M S Subrahmanyam Raju (60), a Hyderabad-based farmer is a graduate in Science and can perhaps be best described as a passionate agriculturist constantly looking for newer methods of cultivation. Despite his decades of farming experience, it was only six years ago that he decided to completely shift to organic farming.
Raju tells The Better India about how he is now often called upon to share his expertise on transforming pH (potential of hydrogen) 8 or above (alkaline soil) into cultivable land. He has transformed several hundreds of acres of chowdu bhoomi (alkaline soil) over the last few years.
What is Chowdu Bhoomi or Alkaline Land?
Chowdu Bhoomi is land that does not absorb any water. The soil is stiff and compact and becomes hard because there is no penetration of water. The plants growing here grow short of nutrients and are often prone to diseases. This in turn can lead to low yields and dead plants. Having alkaline soil also means that the seeds do not germinate well. Such lands are in lakhs of acres in our country and in the state of Telangana.
Raju says, “Since the topsoil becomes hard, its infiltration capacity reduces considerably. This in turn leads to the rainwater stagnating on the soil easily and during dry days, cultivation is hardly possible without copious irrigated water and good drainage.” Since such soil is less soluble the chances of the soil absorbing nutrients, essential for plant growth, is drastically reduced. “We have many farmers who despite having large fields are unable to grow anything because their lands are alkaline in nature,” he says.
He explains further: “For the land to be considered viable for agriculture it is essential to have a pH (potential of hydrogen) value of 7. Anything that falls below or above (pH below 6 and above 8) makes the soil unviable for a majority of crop cultivation. For example, a pH level below 6 is suitable for specific crops like tea, berries etc. In my years of experimentation, I have successfully been able to convert land with a pH level of 4 to a pH level of 10 and neutralise the soil.”
“In calcareous soils (Calcium carbonate and calcium bicarbonate) pH will be high and cause more problems for root penetration than the normal alkaline soil. So, plants cannot grow healthy. I can correct such types of soils also through organic methods.”
Having spent six years experimenting on converting alkaline land into cultivable land, Raju has four years of on-ground experience in implementing these techniques.
To date, he has converted more than 400 acres of alkaline farm into cultivable land.
What’s His Secret?
The technique that Raju follows is one that he has painstakingly developed. He says that if followed to the ‘t’, the process of conversion can happen in just one month. Speaking about the investment that this requires, Raju says, “The process by itself is not expensive. What one needs to ascertain is a good source of water supply and the initial information of soil pH level. On average, it will cost Rs 2,000 to 6,000 per acre/ per season and this is dependent on the pH value that the soil needs to be converted to. If one is looking to make this change to last for two seasons then the cost will be less.”
Raju works closely with microorganisms, bacteria and organic compost to neutralise the soil and make the land cultivable. While he visits farmland and carries out the process himself, he adds that it is not necessary for him to be present since the process is one that he can easily explain to the farmer. “This technique I have developed helps in converting the land into a pH level most suited for the crop you are growing. While I have managed to correct the pH level of the soil from 4 to 10 in some areas, I have also managed to decrease the pH level from 8.5 to 6 when needed. It all depends on what crop is being grown,” he says.
Tips From The Farmer:
1. Focus on water harvesting techniques:
Given that the soil has been left to erode for a long period of time, setting up water harvesting techniques is the most important. Raju emphasises the need to fix this before proceeding to work with the soil in any manner.
2. Pick the crop:
Once the water harvesting process has been set right it becomes imperative to pick the crop that you wish to grow on the land. The crop you pick will determine the pH level that the soil needs to be prepared for. Planting diverse species will also aid in reviving the soil vitality.
3. Encourage animal activity of the field:
Acknowledging the role that animals play in the regeneration of the soil is important. Cows, chicken and other farm animals provide rich manure and compost material for the land.
If you wish to find out more details, Raju is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)