A unique agricultural practice in harmony with nature in an arid zone - A farmer couple's efforts in Karnataka

I would like to share about Mr. Veerabhadrappa and his wife Ms. Sumangalamma who are doing number of experiments in agriculture in 80 acres of their land located in Bijekere village, Molakalmur Taluk, Chitradurga, district of Karnataka state. The farm is located 120 kms from Anantapur and 65 kms from Bellary, on the Bellary – Bangalore High way and just 30 kms from our field office at Rayadurg.

I came to know about this farmer about 4 years back and visited it twice, along with our staff members.  I was really surprised with the successful experiment in a village which hardly receives an average rainfall of 400 mm. I shared about this unique case of agriculture with some friends, but forgotten it in course of time.
In the District Sub Committee Meeting on NPM, (held on 7.1.2007) some members shared about their recent exposure visit to 14 acre farm of Mr. Bhaskar Save of Gujarat State. While listening to this case study Mr. Veerabhadrappa and Ms. Sumangalamma suddenly surfaced in my mind. I felt that their story is more relevant to desert prone areas like Anantapur than Mr. Bhaskar Save’s experiment.
Mr. Veerabhadrappa, a B.Sc Ag graduate of 1964 batch preferred to take up agriculture as his livelihood in spite of the suggestions of his brothers and well wishers not to be crazy and foolish to take life risk of experimenting/ gambling in agriculture in a severe drought prone area. He rejected all other ancestral properties and preferred dry land as his share. Everybody laughed at his life choice.
Since 40 years, both of them are living in their field itself and converted it into a model agriculture farm. Both of them believe in very simple life and works like laborers, even at the age of 65 years.  Initially he gave importance to restore the health of the land through many treatment measures such as mulching, earthen bunds, application of tank silt, natural manures, agriculture residues, vermi-compost etc.

He has also implemented all kinds of water conservation methods such as earthen bunds, gully checks, water bodies etc to prevent the rain water flowing out of his farm. As a result soil and water are fully conserved. He has also introduced micro irrigation system to minimize the usage of water for agriculture. As a result even today his 12 irrigation borewells are functional and there is water in 4 open wells out of 7, while most of the borewells of other adjacent farmers have dried up.
Today one can see an excellent combination of agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry and many other experiments in his farm. He is successfully growing coconuts, tamarind, mulberry, coffee, vanilla, drumsticks, banana, papaya etc. At the same time he is growing forest species like  sandal wood, teak, silver oak, date palm, subabul etc., most of which have  naturally grown. He is also promoting vermi-culture in a natural state. Honey bee rearing is also practiced.
He is following traditional practices, as well as selected modern innovations in agriculture. He believes that the farmers should have scientific approach but at the same time choose the technologies which are beneficial both to themselves and the nature. His dictum is ‘Don’t blindly follow either traditional or modern agriculture preachers or so called ‘gurus’’. According to him most of our so called great agriculture scientists never practiced agriculture and hence their knowledge is superficial and even dangerous at times.
There are many more things to know than I have explained in this brief note. I strongly feel that this farm is worth visiting to learn from the first hand experiences of Mr. Veerabhadrappa and Ms. Sumangalamma who never tried to come into lime light of name and fame.  

I have revisited the farm of Mr. Veerabhadrappa on 13.1.2007 along with Mr. Gopal, DPM, Anantapur and 3 other members of our Mass Education.

When we entered his farm I could not recognize him immediately. He was approaching us to welcome our team, but was looking like a laborer with his half pant (Knickers). We were about to tell him that we came to meet Mr. Veerabhadrappa, when he introduced himself as Veerabhadrappa. His work culture and simplicity strikes us like a bolt.

We interacted with him and went around his 90 acre farm from 10 am to 4.30 pm. Of course, we could not see the entire farm because it is vast in size and too many things to observe. We have learnt extremely interesting and unbelievable matters related to agriculture through discussions and also by looking at different crops and physical conditions in this farm. We have also learnt about his interesting ideas, his background, and the source of inspiration for commitment to agriculture.

Unfortunately, on that day we could not meet his wife, Ms. Sumangalamma, as she was out of station on that day. Her contribution is no less in converting an unproductive dry land into an ever green productive land. 

