August 23rd, 2016
‘Animals aren’t treated any differently here. They are treated with as much dignity and respect as a human being deserves in our household.’
“I am the happiest when I work in the fields. Nothing gives me more joy than my farm bustling with life. Everybody should be able to buy good organic food at nominal rates no matter where they come from and where they belong. If we all chase money, then how will our lives improve? I don’t price my rice any differently. I don’t need to earn anything more than I require. I also make sure my workers are fed at least one meal a day. That way, they get to eat organic food everyday,” said Marullusiddappa S, a natural farmer residing in Nagarakatte.
His entire farm management system thrives on the fundamental concepts of integrated farming which delve into utilising agricultural production systems efficiently keeping in mind the principles of organic farming and natural science. The entire agro-ecosystem encompassing crop protection, animal husbandry, cattle herding and a sustained maintenance of nutrient cycle is closely interlinked with each other. There’s a holistic method to his approach one that results in both socioeconomic development and environmental protection.
“I am not entirely dependent on one particular mode of farming. This eliminates the possibility of suffering major losses. Mono-cropping isn’t reliable at all. With an integrated approach, if one medium fails, you can always rely on another. I make use of nature to produce food, fuel and even electricity. I have fitted my roof with solar panels that aids with heating water. Most of the light bulbs are powered through solar energy while gobar gas keeps the stoves lit at home. I would like to become completely self-sufficient and sustainable in the near future. I don’t have any formal education but I don’t need one to understand the importance of treating nature with kindness, of living in harmony with the earth,” he said urging us to step inside. As we settled in, he left the main door ajar and sat beside us.
Across the living room, stacks of rice were neatly piled on the eastern side. An old woman with silver streaks in her hair bent over examining the scattered grains in great detail. Her frail hands trembled. The entire room was shrouded in faint whiffs of uncooked rice.
“It’s all organic,” he said breaking our reverie, “I have had a decent harvest this time around but not better than last year. Rains have reduced and the weather is turning volatile by the year. We cant blame anyone but ourselves. We did this to ourselves. And, the only way we can bring about change is together.”
His mother listened to him glumly and occasionally nodded as she heard him speak. Her calloused fingers strummed a mindless tune on the wooden chair. Soon, her grip slackened as she stood up to attend to someone. Beneath the frailty of her physical features, lay the spirit of a survivor.
“Appaji passed away when I was in 10th grade. So, I had to take up the responsibility of running the household at a very young age. However, in reality, it was my mother who worked every single day to ensure that we never slept hungry. I would always accompany her to the fields. I learnt how to sow a seed and nurture a sapling to life from her. She has always been a sensitive human being and therefore it’d reflect in her work. She taught me how to use a weed cutter without harming the plant whilst ensuring their roots aren’t tampered with. Plants feel everything, she said. We don’t use any heavy machinery even today,” said the farmer as he instructed his son to prepare some tea. “She finds her solace in tending to plants,” he added.
Above us hung several photographs and certificates of honour bestowed upon him by the the state and central government. His progressive ideologies with respect to natural farming have been adopted by farmers and institutions all over the country. However, many in the region are still quite apprehensive about adopting traditional farming methodologies for they fear they might run into severe loss.
“I have complete faith on the earth. You have to trust nature. You need to give the land time to heal itself. You need to be mentally strong to take losses for the first few years. It takes three years to replenish the soil once it is free of chemical contamination. We cant just give up after trying for a few weeks. One can always start with a small patch of land. That’s what I did. I realised that excess usage of fertilisers and chemicals had destroyed the soil cover over the years. I couldn’t understand its character anymore. So, in 2005, I started making fundamental changes to my life and that included altering my perspective on farming. Agriculture has always been an integral part of my life and it is imperative I understand and respect the synergy of our co-existence with nature,” said Jagallurappa.
They had gone through it all, together. His mother and him. Some days, there was happiness. Some days, they dealt with loss. Then, there were days where every moment was a struggle. But they had each other. “Those were tough times,” he recalls setting his cup on the table. “Perhaps, our situation augmented the need to make changes in our existing practices. For the longest time, our home wreaked of pesticide and chemicals. I could smell them everywhere. I didn’t want to live like that anymore. Besides, the continuous rise in prices wasn’t benefitting our economic situation at all. And, that’s when I started improvising my existing techniques and adapting new technologies that would result in better yield and clean food. I wanted to do something that would not only benefit my family but farmers in general. How long would we consume food laced with toxic substances?” he asked.
His mother stood up once more. Her gait staggered but her steps didn’t falter. She moved steadily towards the heap as a villager walked into the hall. Ajji, they called her. And, she answered with a smile. “It’s the least I could do for us,” Marallusiddappa whispered, “It’s the least we deserved. Clean food. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for now, is it? If we need to bring about a massive transformation on a larger scale, we need to start with ourselves. That’s where we must find our beginning. Within ourselves.”
They battled their worst. Him and her. Long sepulchred in the dust of fading memories, were journeys that gave them hope, and at times tore them asunder. Some days were long, and nights even longer. There were moments where within their hearts everything fled, save hope. So, they strode along.
Marullusiddappa then decided to give us a quick tour of his farm. As he stood up, he darted a glance at the door. There was no one in sight. He told his son he’d be back and walked to the backyard beckoning us to follow him. Beside his house, lay a well-structured barn. A herd of cattle stood still against the stall feeding on fodder piled in trays before them. A watchful guard leaned impassively against the wall. Not once did they leave his sight. He sighed and bent down picking stray straws littered on the ground.
