Sharing Creativity and Innovations in Sustainable Agriculture

N Harikrishna

 Narayana Reddy, a farmer from Doddallapur near Bangalore believes that sustainable agriculture means a lot of  hard work, commitment, consistency  and concern for the  sustainability of soil health and plant diversity.  He feels that consistent adaptation of sustainable agricultural practice is possible with only those farmers who identify themselves with  nature. It is done by those who consider agriculture as a way of life but not as a means for becoming rich. According to him,t people who are not ready to work hard can not succeed in agriculture, especially in organic farming.

A group of twenty innovative farmers who gathered at his farm for a workshop of farmer innovators also echo his belief. This belief  traces to their philosophy of life and experience in agriculture. Amidst wide spread dependency for quick & easy but harmful measures for yield increase in agriculture these farmers remained with the natural ways of farming. Instead of using chemical pesticides and fertilisers,  they bank on their  observability and imagination to re-create soil fertility and sustainability.

The change over from the chemicals based agriculture to sustainable agriculture of these farmers was not dramatic or a over night change. The process  was a saga of  experimentation, improvisation, adaptation and perseverance against social and peer group discouragement.

The innovations of some of the farmers like Narayanareddy, Nammalwar, Thangaswamy, are not focused on finding solution to a particular  problem. They  are creative farm managers and visionaries of sustainable agriculturee.  They make consistent efforts to  spread innovative spirit in sustainable agriculture. They frequently travel to meet farmers, encourage them and guide them to adapt sustainable agricultural practces.

The life examples  of some of these  farmers  highlight the fact that sustainable  agriculture is not an isolated practice but is the outcome of their moral, spiritual, cultural, social and economic wisdom.

Practicing and encouraging sustainable agriculture

Narayanareddy for instance displays  sustainability and strong individuality  in all spheres of life.  He left home at the age of 14 years to make a non-dependent living. He did a variety of jobs while simultaneously continuing studies in evening schools. He maintained absolute simplicity, worked even on holidays to make optimal use of the time to make enough savings for buying  agricultural land. It is the same hardworking nature, simplicity and responsible attitude helped him achieve miraculous yields in agriculture without compromising soil sustainability.

His concern for soil sustainability is not constrained within the boundaries of  his farm land. He has been motivating and guiding many individuals and organisations in organic farming and other aspects of sustainable agriculture. He also shares his knowledge and experience by writing for various journals and participating in policy discussions of the government and non government organisations.

Building Institutions for Sustainable Agriculture

Similarly, Nammalwar has also been a guiding force of sustainable agriculture in Tamil Nadu.

When employed with the Government of India to promote green revolution technologies in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu, he thought his degree in Agriculture found a right avenue. But he soon found that the green revolution technologies were  inappropriate in this dry region, but were blindly promoted by the government. He left the job and set on to travel  to meet farmers and to understand practical problems and sustainable solutions in agriculture.

In the process he attended a training on ecological farming  organised by AME in 1987. Later on he initiated the “Low External Inputs for Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA)” network along with like minded farmers in Tamil Nadu. From 1995 he has been coordinating the Tamil Nadu chapter of “Agricultural Renewal in India for Sustainable Environment (ARISE)” net work.

He travels extensively in Tamil Nadu and the neighbouring states. He demonstrates to the farmers the technologies of rain water harvesting, vermi culture, plant protection, panch gavya (using a mixture of cow urine, ghee, dung, milk & curd for plant protection and nourishment) He has also been a prolific writer for Tamil journals on the issue of environment and agriculture.

He believes that bottom of the crops belong to the soil, middle to the  animals and top to the human beings. While harvesting the crop bottom is left in the field, straw (middle) is given to cattle and the top portion is consumed by human beings. The animals and soil never violate this principle, whereas the human beings grab all the three elements and try to control both soil and the animals, which  harms the natural balance.

Growing “money trees”

Thangaswamy from Pudukottain district of Tamil Nadu also shares this philosophy.  Known as a passionate tree lover in the state, he believes that trees are the solution for problems of drought and famine.

