Growing the natural way

Be it a class 10 dropout or an MBA graduate, their cause was common: organic farming. What made them take the unconventional path? They tell their stories to Gurumurthy K

Cost saving on agri inputs

Venkadesh Prabhu, a Tiruppur-based MBA graduate, did not want a career in the corporate world and so joined his father in conventional farming. His interest in organic products led him to organic farming. Venkadesh says, “Convincing my parents was a major difficulty. It then took about two years to prepare the land, for it had been contaminated by continued use of chemicals for about two decades.”

He started with domestic animals and says organic farming is incomplete without animals; they are the biggest assets in this kind of agriculture, he says. Venkadesh has six cows and 60 sheep.

A single cow yields a minimum of five to seven litres of milk a day. A sheep gives birth to three lambs in two years which can be sold for a good rate. “Animals are the biggest liquid assets which can be used to raise money in times of urgency,” says Venkadesh. But the negative side is that during the rainy season the sheep are infected with seasonal disease. It is important to contain the disease and prevent it from spreading.

The cost of organic farming is much less as he does not have to spend on fertilisers and insecticides. “My biggest expense is on the irrigation system and the tractor used for initial ploughing,” says Venkadesh.

The shift to organic farming has not been easy. On average, annual earnings from organic farming come to ₹1 lakh per acre. Over time, Venkadesh has gained experience and rotates crops in tune with demand. It was more difficult to sell products five-six years ago due to fewer retail outlets and lower awareness. The conditions are more favourable now.

If you think organic farming is a new practice, you are wrong. Palanisamy from Palladam is into it since 1970. Yes, you read it right, for the last 45 years. He grows brinjal, papaya, chickoo and banana, besides coconut (about 500 trees) and other trees.

He has made provision to collect and store rain water. “Rain is required, but is not mandatory,” he says. Zero usage of chemicals helps the quality of land to strengthen automatically, which makes it less dependant on the monsoon.

The earthworms in his fields help suck the entire rain water into the land. “There is zero water stagnation in my farm during times of rain as the worms help in quick absorption of water,” says Palanisamy. People are greedy for higher yields and not willing to shift to organic farming, he rues, although a shift is happening at a very slow pace. “I don’t calculate my income and outflow. I was able to pay for my two daughters’ education and marriage through the income from this farm,” says Palanisamy. The major part of his land is covered by trees, some of which he sold to secure his daughters’ future. “Trees are like insurance which can be used to raise huge amounts of money during times of emergency,” he adds.



Moderate but steady earning

Thirumurthy, based out of Sathyamangalam, is a Class 10 dropout and is into farming for the past 20 years. He initially joined his father in conventional farming which gave them very high yields. “Heavy usage of chemicals spoiled the land and the yields started to decline.” Falling yields made them use more and more chemicals. They also had to take on loans to buy these fertilisers. But it resulted in their land getting contaminated and they ended up selling a part of their land to close their debt. They then slowly shifted to organic farming. “In the first year the yields were low, but in due course of time the yields have started to improve,” says Thirumurthy.

He had shifted abruptly to organic farming and failed initially as the land was not ready. “I should have ensured that my land lay fallow for at least six months. My neighbours mocked me on seeing the process I then used to set my land. But I did not care about them,” says Thirumurthy. According to him, using chemicals might give high yields, but the output will not be consistent. But in organic farming, the yields might not be very high but will be consistent. Thirumurthy grows turmeric and banana apart from 250 coconut trees.

He follows a technique of planting/sowing with a three-month gap. “The crops will be in different stages of growth at any given point in time and so it will reduce the loss caused by sudden downpour. Regular yield is also possible by following this method,” says Thirumurthy.



Cattle and camel provide manure

A group of ducks, goats, sheep, cows, horses and a peacock are all ready to welcome you as you enter the gates of Leo Organic Farm owned by brothers Bharathi and Saravanan, spread over 150 acres in Thiruvallur district near Chennai. The brothers also own two donkeys and two camels. Why donkeys and camels? “I use donkeys to transport the harvested fruits within the farm and camels to graze the fences and top portion of trees,” explains Bharathi. Camels are also useful in producing manure. “I do not use machines to grind leaves. Instead I feed the leaves to the camels, take the dung got the next day and mix it with cow urine for sprinkling on infected leaves. This is very effective,” he says.

Mango trees cover most of his farm and he grows chickoo (sapodilla) and amla as well, apart from bamboo and redwoods. Visitors to his farm range from the common man to agriculture students. Customers visit his farm to buy fruits directly, after tasting them.

Conventional farmers spend incessantly on chemical vendors affecting their cash flow. They end up taking additional loans for the next cycle of crops. This is the main reason for the increasing number of farmer suicides, asserts Bharathi. “In organic farming I invest the money earned from the farm on animals. So, I have no outflow of money, only inflow,” he points out.



Trees act as insurance

If you think organic farming is a new practice, you are wrong. Palanisamy from Palladam is into it since 1970. Yes, you read it right, for the last 45 years. He grows brinjal, papaya, chickoo and banana, besides coconut (about 500 trees) and other trees.

He has made provision to collect and store rain water. “Rain is required, but is not mandatory,” he says. Zero usage of chemicals helps the quality of land to strengthen automatically, which makes it less dependant on the monsoon.

The earthworms in his fields help suck the entire rain water into the land. “There is zero water stagnation in my farm during times of rain as the worms help in quick absorption of water,” says Palanisamy. People are greedy for higher yields and not willing to shift to organic farming, he rues, although a shift is happening at a very slow pace. “I don’t calculate my income and outflow. I was able to pay for my two daughters’ education and marriage through the income from this farm,” says Palanisamy.

The major part of his land is covered by trees, some of which he sold to secure his daughters’ future. “Trees are like insurance which can be used to raise huge amounts of money during times of emergency,” he adds.

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