Parthasaradhi Nara from Uppanesinapalli village in Andhra Pradesh’s Anantapur district belongs to an agricultural family. For years, his grandfather, father and uncles cultivated 90 acres of land.
“My grandfather spearheaded the agricultural activities on the farm and grew millets, pulses and other vegetables, ensuring food security for our whole family. His meticulous planning guaranteed that we did not fall short of food even during the drought years,” Parthasaradhi tells The Better India.
The family spent money only on basic supplies such as oil, spices and items of daily needs. “Our land and yield prospered, and the farmland expanded to 120 acres over the years, with 30 farm labourers working on it every day,” Parthasaradhi recalls.
However, after the early 1990s, the situation began deteriorating as traditional farmers who were earlier using natural methods to grow food began shifting to using chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
“The use of artificial fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides started entering the farming sector, and when my father and uncle took over, the use on our farm became excessive,” says the 42-year-old.
He adds that the change in farming methods increased the cost of agriculture. Moreover, financial debts began piling each year. “Earlier, our agricultural land could support 50 families. But as we fell into the trap of chemical fertilisers, we started facing financial and social troubles,” he explains.
But over the decade, Parthasaradhi has not only worked hard to bring his family out of debt, but also helped hundreds of farmers recover from financial losses of their own. He explains how.
‘Natural farming opens doors’
In 2001, Parthasaradhi completed his post-graduation in computer science from Rayalaseema University. “However, at the time, the IT sector was not booming, and I could not support the family financially. I started exploring other ideas to bring ourselves out of debt,” he says.
Parthasaradhi learned that some farmers in the district had started practising horticulture with papaya, in addition to traditional crops such as groundnut, red gram and paddy. Parthasaradhi decided to follow suit and received a bumper harvest worth Rs 10 lakh in 2002. “But despite the harvest, we could not find buyers due to lack of marketing knowledge on our end,” he says.
In 2004, Parthasaradhi bagged a job in the IT sector and even moved to the US for work. But the thought of restoring farming’s old glory remained in his mind.
In 2008, he returned to India for personal reasons, and while he continued with an IT job in Bengaluru, he also dedicated time to helping his family on their land every alternate weekend. Here, he attempted to plant sweet lime orchards. He groomed them for five years and in 2009, experimented with a banana variety.
Parthasaradhi then leased a part of the land to grow bananas and earn commission from it. “But we managed to sell only 40 per cent of the harvest, while 30 per cent went to waste. The rest we distributed among family and friends. I invested Rs 7 lakh and agreed to sell the harvest for Rs 11 lakh to traders to explore the marketing sector. However, the trader gave me only Rs 6 lakh, and I incurred losses,” he adds.
However, in 2012, he came across a Telugu magazine which wrote on natural farming methods and workshops being held in Telangana. He discussed trying out new farming methods with his family, and everyone agreed to contribute.
“In 2013, I completed training in Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) and started practising farming with intercrop methods using jeevamrut, a mixture of cow dung, cow urine, jaggery, gram flour and water, among other techniques. I received good results in 2014 as the yield did not drop significantly even without using chemicals,” he says, adding that he charged a premium in the market for the toxin-free fruit and earned almost the same profits as he would have with the use of chemicals.
By 2015, the farm became completely chemical-free and Parthasaradhi consistently worked to improve production. “From 40-50 kilos of fruit, I started reaping 70 kilos from a single banana plant. Such a massive yield is impressive considering the geographic and weather conditions of the region,” he says.
Parthasaradhi says banking on the new-found confidence, he and his family started growing vegetables on a 3-acre plot on a pilot basis. The yield was bountiful once again. He started selling the produce in the urban market and received an overwhelming response. “I received 4,000 calls in two weeks congratulating me on my success. Agriculture officers and students around the area appreciated my work,” he adds. He extended cultivation to 20 acres of land.
A community-driven model
However, when he joined the cluster of farmers practising natural farming, he realised that many had failed to market their produce. “The farmers had doubts about organic methods and had multiple questions about the potential market and profits. I decided to rope farmers in Anantapur district and create a good market network in the urban area,” he says.
In 2016-17, Parthasaradhi and a handful of farmers started selling their products within a 40 km radius of his village by organising farmers’ markets offering exclusive chemical-free farm produce. By October 2017, they slowly began tapping into gated communities in Bengaluru.
“We did not invest any money and reached out to potential buyers via friends, and connected via WhatsApp groups. The response was good, and we decided to scale up the following year, widening the product range with perishable and non-perishable items like cold-pressed oil, grains, seasonal fruits and vegetables. It became a community model,” he says.
Parthasaradhi adds that the residents coordinated with him for orders, and the farmers harvested accordingly to deliver the fresh produce. Eventually, his friends from the IT sector decided to help him with an app to manage orders. The same year, they launched Anantha Naturals, a farmer producer company.
After the business scaled up, he quit his IT job. Since then, he has helped over 150 farmers switch to natural farming, serving fresh produce thrice a week across Bengaluru and earning a revenue of Rs 1 crore per year. “The business earns a profit of Rs 10 lakh and we expect it to increase multifold in the coming year,” he adds.
C Vidyasagar, a farmer from Rekulakunta village, says that his income has doubled since he became a part of the movement. “I grow groundnut and paddy on my 14-acre farm. Parthasaradhi helps me market the groundnut, while the paddy is for family use. Earlier, I’d spend Rs 80,000 on chemical fertilisers and Rs 15,000 on labour for the farm. However, by adopting natural farming methods, I have cut down the cost to Rs 8,000, which I spend on preparing the organic fertiliser mix,” he says.
Vidyasagar says that inspired by his success, ten farmers in his village have switched to natural farming methods as well.
Another farmer, Ramana Reddy from Vasanthapuram, says that he learned about natural farming methods while undergoing kidney treatment. “It happened in 2011, and I decided to switch to chemical-free farming with support from Parthasaradhi. Earlier, I used to suffer losses, but now my profits have increased to Rs 2 lakh per annum,” he says, adding that he is glad he hasn’t spent extra money on keeping healthy since the switch.
Parthasaradhi says this is exactly the kind of revolution he wants to create among the farming community to relieve and protect them from financial debts by heavy use of synthetic products in agriculture. “If I had continued doing this alone, I would have earned Rs 40 lakh income in a year. But I intend to help the community prosper,” he says.
Parthasaradhi is looking for funding for the company Organic Anantha LPP. He can be contacted at www.ananthanaturals.com.
Edited by Divya Sethu