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Trees as rich farm resources

Leaf fall from trees serve as mulch
Leaf fall from trees serve as mulch

Narendra’s farm in Beluru, a small village in Karnataka is a farm rich in crop diversity. He grows more than 27 crops on his farm which is little more than an acre. Among these, trees occupy a major portion of his land.

Narendra has been practicing tree based farming since three decades. One can find varieties of trees on his farm. In the upper portion of the farm, he has planted mango trees. On the remaining land, there are around 980 arecanut trees. As intercrops, he has raised 100 nutmeg trees, 350 banana plants, 15 clove and cardamom plants. He has used arecanut trees to trail creepers. Around 350creepers of pepper and beetle vines grow with the support of trees. In between these creepers and spices, tubers like ginger, turmeric and elephant yam, locally called as suvarna gedde are grown.

Narendra adopts low external input methods on his farm using the natural resources on his farm to the extent possible in a sustainable way. For instance, he has followed a unique pattern in planting the trees so that all the trees benefit from good sunlight and freeflow of air. He has planted trees in a ‘zig zag’ pattern leaving a distance of 9 feet in between plants. The interspaces are used for raising plants like nutmeg, clove, cardamom, coffee, and banana. ‘By experience I adopted this technique. It gives the required shade and light to the crops’, says Narendra.

Narendra also uses organic liquid manure from the bio-digester for the entire farm. He dilutes the liquid manure with water and applies it to the farm through drip irrigation and sprinkler. He learnt this technique by practice. He feels these methods help in reducing labour, time and wastage of compost.

Trees have many benefits

Narendra never expects income from each tree. He says ‘Trees are not only the source of fruits but can also supplement manorial needs’.

The leaves fallen from the trees will be converted in to compost thereby improving soil fertility. Besides, Narendra procures dry leaves (biomass) from Soppina Betta and near by forest in summer. He mulches the dry leaves six inches thick on the entire farm. This also adds to the cooling effect in the farm. The leaves gradually get converted to compost. ‘When I use these dry leaves in my farm, it controls wilt disease (called soragu roga locally) in pepper. Due to mulching the ants, earthworms and microbes increase, says Narendra.

Narendra on his farm full of trees
Narendra on his farm full of trees

He harvests the tubers only for his kitchen requirement. Rest of the tubers are left in the field. ‘These tubers increase soil micro nutrients and nitrogen improving soil fertility. As the tubers grow the soil also becomes porous enabling better water percolation into the soil. This helps in keeping the root zone of surrounding trees and plants moist’ says Narendra.

Till this day Narendra doesn’t evaluate the yield specifically. While he is happy with the increase in yield, quality, taste and weight of the fruits and nuts, he feels he has gained much more by practicing intercropping and recycling of resources.

He sells spices, banana and arecanut in the local markets. He sells nutmeg and pepper in Bangalore, Mangalore and Sirsi markets. Beetle leaves are bought by the laborers He doesn’t sell vegetables, tubers, greens and grains. ‘These are grown only for home purposes’ says Narendra’s wife.

Farm as a learning center

Narendra has a passion for documenting details about his farm, the trees, their characteristics and the quantity and quality of outputs. He observes every arecanut plant, notes the characteristics of the plant and enters the data’s in the note book. He has numbered each tree. Every year he records the number of bunches and the grade/quality of each bunch in his register. By this record keeping he sees many uses. Firstly he can estimate the exact yield from his farm, even before it is harvested. The harvest in terms of grade and type (variety) is also known before hand, which helpes him in better marketing. Most importantly, Narendra uses his documentation task as a tool for his learning. Through his record he knows which tree is yielding and which is not. This helps him in identifying the trees which have some problem, so that he attends to those trees.

Documenting both success and failures equally, Narendra says ‘I use recording as a tool for decision making and as a means for learning’.

S Rama
Freelance Journalist,
No. 6/32, ‘Kanchana Nilaya’
2nd D Main, 60 feet road, RMV 2nd Stage
Bhoopasandra, Bangalore – 560094.
Mobile: 9008475899
E-mail: olavevismaya@gmail.com