Sunday, September 13, 2015

Long gap & back!

It’s been quite a while I documented my thoughts. When a friend asked why there’s a gap I casually said my computer was broken but after that when I looked at my last post it’s over 1.75 years!! definitely computer wasn’t broken for so long! It’s not that there was nothing to write, but last 1.75 years have been so hectic, I didn’t realize how quick these months moved!

First there was Vyshnavi II coming back. That’s just after my last post in Jan 2014, then few rotten deals, then some maturity to stick on to Swathi and develop instead of standing on 2 boats at the same time! Though it was a costly affair we have left that behind us and focused all our energy in Swathi!

As we have learnt a great deal in this period, Swathi also has grown and changed a lot. Added many more plants, few of them started feeding us, few have surprised us with their survival capacity, and while others have taught us they are better off without us! Field crops being tried for the first time! lots of physical work has gone in along with planning for long term requirements.

Apart from the development of Swathi and learning stuff, 2014/2015 has been a year of reunions! Met some of my ‘old’ school friends after very many years! Also made some new friends on FB which are surprisingly forging ahead strongly unlike most FB ‘friends’(?) Lots of farmer friends, lots of new farm enthusiasts, many more FB farmers, who even though don’t’ grow much or hesitant to jump into water, feed us through good information about farming, thus helping us cut down our time of I Net.

Lots of new ideas have been looked into on marketing our produce, generating continuous income, conserving the ever depleting resources, mechanization etc.

While that’s been pretty much what was happening around Swathi, my farmer friends were staring at drought back in 2014! Though we lost quite a bit of rain, the coastal areas had enough rain to provide us with water and power. But the situation this year has been so grim that though we got some water from "Lakshmana Thirtha" river, we are short by good 40-60% average rainfall. Power situation is very very poor and seeing this summer through, looks a daunting task!

Looking at the loss of crops around Swathi, it’s a tough to ignore the warning signs all around farming sector. Falling prices, increasing growing cost, labor issues as ever, power issues, pest attacks, untimely rains, changing weather schedules. But still it’s heartening to see the farmers going out every day and trying to grow their food, some cash crop, and some fodder year on year!

While the so called ‘Entrepreneurs’ close their shop after ‘assessing’ the business after few years, farmers go out and try to revive the business of feeding others without hesitation. With each passing year, it’s been clear that the only way we could survive in farming is to be hands on, reducing labor dependency, avoiding crops which consume more resources, etc. I know it’s easier said than done as a farmer told in a seminar “I can grow my own food and live happily, but how do I get my son a motor bike”? Government as always want to help the backbone of the country and has announced drought relief. In my own taluk itself we have close to 200000 acres affected by drought. Our DC has asked for a whopping 55 crore for this.Comes close to 2750/ per acre! How a farmer with rain fed land would survive with this much support I am not sure.

Most farmer suicides have been reported from Mysore district, most of the farmers who couldn’t get the timely support from the government, society have taken the most horrific path to reduce the burden. Yes there’s lot of politics involved in this. Some of the loan amounts quoted by our news savvy media has been outrageous and makes one think it’s a made up story! But believe me the ground reality is very similar. I have seen how a crop loss would affect a farmer family, how a marriage or a health issue force them to sell part of their land, how for even a packet of cotton seeds they have to take loans from loan sharks etc. Farmer’s situation is like this Kagga!

ಹಾಳು ಹಾಳೆಲ್ಲ ಬಾಳೆನ್ನುತಿರ್ದೊಡೆಯುಮದ-  ।
ರೂಳಿಗವ ತಪ್ಪಿಸುವ ಜಾಣನೆಲ್ಲಿಹನು? ॥
ಊಳಿಗವೊ ಕಾಳಗವೊ ಕೂಳ್ಕರೆಯೊ ಗೋಳ್ಕರೆಯೊ ।
ಬಾಳು ಬಾಳದೆ ಬಿಡದು – ಮಂಕುತಿಮ್ಮ ॥ ೨೪೯ ॥
 “One may say – all life is a waste, futile. But having said so, is there any one smart enough to free himself from its bondage? Misery or battle, happiness or sadness – one has to live his life. Life does not give you a choice not to.” – Mankutimma

And the system does this to farmers! By giving them subsidies, yield traps, paid news about success stories of farmers and loans!