He always explores for simple solutions to the problems in agriculture. Twenty years ago he heard a radio talk- “ Tree too a money crop”. It influenced him to start tree cultivation. He continued from here and specialised in tree culture and biomass utilisation. He bought 12 acres wasteland and reclaimed it through extensive tree cultivation and water harvesting practices. He believes that tree plantation is the right idea for the prevention of drought. He makes every visitor to his farm to plant a tree sapling.

His creative farm management practices ensure the strengthening of  productive links between soil, water, animals and his own family. He follows a particular way of tree planting in long furrows of 3ft. Deep and 3ft wide. He fills these furrows compost and dry leaves to prevent evaporation of water and to retain moisture. He believes that “compost is the black gold for farmers”. He dug many composting pits on the farm in 16*8*3 ft. Dimension. He makes use of green manure like Azol, and blue green algae. Infact every innovative farmer who attended this workshop grow a large number of trees for biomass generation.

He divided the land into smaller plots by making bunds. The lower side of the plot is used for storing drained water, where he planted trees. The ploughing has reduced from seven times to four time per crop since the soil became soft over the years. Earlier he applied manure and gypsum for the reduction of pH, which required excessive water. Later on he replaced it by growing sesbania, which is also used as fodder.

He keeps a few water pots in the farm for birds. The birds return him the favour by controlling pests.He buried water tubes in  10 places close to irrigation channels on the farm, which attract thrusty crows. Crows would promptly spot them and flock there for water and give back the excreta which is a good manure for the crops. The bonus that come along are the neem seeds. A large number of neem trees  standing along the irrigation channels, are  thanks to these crows!

He recommends the cultivation of tamarind, cashew, neem, amla, jack, native mangoe, jambulana, palm, albizia, rosewood, red sandal, petrocaprus, soapnut, black barked babul, white barked babul, cassia jawainica trees under rainfed conditions.

Fishing in Paddy Farm

Ganapathi also from Pudukottai district in Tamil Nadu,  lived in Andamas during his youth. While returning to  -Pudukottai  From Andamans island he carried along with him the skills of fish cultivation!. So, he constructed a huge fish pond on the farm.

His love for fish saved his paddy crops form being poisoned with chemicals!. For the sake of the health of the fish he stopped using chemicals in his paddy farm. In the process he ralised that he doesn’t have to use chemical inputs for a good yield. Indeed, he says that now he is now producing tastier and healthier rice & fish which yield greater profits in the market. He is happy that the process of transition helped him stop depending on government departments for subsidised but unsustainable external inputs.

He uses every available plant specie on the farm to generate biomass. He uses the compost consisting of cow dung, farm waste, kitchen waste & threshing floor waste. The compost is stored in a pit and applied when necessary. Besides compost he also uses tanksilt.

He uses neem cake and herbs soaked in water to control leafhopper and stem borer in paddy. He also discovered the use of wind in controlling pests. He places a pot with a week old neem cake solution towards wind direction in such a way that the smell of neem cake spreads till other end of the farm and disturbs the pest concentration. He also uses the traditional light trap to attract the pests. The light outside the poultry attracts insects which become food for the chicken.

He made channels in between the paddy field which are connected to small water reservoir.  He leaves fish in the reservoir. From there the fish move around the paddy fields and helps in the management of some insect pests. He also has ducks.  The excreta of ducks is liked by fish. He says that ducks eat husk and their excreta would be eaten by “jilebi” a particular variety of fish.  In this way he created  a food chain in the paddy eco system.He controls fish disease with neem and turmeric paste

Natural decoctions do it all

Hanumantaiah from Tirumalapur village in Koppal district also believes in optimal utilisation of  resources available to him. He stopped using chemical pesticides two years ago replacing them with a natural decoction prepared from cactus, lantana, pathenium and other aromatic plants.

He read about  pancha gavya in some magazines. He prepared a solution and experimented on tomato and sapota.The pancha gavya mix contains, Cow ghee ( 2kg), Curd (5kg), Cow milk (5 litres), Cowdung (5kg) & Cow urine (6 litres). He exposes the solution to sunlight and stir it for ten minutes. After ten days of decomposition,  decoction is diluted, filtered, & sprayed  on tomato crop. It stimulates  plant growth and effectively controls tomato leaf curl. He also uses parthenium solution to control pest.1 k.g of parthenium s boiled in 10 litres of water. The decoction is filtered after 12 hours and sprayed to control pest population.

