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Couple doing farming
On a March afternoon, a young couple in Tamil Nadu village was busy caring for plants at their farm. Seeing their farm which looks like a "jungle”, you will think as to why they are here amidst these plants when the whole country is indoors due to the pandemic.
Then a cheerful gentleman said “These plants are our annadata [food source], and this farm is our food basket - 100 percent pure and natural. We are anxious about the virus, but this entire area is our source of eternal serenity and life.”
Harivartha Prajeeth, a Pondicherry University postgraduate in Electronic Media and a well-paid ex-employee of a multinational company, chose to return to his hometown for farming. Later, he was accompanied by his wife, Dr. Mangayarkarasay Leela, an MBBS, popularly known as Dr. Manga. “It was a well-considered and prudent decision. It is really fulfilling to be in sync with nature and to raise awareness about natural food, natural farming, and healthy living,” adds Dr. Manga.
The art of ‘doing nothing'
Since 2017, the couple has been practicing "natural farming." Their ‘karmabhumi' [place of employment] has been their 3-acre farm in Dr. Manga's native village of Ramanathpurama in the Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu. The couple uses no fertiliser or pesticide on their farm since they follow Fukuoka's natural farming and permaculture methods. They sow in a broadcast pattern, believing that the seeds would carve their own path and develop naturally wherever they land. They find it easier to cultivate and manage indigenous types. The primary objective and activity of their farming has been to save traditional varieties of seeds.
“I planted watermelons when I originally took over this piece of land. Watermelon seeds that have been picked are considered to be impotent. As a result, we left a few harvested watermelons for the wild pigs in the field. The wild pigs ate the fruit and faeces were found in our yard and nearby fields. The next year, we discovered watermelon plants sprouting in various locations. Farmers in the surrounding region were astonished when they discovered this,” says Prajeeth.
They prefer mulching and producing a layer of top-soil instead of deep plowing by utilizing fallen green and dry leaves, followed by seed planting. Soil erosion was prevented, and much-needed nutrients for seed germination and plant growth were given. Many farmers have come to see them and learn about their farming techniques.
“Many of us have utilized their techniques, and they are not only cheap but also quite useful,” adds Sivaraman, a young farmer from the same village.
"We call it 'do-nothing farming,' and it works", Dr. Manga
Following the farm's operations, the couple enjoys seeing birds hop from one plant to the other. They thought this was a good strategy to boost soil fertility and seed multiplication. They've set aside a small section of the farm to serve as a natural habitat for birds and insects.
Prajeeth was first hesitant to discuss how they came to be interested in farming and natural farming, but after being gently persuaded by his wife, he adds, "The reason is personal." I was gravely ill, and both I and the doctors had given all hope. However, a miracle occurred, and I was able to recover. After being released from the hospital, I decided to do something new that would bring me close to nature while also providing me with eternal serenity. In 2015, I quit my well-paying job and moved into farming.”
But, why not traditional farming and why natural farming?
“I wanted to do something new and kept exploring alternatives, even though I was practicing organic farming,” he adds. I was extremely pleased after reading Masanobu Fukuoka's book, The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming. The concept of natural farming was inspirational in and of itself. I spoke to couple of my close friends about it, and the majority of them advised me against it. However, I was steadfast in my commitment, and in 2017, I began natural farming. There has been no turning back since then.”
Organic farming, according to the farmer couple, needs a lot of manpower and resources, which are sometimes difficult for small farmers to arrange, and there is currently no established market for organic products in the country that can guarantee farmers the right price. The couple's primary farming assumption was "minimum cost and maximum nutrition," and Fukuoka's permaculture approach was determined to be the most suitable.
Green gram, black gram, groundnut, millets, roselle, jackfruit, banana, coconut, guava, and vegetables are among the crops they cultivate. Because of its flavor, their guava crop is highly popular among the locals. During the season, they harvest around 40 kg of guava every other day. “We sold coconut, pumpkin, jackfruits, and bananas for Rs.20000 in April, in addition to guava. Overall, farming brings in Rs.40000 to Rs.45000 per month,” informs Prajeeth.
Their ‘do nothing farming' has also created modest yet sustainable business opportunities. They create baskets of handmade groundnut balls, ragi balls, roselle jam, seasonal fruits and vegetables, tea bags, and various herbs that are "fresh-from-the-farm."
These baskets are sold to customers through their partner organizations at a price ranging from Rs.300 to Rs.500 each basket, depending on the products and season. Their fresh-from-farm baskets have made their way into households in Chennai and Pondicherry. “Our products have a natural flavor, and their shelf life is longer than that of chemical-using farms,” Dr. Manga adds.
“We don't calculate profits,” Dr Manga says when asked about their profits. We don't use any outside inputs and offer all of our products at a fair price”
To increase production, they've partnered with Auroville's Gratitude Farm Private Limited, which provides organic vegetables, fruits, and other food products throughout Tamil Nadu and the neighboring states. “We've already connected seven additional farmers in this region, and we've begun delivering them products. We named our company ‘farmer cloud' and it is doing very well, despite the fact that we have just made a beginning” Prajeeth said.
“After visiting their farm once, I have become an ardent admirer of their farming style and a satisfied customer,” Subhalaxmi, a school teacher in one of Chennai's senior secondary schools, says. Their organically cultivated fruits have distinct flavors and are also effortlessly digestible.”
As more people become interested in their model, they have begun to train youth in their farming practices. Their field sessions draw a large crowd and generate a lot of interest. Farmers from neighboring districts have begun to visit their farms. More than 500 youth have received training thus far.
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