ಬನ್ನಿರಾಡುವ ಕಣ್ಣ ಮುಚ್ಚಾಲೆಯಾಟವನು ।
ಎನ್ನನರಸಿರಿ ಬನ್ನಿ ಮಕ್ಕಳಿರ ಬೇಗ ॥
ಬನ್ನಿರಾಟವ ಬೇಡವೆಂಬರನು ನಾಂ ಬಿಡೆನು ।
ಎನ್ನುವಜ್ಜಿಯೊ ಬೊಮ್ಮ – ಮಂಕುತಿಮ್ಮ ॥ ೮೨ ॥
O! Mankutimma, an old lady calls all the kids to play hide-and-seek. She taunts all of them to find her. She will not accept if any one declines to play the game. The creator is like her engaging all of us in this grand game of hide-and-seek called life

Friday, January 24, 2014

Marketing and Changing food habits!

Couple of weeks back on twitter, a person tweeted about the games we used to play during our childhood. It took me back to my childhood days as well. I started wondering why we are missing so many little things in life! Be it games we used to play, be it seasonal fruits & veggies or the freedom to spend time freely with friends(we never used to come home for whole day sometimes!)

A close look at the games will remind us, now a days we don't see kids playing Goli(marbles), Chinni-Daandu, Lagori, Gaali Pata(Kite), Mara-Koti, kabaddi (few still play but same % anymore) and everybody's favorite an old tyre :-). Unfortunately some of these games are termed now as "Poli hudugara Aata"(sorry can't translate to English)! Now we see kids play very few games out doors and most games on gadgets!

Same thing is happening(happened) with our food! I remember very well, all seasonal fruits that used to grow in my dad's govt quarters at Nanjangud. Every summer when I went from Mysore, I would literally sit on the mango tree with some salt and eat straight from the tree! Same with Guava & Papaya, we have eaten in almost all stages! When it's raw it tastes little hot and as it ripens taste changes. My favorite was always "Dorgaai" the word for papaya which is is in early stage of ripening ! Then we used to have other friends who had gooseberry not the one we get in the Market which is "Bettada Nelli" but the one called "Kiru Nelli" it's almost on the verge of extinction as it doesn't have any commercial value!, other types of mangoes etc!

While visiting retail stores in US, I used to wonder how come these stores have all fruits all the time! Except Strawberry & few other fruits, others were available always! Especially apple! That too many kinds of apples. We used to love "Gala" for it's taste over other varieties! We enjoyed them everyday as the saying goes "An apple a day keeps doctor away"!

After coming back to India and making a career change into farming, I met quite a few progressive farmers . And soon my views on eating un-seasonal fruits & veggies started changing. But not before quite a few discussions and debates with friends, family, internet etc.  

While reading a book, I found a comparison between Guava(our own backyard stuff) and Apple! It was quite interesting and made me think, what made us move towards Apple discrediting Guava! I am attaching similar comparison from net. Have a look! If it's not readable please the following URL.

comparison shows, our own Guava is as good as Apple(even better) in terms of nutrition but we have developed a mentality that eating Apple is better than eating a Guava ! 

There are quite a few factors for this. 

1.Who were growing this in bulk - Western Countries and some in Kashmir
2.How Apple was marketed as a superior fruit - Again as it was consumed mostly by Brits, we have picked it up as a status symbol! And the saying "an apple a day......" was very catchy!
3.Why it was necessary for them to market Apple over Guava - This is simple. They could grow very few item in their weather conditions and as always our population attracted them as potential market!
4. Look and feel - No doubt Apple has much better look & feel, with vax and other things to make it shine & last for over a year. YES, the apple you consume may be a year old! 

I understand there's nothing wrong in marketing and of course Apple is good for health, why not consume when it's available at our door step!

For the above points let's look at the process involved in moving Apples from Kashmir. I am not even talking about other faraway countries!

1. You need to increase shelf life - It's a proven point that fruits grown using chemicals have lesser shelf life than the ones grown organically. Hence more chemicals will be added to maintain the fruit for such a long journey.
2. You need to maintain the look & feel - Again to avoid wear & tear apply vax & costly packing
3. Cost - Other than the production cost, transport cost , costs of chemicals, advertising, Packing, vax etc will be added.
4. Build consumers/market base which prefer Apple over other fruits! - This was done by creating a feeling in public, that this is superior to other fruits by means of advertising, sponsored research etc. Also that Indians never invest in research helped to hide qualities of Guava for very long time.

All of the above is making Apple sold @ 160/Kg and Guava sold on road side in pieces ! As it's sold as a status symbol, we love to buy them in bulk and show off! This makes other customers buy it, as they too feel, can afford to eat a fruit which is 160/Kg!

This is where the concept of localization comes in. The advantages are many.