Here is one of his creative dealing of the problem of sanitation that should be noted by village panchayats, and muncipalities. During paddy harvesting season i.e during  May & June and November & December many labourers from near by villages come and temporarily stay on his farm & return  to their villages after harvest. They use vacant space for nature call. Instead of cursing them for using his land for nature calls, he uses the night soil as fertiliser, mixing with  paddy straw and dried leaves.

Humain hair and nails repel pests!

 Vijaykumar is deeply committed for ecological balance. This young farmer owns  25 acres farm land near upcoming international at the outskirts of Bangalore. He has been withstanding temptation of selling this land which is worth crores of rupees despite of enormous pressures from politicians and businessmen alike.

He also banks on natural decoctions for various pest control and seed development.. He uses half dried leaves & human hair to develop a decoction for seed storing and development. Human hair and nails when fumigated in combination with dried  bark of neem tree also discourage pest attack.Further, he is  planting  mustard and marigold for growing cabbage and tomato respectively for the management of the niger  as a trap crop.

Trees for Trees rescue!

Sankara Narayana is from Tiptur an area known as coconut belt in Tumkur district of Karnataka. He has been practising organic agriculture for the last ten years. He believes that it has tremendously improved the quality and quantity of his yields.

In between coconut trees he planted Jackfrruit, mango and fenced his farm with Ziziphus and  wildcherry  trees. He feels the diversity of these trees on his farm protected his coconut trees from the mite which is all pervasive in Karnataka, especially the Tumkur district.

Banking on Horticulture

Yettinamani is a law graduate from Bellary district in Karnataha. He left the managerial position with Tungabadra Grameena Bank to become a full time  farmer. He used chemicals initially, but an article by Narayanareddy in a news paper has shown him a new way. Later on he visited Narayanareddy’s farm and studied his practices.

He followed it by reading a lot of books & journals for more understanding of agriculture, particularly about organic farming. He is now sufficiently metamorphosised from bank manager to  a confident farmer. He did not limit his awareness with himself but joined  hands with Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (a farmers organisation) in educating other farmers in the district to practice organic agriculture.

 His major crops are jasmine flowers and pomegranate fruits. After pruning pomegranate & jasmine the chopped biomass is used for mulching. He also uses herbs like neem, glucosidia, calotrosi and, giganteen on insecticides.

The traditional banana growers believe & suggest that banana stems should not be used as  mulching material. But he found encouraging results with the use of  banana stems for mulching. The mulching material coupled with water from the drip irrigation  decays  and  attract worms. It is called insitu vermi compost.  He uses the same technique in the production of flowers. The acidity released in the process helps speedier  production of flowers.

He found a safer way of colouring pomegranates which otherwise  involves the use of harmful chemicals. In this new and harmless way pomegranate are dipped in a decoction of stems and leaves of madigadda and flame of the forest trees to enhance heir colour.

Finding a New Platform

The other  innovative farmers who attended this workshop also have expertise in each different aspects of farming practices. Most of their innovative efforts  deal with various eco-friendly  ways of pest and fertiliser management. The major strengths of these innovations lie in the fact that they are simple, cost effective and don’t involve complex preparations.

The farmers regretted that a lot of innovations often remain unknown due to the apathy of the larger farmer community and some times also due to possessiveness of innovators. They  call up on the society to keep the eyes and ears open to the bounty of knowledge within, so that we need not depend on unnatural and unsustainable solutions to the problems in agriculture.

The farmers appreciated the efforts of AME & ILEIA for encouraging sustainable agriculture and suggested to promote a network of innovative farmers in each state with active participation of women and young farmers.

(This article is based on the report of a worksop of innovative farmers organised by AME during 2-3, April, 2000 and has inputs from K.S Prasad, Dr. M.S Rao, Nammalwar and Dr. S.T.S Reddy)


N Harikrishna


N0.368, III Phase, IV Cross

J.P Nagar, Bangalore-560078

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