Shri Narayana Reddy is a legendary organic farmer and is one of the most sought after resource on ecological agriculture.
As a boy, Mr. Reddy ran away from his parents’ home and lived and worked for years in cities. After he inherited a small piece of land in 1972, just outside Bangalore, he decided to start farming. The soil is sandy loam and the climate in the area around Bangalore (1000-1200 m above sea level) is a temperate tropical climate. Because the soil of the land Mr. Reddy inherited was depleted and bank loans were only available for chemical farmers, he was a 100% chemical farmer in the first years. In fact, he never wanted to be a chemical farmer but was forced to it by his surroundings. For three consecutive years he was elected as the most progressive farmer in the region. However, he did not make any profit! Due to high expenses for tractor ploughing, fertilisers and pesticides, net returns remained very limited. After Mr. Reddy received some magazines on organic farming in 1975 from a friend, he started to convert his farm to ecological agriculture. He planted trees and drilled a well of 200 feet depth. It took Mr. Reddy eight years to change his chemical farm into an ecological farm. In the beginning output was less but costs were also less. After four years, original yield levels were retained just by using organic fertilisers. The net returns increased, since the costs of inputs diminished drastically.
It is Mr. Reddy\’s opinion that a healthy farm should be based as much as possible upon a self-sustaining system, hardly dependent on external inputs. Now, the farm produces all the rood for the family and provides in the family\’s need for cash. Diversity on the farm is very high. There is a maximum utilisation of land. He has planted permanent fruit crops like guava, sapote, mango, coconuts and lemon neatly arranged on his fields. In between his coconuts one acre of mulberry is interplanted for the production of silk worms. In between the mulberries, tomatoes and onions are interplanted. The main cash earners in order of importance are:
– mulberry/silk; – bananas; – fruits, mainly guava.
Moth eggs are bought from a laboratory. The larvae are reared on mulberry leaves. One month later the pupae are sold. The mulberry trees are also the major fodder for the livestock. They eat the leaves and stems that are not tender enough for the larvae, they also eat the larvae’s leftovers. Larval manure is very rich in nitrogen and is used in compost.
Bananas and coconuts
The bananas are interplanted with the coconut palms and cardamom. The banana crop is highly profitable, mainly because instead of the Robusta variety, a local variety is planted. The local variety has the following advantages:
- establishment of the crop is cheaper because suckers can be obtained free;
- maintenance of the crop is cheaper because the variety is resistant to nematodes;
- the bananas are sweeter and thus are more expensive.
For coconut, also a local variety is planted instead of a hybrid:
- mother palms are 120 years old and still productive whereas hybrids have shorter lives;
- hybrids are only good for tender nut production and not for copra production.
Being a very smart farmer, Mr. Reddy observes market fluctuations and cultural traditions such as festivities for his products. He says that in his orchard he starves the plants to the point of dying as regards manuring and watering during a few months. Then, at a chosen point in time he starts manuring and pruning them for early blossoming. Thus, his products reach the market ahead of his colleague farmers.
Mr. Reddy has allotted one acre for his paddy and plants twice a year. The rice production is enough for his own consumption and it is even possible to sell some bags. Corn, finger millet and watermelon are simultaneously planted in another one and a half-acre plot, with watermelon as the main crop. Corn acts as ground cover and at the same time for fodder until the melon creeps all throughout the area. When farmers in Karnataka (150 km away) suffered from drought in 1986, he (as some fellow farmers) sent a part of his fodder to them as an act of social support. After three crops (usually two cereals and one pulse) a green manure crop is planted. In this area Crotalaria juncea and Sesbania aculeata are often used as green manuring crops. The crop is either ploughed in or used as a mulch. Also Napier grass, Leucaena and Gliricidia are planted along the irrigation bunds to use the irrigation water soaking in the bunds, to provide fodder and to prevent the spreading of weeds. Even though the green manure crop is sometimes ploughed in, Mr. Reddy regards ploughing as a waste of both animal and human energy. Ploughing one acre of land equals walking 66 km! So he favours minimum tillage.
Mr. Reddy keeps soil fertility up with the application of compost. A tractor load of chicken manure is bought every four months and partly used for fertilising the bananas. The chicken manure is watered and kept in a pit before use. Every two weeks, rabbit manure is applied to weak bananas. All other crops are fertilised with compost. The compost is made of tomato stubble, dried grasses, chicken manure and cow dung. After four months of composting it is ready and mature. Mr. Reddy still uses 10% of fertiliser in his farm. He hopes that within a few years no commercial fertilisers will be needed anymore.
Ground water out of the well of 200 feet deep is used for irrigation. Because of problems with electricity supply during the day, a water tank is being established. The reservoir can be filled during the night. At the same time it serves as a fishpond. The water tank is built on a high point so irrigation can be done through gravity during the day.
Pests and diseases are mainly prevented through rotation and the use of local, resistant varieties. Some examples are:
- local banana varieties are nematode resistant;
- tagetes, for flower production, are part of the crop rotation;
- a solanaceae crop is planted on the same field only once in three years.
Mr. Reddy usually handpicks insects in his crops, drowns them in water and feeds them to his chickens. He also uses biosprays like neem leaves, mint, wood ashes and tobacco leaves but he prefers handpicking. If there is any outbreak of pest, soapy water is used and if the outbreak is serious, wood ash and kerosene are mixed in soapy water.
Mr. Reddy is not only a crop-oriented man but is also engaged in animal husbandry. There are 2 bullocks for transport and ploughing and 8 cows. The cows give an average of 6 to 8 litres of milk per day per cow. He started with local breeds, which have been improved by artificial insemination with Danish and Jersey breeds. The cows are not dehorned because the horns are thought to fix cosmic powers from the atmosphere which benefit the constitution of the cows. The main fodder is mulberry and fodder grasses. He does not feed his animals with concentrates. A cow stable is built for shelter at night. Dried grasses and straw are spread on the stable floor to catch urine and dung which all is used in composting. There are 3 rabbits, which multiply to 200 or more within a year. The rabbits are mainly red on mulberry and weeds and produce 6-7 kg very rich manure every 15 days.
Cooking is done with firewood produced on the farm (coconut, guava, mulberry, Leucaena and Gliricidia). In future however, Mr. Reddy wants to introduce biogas. Thus the manure would be used more efficiently and the firewood could be sold at a higher price as there is a severe shortage in the region.
The net income of Mr. Reddy is higher than that of the average farmer in his area. For the next years he expects a net income which is still higher. Other farmers in his area now also adopt some of his ecological practices. An average of 50 farmers visits the farm every month. According to Mr. Reddy, within 10 years, 80% of the small farmers in his region will not use chemical fertilisers anymore. Ecological farming to Mr. Reddy and his family is not just a source of livelihood; it is a way of life.
This article is based on reports of participants of the Agriculture, Man and Ecology course on ecological farming in Pondicherry, India. During the course the farm of Mr. Reddy is visited. With acknowledgement to Celia Valerio, Enn Ugang, Wilfredo Balneg, Kalimullah Mhd., Ramanayake Gunaratne and others.
L Narayana Reddy
Srinivasapura, (near) Marelanahalli,
Hanabe Post-561 203
Bangalore Rural District,
Mobile: 9242950017, 9620588974