It is back to nature for these urban farmers

The city’s vibrant gardening community — where members are proponents of healthy and chemical-free grain, fruits and vegetables — is contributing to the growing trend of urban farming. Many are working professionals who are adopting a method of cultivation, which is neither chemical-loaded with pesticides nor organic with its reliance on manure, but all “natural”. It’s a form of gardening as a self-sustainable practice with minimum external intervention.

This concept of zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) was first propagated 25 years ago by Subhash Palekar as a movement for farmers who were in debt due to the Green Revolution and is now being used by a large number of farmers across the country. It is being adopted by urban gardeners and small-scale farmers in and around Bengaluru. They believe that nature provides its own pest control mechanism and no additions are required to grow or nurture plants.

ZBNF lessons

Nagabhusan Narasappa, a lecturer in an engineering college in the city who lives in Yeshwantpur, was inspired after listening to 82-year-old Narayana Reddy, an urban farmer from Varthur who gave up chemical farming for the natural method. He found his videos on YouTube, and later went on to learn about ZBNF.

Mr. Narasappa, whose father was also a farmer, decided to give it a try and put the barren terrace of his independent house to use. A year-and-a-half ago, he started planting chillies and ragi. “The first year, the yield was very low. I got five to six chillies and just fur branches in the ragi plant. But this year, the same plants gave a much better yield. I have got 25 mature chillies. Even the ragi plant is growing splendidly,” he said.

He did not use any compost for his plants. “The only thing I use is ‘jeevamrutha’, which is a mix of cow dung, cow urine, water, jaggery, flour of a pulse and a bit of soil. All the kitchen waste goes directly into the plants and they are allowed to decompose naturally,” he said.

He has started making his own well-ventilated cement pots. “An old cloth is dipped into a concrete paste, which is covered over a dustbin. In a day or two, it dries and can be separated from the dustbin and used as a pot. This kind of cement pot has a lot of pores and it allows good ventilation for the plants. It is also lighter and can be transported easily,” Mr. Narasappa said.

He is now teaching his students about this kind of natural farming. “I plan to set up a vegetable farm on a one-acre plot in Tumakuru,” he added.

Encouraging neighbours

Revathi Bhat, a resident of Ramamoorthy Nagar, is no stranger to gardening. Daughter of a farmer, her father always practised natural farming, she said. “One needs to let the plants be. They don’t require any chemical or manure. They are not high maintenance. The more natural they grow, the better they taste,” she said.

She has been growing flowering plants, fruit plants such as strawberry, pomegranate, custard apple, and a few vegetables and herbal plants. She has also planted a neem tree in her compound. “The tree acts as a natural pest control. I only put dried leaves and kitchen waste into the pots for manure. The plants give sufficient yield for our family and more,” she said. She has invested in rainwater harvesting, which she uses for her plants. “I have never needed extra water. Nature provides us in abundance. All we need to do is to use it,” she added. Seeing her, many of her neighbours have also started adopting natural practices to grow plants. “I have converted most of my neighbours into natural gardeners,” she said.

For better health

Sapna Subramani’s shift to home gardening was given an impetus following a health scare for the entire family around five years ago. They had an attack of post-viral arthritis, and suffered for a month. That was when she realised that she needed to make changes in her lifestyle and eating habits.

The IT employee, who is a resident of Frazer Town, decided to grow her own vegetables. But she was dependent on the markets to procure her seeds, manure and fertilizer. “The hobby started becoming expensive and tiresome. I was not getting any joy from gardening. I was almost on the verge of giving up. But then I heard about Mr. Palekar two years ago. It was a turning point in my life,” she said.

She attended a workshop by Mr. Palekar last year and shifted to natural gardening. Today, she does not buy seeds or manure from nurseries. “I have saved the seeds from my own plants, which I then replant. I have a deal with the cleaners in Coles Park, who happily hand over dried leaves, which go into the plants as manure. The nearby goshala gives me cow dung and urine for jeevamrutha. Gardening has become a calming and stress-free activity now. Our health has also improved,” she said.

Her garden has everything from brinjal to pumpkins, all varieties of gourds, onions, flowering and fruit plants.

Industrial practices

Chetan Desai, global head, Industrial IoT and Industry, HCL Technologies, makes time for farming in his busy work schedule. A weekend farmer, he took over farming five years ago from his ailing father. With two plots of land in Belagavi and Ballari districts, farming posed a challenged: one was always under water, the other a dry patch.

He attended a workshop on natural farming and wanted to implement it. But, it was not easy to convince those working on his farm to leave chemical farming. “I took them to other farmers who were practising natural farming to educate them. It took two years of convincing to shift completely to natural farming,” he said.

The first year turned out to be a disaster, with very little yield. “People said I was mad to adopt this method, but I did not relent. Things started changing the next year,” said Mr. Desai.

Though he had won the battle, he had to wage a war on the marketing front. Finding people to buy the natural produce at a reasonable cost was posing to be challenge. This is when he put his industrial and production experience into use.

He started a social venture called Krishiyog to create market linkages for other farmers like him in Karnataka and Maharashtra. He converted 160 acres to the ZBNF model and formed a cluster of farmers who collectively grow and sell their produce.

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