"We both worked together. We started with Rs 3,500, and in just four months, we have a yield of 6.35 quintals of sugar-free rice which has fetched us Rs 50,000," say the young couple, Bhosle Sanjeev (28) and Rekha (26) who are ushering a more natural way of farming on some stretches of Kavval forest at Dongargaon, Adilabad district.
Dongargaon is a tiny village, which falls in the Indravelli mandal, and has a population of less than 1,000. The primary sustenance of its people is agriculture. And until 2013, Sanjeevâ€™s farming pratices resembled his neighbours â€“ using chemical pesticides and buying standard seeds from seed shops. However, over time, Sanjeev, who is educated till class 10, came to the conclusion the effort and risk of these methods of farming were not yielding corresponding results.
So, in the summer of 2013, he decided to stop using chemicals pesticides and boosters, and looked for local ways to source his farming supplies. "I started sourcing seeds locally instead of buying from seed shops. Except tractor rent and labour wages, our cultivation now requires less investment because we use more local supplies and innovation," Sanjeev says.
After initial challenges, Sanjeev was able to learn how to prepare pesticides using locally sourced natural ingredients. He also learnt to make boosters which promote crop growth and yield like panchagavya, jeevamrutha and dashapatri kashayam (a liquid derived 10 different forest tree leaves), and neem liquid.
"In the beginning we used to do less organic farming. But after getting in touch with Ekalavya Foundation, they helped us excel in techniques and nuances of crop management and soil management," shares Sanjeev, who stays with Rekha and their four daughters in a small house in the middle of their three-acre farm land.
(Sanjeev with pesticides being prepared using locally sourced natural ingredients)
Ekalavya is an NGO that works with marginalised communities in 24 districts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in the fields of education, health, livelihoods and agriculture activities, environment. An initiative of Eklavyaâ€™s called Sendriya Mitra, promotes organic farming and aims to bring 50,000 acres of land under organic farming.
Sanjeev's and Rekhaâ€™s last crop, sugar-free rice, is a variety which has low sugar and protein content. It is widely preferred by sugar and diabetic patients who are advised to avoid sugar-rich food in their diet. Eklavya helped him and seven other farmers market their produce as well. As a result, the sugar-free rice, which he cultivated on an acre of land, was sold at Rs 80 per kg fetching him nearly Rs 50,000. In the other two acres, he grew onions and peanuts with less than Rs 8,000 initial investment, and earned over Rs 55,000 upon sale.
(Rekha and Sanjeev at Ekalavya Foundation's site, Lingapur)
This has also helped Sanjeev safeguard against losses too. He reveals that though his onion crop was sold at a lower price, it was not very heavy on him financially because their initial investment into the cultivation was lower as compared to routine farming.
In fact, he is also intends to buy a pair of oxen in order to reduce their tractor charges.
When asked about irrigation, Sanjeev, who has a borewell says, "We have a drip system to ensure that there is no wastage of water. We distribute the water as per the requirement of crops."
Rekha, who keeps as busy as Sanjeev, says that most of her day goes in tending to their crops. "We work together, and sometimes, we call for labour if we need help. This type of farming is lucrative and less risky and we are able to eat the same foods we grow. Except for the occasional cough and cold, there have been no major health problems for us or our kids."
Sanjeev feels good about being able to maintain the soil health as well his own and his familyâ€™s, as he no longer uses chemical herbicides and pesticides in his field. In fact, due to the improved soil health, he is able cultivate different crops on his land. His half acre crop of pigeon peas and soya beans are almost ready for harvest, he quips. And the couple plan to cultivate more mixed vegetables in the time to come, including vine plants like cucumber, bitter gourd, cluster beans and ridge gourd.
The Eklavya Foundation, which has been assisted Sanjeev and other farmers, see potential in Sanjeev, said Ravinder Jadhav, a representative. Sanjeev is a promising farmer and he has been designated as a resource person to train other farmers to take up the organic and sustainable practices, Ravinder tells TNM.