Across the fields in the Hittne Hebbagilu village of Periyapatna taluk in Karnataka, farmers once predominately cultivated tobacco. In fact, many villages across Periyapatna have been intensively involved in tobacco farming for several decades now, and more often than not, the farmers plough through insurmountable burdens of debt, encompassing not just their own but also that of their fathers and sometimes, even grandfathers.
Shankar and Roopa, a farmer couple from Hittne Hebbagilu, were among the countless farmers in the region shackled to the upending demands of the tobacco industry through generations and were never able to yield enough to support their own needs.
However, four years ago, the lives of 20 farmers in the sleepy little village was to change forever through an intervention by Sahaja Samrudha, a social enterprise based in Bengaluru, which focuses on sustainable agriculture and reviving native crop varieties.
A team from Sahaja Samrudha visited the Periyapatna farming belt a few years ago, to study the native ‘rajamudi’ rice variety. However, the dire state of tobacco farmers in the region ended up garnering their attention instead.
From convincing the farmers to leave what they had been practising for decades, to helping them shift to more lucrative yet sustainable crops and aiding them with organic and traditional models of farming, the organisation worked closely with these farmers over the years, and today, their fruits of labour come in many colours and varieties.
Recently, Shankar and Roopa successfully harvested not one or two, but 15 native varieties of Bende, or Ladies’ Finger across their half-acre plot in the village!
They had gotten hold of the native seeds through Sahaja Seeds which had organised a ‘Field Day’ on May 17.
Sahaja Seeds is a sister branch of Sahaja Samrudha that consolidates indigenous seed varieties of different crops through agriculture and crop fairs held across the country and supplies these to farmers to encourage them to grow indigenous varieties of vegetables.
From local multicolour varieties to ones from as far as Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and even Sri Lanka, the move to plant these varieties had been more of an experiment for Shankar and Roopa to comprehend whether these could survive in different climatic conditions.
As guided by mentors at Sahaja Samrudha, they practised completely organic methods in their farm including the usage of ghana jeevamrutha, jeevamrutha (which has earthworm compost as one of its elements) and an organic mix of garlic and green chillies as the pesticide.
“We’d planted 30 seeds of each type in single beds and managed to harvest a rich yield. In comparison to other vegetable crops, we found that cultivating ladies’ finger and that too native breeds, doesn’t require a lot of money. We will be saving the seeds of best-performing varieties and grow these more often gradually,” says Shankar to The Better India.
According to Asha Kumari from Sahaja Seeds, the Field Day was a great platform for the farmers as a large range of ladies’ finger seeds from across the country were put up for sale.
“The interesting aspect about the Field Day had been that many women from the village had prepared dishes out these ladies’ fingers, which were presented for tasting and we had our picks for the best curries. This also helped farmers zero down further on the seeds they wanted besides just considering their yield,” Asha explained.
Asha’s role has been instrumental in the transformation of farmers and their shift to organic farming and cultivation native breeds in Periyapatna belt—a service she has been involved in for the past seven years.
Besides ladies’ finger, Shankar and Roopa have been cultivating different varieties of tomatoes and brinjal as well. They have two daughters, Harshita and Yeshaswini who study in classes 5 and 2. Life has begun to look up for farmers in Hittne Hebbagilu, and there can’t be a better example to vouch for this than Shankar and Roopa’s fantastic story.
You can visit Sahaja Samrudha’s website here and see what other incredible initiatives they have been taking forward. You can also write to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)