If bad loans, crop failures and low yields hover like dark clouds over agriculture, organic farmers like Mavuram Mallikarjun Reddy are the silver lining. A native of Pedda Kurumapally village in Karimnagar district of Telangana, Mallikarjun is the only one from the State to receive the Jagjivan Ram Abhinav Kisan Puruskar from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). The award was given to him for cultivating different types of crops through organic farming.
A day after receiving the award in Delhi, Mallikarjun is back at his experiment ground: the farms. His wife Sandhya says the buzz of the past month is new to the family. “Many friends and relatives who chided his decision to quit his job and move back to the village are now appreciating his success. It feels happy to reap the benefits of hard work and innovation,” she says over a phone call.
The story began in 2014 when Mallikarjun, a graduate in B.Tech (Computer Science) and an employee of SemanticSpace Technologies quit his software job in Hyderabad. The decision was not too sudden. Most relatives and friends used to stay with his family in Hyderabad during hospital visits, and he would accompany them sometimes. “Hospitals were full of patients and doctors often spoke about the toxic effect of harmful chemicals in food and milk. It was alarming to see the way we are polluting ourselves and the environment.”
The last straw was the death of his friend’s daughter due to cancer. “I didn’t want toxins for my family and began the change,” says Mallikarjun.
How it started
Inspired by an episode of Aamir Khan’s talk show Satyameva Jayate and agriculturists Subhash Palekar and Rajiv Dixit, Mallikarjun decided to take the plunge.
Farming was not new to his family. He took over the 12 acres that his farmer-father and role model Laxma Reddy owned, and began ploughing a unique path — a semi-organic farm with paddy. Since the results were not as expected, he cultivated paddy in drip irrigation and then tried hybrid red gram farming. He then followed the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) farming methodology to increase the yield of rice.
He constantly enhances knowledge by following the farming innovations propelled by the Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University in Rajendranagar, on the outskirts of Hyderabad. He also won the best farmer award from the University. Now, he says, his organic farming brings him more returns than other farmers. If regular farming requires investment of ₹50,000 for 60 quintal paddy, Mallikarjun invests only ₹25,000 to get the output, with a gross revenue of ₹1,13,000. A major reasons for his ICAR award was his ability to invest less and get big returns.
Mallikarjun’s efforts in integrated farming, rainwater harvesting through farm ponds and open wells for increased ground water, spreading awareness among other farmers on the misuse of pesticide and stubble management have also been appreciated. “Stubble burning has a negative effect on one’s health and the environment too. I use waste decomposer, a bio-decomposer technique which is the result of 11 years of research by the agricultural university.”
Interestingly, Mallikarjun manages the fields single-handedly, without workers. “I am a one-man army,” he jokes. He follows a 12-hour work schedule — waking up at 4 am to feed sheep (nine), goats (21) and cows (three — Ongole, Ghir and Sahilwal) before going to the farm. His daughters delight in 600 fish that live in an open well in the fields. “Every day I record around 26,000 steps at the farm; I’ve lost six kilos after shifting to agriculture,” he laughs.
The techie-turned-farmer has also opened an organic shop in KPHB colony, where he sells produce of a group of farmers from his village. He explains, “organic farming sustains the environment. Small farmers have to start small to sustain the farming and their livelihoods too.”