1.Consuming local produce which are fresh, doesn't need "magic" to increase shelf life,
2. Available at a much lesser price
3. Same or better nutrition value!
4. Gels well with local weather conditions and hence no adverse health issues

This also makes us to think, what grows best in and around our place, in what season, why except very few fruits and veggies all others are seasonal, in what kind of weather, what kind of food one should consume in different weather conditions etc!

I know it's tough task but we better start that journey now! Best way to learn about this is to do the most boring stuff the youngsters can ever think of. That is talking to your parents,grand parents. And understand how things used to be in those times! Other way is to observe food practices in different parts of India but with similar weather pattern. For example Observe food practices in  1. South Canara & Kerala, 2. Northern Karnataka & Andhra.

What I have observed, is the type of rice used in Kerala & Mangalore/Udupi are similar, the oil usage is similar. People in extreme temperatures/dry weather use more chilly than in colder place, People in cold places tend to use Potato more than other places. This shows food habits are developed over a period of time based on what's good/suits for that weather and also what could be easily grown in that place without much of an effort so on and so forth. 

So next time when you stop in front of an aisle with Apples,  think over and get few Guavas as well!. If the store doesn't have them ask for them. If few customers asks for any product, store will realize that there's market and start selling them! This is one way we can make a difference to the local farmers and also save a lot in the process!

And of course all this shouldn't stop with Apple & Guava but we should extend this to other fruits and veggies. I can bet, If I ask you to list vegetable used in your household, your mind won't think beyond Potato, Onion, Tomatoes, Beans, Carrot, Radish! If you spend little bit more time, you would add Pumpkin, Brinjal & Cabbage to the list. But to give an example of varieties we have, I was told the tribes in BR Hills grow 15 types of veggies which grows under the soil(Gedde Genasu)! Similar to yam! Which are nutritious, cost effective, grows naturally without much of manual intervention and have long long shelf life(which runs into months)! So one other way to normalize the prices of common veggies & fruits is to diversify your food habits.!

So homework for the weekend is to use 2 rare variety of veggies! 1 for breakfast and one for lunch! Enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How organic farming help farmers!

As the debate about downside of India's green revolution spreads across the country, it's time to revisit the need for natural/organic farming. This is the only way we can help farmers to come out of vicious debt cycle and be independent in true sense!

First look at the main arguments put forth for the chemical based farming.

1. Organic/natural farming is unable to produce enough food for India's growing population 
2. Native seeds/plants doesn't yield enough per acre food when compared to GM/hybrid seeds/crops
3. More scientific(?) than the old natural/organic farming!
4. Farmers' income would increase by the use of chemical fertilizers!

Corporate world is trying its best to target areas covered in first 2 points. First they need to debunk the theory of natural/organic farming saying it's not enough for growing population. Second they are trying to instill an inferior feeling in farmers' mind about their own native seeds/crops. Both of these are benefiting 2 sectors of corporate world. 

1. Producing chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides etc
2. Companies who are into Biotechnology to develop genetically modified crops.

There's one more way to demoralize farmers that is to call their way of farming unscientific! We in India were following organic farming right from beginning! If you read Krushi-Parashara(, which is all about agricultural practices, you would be astonished to see the level of understanding our ancestors had with respect to soil science, astronomy, monsoons, rain water harvesting etc! After thousands of years of foreign rule we lost interest in our traditions/practices and started asking for "Scientific reason" for everything without trying to put any effort in understanding the science behind the practices!

The last point is increasing farmers' income! Now if this was true, after 30-40 years of "scientific farming" using most advanced chemical inputs, farmers would have made it to "middle class" league at the minimum. But look at the condition of farmer across the country! Due to mono crop practice they grow only 3-5 major items(all are cash crops). Paddy ,Cotton,Sugar cane are the top 3 in that list! But even then every year farmer is getting into more debt, moving away from farming and worse committing suicide!

So why practice natural/organic farming? Let me quote D.V.G's Kagga to keep this short! 

This is exactly what we do in summer. We try fan/a.c but when/if power goes off, we try with a paper or a book to get some cool air. Soon our hands ache and we try some other means. But naturally blowing wind will be much more cooler and satisfying than any man made stuff.

