Treading the green path...

Treading the green path...

Sustainable livelihoods

Treading the green path...

Farmer H R Jayaram (below) practises organic farming on Sukrushi, his land in the outskirts of Bangalore. (Jayaram’s pic: By Aruna Chandaraju

Born into a simple farmer’s family in a small Karnataka village, H R Jayaram spent much of his childhood helping his father on their little farm. Little he did know then that, decades later, the memories of this experience would trigger a major change in his life and ideals, and also influence many people around him.

Like many children born into ordinary middle-class families, Jayaram grew up dreaming of a bigger, better future. He moved to Bangalore for studies starting off with a school which also offered free boarding and lodging. He studied hard and eventually became a civil lawyer and set up his own law firm. He was now a successful lawyer with a lucrative practice but the love for farming endured in him.
So he bought land in Bangalore’s outskirts at Nelamangala, and named the farm Sukrushi.

It was in the process of cultivating Sukrushi that he was introduced to chemical fertilisers and pesticides––considered indispensable in modern farming. “However, having grown up on a rural, organic farm, where everything worked well without these non-natural inputs, I wondered if these modern methods were really necessary,” Jayaram reveals. So, he began questioning this approach, met several farmers, had discussions with scientists and agricultural experts, read The One-Straw Revolution (which advocates natural farming) and eventually realised that organic was the right way to go.

Organic substitutes on Sukrushi
So, he turned Sukrushi  (once barren land), into a pure organic one. It makes extensive use of rainwater-harvesting techniques, solar and biogas energy, eschews chemical fertilisers and pesticides using organic substitutes for the same, and practises social forestry. By now Jayaram’s conviction in the organic way of life was so strong that he decided to become an activist for the cause. He became Founder-Secretary, of Jaivik Krishik Society, a federation of Karnataka’s organic farmers. He also set up Era Organic, India’s first certified organic-food store. It’s not only a business enterprise but also a venue for ‘green-tea evenings’, and regular discussions and cultural programmes espousing the organic movement. The Green Path, an eco-hotel apartment, is another successful initiative by Jayaram as is a sprawling organic farm in Kodagu which grows coffee, paddy, etc.

Slow food movement
Now, Jayaram has also pioneered Bangalore’s first Slow-Food Group which he describes as a higher form of the organic movement. Slow food is that which is locally available, seasonal, and ideally grown without use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. It is also food that is cooked without chemicals i.e, additives, preservatives, baking soda, ajinomoto, hydrogenated fats, colouring agents, artificial flavours, etc. Slow food also stresses diversity and nutrition. So, for eg, a multigrain or multi-lentil dish would be preferable to one which has only one grain or lentil and millets are better than rice. Jayaram adds that next on the agenda are eco-tourism ventures––Eco-Stays in Kodagu and Sukrushi. His ultimate vision is a global eco-commune in Kodagu.

His passion for his cause shines through in every conversation you have with him. “We have to become aware of where our food and water is coming from and where it is going. Become a co-producer instead of being a passive consumer. Visit farms, understand farming, and buy products directly. In fact, we encourage visits to  Sukrushi as well as other organic farms,” says Jayaram.  

So, what can the average person do to go organic and improve his health and that of the environment around him? Jayaram replies: “Grow your own food as far as possible with a large vegetable-fruit garden or at least a small patch in your home, or in pots if you live in an apartment. Make manure from kitchen waste. Practise rainwater harvesting––the simple systems cost as little as Rs 3,000. Don’t allow rainwater to run off––use it to recharge groundwater. Use CFL bulbs, and recycle household water. Use jute-bags instead of plastic ones since plastic accumulates as waste and when incinerated releases poisonous gases. Also, plastic takes over a thousand years to degrade. Khadi is a better choice than synthetic materials for wearing.”

Like most organic-lifestyle crusaders, Jayaram is firmly opposed to GM foods, which he says cut off the farmer’s relationship with his seeds and soil and destroy biodiversity. He says: “Basically our motto is: Don’t interfere with nature. So, GM foods which transfer genes across species and from one kingdom to another are unnatural and destructive of the traditional, healthy way of life.”