As long as we were inside the farm, we got the feeling that we were in some part of Kerala, because it was full of greenery with 2000 + coconut plants, 2000 + tamarind trees, hundreds of banana plants, forest species like sandal wood, teak, mulberry, etc. The entire soil was covered with dry green matter and was fully shaded.

Motivation from Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BSK):

Since his childhood Mr. Veerabhadrappa desired to become either a soldier or a farmer.  But when he grew up, he realized that he was too short to become a soldier. He chose to become a farmer after completing his B. Sc. Ag, despite opposition from all the family members.

Mr.  Veerabhadrappa and his wife Ms Sumangalamma have been active members of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BSK) since quite long. The BSK is a non political farmer’s organisation, which has its chapters in all the states. Committed to the cause of farmers, they have played active role in coordinating the activities of BSK at the District (Chitradurga), State (Karnataka) and South India level.

The BSK used to conduct number of trainings to the farmers at state, district and taluk to educate them on the problems related to agriculture. It used to introduce number of agriculture related new technologies, innovations such as mulberry, gobar gas, vermi-culture, composting etc. Many renowned scientists and progressive farmers used to give lectures and share their experiences in the field of agriculture.

Pioneer/Initiator of new agriculture technologies/ innovations:

He was motivated by these trainings and tried to experiment with the innovative technologies on his farm. He said he was the first farmer to have introduced mulberry, vermi-culture, gobar gas, solar light, micro irrigation system, artificial recharging of borewells etc. Just like any other pioneer, he faced several practical problems during the initial stages.

Don’t push a person who does not know how to swim into a well:

The advocates of new technologies develop them in their laboratories or Research Farms and try to introduce it through the farmers who are generally illiterate and lack sufficient knowledge or skill to handle new technologies. As a result many farmers burnt their fingers in the process of introducing the new technologies.

He said if you push a person who does not know how to swim into a well, to get back the precious stone fallen into it, he cannot return alive. He should be trained not only to swim, but also to dive into the deep waters, control his breath while searching for the stone and come back successfully. In the same manner the farmers should be sufficiently trained to handle the new innovations or technologies whether it is SRI, use of Azolla as Nitrogen fixer, Gobar Gas, Agriculture etc. These technologies should be sufficiently demonstrated in the field. The agriculture officers should give hand holding services, provide necessary equipment, facilitate, do lot of liaison work, follow up  until the experiment stage is finished and the farmers are confident enough to take forward the technology on their own.  

Mr. Veerabhadrappa said his case was different. He was a different type of person who voluntarily dared to jump into deep water though he did not know who to swim but used to fight back to come out of the troubled waters. He experimented with number of new agriculture innovations and in the process of trial and error lost money, but finally get the expertise to use them successfully. Then, many farmers who were keenly observing the experiment stage, start adopting new technologies.

Don’t teach parrot to mimic Rama, Rama……

“Teachings to mimic ‘RAMA RAMA’to a parrot is not enough. It has to be taught to escape from the cat when it attacks it. Otherwise it will become good foodstuff to the cat.  In the same manner the scientists should give comprehensive knowledge to the farmers to manage the crisis in the agriculture and adopt best coping strategies,” he said.

“The farming community should be clear enough to choose the right kind of suggestions best suited to his land and climatic conditions. Alcohol, warm clothes like suits, tie, non-vegetarian food etc are essential to the European conditions. But people living in the temperate countries need not blindly follow their practices and behaviors,” he opined.

He never hesitated to use modern innovations and technologies in his field. But he was conscious of choosing and using the right technologies suited to his climatic condition and soil. He says that ignoring modern innovations is meaningless. “It would be foolish to reject the polio drops because it is an alien innovation. In similar manner we can use the fertilizers if a particular land requires them in a correct proportion. Of course, natural manure is the best option if it is sufficiently available; but sometimes it is unavoidable to use the fertilizers.”

Mr. Veerabhadrappa suggested the following methods for soil and water resources:

Convert Agriculture Waste Materials into Manure: Lot of green matter (so called agriculture waste) is generated in the form of crop residues, weed plants. Normally farmers burn this green matter every year. They think by burning it, weeding problem can be reduced.  Mr. Veerabhadrappa never burnt any green matter but produced rich manure by adopting composting methods like mulching, vermi-culture, compost pits etc.

