Creative Natural Farmers Rake in Profit Through Vegetable Production and Cooperative

photo credits- Rajiv Rathod

June 2017, Nelamangla, Karnataka: Kumaraswamy and his wife Bhaghyambika from Nellamangla have together set up a profitable multilayer Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) vegetable farm. They market their produce through their 250 member organic farmers cooperative which supplies more than 50 organic shops in Bangalore. This combination of ZBNF and the cooperative Kumaraswamy says have solved the two key problems faced by farmers – high cost of production and lack of access to markets- and have made him a very happy farmer.

photo credits- Rajiv Rathod

They don’t waste a spot on their 2-acre farm growing up to 70 varieties of vegetables. 100 raised beds cover each acre of land. They use the centre of the bed to grow greens like spinach, dill, fenugreek with intercrops like chillies, tomato, or brinjal. The underground is used for root vegetables like beet or potato, and the airspace is used by climbers like bottle gourd. Trees like moringa or gliricidia are planted on the edges of the beds- every dimension is covered by their vegetables both above and below ground.

Originally from Mandya, they leased two acres in Nelamangla.  They have a total of 2.5 acres, the half-acre for growing grains and millets for household consumption, the rest for vegetable production. Kumaraswamy is a graduate in Earth sciences, always fascinated by the science and study of soil and plants. “I do so much research on my own farm, have been for the last ten years. It’s important to ask questions, ”Kumaraswamy says.

He first learned about ZBNF by attending Subhash Palekar’s training camps. Palekar is the innovator of the toolkit of ZBNF methods and its main “guru”. Kumaraswamy was inspired by the 5 layer orchard model of Palekar, and tried to apply similar principles to his vegetable plots. “I’ve attended many of Palekar’s camps- in Kudalsangama, in Suttur, in Hasan and in Mysore. I was a chemical farmer before meeting Palekar. My father was farming in the traditional way but the government really pushed us to practice high yielding farming, so I shifted to chemicals and hybrids. I made some serious losses.”

A newly planted bed

Earlier he practiced large-scale monoculture banana farming. He had 15000 banana trees at one point. Prices were good for a couple of years but they crashed one year and he wasn’t able to recover the high investments and suffered a major set back.  This ZBNF model is much safer he says- it is diverse which is why it provides regular income and it is good for health. There is very good demand for organically grown vegetables in Bangalore city.

He shows us his marvelous vegetable plots. There are 12 plants in each bed- a different combination of plants each time. For example one bed had bottle guard and bitter guards as a climbers on the egdes of the bed, marigold on the edges as a pest control, coriander with chilly as intercrop, beetroot underground, drum stick /moringa on the one edge, radish in between two beds.

Kumaraswamy demonstrating
a wheel hoe weeder
photo credits- Rajiv Rathod
Another bed had fenugreek, tomato as an intercrop, kol greens on the side, ridge guard as the creeper and potato as the root. On another bed he has amaranthus, red brinjal, long brinjal, beets.
Every week he gets a fresh batch of vegetables. All the plants, including the gliricidia and drumsticks/moringa on the edges of the farm provide a constant source of income. “500 Rs per week from the moringa leaves and pods,” he exclaims enthusiastically.
They hire two laborers  – a couple whose children were running about, playing in the farm. Bhagyambika also contributes her labour – sowing seeds when we visited. “One acre can be farmed by our family itself, we don’t really need much labor,” he says.
When we ask him about the economics of his farm, his face lights up. He breaks into detailed accounting to tell us about his high profits. His expenses are 12,000 Rupees for his workers and 3000 Rupees for seeds. He saves some seeds but still has to purchase. His total expenses per month are around 15,000 Rupees.
Bhagyambika and their hired farm labourer sowing
vegetable seeds. Photo credits- Rajiv Rathod

On the other hand, his income is as follows:-

Per bed income
    •          Income from bunches of greens: 50 bunches per bed at Rs 10 a bundle= 500 Rs per bed
    •       Intercrops like chilly and tomato: 2 kg per plant at 50 plants per bed so 100 kg per bed at 20 Rs minimum rate=2000 Rs minimum
    •      Root veggies: 200 plants, 25 kg total at about 20 per kilo= 500 Rs per bed
    •      Climbers: 12 plants,  about 25 kg total, gives him about 500 Rs per bed 
All women workers of the cooperative
sort onions
  •      Other green veggies like drumstick/moringa: 500 rs per bed
Per bed he earns a minimum of 4000 Rs over 4 months
1 acre has 100 beds= 4 lakh rupees for 4 months
They plant 3 crop cycles per year on each bed= 12 lakhs a year for each acre, and 24 lakh for 2 acres.
They own just one cow- which they say supplies enough dung and urine for their farm operations and also gives milk.
Kumaraswamy with the coordinator of the cooperative

Finally, we walk over to the storage space of their farmer’s cooperative – Shivganga organic farming society, a ten-year-old cooperative. Membership here has been key for him to access the organic market of Bangalore. Their group supplies about a 1000 bunches of greens per week to shops in Bangalore. They have their own truck for transportation and have removed the middle-man in their dealings with the retailers. The society has about 250 members, all organic producers. While some are certified, Kumaraswamy as a zero budget farmer is not certified and doesn’t want to take that route. They have quality control field officers hired by the society to keep a check on farmers practices. They meet once a month to take key decisions. Farmers have a buy in share. All the cooperatives office work is done by an all woman staff.

– by Ashlesha Khadse, Amrita Bhoomi

10 thoughts

  1. ತುಂಬಾ ಸಂತಸವಾಯಿತು. ಕೃಷಿ ಮಹಿಳೆಯನ್ನು ಆರ್ತಿಕವಾಗಿ ಬೆಳೆಸಿದ ಕುಮಾರಸ್ವಾಮಿ ಮತ್ತು ಶ್ರೀಮತಿ ಭಾಗ್ಯಂಬಿಕಾ ಅವರ ಸಂಪರ್ಕ ಸಂಖ್ಯೆ ನೀಡಿದರೆ ಬಹಳಷ್ಟು ರೈತರು ಬೆಳೆಯಲು ಸಹಾಯವಾಗುತ್ರದೆ.

  2. This is amizing, even Indian government & ICAR not even thinking sustainable agriculture in Indian specific, instead of follow, cooperate,encarage,support the western multinational company's , that why farmers suicides

  3. Can we get detailed plan for one acre I.e. what is the size of bed and which vegetables at what distance between them . information will be valuable for us to start this model at our farm land Pl.

  4. Please a humble request to you, will you please stop using the word 'Organic' as you, yourself are mentioning about ZBNF type of farming of Shri Subhash Palekarji, also be kind enough to change your societies name please remove the word 'Organic' from it. Please, it will help us all to understand the vast difference between the way two different methods of 'Organic farming' and 'Zero Budget Natural Farming'.

  5. Please share his contact details and the location of the farm as I am planning to visit next weekend. 8197777266 is my contact details.

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