We all know that farming is a gamble. It doesn’t assure a regular income. In spite of knowing this, people like Alladi Mahadevan have taken the risk of jumping into farming knowing fully well it’s a dangerous quicksand and have managed to keep afloat. Alladi left a high paying job in an MNC and turned into a full-time farmer. Not stopping with this, he conducts class for school children who visit his farm for a day. The children are taught the importance of growing food. They wade in the slugh and plant seeds in the fields. It’s a practical lesson they don’t forget. In his own words, Alladi tells us how he got into organic farming and what is needed today for a farmer to be successful.
It was in 1995 that my organic farming journey began. You wouldn’t believe that it was quite easy then to learn and understand organic farming. The objective was simple: “How do we produce clean green food?”
Our thinking was that if we brought good food to the table, it would take care of the world around us. We kept growing good food but never took back any income that would sustain our farm.
In 2010, when we were getting burnt out, we realised that we must change our practise. Our crops gave healthy and tasty food but we were nowhere near bringing our income close to our expenditure. Multi-cropping emerged as an option that changed our income and expenditure models. It’s a model that puts the real meaning of natural farming back into our farm space. This write up is aimed towards explaining the concept of multi-cropping.
An overview of our farm space
Farm space – 36 acres. Varieties – Greens, Vegetables, Fruits, Flowers, Herbs, Grains, Pulses, Green Manure, Timber, Model – Short Term (3 to 6 months), Mid Term (2 to 4 years) and Long Term (5 years and above)
Income Generation – Rs. 1 Lakh/acre in the 2nd year with iterative income growth to Rs.3 lakh per acre in the 5th year. Varieties – 100 in the first year and going up to 500+ in the 4th year
Basics of multi-cropping
What is multi-cropping? It is a simple practice of growing native varieties of vegetables, fruits, pulses, grains, herbs, green manure trees and greens on the same field.
It creates an ecosystem that allows natural interactions. This in turn brings down the cost of farming by 40% – 60%.
Variety Basket – A farmer is closer to the end consumer and this improves marketing practices for the farmer in the following ways.
Repeat customers – Variety can attract repeat customers for the products.
Sustainable income – Fluctuating prices can be offset with multiple varieties. Income is spread throughout the year and this improves the farmer’s cash flows.
Farm management – Deficiency, disease and insects are naturally managed. Biodiversity brings a balance in soil and microbial structures
within the field
What are native varieties?
Crops that are known to be locally consumed and have been a part of festivities can be considered as native varieties
How do we select varieties? – Focus on what is known to be consumed in the kitchen within the community around it. Research typically shows an average of 83 varieties are used by homes.
What is the cropping model? – Crop pattern should be short-term (3 months to 6months), mid-term (1 to 2 years) and long-term (4 years and above). This way income generation would see an iterative growth over a period of time.
Organic farming is not just about not using chemicals but being a part of nature and enjoying the balance it builds around us.
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