Returns from LEISA – A farmer’s experience

T.M. Radha

Sadashivaiah belongs to Maragondanahalli, a village in Tiptur – Karnataka, well known for coconut production. He owns about 13 acres of land of which about 4 acres is earmarked for growing food crops like finger millet, green gram, cowpea etc. On the remaining land he has raised coconut trees and tamarind trees.

Till a decade ago, the farmer was into chemical farming using chemical fertilizers and pesticides indiscriminately. Only when he realised that he was developing some skin related problems that he think of alternative farming practices. He also realized that he had spent all the money on fertilizers, seeds, pesticides etc and had literally saved nothing out of his land, inspite of stress and strain. Thus, he started thinking of converting his farm into a low external input farm.

In 1995, on an experimental basis, he adopted organic farming in 10 guntas (0.1 ha) land under coconut garden. This was facilitated by BAIF, an NGO working in that region, by organising a group of interested farmers called as Siri Samruddhi Balaga. Inspired by the results, he extended this principle to his 7-acre coconut plantation.

Though he was keen on converting his whole farm into an organic farm, he did not venture into it all at the same time. On the 1.5 acre plot, the coconut trees were hardly yielding enough for him to sustain. So he tried organic methods in this plot first. He was convinced that he required a lot of biomass to protect the soil from erosion and moisture evaporation. He stopped ploughing the field. He allowed weeds to grow. He says, “weeds indicate the fertility of the soil. Until these plants grow beyond the main plant, they should never be considered as weeds” He even collected plants thrown away by the forest department and planted them in his farm, thereby increasing the plant biomass and diversity.

He included fruit trees like mango, lime, lemon, guava, jasmine etc., in between the coconut rows. Realising the importance of conserving moisture through mulching, he dug a trench around every plant and put the coconut coir in it to conserve moisture. This also helped in arresting soil erosion as his land was slopy.  He adopted zero cultivation measures. However, he was careful enough not to bring the entire plot into organic farming in one go. He increased the number of plants and thereby the biomass gradually, from one side of the plot. Gradually, the yield of coconut plants considerably increased. He also realised that the coconut yields better where there are more number of other trees.

As far as the water requirement is concerned, he does not irrigate the farm excepting during summer, that too, twice a month. He has always focused on more root growth. He believes that spread of the roots is equal to the spread of the foliage. While roots can absorb moisture even from a distance, he opines that, if water is provided only at the base of the plant, the roots rot due to excessive moisture.

Once he was convinced about the practice on his 1.5 acre plot, Sadashivaiah extended these practices to another plot of 2.5 acres. He believes and practices to use every inch of his land productively. He feels that choice of plants is also very important when one wants to go in for LEISA. Therefore, he has included drumstick plants, which store lot of water when available and can withstand drought conditions. Similarly, Sadashivaiah has planted crotons at various places in the farm. He believes that these plants  help in identifying areas with moisture stress and water can be provided only to those patches, thus enabling efficient use of limited water available. Moreover, crotons produce a lot of biomass which can be harvested thrice a year.

He has innovative ideas in utilising the farm pests to his advantage. In one of his plots where he has coconut and betel nut, he has also planted Sweet potato which he never harvests. Rats which feed on the sweet potato, leave left-overs. These get integrated into the soil. Moreover, the rats improve the soil aeration owing to their burrowing nature. Sadashivaiah feels that what he gains from these measures is much more than the income which he would have got if the potatoes were harvested and sold.

Though Sadashivaiah has switched over to botanicals for nutrient and pest management, yet he is not averse to using chemical pesticides rationally, when warranted. He sprays pesticides only on the floriculture plants, as the pests cannot be managed otherwise. He strongly believes in using low external inputs and opines that one should not blindly follow something fully organic at the cost of the crop yield and income.

Thus, Sadashivaiah’s transition to LEISA approach has benefited him in more than one way. Firstly, he has been continuously improving his net returns from the farm. With a very little investment, on an average, he gets a net benefit of more than Rs. 20000 per acre. He opines that the proportion of costs and benefits is 50:50 in conventional farming, whereas it is 20:80 in LEISA farming. However,  what is more interesting to him is not only the monetary income that could be measured precisely, but all those benefits which cannot be measured in terms of money.

The biodiversity that is developed on the farm is just amazing. There are about 1000 species of various plants including weeds, on his farm. This he considers as one of his biggest assets. Next, is the reduced risks in adopting LEISA approach. He doesn’t find dry land farming any more risky. He gets an assured return every year. Lastly, a farm with LEISA approach could be managed by the family providing enough employment for the whole year.

Sadashivaih also cautions that a minimum period of three years is required to convert a farm into a totally organic one. A farmer should be able to withstand that transition period with variations in income. This could be possible by: (a) converting to LEISA system gradually, bit by bit. It is not economical to convert it in one shot (b) directing  efforts during the initial periods, to produce organic matter within the farm. Only then organic way of cultivation becomes economical as bringing organic matter from outside is an expensive proposition. (c) investments in the form of time and labour are very much essential to reap long term benefits and be sustainable.


The article is based on the discussions with Mr. Sadashivaiah and staff of BAIF. Their cooperation in sparing their valuable time and information is gratefully acknowledged.

T. M. Radha, Associate Editor, AME Foundation, # 204, 100 Ft. Ring Road, 3rd Phase, Banashankari, 2nd Block, 3rd Stage, Bangalore – 560 085



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