Applying this to farming, all we need to do is to replace the word "Sukha" with "yield"! we get the philosophy of natural farming & realize what's happening to the average farmer! Gives us reason why we shouldn't be trying to achieve higher yield with external inputs against the natural ability of a plant. Why it's always better to provide suitable environment with minimum interference and allow nature to take it's own course. This way farmer is out of debt, happy with income he'she gets and most of all move towards sustainable farming! Once the soil fertility increases, ecology of the farm is stabilized, plant yield increases and even if in case there's any natural calamity like drought, heavy rain, wind plants will be strong enough to withstand them all. Even in worse case if they fail to withstand, farmers won't be in debt and all they need to do, is to plant the trees again! There are 100s of examples in front of us where farmers are getting better yield just by using natural farming.and many who have implemented "forest" model to move into sustainable farming with good yield!

Enjoy your food!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year, New Resolutions & New challenges

As we were ending 2013 & looking at 2014 it's been disturbing to get calls from 2 of my ex-team members! Both calling for same reason "Madhu, have been given notice, Jan 31st is the last day"! Both have engineering degrees both have work experience(?) and both are not getting any jobs in the current market. Reasons may be plenty about why a person is not employable,why in current job market updating ourselves is so important and so on. But interestingly both had couple more thing in common! Both weren't in touch with me for last one year, assuming that as usual I am traveling and both didn't know I had switched over to farming for last one year!

As everybody does while giving advise(ಮೂಗಿನ ನೇರಕ್ಕೆ ಮಾತನಾಡುವುದು), I told them agriculture is the best bet and "if you are worried about job why don't you go back to your villages and take care of the farms you have(both are from farming families)"! Both are newly married with children and were surprised at my advise to move out of Bangalore ! Both gave me reasons about their financial situation, what their family members will think if they go back to farming after studied engineering(!!!) and so on..

This made me think why is it that we are ready to stick to a job without knowing how long it'll last but not ready to take up something which has everlasting demand(more than investing in real estate & schools) and give a secure feeling! I understand that standard of living (w.r.t the western world's yardstick) will come down, I know for fact there'll be some cash crunch situation as in any other business. But was not able to understand why is working in a farm/doing any business is considered lower in social status than working for someone else to earn a salary(is a big deal). How come working for someone else is more secure than working for ourselves!

Moreover, after going through some stuff from Sarvagna vachana's was surprised to see we are proving even Sarvagna wrong :-) Check out this vachana!

ಕೋಟಿ ವಿದ್ಯೆಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಮೇಟಿ ವಿದ್ಯೆಯೆ ಮೇಲು
ಮೇಟಿಯಿಂ ರಾಟೆ ನಡೆದುದಲ್ಲದೆ ದೇಶ
ದಾಟವೇ ಕೆಡಕು ಸರ್ವಜ್ನ

Sarvagna has been candid in explaining why Agriculture is the best education & how a nation could be in trouble if it neglect farming(not farmers! we don't need any subsidy for that matter)

And Check this out!

ಬೆಕ್ಕು ಮನೆಯೊಳಗೆ ಲೇಸು, ಮುಕ್ಕು ಕಲ್ಲಿಗೆ ಲೇಸು
ನಕ್ಕು ನಗಿಸುವಾ ನುಡಿ ಲೇಸು, ಊರಿಂಗೆ
ಓಕ್ಕಲಿಗ ಲೇಸು ಸರ್ವಜ್ನ

Coming back to Swathi Farms, 2013 ended with around 150 plus new fruit plant being added. We are planning few more in the coming days as we have decided to go along with our plan, building a multi-crop farm based on fruits, veggies, spices & few medicinal plants. It's been inspiring to know farmers who are silently doing their bit not getting any appreciation from people who consume or want to consume healthy food. This year focus will be to maintain all the plants as much as possible and plant more & more variety during monsoon. Have been checking to see If I can get a helper on continuous basis as well. Though it'll cost good 50K need to take initial costs overruns to design the farm per our liking. Focus also would be on growing more and more veggies to reduce outside consumption!

That's all for now will keep you all posted! Have a wonderful year ahead!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Transition from Weekend Warrior to a Full time farmer!

On Jan'13, I decided to call it quits to IT and moved full time to farming! We urgently renovated 1 room we had in our farm to add a kitchen and moved in on Feb 20 of 2013! It was quite a decision and wasn't aware what's in store didn't know much about farming as well :-) But once we moved in and started staying here we started picking up many new things. Apart from self learning visits to some of the progressive farmers across Mysore was also very helpful in deciding what way we must proceed to avoid major pitfalls in agriculture. 
After few visits to other farms, reading few books and extensive use of internet we decided to go into natural/organic farming. Decided multi-crop is the only way to avoid/reduce pests & diseases in the long run. Sustainable farming is the only way to avoid price crashes of cash crops and trap from middlemen!

