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Agroecology – Towards climate resilient food systems

 Ranchitha Kumaran and Bhaskarabhatta Joshi 

Apart from conserving ecosystem, adopting agro-ecological practices has a potential to generate income. Even if 50% of farmers in a village adopt sustainable agriculture, it could be a major breakthrough in the rural economy. It is time to consciously invest towards climate resilient agro-ecological food systems, that promote resource recycling, while protecting the agro-ecosystems.

Mahadevgowda uses sticky trap for pest control

I visited Shagoti village of Gadag district in Karnataka. Entering into the village, all I could observe is a complete silence in the mud road of village which lead me to a place where I noticed a big gathering in front of a small building. Men and women of the village gathered there and were involved in some serious discussion. The discussion was about lending a threshing machine in auction. The confidence for taking the machine was less among the people due to monsoon failure. It is obvious that, rainfall decides the destiny of marginal farmer’s life being uncertain because of consecutive droughts since 3 years.

However, Mahadevgowda, a farmer, came forward to take the machine in auction quoting better price for a tenure of one year. While other members were reluctant to take the machine, he took it because continuous drought did not affect his farm much as he followed agro ecology as a mandate of farming. The confidence exhibited by Mahadevgowda interested me to approach him to understand how he could address the issue of drought while other farmers were struggling to do so.

I understood that, the gathering is a General Body Meeting of the Village Association named, “Shagoti Grama Raitha Sangha”, promoted by Reliance Foundation. From the initial interactions with Mahadevgowda,  I learnt that he converted his farm from conventional agriculture to sustainable agriculture, with the support of Village Association, in a period of 4 years. While other farmers struggled to get average produce from farm, he was able to get double the production and served as a role model for other farmers in the village.

The journey

Mahadevgowda worked as labourer for many years to earn a living since there was no sufficient income from his farm. Later he switched to farming. His initial years was very tough as he did only mono-cropping of groundnut in his entire farm land of 3 acres. He was applying fertilisers like any other farmer did. Rs.25000/year is what he earned which was not sufficient to run his family and meet the medical expenses of his daughter who is suffering from health issues.

Even though inorganic chemical fertilizers gave better production in initial years, the production kept on decreasing while demanding more inputs to give same amount of production which he got earlier. Moreover, he learnt that application of fertilisers also led to increase in atmospheric carbon that affected environment. The nitrogen fertilizers release nitrous oxide, the most potent greenhouse gas. The water in his well was not sufficient to irrigate his farm and the entire crop dried out. At the same time, he observed few healthy saplings growing in a corner of his farm, where he generally throws agro-waste and stores farm yard manure. The sprouted seeds served as the sign of positivity. Agro waste acted as natural mulch and saved the seeds from drying out.

The year 2013 was a turning point in his life. He visited some orchard farms and also attended training on nursery establishment organised by the Village Association in which he is an active member. His interest in practicing sustainable agriculture increased as he visited dry land farms of successful farmers. Understanding his interest, the Village Association supported him financially and technically. He established a nursery and also promoted agro-horticulture in his farm. Presently he has 70 Mango, 200 Teak on the border, 200 Sapota, 20 Lemon, 50 Cashew nut, 10 Papaya, 600 Banana, 2 Guava, 2 Fig, 5 Dates, 10 Arecanut, 25 Coconut, 70 Glyricidia and more than 500 plants of Curry leaves plants in his 2 acres of irrigated land. Besides these, he also grows vegetables and fodder grass in the all the free spaces of the farm. “I always feel that I should offer at least two type of fruits when someone visits my home at any time in the year. Everything we grow here is organic. It not only helps us to be healthy, but also keeps our environment safe.” These are the proud words of the farmer which shows that he is not only keen in cultivating his own food, but also keeps eye on safeguarding ecology.