His face broke into a smile as he spotted Marullusiddappa walk towards him. “They are fed twice a day,” said the farmer pointing at his animals. “We usually give them a balanced nutrient mixture that consists of rice grains, maize, beaten rice and grass. Everything they require is grown on our farm. The barn is well-ventilated too. We have installed mosquito nets on their windows so that the animals can rest without any hassle. They are my family too. Animals aren’t treated any differently here. They are treated with as much dignity and respect as a human being deserves in our household,” he said with a hint of pride.
Dung cakes were stacked neatly in the stall, away from the cows and buffaloes. A pipe with numerous micro tubes ran on the ground that kept the cakes moist. A long shaft was then used to gather the pile.
Cattle dung is later transferred to a tiny cement structure connected to an underground storage tank through a pipe. Water is added to the tank thereby creating slurry which is then churned periodically. The resultant methane gas is fed through valves and pipes attached to the kitchen stove.
“The entire process is repeated twice a day. There’s enough manure generated for the entire farm every three months. Everything has a defined purpose here. Cow urine can also be sprayed as natural pesticide. Decomposing kitchen or vegetable waste comes in handy for vermicomposting. This particular organic compost is rich in nutrients and extremely beneficial for crop growth. I am convinced that small scale farmers can become completely sustainable and need not rely on chemicals for better yield. Whatever I earn from dairy farming is enough to run the entire household. I stopped fish farming a year ago owing to lack of electricity. There was nothing much I could do. However, it hasn’t had an adverse effect on my income,” he said.
In a corner, we spotted a manual grass cutter attached to a farm tractor. A tiny belt ran across its wheels to the other side thereby securing them in a stable position. Marullusiddappa designed the crude device himself in order to cut fairly large bundles of grass with great ease. Perhaps, it was this inquisitive nature that led him to mastering the art of natural farming years ago. Perhaps, it was circumstance that drove him to devising extraordinary techniques and machinery with whatever he was surrounded with. Nonetheless, in his heart lay the vigour of a scientist and the soul of a farmer. Like most inventors, he was driven by a poignant instinct that formed the core of his existence — curiosity.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to finish school. But that never stopped me from learning. Everything is integral to our existence. Once you look at all elements of nature as a unified entity, everything around you untangles. You will find all the answers around you. I still attend workshops and agricultural programmes conducted anywhere in the country. Anything that upholds sustainable living interests me,” he said taking long strides towards us, “I maintain a routine everyday and have been doing so religiously for the past decade or so. It is important to realise and understand who I am and what my purpose in life is. I will farm till I die. I believe that is my ultimate purpose — to serve the earth.”
He earns around Rs 1,800 per quintal of rice while his expenditure per acre varies anywhere between Rs 7,000 and Rs 8,000. In all, his integrated farmlands stretch over 16 acres.
We followed his tracks no matter where they led. His feet stalked a couple of yards down the lane when he turned to us and said, “Would you like to see my palm trees? My nursery is just around the corner.”
So, we drove towards those fields once again, the ones that stood hidden in plain sight. They rose against the cloudless sky. Still and silently scattered. The winds blew no more, that afternoon. Their furtive whispers had disappeared altogether. And, an unusual calm hung over the place.
An occasional tractor juddered past us making its way into farms nearby. “Take the right, up ahead. We can walk into the fields from there,” said Marullusiddappa.
Walking amidst a cluster of palm trees, he wobbled unsteadily towards a few saplings when he stopped to explain, “All the trees have a tiny pipe running around them. They are fitted with eight micro-tubes. Each tree requires around 200 litres of water.
Water is supplied and controlled through small valves which are attached to bigger ones near my house. Oil can be extracted from the fruits of this particular variety of palm trees. A healthy tree will have more fruits than flowers. If a tree receives less water, you will see a vast assemblage of brown flowers hanging in clusters,” he said pointing at a few trees.
Despite suffering from bouts of water scarcity, his fields thrived with life. He walked in and out of them with great ease. He was drawn to them like an artist to his easel. It almost felt as if he was meant to be there all along; as if he belonged here. He sought his solace in the sighs of rustling boughs. In the symphony of tangled roots…
We asked him if farmers in the area ever showed any interest to explore natural farming. He remained silent. His features were stoic, his face hard. “Yes. There have been many in the past but everyone is looking for instant results. No one wants to put in any effort towards farming. They refuse to work hard. They call me a mad man, sometimes. If we don’t develop a relationship with the soil, how else can we understand each other? If we don’t pay attention to our saplings, how will we keep them alive? Many of them gave up after a few months. ‘It’s too much work’, they said. ‘We don’t have the time’, they said. They spend whatever little they earn on alcohol. How then will farming improve? How will their lives improve? Nobody has any answers to these questions,” he said shrugging his shoulders.
Soon, we decided to leave since it was getting late. We bid our farewell to Marullusiddappa and his family. As we drove past the narrow passages where in a corner lived the farmer, we hoped we’d cross paths someday with the man who held hope in his heart when the world around him once crumbled. The man whose spirituality lay in the arms of the earth; whose divinity began and ended with farming. Perhaps, someday…
Submitted By Akshatha Shetty & Photos By Piyush Goswami