Suman Sangam A journey into an ecological farm

Suman Sangam is a song  that began in January 1996, when we purchased 17 acres of more or less barren land. There was not even a single tree which could provide us shade.  This land is about 10 km from Dharwad in Karnataka. We named it Suman Sangam, meaning Confluence of flowers and also Confluence of good minds. That is exactly what we want our forest-farm to become over time. By forest-farm, we mean what was once a big grazing land is now becoming a green patch of forest with an ever-increasing species of flora and fauna. We don’t have an exact plan or a blueprint for Suman Sangam. In fact, we never had one. It has been blossoming on its own in many different ways, frequently providing us pleasant surprises.

But, from the very beginning, we had certain very well thought out broad principles about our work and involvement in Suman Sangam. First and foremost, we decided to be as eco-friendly as possible in all our efforts,  operations on the land, while gradually making our own lifestyles as eco-friendly as possible. Secondly, from the very beginning, we have tried to use optimally the available natural resources. Thirdly, we have always tried our best to increase the diversity on the land. We have been trying agriculture, horticulture, a bit of forestry etc. We have also earmarked a portion of the land for our cattle to graze. All along, we have tried to be as natural and holistic in our approach.

Watershed management and water sources

Let us first look into the component of water. The land is on the edge of the Western Ghats with gentle slopes on three sides of the land, i.e., on the east, south and north. There is a downward slope towards the west. The southern border is actually a small hillock, enabling a bird’s eye view of the entire land.

This natural topography of the land has made the task of watershed management relatively easy. We have been able to harvest a lot of rainwater. In fact, when we purchased the land, the level of underground water was so high that water was available at a depth of six  feet. But the severe drought in the last four years has pushed the water levels further and further down. The first thing we did was to go in for contour bunding in the upper half of the land. This helped a lot in conserving rain water within our land.

In all, we now have seven sources of water. Firstly, we have the well, which is about 10 mts in diameter and about 12 mts deep. This well is located in the lowest part of the land. During the rainy season, it literally overflows. Apart from this well, we have five ponds on our land.

The first one is Sampige Honda which is about 10 mts x 20 mts and about 4 mts in depth. It holds water for almost  four  months after the rainy season. Then, there is “Maina Honda”, 15 mts by 5 mts and about 2 mts in depth. The third one is Raghuteerth—named after my late younger brother Raghuveer. This is a quadrangular pond, about 10 x 10 mts and 4 mts in depth. As we go down the slope, we have Kavali Kola. This pond is 30 x 30 mts and about 2 mts in depth. The largest of the ponds is the Bodhi Kere, stretching for about 100-120 mts and is about 4-5 mts in depth.

Lastly, there is a borewell on the lower aspect of Raghuteerth, dug up in March 2003 reluctantly, owing to the continuing drought. We struck water at a depth of 40 metres. We went drilling till a depth of 80 metres. We also built the recharging structure for the borewell at the very beginning. This summer, fearing the worst, we had proper pits dug for each and every tree – be it a fruit-bearing tree, a forest or timber plant or some wild shrub.  We have put in sufficient mulch for all these plants. As we still don’t have electricity on our farm, we use a diesel generator set of 7.5 KV and a 5 HP engine to lift water.


As far as soil is concerned, from the very beginning, we had decided to be as clean and as green as possible. Our ground rule is that there shall be no chemical fertilizers or harmful chemical pesticides on our land at any point of time. We continue to have plenty of earthworms of the native variety along with termites. They have been helping us make our soil more fertile over the years. As a result of the increasing biomass, the farmyard manure and extensive mulching for all trees, the fertility of the soil is continuously improving. Out of the total of 17 acres of land, nine acres is under  horticulture and timber or forest trees. Five acres is earmarked for cultivation of various crops like paddy, jowar, maize, ragi, tur dal, groundnut, bengal gram, beans, soyabean, horse gram etc. Two acres are taken up by the ponds, and another acre is earmarked for grazing by our cattle.


With reference to trees, from the very beginning, we decided that there shall be no monoculture in our farm.  We have retained as many original trees as possible and allowed them to grow again. Instead of barbed wire or electric fencing, we have a live fence made up of different varieties of trees. With respect to  horticulture, we have opted for dense and mixed plantation. So, unlike many other farms, our farm does not look like a geometrically patterned plantation. We realized that every tree is a naturally designed receptacle or a funnel of Mother Earth to catch the rain. Thus, we made well-designed pits for all trees to hold as much rainwater as possible. Also, we put in sufficient mulch in each pit, to reduce natural evaporation.

