Breast-fed babies or bottle-fed ones? Which is the healthier one? Organic farmer SR Sundararaman asks me. The farmer was in the city for a session on organic farming, organised by Bio Basics and On The Go. “Any nutrient that is artificially fed can never be a substitute to what is available naturally. The same principle applies to soil. It has to be nourished the natural way to get good yield in organic farming,” he declares.
Seventy-eight-year-old Sundararaman from Satyamangalam in Erode district is an award-winning organic farmer with over five decades of experience. For 30 years, he says he practised conventional farming before taking the organic path. “For the last 28 years, I grow turmeric, banana, tapioca, coconut and fodder crops. During the green revolution, I learnt a lot about conventional farming from my brother SR Ramakrishnan who worked in a fertilizer company. The lessons came in handy when I made the switch.”
He says going organic is inevitable as any other way is not sustainable. “Environmentalist S.N. Nagarajan predicted that there will be large scale land degradation from rampant use of fertilizers and pesticides; a spurt in diseases and a flourishing of hospitals.” Sundaraman says how once five ml pesticides was enough to control pests, now 60ml is required as the pests have become resistant.”
Sundararaman’s learnings from inorganic farming turned out to be a boon. “I looked for organic solutions. And found them in my gurus L. Narayana Reddy, a farmer from Karnataka and Dabholkar an expert in natural eco-culture and also a Math professor from Pune University. I also worked with Balakrishnan from Tanjore and Bhaskar Save of Maharashtra.”
The first step to a healthy crop is the soil, says Sundaraman quoting Dabholkar. “The top nine inches of soil should have microbes. The first step is to improve their numbers by adding plant or animal waste to the soil,” he explains. This can be done in a 200-day cycle of sowing and ploughing of mixed crops of grains, pulses, oil seeds, nitrogen-giving plants and spices. At the end of the cycle, 50 tonnes of biomass is added to the soil that becomes the food for microbes. “With nine inches of organic matter, what you get is fertile soil with better water retention and aeration qualities. Use farmyard manure as it contains a wealth of nutrients. All you need to ensure is that there is a healthy ecosystem for the microbes to thrive.”
Bring back the original bio-diversityof the soil, urges the organic farmer. “If you do, the crops will naturally develop resistance to disease and adapt themselves to unfavourable conditions.” Sundararaman dispels the myth that organic farming is suitable only for low-yielding native crops. “It is suitable for any high-yielding crop, be it paddy, sugarcane, grains, banana, turmeric or maize. For the last seven years, we have been exporting over 150 tonnes of organic turmeric. We are currently experimenting with moringa and curry leaves.”