environment

How Telangana farmers are turning barren land into productive farms

Athar Parvaiz
13th Feb 2018
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Many progressive farmers in Telangana are turning barren land into productive farms by adopting permaculture, which involves developing a sustainable and self-sufficient agricultural ecosystem

Supriya Gaddam at her Polam Farm in Medak in Telangana. Image Credit: Athar Parvaiz

It had taken them almost a decade to acquire swathes of land in a remote district in the southern state of Telangana aimed at creating their own forest. They began the process of buying land in 2006 from local people near Sangur reservoir in Medak district in northern Telangana where many families were migrating to urban areas because of lack of basic civic facilities like water and electricity.

But Supriya Gaddam and her husband, Anil Reddy, had to change their plan about their 96 acres of land when they met Narsanna Koppula, a pioneer of permaculture fondly called the Bill Mollison of India.

Australian ecologist Bill Mollison is regarded as the father of the permaculture movement in the world. Mollison first propagated the idea of permaculture in 1970s following several years of research, during which he became concerned about the destruction of natural processes.

He came up with a solution based on the patterns he had observed in nature and named it permaculture — a contraction of the words permanent and agriculture.

Mollison defined permaculture as “a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.”

The permaculture movement has now spread to 140 countries, with more than three million people practicing it.

“We started buying land from farmers in 2006 as most farmers were leaving this place. By 2015, we had acquired 96 acres of land and we started the process of converting it into a forest. But in the meantime we met Narsanna and his wife, Padma Koppula, who introduced us to an entirely new concept - permaculture. We liked this concept and implemented it straightaway,” Supriya told villagesquare.in at her permaculture farm, better known as Polam Farm.

Transformed land

The Polam Farm, which was nothing but a vast barren land with depleting soil a few years ago, is now lush with several species of fruit trees, crops, flowers, non-fruit trees, and animals living in ecological harmony. A water harvesting system - ponds, percolation tanks and contour trenches and immaculate management of resources - has entirely changed the land.

The farm is monitored and managed by Supriya. “In the first year, we used to shuttle between Hyderabad and our farm, which we found tiresome and less productive in terms of work. So we decided to settle in the farm,” she said. “Now, we would never leave this place. It is so fascinating,” Supriya told villagesquare.in while overseeing work in areas of her farm where women workers were busy tending to vegetable plants.
A farmer at Polam Farm is tying bulls to a yoke to plough a field. Image Credit: Athar Parvaiz

Her daughter, Tripti Gaddam, who has recently finished her Industrial Product Designing programme, is also planning to join her mother in the farm.

“She found permaculture quite interesting when she attended the Permaculture Development Course (PDC) taught by Narsanna, Padma, and other trainers at our farm,” Supriya said.

PDCs are now periodically held at Polam Farm by trainers arranged by Narsanna and Padma. Hundreds of agricultural professionals, researchers and farmers have so far attended these PDCs. In November 2017, the International Permaculture Convergence, attended by around 500 international and Indian participants, was also held at Polam Farm, following the two-day conference at Telangana State Agriculture University. All the organic food for the five-day convergence came from Polam Farm.

Doing away with chemicals

Healthy soils equal healthy humans.”

Mudhu Reddy, another progressive farmer of Telangana, has made it her motto. When she decided to return to her family farm after quitting her lucrative hotel management job, she had a clear idea how healthy soils help in taking care of human health.

So, Reddy said, “I had developed a strong desire of converting my family farm into a chemicals-free farm. This was one of the important reasons why I decided to get back to my farm.”

According to Reddy, she had the knowledge of environment and how most things are inter-connected, but didn’t know what to do with that knowledge. “But when I met people like Devinder Sharma, Harish Hande, Balasubramaniam, and Nandita Shah, it was enlightening as I heard about their journeys of pursuing chemicals-free agriculture,” she told villagesquare.in.

“Since I started in 2013, our farm — Aiyor Bai — has been on the journey of change as well. We completed three full monsoon cycles in 2016 (and also in 2017) of not using any chemicals in the form of pesticides or fertilisers,” Reddy said, adding that she is now pursuing permaculture at her farm following her participation in a recent PDC.

“Through my farm, I am trying to help farmers and others understand the importance of good local food on our health and the impact of healthy soils on food production,” she said.

The crops she grows at her farm – 57 km north of Hyderabad in Rangareddy district - include eggplants, tomatoes, gourds, beans, and millets like jowar and bajra. 

Importance of soil heath

Reddy puts a lot of emphasis on the health of soil, especially when it comes to organic farming and permaculture. Healthy soil, she says, is only possible through non-chemical farming. “All the workshops, the farm visits, and meeting with farmers made me realise that the fertility of the soil is the key for success of any farm,” Reddy told VillageSquare.in.

Prominent soil biologist and ecologist Sultan Ahmed Ismail says it is the soil that determines the health or quality of the crop.

“In farming driven by chemicals, synthetic fertilisers are pumped into the crops, whereas organic farming or permaculture focuses on soil health. When the soil is healthy and well nourished, it automatically feeds the crops with essential nutrients,” Ismail told VillageSquare.in.

Narsanna and Padma have been pursuing permaculture for several years now. According to them, permaculture is pro-nature and pro-people.

“What we focus on through conventional farming system in India and various other countries are a few crops, which are market-driven. We need to change this and permaculture is the best guide to do so. Permaculture doesn’t allow growing single crops, but stresses on growing a variety of crops in harmony with other tree species, animals and humans,” Narsanna told VillageSquare.in.

Through the non-profit Aranya Agricultural Alternatives (AAA), they are working with tribal communities with special focus on women and farmers.

“Our philosophy is based on the three ethics of permaculture — Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share. We believe in working with nature, to empower communities to overcome existing social and environmental challenges,” reads the slogan of AAA.

According to Padma Koppula, CEO of AAA, her organisation advocates and promotes alternatives and permanent agriculture practices — benefits of tree-based farming, diversified cropping, animal integration and seed saving.

The work of AAA has so far influenced thousands of farmers and agricultural professionals in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, who are now designing their farms on permaculture models.


Disclaimer: This article, authored by Athar Parvaiz, was first published in VillageSquare.in. The views expressed by the author are his/her own and do not necessarily reflect that of YourStory.

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