20 Quintals of Rice in 3/4th of an Acre per year, Naturally!

As always, I’m so very impressed by ICRA (Institute for Cultural and Resarch Association) and their bi-monthly (once in 2 months) regional magazine Sahaja Saaguvali which is doing a tremendous job in working with small organic farmers and everytime they fish out some amazing farmer and his work. Looking at the work that they have done so far, I can only say that each and every natural/organic farmer who have been doing farming under the umbrella of ICRA, and if they claim to be sustainable to an extent, major credit goes to ICRA. This time, one of their article took me to a farmer practising natural farming and growing rice, 20 quintals in two seasons in 3/4th of an acre. Yes, you heard it right, 20 quintals in a year in 3/4th of an acre and his name is Mr Chame Gowda.

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Mr Chamegowda, showing the green manure crop Daincha sprouted

A brief History: Mr Chame Gowda son of Mr Javarai gowda hails from Mandya. Due to his excellency, Sir M Vishweshwavaraiah the KRS dam was built during 1920 and Mandya received the dam water by 1940’s. Then, Chame gowda’s dad used to grow paddy and Sugarcane, and of course there were no use of any chemicals or pesticides then and it was called conventional farming, and frankly it feels so absurd to term chemical farming as conventional farming now a days, huh!. His father used to grow different varieties of paddy, namely Rathna choodi, Haalubbalu, Cheenapeni, 701, Bangara sanna, Coimbatore sanna etc. All these were the local varieties and were 5 month crops or more unlike today. Mr Chame Gowda recalls its taste even today and mentions that the current rice is nowhere close to the old traditional varieties in comparison to taste and health. All these varieties were grown till 60’s, after two successive droughts between 62-64, and with the advent or chemical farming, we lost all these traditional varieties says Mr Chame Gowda. As others, Mr Chame Gowda and family also got accustomed to chemical farming. After the demise of his father, he along with his brothers continued the tradition of farming. Mr Chame Gowda worked in a government job in parallel to farming, but since he was keen on farming, he quit the government job and continued farming.

Mr Chame Gowda and his three brothers got the farm divided amongst them and Chame Gowda got his share of an Acre of which 3/4th acre is land for paddy and rest had coconut trees. During the tenure of growing for over 20 years, the yeild got decreased every year and the amount of chemical fertilizers used increased and it came to a stage where it was no longer sustainable. Mr Chame Gowda, tried his hand in organic farming, by adding vermi compost and other compost such as Agri gold etc and tried to grow, this was also costly and not sustainable. Finally, he handed over his portion of the land to his brother and took up the cloth merchant’s profession. He continued in this business for around 15 years (until 2004), after which he was forced to close down due to lack of space for setting up his shop/business. If he was not forced to close down his business, we probably might not have seen Mr Chame Gowda as a Natural Farmer. So, if you want to find Mr Chame Gowda in his village, you need to ask people for Cloth merchant, else there are many Chame Gowda’s in his village :).

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Mr Chamegowda in conversation

Natural Farming: Mr Chame Gowday says – Since I’d given up on farming during my earlier days itself, I had no interest in continuing the chemical farming and after I closed down my business in 2004 I used to wander around without knowing what to adapt as my next profession. One day, one of my friend approached me and told me that there is another farmer who practices Natural farming and he only uses cow dung and cow urine and nothing else and he has turned farming into a profitable profession. This person was Mr Bannur Krishnappa. Reluctantly I visited his farm and got to know a bit about the techniques but again was not completely convinced in taking it up. I decided to attend worksops of Mr Subhash Palekar. I attended the first session of Subhash Palekar’s workshop in Mysore. During the first workshop I was completely confused :(. The scientists from agriculture university preach that there is nothing in the soil, so all the amendments i.e., fertilizers should be brought from outside, but Mr Palekar was telling the opposite, everything exists in the soil except for Nitrogen, so you only will have to fix nitrogen to the soil to grow. He gave example of forest. I was terribly confused. I decided to attend another session few months later to get a deeper understanding.

After the workshop in Mysore, I attended the workshops in Bangalore, Mandya, Pandavapura and Tumkur. Mr Palekar, in the 4 day workshop,  used to explain the philosophy of Natural farming for the first 2 days and the technology for the next two days. He used to give examples of how forests sustain themselves without tilling, without external inputs (fertilizers, pesticides etc). He used to explain 5 elements necessary for plant growth (called them as Pancha bootha) i.e., Light, Air, Sky, Earth and Water. Some friends suggested me to go through “One straw revolution” by Mr Masanabu Fukuoka. I purchased and went through, I still couldn’t grasp the essence. It was at the 6th workshop in Arasikere I started getting some idea about Natural Farming. In order to make sure that I understood the philosophy and technology, I attended the 7th workshop at Davanagere to ensure that I understood the concept fully. Now, I was kind of convinced and ready to try my luck in Natural Farming. So I almost spent 2 years from 2004 to 2006, understanding the concept of Natural Farming and then decided to give it a try.