On this journey, I remembered a conversation I had with my dad while working in IT. I had to switch from Mainframes which was my bread & butter to .Net technology which I didn't know abcd of! But I was already in US on the project and there was no way to go back ! I called up my dad and told him that I am into totally new area which I never worked in my entire career and am little tensed about the project. He recalled the following poem from "Someshwara Shataka" and I felt little relieved after his advise! I did follow his advise and successfully delivered the project :-) Have a look at the wise word of Someshwara Shataka!

ಕೆಲವಂ ಬಲ್ಲವರಿಂದ ಕಲ್ತು ಕೆಲವಂ ಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಂಗಳಂ ಕೇಳುತಂ |
ಕೆಲವಂ ಮಾಳ್ಪವರಿಂದ ಕಂಡು ಕೆಲವಂ ಸುಜ್ಞಾನದಿಂ ನೋಡುತಂ ||

ಕೆಲವಂ ಸಜ್ಜನಸಂಗದಿಂದಲರಿಯಲ್ ಸರ್ವಜ್ಞನಪ್ಪಂ ನರಂ |
ಪಲವುಂ ಪಳ್ಳ ಸಮುದ್ರವೈ ಹರಹರಾ ಶ್ರೀ ಚೆನ್ನ ಸೋಮೇಶ್ವರಾ ||೧||

Translation of the above poem: We need to learn new stuff, 1. from persons who are aware of the subject, 2. Some watching while people working on it, 3. Some by analyzing with our wisdom and 4. some with the friendship/teamwork with good people and then we become "Sarvagna" like small streams makeup sea!

Now, we are following the same principles to learn from various sources and learning new stuff each day. One major change in our approach is we are not looking at the yield from each plant instead we now feel with nature's help plants produce what ever they can produce with available resources. We have decided to reduce the labor dependency and try doing ourselves most of the day to day activities. 

Over the year we have added many new variety of plants some of them are rare and are on the verge of extinction. Yes, we are aware of the fact that there'll be a slack time between the time Banana is done and the rest of the plant start yielding but we have accepted the situation and decided come what may we are sticking to organic farming and not to worry about income we generate from the farm. 

There have been varied(sometimes funny) comments/suggestions about our decision to get into full time farming. One being somebody suggested agriculture should be a hobby not a profession. Yes, when we don't know from where our food is coming it's easy to say all this. But once you realize the growing challenges of population and food shortage, we feel it's time everybody do their bit to produce more food.Yes it's not as attractive as our other "high yielding" careers. But we feel this a much better field to make our little contribution and live a simple life reducing the burden and stress due to expectations. I am not getting excite anymore with iPhone 5S or a new iPad may because I don't feel it's useful anymore or may be because, I can't afford one with a farmers income! But overall stepping back in time with each day is making us more secure than what we were with each Increment/promotion in IT :-)

As a whole it's been relatively a good year of learning, building and cherishing the hard physical work after sitting in AC rooms for so long! Also it's been humbling experience to see so called "uneducated" farmers can talk authoritatively on so many crops//processes/pests/seasons/diseases/rain falls/soil structures/nature/eco system and we "educated" have guts to label them as "uneducated" because they haven't attended a formal schools!

Bye for now and will post new updates and some photographs in later posts ! Hopefully will keep this a regular activity!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Weekend 17/12/11 - 18/12/11

This weekend was not very good. Our current right hand man Chandra was busy with the "Ayyappa swamy" activities and work had not progressed well...

We did take help of Uddit and did some cleaning up activities....

One more step forward was getting the electrical connection within the room's pending for a long time and we had to restore it ASAP as we are planning a night on 31/12 :-)

Drip irrigation work which got completed had it's own issues and we had to call back the company folks to get it all checked again...

My guru and a good friend Anand (who's also from Mysore), has taken the ownership of getting the Banana plants applied with fungicide this week. Cannot thank him enough for his help as he's to leave his 24/7 work and supervise our farm. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Weekend 10/12/2011 -1 1/12/2011

This week was most satisfying as got the Drip irrigation system installed...

It took around 3 days to get the things done and tomorrow(12/12/11) would start functioning...

We got the system from Jain Irrigation which seems to be a well known company for irrigation systems..

What's the long term plan? Nothing. As we need to move towards a state of natural farming, till then it's going to reduce our labor challenges...

Have a look at few snaps taken yesterday...

Outlet from Main Line - This help in use of sprinklers or flood irrigation 

Filter used for Inline Laterals...supposed to be the best available

"Ventury", used for mixing manure with irrigation