My father used to cultivate very differently than we used to, or other farmers around do now. He used to bring a variety of leaves from the forests around and lay them under the cattle in the night. In the morning these leaves, well trampled by the cattle hooves, and mixed with their manure, used to be scattered in the field as fertilizer. He also used grow different crops together, ie. mixed cropping and also do rotational agriculture, i.e. grow different crops in different seasons.
He used to grow creeper groundnuts. Because of the nature of these nuts and the way they grew, it had to be ploughed to harvest. Half of these used to go into the ground and half used to be collected. With this deep ploughing, the soil used to get loose and soft and remained well-aerated and nourished. This deep ploughing also ensured that th good bacteria survived and the pests didn’t. These groundnuts used to be grown along with horsegrams, sadda, annumulu, castor, kandi etc. Because of this, the nitrogen in the soil used to get fixed regularly, and the soil remained healthy.
By 1982, however, the agricultural pattern changed. We started growing more and more groundnuts. But these groundnuts were bunched groundnuts and of hybrid variety. Slowly my father’s agri-practices started disappearing. It all funnily started with this educated guy who used to live in the village. He was the first one who started using chemicals in his fields. He got astounding results and fantastic yields. Seeing this, all of us to rushed towards chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
The second year, aspiring for more productivity, we brought more and more land under groundnut cultivation. But the per-acre yields were less this year. We used more chemicals, hoping it will boost the yields. You see, it was so easy to use. It didn’t need much manual labour.
But within 4-5 years the tide turned. The crops began harbouring pests and began getting diseased easily. To cope with the situation, we put more and more pesticides. With the deadly mix of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the soil itself started losing its health. Investments became very high. One by one we began selling our animals. To buy them again, we had to take loans. By and by we descended into a vicious debt cycle.
One year the crops failed completely. Since we were now growing only groundnuts, we had no food to eat. We had begun buying our food. We were spending Rs. 5000/- on food, 5000 on hybrid seeds, 5000 for cattle plus we had loans to be repaid. Our burdens had increased tremendously. It broke many a farmer’s back.
It was at this time that Timbaktu Collected had started promoting Thrift Societies. I took Rs. 2,000/- as my first loan, 2nd loan was Rs. 5,000 and the 3rd loan was Rs. 15,000. Most of this money went into buying animals or into meeting household expenses. With th 4th loan of Rs. 20,000 I bought goats. I looked after them diligently for 3 years and sold them for Rs.50,000/-. I sank a borewell on my land and started growing mango trees and began cultivating food grains. But I lost Rs.50,000 in the groundnut crop. The next crop also failed. By then I had debts upto Rs. 1,00,000/-. My situation was desperate.
In 2008, Timbaktu started talking about organic farming with 30 farmers in my village. I also joined this. There were 2 sanghams. We discussed our situation and felt we should change our farming methods and do agriculture the way our fathers did.
This is my 6th year of the change in farming methods. First year we used no chemical. Investments and expenses dropped. Soil became healthier.
In 2009, we got 2 cattle which we used extensively in organic farming. We got milk and manure from them. We sold calves twice for Rs.50,000/. I could pay off my debts.
Now we use different organic fertilizers and pesticides. We use the 5-leaves kashayam, garlic and chillie kashayam etc.
The birds which had disappeared during the chemical phase returned. They fed off the caterpillars and pests.
Now I too grow my crops organically. The yields are good, and the soil is healthy and thriving.