We can classify the trees in Suman Sangam into the following broad categories: live fence, flower-bearing trees, fruit-bearing trees, forest or timber trees and special trees. As a fence, we have bamboo, hibiscus, agava, acacia, subabul, cup and saucer, kavali, mullu harivaana, cactus and many other plants. The fruit trees are: mangoes – about 300 plants consisting of various varieties; about 100 sapota plants,  jackfruit, jamun, sitaphal, ramphal, hanumanphal, laxmanphal, wood-apple, chakkota, lemon of different varieties, papaya, anjur, coconut (about 100), Singapore cherry, West Indian cherry, kavali hannu, pineapple, cherry guava, amtekai, cashew, starfruit, butterfruit, breadfruit, jackfruit, etc. Apart from the seasonal flower-bearing plants, we  also have perennial flower trees like Bakul, hibiscus, etc. It goes without saying that we grow many different varieties of seasonal vegetables. I must also mention some special trees that are relatively uncommon in this part of Karnataka. We have eggfruit, travellers palm, rakta chandana, lokqwat, kumkuma, gauri (Gloriosa superba), litchi, beggars bowl (double coconut) gomukha badane, and, very specially, the baobab tree (Adansonia digitata), one of the longest living trees in the world, believed to be surviving for nearly five thousand years!

Our friends at Sangam

A mention about our friends at Suman Sangam. We have buffaloes, cows, cats and dogs. We also have chicken and fish in three ponds. The population and variety of butterflies is increasing. We also have wild rabbits, rats, snakes and peacocks, and the population and variety of birds is also definitely on the rise.

Now, as the tree cover has increased and availability of water has improved, the bird population has increased significantly. A friend of ours who is an avid bird watcher, counted as many as fifty different varieties of birds. Naturally, the seed spread by the birds is continuously on the rise.

Special features

Now let me mention some special features of our forest farm. We have a small house, built with the sun-dried bricks made on the land. Nearly six years ago, we transported and transplanted five fully grown coconut trees, each about twenty years old and 30 feet in height, and five big mango trees from Dharwad to our farm. Though this was more or less an experiment, gladly enough, we succeeded to a great extent.  All the coconut plants have survived. Three out of the five mango trees have survived and have been bearing fruits for us.

In the middle of the land, we have kept aside a 30×30 metre patch as a mini forest within the forest-farm.  In this patch, we have not allowed any human being or cattle to enter for the last 6 years. This has resulted in a very thick growth of plants in this patch.

Then, we have Kaj Mahal and Sheesh Mahal! These are the two toilet structures we built with discarded  I.V. fluid bottles from our hospital in Dharwad. Very recently, we started displaying sayings, poems and quotations about  environment, religion and humanity on different trees all over the farm. Obviously, Suman Sangam is not just a farm for us in the conventional sense. From the very beginning, we have tried to hold various kinds of activities there. Since last year, we have started celebrating a Sangam festival annually, during which we invite our friends and well-wishers for a day-long program. We have conducted a couple of workshops on the farm on several interesting topics.

Frequently, we take children of our school to Suman Sangam for picnics. We have enough water in Bodhi Kere to swim and a coracle, in which we often enjoy boating. Sangam is increasingly becoming a great place for meditation too.

Our  failures

Naturally, any venture of this kind is not without its own share of failures. I must make a special mention about bee-keeping. We have tried a couple of times to keep bees in as planned a fashion as possible, but failed. We have also not been successful in vermicomposting and making use of gobar bas plant constructed  four years ago. Though we realized the potential of sun energy and have a solar cooker there, we have not been able to convince our farmer friends to make consistent and proper use of the cooker.

Our successes and gains

Quite early into this journey, I realized that the returns of Suman Sangam cannot be quantified only in terms of money.

Suman Sangam has given us and is continuing to give us returns in many ways. It gives us clean food grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, eggs and fish – all free from harmful chemicals. Before our own eyes, over the last eight years, a small forest is coming up. Very importantly, Sangam has given us many new friends – people who have come to share their love of plants, of bees, of birds, of flowers, of environmental well-being, etc. The Sangam with its calm and quiet surroundings, enabled us to be  in perfect communion with Nature.

Before I conclude, I must confess that now our dear Suman Sangam is shaping us more than we are shaping it!

Dr. Sanjeev Kulkarni

Nagemallige, 19/2, Mahishi Road,

Malmaddi, Dharwad – 580 007, Karnataka


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