet (seven), banana (10), coconut, vegetables, other grains and pulses. He also rears cattle, poultry and goats, which he feels are complementary to the main occupation.
 
He grows sugarcane in 10 acres and follows the ratooning method of cultivation, where the stubble is retained for sprouting. This process minimises work and reduces expenditure.

Sugarcane trash mulching has reduced water requirement by three fourth. After the tenth harvest of ratoon sugarcane, he does crop rotation and replaces it with pulses. These leguminous crops add required nutrients to the soil. He further enriches the land by
applying green manure, sheep and goat manure.

“Though sugarcane is an annual crop, we plan the crop in such a way that we harvest it in alternate months,” says Manjula. The idea is simple but futuristic. Sugarcane is planted in different patches at different periods of time, ensuring regular harvest. Except during monsoon, about 70 quintals of organic jaggery is produced at his uncle’s jaggery production unit every alternate month. Different types of jaggery like powder, liquid, crystal and masala are produced to cater to the needs of consumers. “He has overcome the significant hurdle many farmers face, knowing the pulse of market,” says Ramakrishna K, deputy director, Department of Agriculture, Maddur.

If application of traditional knowledge saves Krishna’s farm from nature’s vagaries, use of modern technology, farming apps in particular, helps him keep a tab on market trends and plan the crops accordingly. For example, if the price of tender coconut goes up, he sells it in the local market and if it stays at a low, he delays the harvest and sells copra. Value addition has helped the couple get the right price in the fluctuating market. From paddy to pulses, they sell it in ready-to-use form. “Value addition helps us fix the price for our produce. Farmers should plan their crops to get constant income and consider  direct marketing,” he suggests.

About 70 per cent of their produce, including jaggery and rice, is sold at the farm and the rest is purchased by organic retailers in different cities. Roopa, a lecturer in Government First Grade College for Women in Mandya, has been buying goods from Krishna for the past three years. “Once we get the taste of organic food, we stick to it. Since we buy directly from the farm, we know it is credible. We buy a major part of our food ingredients from Krishna’s farm,” she says. Impressed by the quality of products, she has linked him to 20 other customers.

For a cause
Krishna’s farm is not only popular among customers but also among farmers, civil society organisations, Department of Agriculture and agricultural research institutes. Krishna has been a facilitator for the programmes of the Department of Agriculture for the past seven years. The Vishweshwaraya Canal Farm Krishi Vijnana Kendra (VC Farm KVK) in Mandya has recognised him as a farmer resource person and seed conserver. He is also actively involved in boosting the confidence of distressed farmers of the district through dialogues and suggesting sustainable alternatives. “Farmers can easily relate their circumstances with fellow farmers. We have witnessed this when Krishna addresses them during our counselling sessions to boost the confidence of farmers,” says Ramakrishna.

He has also initiated activities to encourage farmers to tread the sustainable path by conducting trainings and providing market opportunities to them. He has formed farmers groups with the support of National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and the Department of Agriculture. Various institutions and organisations like All India Radio, Department of Agriculture, agricultural universities and Krishi Vijnana Kendras have organised programmes in his farm.

“It’s time we understand that it is not possible to photocopy food grains and join hands for the wellbeing of humans and nature. Organic agriculture with focus on diversity is nothing but a celebration of life,” he concludes with a message.

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