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Mandya sugar farmers go organic, reap a fortune

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ROLE MODEL: Ramesh Raju at his farm in Mandya district.
ROLE MODEL: Ramesh Raju at his farm in Mandya district.

R. Krishna Kumar

Under organic farming, farmers need not borrow money for inputs

This method makes optimum use of natural resources

The requirement of water is reduced considerably

MANDYA: In the sugar bowl of Karnataka where yield per acre is defined by the quantity of fertilizer ploughed into the field, a silent revolution is taking place that has turned the conventional wisdom upside down.

Roping in converts with each passing day as agriculture becomes more unsustainable, farmers are open to new ideas that has made cultivation not only remunerative but seems to be the only way out of the present crisis plaguing the farm sector.

And the new swagger of these farmers comes from their boast of not using any fertilizer or incurring any loan. For, over 500 farmers in the district have gone fully organic and what is more, have exploded another myth: that organic farming is not suitable for sugarcane cultivation.

Spurred by the success of Ramesh Raju’s experiments in agriculture without fertilizer or external inputs, Mandya — which is notorious for harbouring a feudal mind and is resistant to change — is witnessing a wave of organic farming that is slowly sweeping across the district.

And the protagonist of the sweeping change is Ramesh Raju who was a typical farmer till a few years ago, always in debt despite owning 10 acres of land irrigated by the Cauvery.

“I indulged in introspection and wondered why I was in debt despite all the hard work. My quest led me to Subhash Palekar’s method of zero-budget farming and took it up with gusto”, said Mr. Raju, who took up the family tradition of cultivation after completing the pre-university course.

“People were surprised at the concept and they called me a lunatic and admonished me. But I persisted and today they follow me,” said Mr. Raju whose non-governmental organisation Kamadhenu is spreading the concept of organic farming throughout Mandya and the State.

As a result of Kamadhenu’s efforts, there were over 500 farmers in Mandya district alone who have switched over to organic farming in the last few years and the momentum is building up.

Mr. Raju’s farm at Hadya in Mandya district is regular on the itinerary of agricultural scientists, government officials and NGOs interested in studying farming crisis. For, not only has he cultivated sugarcane without a gram of fertilizer but even water requirement is one-tenth of what is required under chemical farming.

“The quantity of water required for one acre under chemical farming is enough to irrigate 10 acres of land under organic methods,” said Mr. Raju.

While the cost has plummeted to near zero, the revenue and income has more than tripled and has turned agriculture into a lucrative proposition. “From hardly Rs. 1 lakh that I used to earn, my income has gone up to nearly Rs. 5 lakh as there is no expenditure on chemical manures and fertilizer, insecticides while there is saving on water used and the soil fertility has increased,” said Mr. Raju at his farm.

The beauty of the concept is regular income that accrues from multiple cropping. Along with sugarcane, he has cultivated horticultural crops, chilli, marigold, tomato, onion, black gram, and green gram each of which has a different harvesting season and hence income is assured throughout the year.

With sugarcane as the main crop, the yield has increased from 40 tonnes an acre to 45 tonnes an acre minus the external inputs all of which add to a bumper profit.

“There is not a single instance of an organic farmer committing suicide,” said Mr. Raju. Loans were raised by farmers for external inputs like fertilizer, seeds, insecticides and so on. But under organic farming, farmers depend on the natural resources and hence there was no need for a loan, he explained.

Kamadhenu, a non-governmental organisation in Mandya, has six research scholars studying and documenting the benefits of organic farming.

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