He substituted inorganic inputs through composting, crop rotation, cover crops, trap crops, integrated pest management and increased usage of farm yard manure. They not only increased the organic matter, but also helped in capturing maximum carbon from the atmosphere. The increased carbon storage increased soil fertility and nitrogen fixation. Crop diversification reduced the risk in farming. Adoption of eco-friendly practices served as a hub for pollinators and also kept a check on deforestation.

Mahadevgowda practices intercropping, nursery establishment, vegetable cultivation, mulching, composting, efficient irrigation, and also manure management through bio-gas digester. He also has vermi-compost units and 2 azolla units. This approach helped him to establish a circular economic model that involves re-cycling, reuse and combining resources to reduce dependency on external inputs and cope up with the climate change. He optimally utilizes groundwater and also ensured drinking water supply for his family through Roof Rain Water Harvesting System.

Diversity on farm gives multiple benefits

His fruit trees already started production from which he harvests and sells that gives enormous profits. He recycles the biomass from trees as material for vermi-compost pits. He has two vermicompost pits. With the use of vermicompost, the moisture retention has been very good which can be clearly seen by the presence of earthworms wherever he digs in his farm. This has improved the soil structure of his farm significantly. He is able to take 3 cycles and harvest 3 quintals each from each vermi-compost model which altogether gives him 18 quintals of vermi-compost in a year. He regularly uses Jeevamrut (organic formulation).

He also grows fish in his renovated well, which is expected to provide ample harvest from next year. The marigold flowers not only trap attention, but also attract a variety of bees and bugs, which play a major role in completing the ecological cycle. After continuous efforts of three years, his farm is now a hub of nature which attracts not only visitors’ from several places to learn sustainable agriculture, but also birds and natural pollinators that keeps the environment safe and healthy. “Even a bee needs its space to live in. When it fails, one could easily measure the extent of adverse impact that we created in environment which ultimately affects us through climate change”, says Mahadevgowda. The ambience in his farm shows healthy atmosphere.

Mahadevgowda dedicates his full time to farming, and is now earning more than 2 lakh per annum (Table 1). Amidst three consecutive years of drought in the district, his farm serves as a model of agro-ecological farming system and also for resource recycling on the farm. Inspired by him, other members of the Village Association started adopting sustainable agriculture practices. Apart from conserving ecosystem, adopting agro-ecological practices has a potential to generate remuneration of Rs. 3 crore, if at least 50% of farmers in the village adopt sustainable agriculture. This could be a major breakthrough in the rural economy. Thus, it is time to consciously invest towards climate resilient agro-ecological food systems, so that the increased production and food security does not come at the expense of environment sustainability.

Table 1-Income expenditure analysis

S No Particular Area (acre)& Harvest Income(Rs) Expenditure(Rs) Total Profit (Rs)
2014-15 2015-16 2014-15 2015-16 2014-15 2015-16 2014-15 2015-16
1 Okra 0.5 0.25 10000 15000 3000 3000 7000 12000
2 Cluster Bean 0.25 0.5 8000 15000 2500 5000 5500 10000
3 Tomato 0.5 0.5 20000 60000 5000 10000 15000 50000
4 Chilli 0.25 0.12 7000 5000 2500 2000 4500 3000
5 Cucumber 0.5 0.5 25000 20000 5000 5000 20000 15000
6 Ridge Gourd 0.07 0.25 5000 7000 2000 2000 3000 5000
7 Onion for seed 0.5 0.5 60000 90000 18000 20000 42000 70000
8 Curry Leaf NA 10 Qtl 6000 20000 6000 20000
9 Fodder

(Root sucker)

NA NA 2000 2000
10 Fodder

for grass

NA 72 Qtl 36500 36000
11 Sapota 0 3 Qtl 6000 6000
12 Banana 600 plants 600 plants 150000 32000 30000 88000
  Total 141500 317000

Ranchitha Kumaran & Bhaskarabhatta Joshi

Reliance Foundation

RCP, Project Office, 1st floor

Ghansoli, Navi Mumbai- 400701

Email: ranchitha.kumaran@reliancefoundation.org