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.
|Bhagyambika and their hired farm labourer sowing
vegetable seeds. Photo credits- Rajiv Rathod
On the other hand, his income is as follows:-
- 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
- Other green veggies like drumstick/moringa: 500 rs per bed
|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.