Contour bunds at every 50 feet: Normally, in the watershed area it is suggested that contour bunds should be laid at a distance of 150 feet to conserve both soil and water. But he laid bunds at a distance of 50 feet to convert his poor soil into a rich soil.

Tank silt is the best manure: He applied lot of tank silt to enrich his field, as it contains most of the essential 16 micro nutrients that are required by the crops.

Tank silt is abundantly and freely available in all most all the villages. But only few farmers apply it, that too for irrigated fields only. He said that it can be applied even to the dry lands in a right proportion.

Dairy, Gobar gas and vermi-culture: He has 36 upgraded local cows, through artificial insemination. He uses the dung to generate gobar gas (two units). The slurry generated from the gobar gas plants is used for vermi-culture.

Usage of Cattle Urine: Animal urine is diverted to a small tank from where it is pumped to the centralized water tank by 1 H.P Pump. The urine mixed water is given to the crops by micro irrigation system.

Live Fence to control Wind Erosion:
Apart from rainwater even the wind badly erodes the agriculture lands. So he has grown trees like bamboo, agave, subabul etc to create live fence around his agriculture land. The live fence, not only controls the wind erosion, but also protects the crops from the trespassing of cattle. It also provides green matter required for preparing natural manure and income in the long run by selling Agave (sisal) fiber, bamboo poles etc.

Micro Irrigation to 90 acres:

He is irrigating his entire farm by micro irrigation system. The water of all borewells and open wells is pumped into a huge centralized over head tank from where the water is supplied to plants through micro irrigation.

Using human fecal matter as natural manure as in China
“China is successfully using human fecal matter in agriculture since 50 years, hence sufficient organic matter is available to them. As a result Chinese farmers are producing record yields in all the crops,” he observed. “K. K. Express contains 50 bogies. Each bogie carries 72 passengers. Totally it carries about 1500 passengers in a single trip. In the same manner hundreds of trains carry thousands of passengers every day and night. One can imagine how much valuable fecal matter is being wasted on the railway lines which also pollutes the surrounding.” 

The combination of different crops grown and allied livelihood activities practiced by Mr. Veerabhadrappa are:

Agriculture CropsForest SpicesAllied Activities
CoconutSandal woodDairy
TamarindSilver OakVermi-Culture
MulberryTeakHoney bee culture
BananaBambooGobar Gas
Coffee plantationCustard Apple 
Vanilla production  

Periodical incomes in a sustained manner:
The farmers should plan to get regular incomes by growing different crops and allied agriculture activities as shown in the table below:

S. NoPeriod of IncomeActivities
1DailyMilk and other dairy products
2MonthlyMulberry, vermi-compost
3Once in 6 monthsCoconut plantation
4Once in a yearTamarind, Seetaphal
5Once in 10 -15 yearsSandal Wood, Teak, Silver Oak, Bamboo etc

Financial Returns:
One has to raise a child for about 20 or 25 years, after which he will start to earn. Similarly, after lot of interventions and hard work, his farm is now giving good returns. He said that he re-invested his agriculture earnings for several years. He invested about one crore rupees on his farm for the following activities:

  • In experimenting new technologies.
  • Purchasing 50 acres of land.
  • Drilling more than 50 bore wells.
  • Bringing water from 3 kms away and micro irrigation system.
  • Interest on the loans taken.

Now he earns approximately about Rs. 2400000/- per annum, from his 90 acre farm:

S. NoCropIncome
4Dairy and other crops/ activities800000

A new Light House for the farmers:

It is unfortunate that there is limited exposure to this practical story of this couple who have dedicated their entire life in experimenting in agriculture sector, in an arid region, with a hope to evolve sustainable models/practices.  There are many messages for the farmers of drought prone areas, to learn from this live example, at this historical moment, when agriculture is being treated as uneconomical or unviable sector with a little or stagnant productivity and annual growth rate. This kind is a kind of ‘light house’ which can show a correct path offers a new hope to make the dry land agriculture economically viable and ecologically sustainable.

Contact Details
K. Khasimpeera
Mass Education
D.No: 302, Dwarakamayee Apartments
2nd Cross, Maruthi Nagar – 515004
Anantapur – 515 004
Andhra Pradesh
Mobile: 09246867390
Email: Masseducation1980@gmail.com
Website: http://masseducationindia.org