Written By : suhasbhat
My name is Bagappa Chininti and I live in Anantapur district – the second-most drought prone region of the country. I work with Dharani, a collective of 1,050 families that grows organic food in a sustainable way on 3,500 acres of land there.
It is true that using chemical pesticides and non-organic fertilisers increased the yields tremendously initially. But this was only in the first couple of years, after which we had to use more and more to get the same yields.
We used it pretty blindly, without using masks, with bare hands etc. It is only now we realise that we were actually dealing with, touching, inhaling and perhaps ingesting poisonous stuff.
I myself lost lakhs twice… and was indebted to the tune of Rs 4 lakhs at one point of time. Small farmers like us really can’t cope with such losses and debts.
Can you imagine having spent months, toiling under the hot sun and rain, caring for these plants like our own children, very often leaving our own children unattended? And then the middle man, the trader who buys our produce comes and says that the market is down and we will get half of what we would normally get? Or that the transport people are on strike and we can’t take your harvest? We are desperate then… desperate to get the harvest off our hands.
With no storage facilities, we simply can’t afford to keep the harvest or wait. It will rot on us or just get spoilt. Once, I had a ready harvest of watermelons and there was a strike of transporters. The trader was refusing to buy my harvest. What to do?! I ended up telling him, “take it… take it at whatever price and go”.
These are times when I feel like crying… when my heart breaks. All that hard work, all that back-breaking effort of digging, hoeing, weeding, cutting, hefting… all we want to see is a decent return.
During this time, people from Dharani started talking with us about organic farming. It felt strange doing all the things which my father did but which I had forgotten over the years. You won’t believe it, but my chilli plants grew to almost 6 feet in height. I too couldn’t believe it, neither could my friends, relatives and other farmers. We harvested these plants 30 times! Some of these chillies we sold in the open market and some we sold to Dharani.
I hadn’t spent a penny on fertilisers or pesticides! This was really unheard of.
This kind of experience is not just mine. Other farmers in the sangham too had similar experiences. Yes, we are now convinced that there is another better and inexpensive method that not only brings about good yields but also improves the condition of the soil.
Dharani provides us a fixed market – a market that isn’t volatile or whimsical.
The price for the crops (except groundnut) is fixed during the crop-planning stage. So we know what we will get and how much we will get. We know that at the end of the harvest, the Dharani team will come, weigh our produce in front of us, pay us per kg. and not per lot, will not cheat and will pay us within a week.
Now other farmers vie to sell to Dharani. More and more farmers, especially small farmers, want to join the sangham. But Dharani has said clearly – ‘they can buy it ONLY if it is organically produced, if no chemicals have been used’.
So, slowly more and more farmers are willing to shift to organic methods.
Submitted By – Suhas Bhat
To know more about this initiative, contact [email protected]