How a farm in Visakhapatnam is popularising natural farming techniques

Ongole bulls, native cows, the intermittent fights of country chickens, sunshine yellow butterflies and the peaty smell of fresh dung... that’s Shankar and Padma Lingala’s farm for you.

Shankar, despite being a city boy is an integral part of the Rythu Mitra group, where a team of farmers is bringing back natural farming techniques. An IT engineer, Shankar quit his corporate job in Hyderabad about four years ago to shift to his home-town in Visakhapatnam to be closer to his parents. His wife Padma, a post-graduate in Pharmacy from Hyderabad, joined him and soon the couple adopted natural farming practices in their farm in Kothavalasa about 30 kilometres from Visakhapatnam.

How a farm in Visakhapatnam is popularising natural farming techniques

Laws of Nature

Natural farming is a system where the laws of Nature are applied to agricultural practices. In the first year, he spent about ₹8 lakh and ended up incurring heavy losses. “The main hurdle was market mediators who buy produce at a cheaper cost from farmers and sell it at a much higher rate in city markets. There was a huge gap between consumer demand and the farmers’ reach. I realised the only way out was to break this chain,” says Shankar.

How a farm in Visakhapatnam is popularising natural farming techniques

In 2017, he joined hands with like-minded individuals to form the Rythu Mitra group with the aim of promoting natural farming techniques, and help farmers market their produce. Today, about 125 farmers from the districts of Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam are part of Rythu Mitra, and have been trained by Shankar in natural farming techniques.

Stating that he finds farming more challenging than a corporate job because it requires a variety of skills, Shankar says that to be successful, one has to be patient. “This is where most farmers give up. When you are shifting from chemical-based farming to natural farming, the pollution of the soil has to be reversed. We have to plan according to season and rain updates. To get good produce with natural farming, it takes a year or two,” he says, adding “Every day is a learning experience for me.”

How a farm in Visakhapatnam is popularising natural farming techniques

Shankar today manages two farms in Visakhapatnam (Kothavalasa and Basavapalem) and one in Karnataka. Prior to the pandemic, he ferried the farm produce in a van to the city once a week to sell it. But this is no longer viable, he says. Now, he sells produce from the three farms and stock he gets from other farmers of his group through the Rythu Mitra app, launched earlier this year, which is delivered to customers’ doorsteps.

In addition to vegetables, Rythu Mitra also sells wood-pressed coconut, sesame and groundnut oil, hand-pounded rice varieties, millet powders and grains, manure and natural pesticides made with neem and other products.

Model of sustainability

Basavapalem is a model farm for sustainable cultivation. It has 250 hens, 38 country cows, a nursery, two wood-pressed oil machines and seamless extents of cultivation where 14 varieties of vegetables, two types of millets and three varieties of fruits are grown. “This year has been tough due to the heavy rains. We lost a big portion of our crops just before the harvest,” he says. The farm has five biogas plants that meet their fuel requirements. The rich manure produced as by-product is used for crops.

How a farm in Visakhapatnam is popularising natural farming techniques

The crop plantations is done scientifically to address issues of pests as well as the nutrient requirements of the crop. For instance, thick patches of guava plantations are interspersed with green gram. “Green gram fixes the biological nitrogen, so it can grow as a green manure crop and this works well for guava,” explains Padma, who assists Shankar in the farming.

In another part of the farm, there are rows of ladies finger plantations with alternating rows of flat beans, broad beans and leafy vegetables. “Each plant attracts a different kind of pest. This method of plantation helps us in effective management of pests,” Padma adds.

What is natural farming?
  • Since ancient times, the farmers of India were known to have practised Nature-friendly farming systems and practices such as mixed farming, mixed cropping and crop rotation.
  • The technique eliminates the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and improves soil health.

The fields have yellow flashes of marigold among the greens. “The marigolds act as trap crop, which are grown alongside the main crop to attract insects so as to avoid damage to the main crop,” says Shankar.

Natural farming understands the importance of earthworms in the farm. “Nothing else can nourish the earth the way they do. This is the ancient science of the soil, which we are revisiting to improve the soil and quality of cultivation,” says Shankar.

More birds and bees

He adds, “As a farmer we must not poison the land that feeds us and so many others. But, that’s what we do when we use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Now, I see such a difference in my farm and the quality of produce.”

These practices have changed the micro-climate of the area. There are more birds as well as insects that provide natural assistance in dealing with pest issues. The farms are also a few degrees cooler than the surrounding areas.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 7:01:41 AM |

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