My stint on Natural Farming: I got my land back from my brother who was into chemical farming and started my stint on Farming using philosophy and techniques of Natural Farming. Some of the main principles of Natural farming are a) The land is not supposed to be tilled b) No external inputs to be provided (except for Jeevamrutha) c) Containing weeds with the main crop and d) No pesticides. After I got the land, I sowed the green manure crop called Daincha. The other green manure crops are Sunhemp, horsegram etc. But since I have a lot of water, Daincha can sustain water compared to the other two and hence I sowed Daincha as a green manure crop. Initially, I prepared jeevamrutha (more about Jeevamrutha here – http://www.palekarzerobudgetspiritualfarming.org/Jiwamrita.aspx ) and supplied it to the field along with water.

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Mr Chamegowda showing the Daincha sprouts in his farm.

The Daincha grew to about 3-4 feet in a matter of 40-50 days. Instead of cutting and ploughing it back into the land as everyone does, I use the bullocks with an instrument to bend them back to the ground and supply water so that they soak in the water for about 6-7 days. In this period they get decayed and blend with the soil. This green manure improves the fertility of the soil and increases the microbial activity. The microbes are the ones which are essential for any farm and these are the ones that provide nutrients to the plants in the way the plants need. There are millions of microbes in each and every sqare feet of land, which today is getting eroded by the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides, he says. My first crop was the paddy variety called “Rathnachoodi”. I transplanted the seedlings and took care of watering it regularly. I got a yeild of 20 quintals paddy. Finally, I was happy and everything happened as per my calculation. This is when I decided “Natural Farming” is the way for achieving sustainability.

Many of them are concerned about the pests  and diseases occuring on the crop and hence spray loads of pesticides to avoid them. I have never ever sprayed pesticides till date. In the natural farming technique we allow the beneficial insects to take care of these harmful insects. Whenever I see any sucking insect on my crop, I see that with in few hours the beneficial insects appear. The best example that I see in my farm is, as soon as I see the sucking pests, I see the spider web everywhere. With in a matter of few hours and days, all the insects are gone. In chemical farming, when you spray the pesticide, you will kill all these beneficial insects too, he adds.

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Mr Chamegowda in his farm where he has put back the straw of paddy back to the land 

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After the initial success of growing “Rathnachoodi” variety, Mr Chamegowda grew other varieties such as  Gowri Sanna, Chinna ponni, Salem Sanna, Rajamudi etc. Recently, he got the seeds of HMT (a variety of rice developed by a farmer in Orissa) and grew it. He harvested about 20 quintals of paddy in June. The funda is, you need to understand the concept and principles of Natural farming, says Mr Chame Gowda. During his conversation, he mentioned about the essence of 5 elements (Panchabootha – Light, air, water, earth and sky) and amount of constituents required  by the plants to grow and how they get recycled. To illustrate this, he recommended to experiment the following.

Try and cut around 100kg the Green Straw (ex: Paddi, Ragi or any other crop) grown on the land. Allow them to dry for about a fortnight. The 100kg of green straw would have lost 78% the moisture and would have reduced to 22kg. So, 78% of moisture (water) goes back to nature. Take the remaining straw and put it on fire. The smoke that is emitted out of the straw is connected to the element air. The light that you see from the fire is connected to the actual light. Finally there is around 1.5kg of ash that remains, this is the amount of nutrients that is consumed from the soil and this is attributed to the element earth. I was curious about the 5th element i.e., the sky and asked him what is the contribution of the sky. He mentioned, the sky element should be used duriing planting i.e., full moon day is when the earth is a lot more cooler and is the ideal time for sowing the crop etc. More aligned towards the concepts of bio-dynamic farming. Though he may not technically prove it, the fact that he was able to co-relate the 5 elements and how they help in the growth of plants and how they go back to nature (closing the loop) felt interesting to me 🙂

Mr Chamegowda today grows paddy in 2 seasons per year. Each cycle is for 4.5 months. In between these two cycles he grows green manure crop i.e., Daincha. Once he harvests the paddy, after removing the grains, he adds the straw back to the land and he sows the green manure crop. He is very ardent follower of fukuoka and he says, for anyone to succeed in this technique of natural farming, one needs to understand the philosophy and the concpet behind it. he and a group of friends (around 8-10 of them) practice natural farming today and they predominantly grow paddy and sugarcane.

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Spreading the straw back on the land

Taking notes and words of wisdom: In our latest visit to his farm along with our mentor at IIMB and friends, we now see the standing crop of Paddy. This man has so much to offer, huh, I honestly feel and I am a minnow in this vast area of Agriculture. Here are some of the pics of Paddy crop. Mr Chame Gowda also has made the habit of writing down notes whenever he attends the seminars. Interesting thing is, he writes it down the way he understands. A sneak peak into the notes reveals much more than what we see him as a person. For example, he says “Farmers have a lot of problems, and the reason for all this is pure exploitation. When we are born, we are born with some personality and we leave this world with a personality. In between this life and death, how do we acquire and improve our personality is what matters in life. Important thing to note is that the middleman are exploiting both the farmers and the consumers”. I requested him if I can have a look, he mentioned you can, but it is his asset and wouldn’t let anyone borrow it, and that by in itself speaks about this man.

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Social Life: At the end, it is not easy to lead a good/decent social life if you are practising anything other than chemical farming in todays world, he painfully says. I’ve gone through such a turmoil in my social life that I was almost was deserted by my family for practising different technique of farming and I was pressurized from various different sources to let go of it. But I stuck to following my principles with a lot of determination says Mr Chame Gowda. He also recalls the amount of trouble that was caused by the villagers to make him quit natural farming. This (Natural farming) is one of the reason he has very little or no friends in his village. Whenever he passes by in the village, the villagers mock him with passing comments such as “This guy thinks he is a big agriculture scientist”, ” Ha ha, this guy wants to grow unconventional, let’s see what will he achieve” etc. He also narrated couple of instances where he had to fight/avoid them.

Water: All of the farms in the village gets the water from the KRS dam. It works in a way that there is a lake in the village, that gets filled up and then the water flows through the channels to all the farms. Some villagers (including some leaders in the village) got together and did not release water to my farm. The only reason was that I was not following the way like everyone else did. It almost reached the stage of violence. Finally I had to go to police station after which the issue was sorted out. But in the meantime, I did not recieve water for 6 months.

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The Stream next to his farm

Cow dung and Cow Urine: During the initial days I used to make Jeevamrutha. But I did not have any cows. But I had a neighbour who had few cows and I used to buy/trade Cow dung from him. The cow urine from his cattle shed used to flow into the drain. I used a bucket which I placed near the drain at 12 in the night and by 5 a.m in the morning the bucket used to get filled up. So, as early as 5 a.m I used to carry them to the farm to avoid the taunts and mocking from the villagers. But this helped me prepare panchagavya during the initial years, he mentions.

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The Containers he used in earlier years to prepare jeevamrutha

His opinion on chemical farming is that it is not sustainable and the agriculture scientists know it too. Many a times they do not have answers to the questions asked by the farmers, but they give some reasons and brush it aside. According to the Agriculture scientists, the expectation is the farmer should always be in his land and work like a donkey. All their plan substantiate this. But after venturing into Natural farming, I have a lot of free  time. The busy times are during sowing/transplanting and harvesting, which is 15 days initially for sowing/transplanting and 15 days for harvesting. Rest of the time I just need to water the farm. So, I keep visiting different farms, meet my friends and spend a lot of time to read, write and spend time for myself. According to him, this is all possible due to Natural Farming.

Market: During initial days, I faced a lot of problems in selling my produce. There were no takers and I struggled finding markets for the first 3 years. After that, I slowly built contacts and got to know some trusted people who wanted to buy rice which was grown natural/organic. Now, Me along with my friends sell our produce. We help each other in visiting farms and also marketing and selling our produce.

Polishing: According to Mr Chame Gowda, there are 7 layers of bran in the rice when it is de-husked from paddy. All these are removed when the rice gets polished. Most amount of nutrients and fibers are present in the bran. But now-a-days, unfortunately everybody wants polished rice which has only the carbohydrate content and which is one of the reasons for increase in diabetes. He usually prefers to sell the unpolished rice to the customers, but at times due to the requirements from customers, he gets the rice semi polished or polished. But he generally recommends to consume the unpolished rice. There are so many articles on comparison on polished vs unpolished rice and here’s one FYI. (http://www.vegkitchen.com/tips/10-reasons-why-brown-rice-is-the-healthy-choice/).

In conclusion,this is a view into the life of a natural farmer, just imagine how the life of many farmers can be changed if they decided to adapt natural farming. Hope we can learn and support them in this beautiful endeavor.

At the end, it’s a win win situation for us as human beings and the nature and one has to remember that we are here because of nature and not nature because of us. On a final note,  “I don’t want to protect the environment, I want to create a world where environment doesn’t need protection” – Unknown. If all our actions lead to what is written in this quote, I would say we should be least worried about our and our children’s future. Thanks for your time 🙂

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Salem Sanna – a variety of rice.

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